Knight-Batten Winners


I was traveling earlier this week when the Knight-Batten Awards were announced and so I wanted to add my two cents about the enormous honor of receiving the top prize.

First of all, we are simply thrilled to have been selected. We had fabulous competition from many of our friends and peers and we were honored that Sunlight Live, experimental as it is, was able to garner the attention and support of the judges.

As is the case of much of Sunlight’s work, our initial Sunlight Live event – covering the President’s Health Care Summit — was a deliberately experimental undertaking. Our two senior strategic consultants, Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry from the Personal Democracy Forum, suggested the initial idea. We had all just returned from PDF’s first European conference and their observations of the team from who provided live coverage of that conference, sparked their thinking about developing a one page view combining the live feed of a newsworthy event with relevant data and analysis from Sunlight’s ecosystem of grantees, along with aggregating and curating user-generated content. If Sunlight thinks that transparency in real time is important – and we do – then we thought we should also try explanatory journalism in real time too.

We had always imagined that Sunlight might one day take on our own media production – beyond blogging — and Sunlight Live has become our most successful undertaking in this arena. It’s designed as a news delivery device that provides reporting and contextual data about political events as they unfold in a format that merges the immediacy of live television, the depth of investigative reporting and the interaction of the Internet. Our first effort was a huge success in terms of metrics, team building, and changing the nature of reporting a live event.

We know we want to make some changes in this effort in the future, indeed create a Sunlight Live Web App. Right now, Sunlight Live relies on a hodge-podge of proprietary services, and its back end architecture is not able to take advantage of the rich array of data Sunlight and our grantees have available. We know that we want to create data feeds to automate data, allowing us greater control over it, replace the Cover-It-Live commenting software and the Twitter monitor with open source solutions better integrated to our platform; and begin to use facial recognition software to identify speakers, triggering the display of relevant data. Our goal is to launch a beta version of an open source, self-contained Sunlight Live platform that other organizations can adopt.

One of the biggest limitations to Sunlight Live is the absence of live feeds for events. Sunlight will explore the feasibility of partnering with a news organization—broadcast or cable—with access to events. We will explore the feasibility of developing partnerships on a case-by-case basis, or via a long-term agreement. Right now we are at the mercy, in most instances, of those running the event for the video feed.

Success, as they say, has many mothers and fathers.

While this project was initially instigated by Micah and Andrew it wouldn’t have happened without a large segment of others who played key roles. Clay Johnson and Josh Ruihley did the wire framing of it and built out the back end. In the lead on reporting staffing were Paul Blumenthal and Bill Allison and other staff from the Reporting Group Team. Noah Kunin was a superb producer and ring master  and Jake Brewer who did an amazing job of herding the cats. Gab Schneider lead the team that spearheaded getting the word out. We couldn’t have done any of it without the data produced by the team over at the Center for Responsive Politics. And perhaps the biggest hero of all was Tim Ball who kept the whole thing from crashing. The day the Health Care Summit happened there were 12-15 staff sitting in a darkened conference room working on a constant deadline for seven hours.

Since our first effort, after creating multiple iframes both for display and for sharing with other outlets, rethinking the video intake, and establishing a better interface for displaying names and information we have used the platform to cover the Financial Reform Conference Committee (yes, every day of it) and the recent GOP agenda setting meeting with lobbyists.

What I think all of us at Sunlight liked best about this was the team effort — the idea that nearly half our staff, from different areas came together to work on a common experimental, novel and ultimately groundbreaking effort. We are honored to be recognized by the Knight-Batten Awards.