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A few weeks back, I heard gunshots outside my window. It was pretty scary, and reminded me of my urban environment here in Potrero Hill, San Francisco. But where could I turn to get the story on what happened? Was someone killed? Do police know what happened? In the past, I might have heard something about it on the local TV news or radio news, or perhaps read something in the local newspaper.

But in this case, no one was hurt or killed, so there was nothing to see in any of the bigger media outlets in my local area. Later, I got the details on what happened from a local email list related to the Potrero Hill Parents Association. I found out that people in two passing cars had fired upon each other and hadn’t hurt any bystanders.

This case illustrates to me the disconnect between the local news happening in my neighborhood down at the real block-by-block level and the way local news outlets fail to cover that news. We have an opportunity, thanks to technology and the Internet, to serve communities better than ever before, give them a voice in news coverage and make local news a much more interactive experience.

MediaShift Idea Lab will be a place where you can read about what innovators are doing to help reinvent community news. The dozens of authors at this new group blog — hosted by PBS.org and funded by the Knight Foundation — have received grants from Knight in their 21st Century News Challenge, and are going to report first-hand on the status of their projects. Some of them are actually being given grants just to blog about a topic related to reinventing journalism in communities.

Some of the featured projects include:

> MIT’s new Center for Future Civic Media, designed to build stronger communities through innovation in digital media applied to journalism.

> MTV’s “Knight Mobile Youth Journalists” program to help cover the 2008 U.S. elections in a different way. These young people will create video news reports for distribution on cell phones. Viewers will rate the videos and those with the highest ratings will be broadcast on MTV.

> Gotham Gazette’s development of games to inform and engage players about key issues confronting New York City. The games will help people create solutions to civic problems that will be passed on to city officials.

Plus, well known new media thinkers such as NYU’s Jay Rosen, Ourmedia’s J.D. Lasica, EveryBlock’s Adrian Holovaty and Placeblogger’s Lisa Williams will be blogging regularly on the site. The dozens of authors on Idea Lab run the gamut from academia to the private sector, and as more people worldwide get 21st Century News Challenge grants the next few years, they will be added to the mix on Idea Lab.

As the editor of this group blog, I’ll mainly be overseeing the content and design of the site, and will stay out of the way of all the people posting their own stories. The authors will be able to post and publish directly to the site, and I’ll be editing after they have posted content — keeping the content timely and fresh. As readers of Idea Lab, you’ll be able to post comments to any blog post, rate the posts that you like best, and directly contact the authors.

The main MediaShift blog received a grant from Knight to produce Idea Lab and also to launch new multimedia features, such as a regular audio podcast, video reports and a citizen media project. I’m looking forward to having those features come to fruition and hope there will be many chances for collaboration with the Idea Lab authors on MediaShift as well. I will continue to laud and criticize Knight’s many intiatives, as I did with the News21 program recently, remaining editorially independent and transparent.

As with most things on MediaShift, I am trying to “walk my talk” even with underwriting for the blog. I often write about advertisers and funders trying to work in new ways online with media outlets to better serve their audience. So when I approached Knight, I wanted to do something more than simply get funding; I wanted to create something deeper, a collaboration that would equally serve Knight, MediaShift, PBS and our combined community of involved readers and doers.

After many months of hard work from everyone involved in this project, I’m really proud (and relieved) to have it go live online. I look forward to your readership, participation and feedback as we reinvent community news together on the new MediaShift Idea Lab site.

Note: This entry has been cross-posted as a welcome on the Idea Lab site as well.