News Leadership 3.0

July 22, 2008

Knight’s new mission

@ Knight grantee conference:
Foundation CEO stresses access,
innovation and experimentation

Access. Innovation. Experimentation.

That’s how Alberto Ibarguen, president and CEO of the Knight Foundation, described the foundation’s mission as digital media transform journalism.

Knight has long focused its journalism grants on fostering best practices through training and other initiatives. That has changed, at least for now, Ibarguen said. “When the world is changing so quickly that it’s virtually impossible to talk about best practices, we’ve opted to focus at least for time being on innovation and experimentation….. on access over content.”

Ibarguen said the foundation remains as committed as ever to journalism, to preserving it and to seeing it migrate successfully to the Web. “The question is not ‘How do we save newspapers?’ The question is ‘How do we help save the communication that communities need to manage their affairs in a democracy? How do we save journalism in the digital age?’”

To that end, Knight has committed $100 million to media innovation initiatives in the past three years.

(Disclosure: I am a consultant to the Knight foundation on a separate project.)

Broadly, Knight is focusing on:

—Innovation and experimentation, with funding for media entrepreneurs through the Knight 21st Century News Challenge.

—Information about the needs of communities, with a high-powered commission to study the issue and a new fund for challenge grants to motivate community foundations to fund local news and information projects.

—Developing sustainable models for public access to the Internet via the Knight Center for Digital Excellence.

Throughout, Knight is attempting to create information models that are self-sustaining and that can be replicated in other places.

Ibarguen said Knight will continue its efforts to protect journalists around the world. But he resisted the idea that Knight should be fostering more international journalism at a time when many strapped news organizations are pulling back.

He noted that John S. and James L. Knight required that each of the newspapers they owned be unique in reflecting their local communities. In his travels in the United States, Ibarguen said, he has been “amazed at the thinness of local reporting and amazed at the sameness of local newspapers, local radio and even local television.”

He noted that a young person today is a lot more likely to know about the crisis in Darfur than about a problem with the local school board. International news, he said, “is an area I think the World Wide Web will help along in a way that it will not help along local information.”



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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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