News for Digital Journalists

Posts tagged with: Knight Foundation

August 24, 2010

Knight Launches Tech Initiative; Funds $2M-Plus in Projects

More millions go into the pot for community technology with a new effort aimed at engaging citizens on local issues.  The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation launched the Technology for Engagement Initiative August 24 in an effort to “help residents take action to strengthen their communities.” Knight quickly put some large amounts behind the effort, with $2.23 million in funding going to five projects, including one with a co-founder of Facebook and another involving Craigslist.

The biggest grants - of $750,000 apiece - go to Jumo.com and to the Craigslist Foundation. The Jumo site, started by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, matches individuals interested in fostering social change with organizations that can help them do it (Hughes explains the project in a video). The Craigslist Foundation project would create an idea-sharing website.

Additional grants of $250,000 apiece will go to two other efforts. One, called Code For America, is based on the Teach for America approach and will enlist promising web developers to foster more transparent, participatory and efficient city governments. Knight funding will bring the project to Philadelphia and Boulder, CO.

The second project to receive $250,000, dubbed Community PlanIt, will use an interactive gaming platform to help community stakeholders improve planning and problem solving, initially in four communities supported by other Knight grants.

A fifth grant of $235,000 will go to a project called CEOs for Cities. The proposed effort will test a crowd-sourcing platform in San Jose, CA and Grand Rapids, MI, in order to encourage residents to work with city hall to solve local problems.

Watch a video clip for more detail on the Knight initiative, or visit the initiative site to submit your own proposal for funding.

August 31, 2010

Journalists, programmers organize “Open Web” training

Journalist-programmer collaborations have been one of the most fruitful areas of web innovation in recent years—bringing us everything from news map mashups to the integration of social networks into news sites. But the two professions still generally speak a very different language, making work together challenging at times. To help journalists and coders bridge that gap, a group of so-called “hacks” and “hackers” are organizing an online course, Open Journalism on the Open Web...

This six-week course, which begins Sept. 15 and is presented through the Peer 2 Peer University, is the brainchild of a group of journalists and technologists dubbed Hacks & Hackers, which include Medill’s Rich Gordon, NY Times’ Aron Pilhofer and journalist Burt Herman.

The training covers not only the fundamentals of journalism and of programming, but also delves into managing projects, collaborating for digital journalism, handling datasets and mapping, and exploring open government information sources. Presenters include editors and programmers from the data mapping experts at Ushahidi and editors from the Economist, Personal Democracy Forum, Stroome, Spot.Us and PBS NewsHour.

See a full list of topic leaders and a draft syllabus. The free course has 40 open slots—but you must pre-register, have experience in either journalism or programming, and submit a short piece with your thoughts on the open web. Expect 4-6 hours of work on the course each week.

Pre-register for the Sept. 15-Oct. 27 course.

August 31, 2010

Is transparency the new objectivity? Spot.us community speaks out

Objectivity, once viewed as the key attribute of mainstream journalism, is increasingly seen as unlikely or at best secondary in importance to journalistic transparency, according to a survey of the online community for open-source crowdfunded reporting project Spot.Us...

In an Aug. 31 post, “What the Spot.Us Community Thinks of Objectivity,” published in the IdeaLab blog, Spot.Us contributor Sameer Bhuchar writes that of 500 users asked their views of objectivity (in an admittedly unscientific poll) only 13.5 percent identified “objectivity” as what journalism is about.

By contrast, the largest group of respondents (roughly 45 percent) suggested objectivity was really about honest, factual reporting. And nearly 28 percent answered that “transparency is the new objectivity,” which he said implied “it is the reporting of truth that is most important, rather than a detached account. ...”

Bhuchar went on to write: “One thing the respondents did uniformly agree upon is that reporters should unabashedly seek truth. While pure objectivity may be impossible, being honest isn’t.”

The IdeaLab blog post also includes a selection of some three dozen comments on objectivity from Spot.Us community members, including NewsTrust Executive Director Fabrice Florin, DocumentCloud’s Amanda Hickman, and InvestigateWest correspondent Robert McClure.

September 01, 2010

OpenBlock launches demo site for Boston

On Aug. 26, the OpenBlock project launched its first demo site, serving the Boston area in partnership with the Boston Globe.

This project is the open-source successor to EveryBlock, a Knight News Challenge-funded project that was acquired by MSNBC one year ago. OpenBlock is “an open-source software initiative to bring hyperlocal news and data capabilities to news organizations of all sizes.”

Here’s how this project could benefit all news organizations…

OpenPlans (a nonprofit technology organization focused on civic engagement and open government) is developing OpenBlock. In June, Information Today reported: “Now, through three interrelated Knight-funded projects, OpenPlans is, according to Nick Grossman (the company’s director of civic works) aiming to ‘take [EveryBlock’s] source code and make it better and easier to use, so that other online news organizations can build similar sites in their towns.’”

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funded its OpenBlock Initiative through three grants totaling $458,625, to:

  • “Streamline and extend the EveryBlock code base and build a community of open source software developers and newspapers who can use and improve the software.”
  • “Install and test OpenBlock at The Columbia Tribune (Columbia, MO), and add new features in the context of a smaller newspaper.”
  • “Install and test OpenBlock at The Boston Globe, to add new features in the context of a larger newspaper.”

