News Innovators Explore the Internet’s Next Frontier

By: Maggie Farley | 09/23/2022

Media Party in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is not your usual journalism conference – it’s the largest gathering of self-described journalism and tech nerds in Latin America. That’s what made it the perfect place for ICFJ’s Leap Innovation Lab to sponsor talks, workshops and a hackathon on whether the next generation of web technologies – Web3 – hold hope or hype for journalism.

In a day-long flurry of coding and design in a converted warehouse, the hackathon winners came up with ways to create community, content and contracts in the online journalism world. The winners received cash, cryptocurrency awards and mentoring to help further development. 

The three-day conference attracted almost 2,000 media innovators and technologists, and 180 people signed up for the hackathon. It was an experimental space for people to quickly brainstorm and prototype ideas – and then see if they take flight. 
 

“What we learned at Media Party helped us put our project in practice and develop an idea,” said Ana Eugenia Restuccia, whose hackathon project will automate tracking of which topics are covered most in the news. “We also got to know each other.”

The winners are:

  • Letther, a metaverse-based forum where users can answer each other’s questions and be validated and rewarded for their contributions. Think of Reddit or Quora, but Letther members will answer your questions about the metaverse IN the metaverse. The people with the best responses will build a reputation and earn tips in cryptocurrency. Newsrooms potentially can use it as a new way to engage with their audiences and reward high-quality comments.
  • Willa will solve a problem that plagues freelancers everywhere – getting paid in a timely way. Willa will create smart contracts from a blockchain-based escrow account so freelance journalists can be paid immediately upon publication. Publishers pay the fee into the holding account when the article is assigned and release the payment when the article is ready for publication. 
  • DataDAO will crowdsource news video transcriptions to make their video content searchable. DataDAO is designed to help journalists find relevant moments in news videos without having to watch hours of clips – a critical tool as video content of everything from politicians’ comments to breaking news rapidly grows. Members of the DAO can earn access by contributing transcriptions instead of paying.
  • An honorable mention went to the Decentralized Media Observatory, which will use machine learning to analyze media coverage to determine which topics are under or overcovered. The team will use the tool in their own newsrooms to understand which topics and sources need more attention.


ICFJ Knight Innovation Fellow Tinshui Yeung gave a lightning talk on his research into which Web3 technologies offer unique ways to protect journalists, their content and assets, and when more conventional tools are better – especially for news outlets under authoritarian regimes. The InterPlanetary File System (IFPS) may sound like a far-out way to store data securely, but it may be a more down-to-earth solution for journalism than putting it on the blockchain, Yeung said. 

JournoDAO member Eric Mack taught a workshop on how to open a blockchain wallet, participate in a Distributed Autonomous Organization, and created a Media Party NFT for  the participants. DAOs are owned and governed by their members and don't have to profit from mining users’ data, so they offer a chance for journalism to be “expansive rather than extractive,” Mack said.

Kevin Clark from DecentraLand Report talked about being a reporter in the metaverse, chronicling celebrity events, brand launches and virtual land sales in digital worlds. His show airs live on Twitch every week. 

Sparking this multipronged discussion about the promises and pitfalls of Web3 at Media Party was just one of the Leap Innovation Lab’s activities this year. Leap supports two Knight Innovation Fellows, Tinshui Yeung mentioned above, and Sergio Spagnuolo, who is working on a tool to track and analyze politicians’ posts across multiple social media platforms. Leap also ran a 10-week Solutions Challenge with journalist teams from around the world on building trust in journalism. 

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