Almost anywhere today you can hear many knowledgeable people talk about the state of newspapers. For many of them a storm is coming, for others the storm is already here. Everyday stories come out about the demise of the newspaper model. On top of that their is a large, and growing conversation about how to fix the newspaper model. Technology, can, and will be apart of the solution. Its not going to be the solution, but it is going to enable the journalists of the future to be better journalists.
I happen to be a person good at technology. From the very beginning of this conversation I have wondered if I can help some how, I wished I could do something. After reading a lively discussion on Jay Rosen’s website, about an idea of his, I offered to help build a demo, or beta. My wish came true.
Will this fix the industry? If it helps at all, it won’t be alone. I didn’t decide to get involved because I through it would fix the whole problem. There seemed to be more talk about fixing, then actually trying to fix. I wanted to try something, anything. This seems like a great place to start.
In a testament to the open source community, we got this whole thing out in a little under a month. Building on great community projects, like Drupal, we were able to duct tape it all together, and create a working prototype. This is the beginning, and we need more help, if this is going to take off we need to bloom a hundred communities. I have setup a github repo, come fork it, and we will all start pushing and pulling our way to better software.
The site is directly influenced by stackoverflow. The community there is doing a great job at connected knowledgeable users, to users with questions, and reducing the amount of repeat questions. Stackoverflow creates canonical conversations about specific questions, in the programming community. This model seems like it might translate well to the investigative journalism world. Almost the same week Jay put fourth his idea, a group of drupal hackers created astackoverflow clone in drupal. We jumped on board, and that is what powers explainthis.org, right now.
The project is in its early stages. I needed to create a custom theme because the one the project owners used is a straight copy of the stack overflow site, and they don’t want to infringe on stackoverflow’s design. But there is already a group of people trying to get the software up and working.