David Zurawik

Daily Download: A guide through the fog of online information

Built in part on the premise that even some of the smartest and most savvy news consumers sometimes feel themselves drowning in a sea of information online, the Daily Download aims to be an island of orientation.

The online site that debuted last week is part of an important movement among educators and journalists to help citizens find their way online and in social media to the kind of data, context and analysis needed to make informed choices about their lives. The idea is that such sites are crucial to the future of democracy.


"We want to deliver smart journalistic content to an educated audience -- and we want to spotlight and popularize new forms of journalism," says Lauren Ashburn, founder of the site and president of Ashburn Media Company.

One of Ashburn's partners in the project is Maryland Public Television.


According to Ashburn, a former managing editor for USA Today and Gannett's broadcast operation, she and her colleagues want to explore the ways in which news organizations are "re-inventing themselves," and help people "find the inventions" and interact with them.

"Maybe some people will go on to become citizen journalists," she says.

Ashburn, who also anchored video versions of USA Today, says Daily Download is grounded on a belief in the power of video online.

In line with that, she and Daily Download contributor Howard Kurtz are involved in three video-driven products that viewers can sample at the site or on PBS. They range from one-minute segments that PBS stations are free to program where they best fit their schedules, to a series of Skype conversations and debates between Ashburn and Kurtz.

Every other Thursday, the two also appear together in a seven-minutes segment on the "NewsHour." This political season, they are following the presidential campaigns through the lens of social media.

The video spots are being produced by Maryland Public Television.

Here's an MPT release on the project:

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation of Miami is funding a two-year effort on the part of Maryland Public Television (MPT) and its production partner Ashburn Media Company (AMC) to create a series of video reviews called Daily Download that will help consumers determine which websites and online tools for covering news and public affairs are effective and credible.


Maryland Public Television will provide editorial oversight for the project, which includes a new website and Daily Download interstitials for public television station use.

The video reviews will gauge the performance of digital media news in order to increase digital and media literacy among news consumers and media professionals. Written content and videos will also appear in the media innovation vertical of, a new multi-media, multi-platform editorial venture created by AMC. The project will be accessible via tweets and social networking sites, promoting online engagement.

These reviews will be hosted by Howard Kurtz, Washington bureau chief for Newsweek and Daily Beast and host of CNN's Reliable Sources, and by Lauren Ashburn, president of Ashburn Media and former managing editor for USA Today and Gannett Broadcasting.

Several times each year, MPT will feed a series of 60 second segments to public television stations. These segments can be used as program fillers or interstitials in or around your regular programming.

(Full disclsoure: I have appeared as an unpaid guest on "Reliable Sources," including on panels with Ashburn.)

Here's a video example of their work: