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MDN Technical Information

Missouri Digital News is produced and distributed through a complex network system that has a long history in the annals of the evolution of microcomputing.

MDN is based on multiple servers that host MDN's websites, extract data from government databases, broadcast on internet live audio of legislative debates and serve the local area network (LAN) used by MDN reporters.

Our web servers run on Apache while our audio servers are based on Shoutcast. For many years, our Twitter applications had run on a Linux machine, but recently moved to an MS server because of reduced demand.

Our live audio streams are in MP3 format. The reason is that it provides a higher quality with greater assurance of clean delivery than most streaming protocols. We needed that in the years we served public radio stations because our radio station partners sometimes rebroadcast material from our audio streams.

Most of MDN's system is based on applications developed by MDN's director, Phill Brooks. He is an IBM trained programmer and network manager as well as a working journalist serving as the statehouse correspondent for KMOX.

MDN's databases provided online also are used for the bureau's news coverage. Several of these databases are generated by applications developed by Brooks to extract information automatically from government-based digital databases available on internet.

In the newsroom, reporters pursue their activities through a set of applications termed "NewsDesk Manager" which evolved from the world's first microcomputer network systems designed for a daily newspaper.

MDN reporters have global web-based access through a system termed Newsroom without Walls (NW2).

MDN History

Our state government reporting program began in 1972 as vision of Missouri School of Journalism Dean Roy Fisher who had a passion about the importance of public policy journalism.

He hired Phill Brooks in 1972 to found the State Government Reporting Program of the school. It began as teaching newsroom for broadcast journalism students whose stories were distributed to Missouri's public radio stations. At Fisher's urgings, the program quickly expanded to TV and newspaper coverage.

Before the web, our radio stories were distributed by phone through an automatic call-up system invented by KBIA's chief engineer, Roger Karwoski -- a device called the Karko Box.

Our newspaper stories initially were distributed by a telefax or telecopier. The machine was a primitive FAX that transmitted a digital image of a typewritten page over the phone line. It was aggravatingly slow, particularly under deadline pressure -- but it was the best that existed in the 1970s.

There is a fascinating history to what journalists at the time called "mojos." The term came from Hunter Thompson who described how he used "the Mojo Wire" to produce breaking news on the road for the Rolling Stone.

Our statehouse bureau quickly embraced the digital era in the early 1980s when IBM unveiled the PC. It was stunning transformation -- except for Brooks, reporters still were using manual typewriters.

Networking of microcomputers did not exist. So MDN's trail-brazing newsroom system was based on floppy-disk programs -- horribly slow by today's standards. It was the school's first newsroom to use microcomputers. Eventually, with hard drives, it was possible to implement a BBS (bulletin board system) through which newspapers could call up with modems to get digital copies of stories.

Computer programs for newsroom activities did not exist either. So Brooks learned computer programming (initially assembly and Pascal) to develop a system for managing news copy and developing digital databases for reporters.

That's why MDN can host the oldest digital record of Missouri legislation going back to 1985 -- those records were created from one of the first newsroom programs Brooks wrote. And yes, those records were stored on floppy disks.

The emerging technology of networking for microcomputers prompted the managing editor of the school's newspaper, Brian Brooks, to ask Phill Brooks if it would be possible to develop a microcomputer system for the newspaper.

So, a team that became know as the "Brooks Brothers" (they're not related) developed what they later learned was the world's first microcomputer system for a daily local newspaper.

That system got the attention of IBM. At their request, Phill Brooks authored and became the lead developer of a multi-year development project between the Missouri School of Journalism and IBM that began in 1989. From that project, Brooks received extensive professional training in a variety of digital fields including network management, system design and programming. He has provided consulting services on computing and digital issues to educational and news outlets throughout the world.

IBM's support networked the Journalism School and the State Government Reporting Program.

Phill launched Missouri Digital News just a few years later, in January 1995. It missed by just a few months being the world's first all-news website. Since then, MDN has gained international attention for the simplicity of its design as well as the contents. Within a few years, it was ranked by Lycos as one of the top 5% of the web sites in the world for political news.

In 2000, MDN inaugurated live MP3 audio streaming of House and Senate chamber sessions. It is the world's first non-entertainment application of internet MP3 streaming. Later that year, we also began Missouri Capital Caucus -- an MP3 streaming audio news program of headlines and features about Missouri government. A Spanish-language version was inaugurated for the legislative session of 2001 (but subsequently discontinued after the government-reporting program with the University of Navarra was suspended).

MCC was discontinued a few years later due to lack of significant user interest in a web-accessed streaming audio service of public affairs. While we have millions who choose to read information on the web, we found that few wanted to listen to it on the web in an era of slow bandwidths and few users with functional internet mutlimedia players -- a limitation that obviously has changed dramatically in the succeeding years.

Just about all of the digital applications used by MDN (database access, news copy-flow, word processing, etc.) were developed in-house and are copy written by © by Phill Brooks who serves MDN's webmaster and chairs the non-profit organization that oversees MDN (Missouri Digital News, Inc.).

In 2006, we inaugurated one of the world's first fully web-based newsroom system -- W3: Newsroom without Walls. W3 provides access for reporters and editors from anywhere in the world to write and edit stories, file stories for the web, update MDN data, file audio stories for distribution to stations and much more. W3 was developed by Phill from a web-based news-editing program he developed for a school in India.

As a footnote, to oldtimers, you may wonder why Internet and Web are now lower cased. The Associated Press -- whose style rules journalists usually follow -- decided in the spring of 2016 to lower case those two words.

I, MDN's webmaster, think that was a mistake. Proper names are capitalized. There is only one Web and only one Internet (and the Web is not the same as the Internet).

Phill Brooks, MDN's proud parent.

Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.