The Boston OpenBlock demo site is fairly minimal so far. The OpenBlock Project blog says that there are “plenty of known rough spots. The home page map doesn’t have popups yet, the theme could use work, and there are some broken pages. And there are no maps on pages other than the front page.”

News organizations of all sizes should keep an eye on this project, explore the test sites as they develop, and offer input to the development team. Such participation will help make make OpenBlock a more useful, practical tool for news organizations. And perhaps a lucrative tool, as well—OpenBlock is an example of a structured information service that could support the news business model through new kinds of data-supported products.

September 07, 2010

Text messaging now popular with core news audience demographics

Text messaging isn’t just for kids. According to a Sept. 2 report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, Cell Phones and American Adults, 72% of US cell phone users age 18 and over now send and receive text messages—up from 65% a year ago.

This means that texting has become a mainstream communication/media channel for the core age demographic of most news audiences. That’s a strong reason why you should consider texting carefully as part of your mobile news strategy…

Not surprisingly, teens do tend to text far more frequently. Pew reports that adult texters typically send and receive 10 messages daily, while teen texters (12-17) typically send and receive about 50 messages per day.

The Pew report only examined patterns in voice calls and texting for personal communication. It did not cover text-based news or services (such as alerts from banks or transit, or updates from Twitter accounts), which also are quite popular.

So far, most news organizations do little more with texting than broadcast headlines of top stories or breaking news—something that tends to be somewhat useful, but minimally engaging.

It might be more interesting to experiment with offering more customized text-base services, such as alerts for particular news topics. Done well, customized texting services are not only popular—they can also generate revenue. A good example is Major League Baseball’s Team Alerts, available for a $3.99 monthly subscription plus carrier texting charges.

Text messaging is based on short bursts of information; it’s less friendly to sustained discourse, substantial content, or nuanced information. Therefore, don’t consider text messaging as a completely standalone news service. Rather, try to integrate it effectively with your other channels—especially e-mail and web. For instance, does your news site make it easy for people to share a story with a friend via text, like you can e-mail a story link?

Every text message your news org sends should offer some inherent value—but the greater potential of text messaging lies in its ability to extend audience engagement. Also, consider how people can effectively and easily interact with your news org via texting. And remember that during a major news event, when your web servers are slammed (or during a crisis when power and phones become unreliable), text messaging can be a crucial fallback news channel that can work even when voice calls aren’t getting through.

Of course, most cell phones can do much more than voice calls and text messaging. US adults are growing quite accustomed to using their phones for e-mail, web access, and app-based experiences. Many of these channels are available even on simpler, lower-cost feature phones—they’re not just for smartphone users. Earlier this summer Pew published a seminal report, Mobile Access 2010, which covered these topics extensively.

September 10, 2010

Upcoming events: Community news in Chicago, media law in Atlanta and Web 2.0 in New York

Three notable events come up later this month - from an intimate get-together for community news publishers to the crowds in the sprawling halls of Web 2.0 Expo, with a meeting of media legal minds in between.

(HT to Webb Media Group)

September 13, 2010

19 communities win Knight grants for local news, information

Local news and information will get a big boost in 19 communities thanks to $3.14 million in new grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Community Information Challenge initiative.

These grants are matching funds in partnership with locally focused foundations in each community.

More about this year’s winning projects…

Among the winners and projects are:

Other winning communities and regions include Pittsburgh (PA), Dubuque (IA), the Black Hills region (SD), San Antonio (TX), El Paso (TX), Austin (TX), Seattle (WA), Alaska, Tulsa (OK), south Florida, Youngstown (OH), Boston (MA), Cleveland (OH), and West Anniston (AL). See project summaries.

Bring home one of these grants. The Knight Foundation will again accept applications for the Knight Community Information Challenge from Jan. 17 to March 7, 2011. So start talking now to local community foundations—you might find a partner foundation willing to contribute funds, and Knight will match their contribution.

In addition, foundation leaders can register for Knight’s fourth annual Media Learning Seminar—a gathering to discuss how foundations can support local news and information needs and opportunities. Feb. 28 - March 1, 2011, Miami.

September 21, 2010

How government funding might hurt nonprofit news

These days, there are many nonprofit news venues—from ambitious enterprise journalism projects like Investigate West, California Watch, and ProPublica to smaller local ventures like The Rapidian.

Before this, the main model for nonprofit news was public broadcasting (radio and TV)—which has always relied partly on government support. So would government money help other nonprofit news?

Not necessarily, wrote Joshua Benton recently for Nieman Labs…

Benton’s Sept. 20 post, A warning to nonprofit news organizations: Government funding may not boost the bottom line much, cited new research from the National Bureau of Economic Research (“a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization”).

For their paper Is Crowding Out Due Entirely to Fundraising? Evidence from a Panel of Charities, researchers James Andreoni and A. Abigail Payne surveyed 8000 charities. Their core questions:

  • When the government gives a grant to a private charitable organization, do donors to that organization give less?
  • If so, is it because the grants crowd out donors who feel they already gave through taxes (a classic “crowd out”), or…
  • After getting government funding, do charities reduce their fundraising efforts? (A “fundraising crowd out.”)


The answer, generally, is yes—government grants do tend to crowd out other kinds of fundraising. “We find that crowding out is significant, at about 72%,” the researchers wrote.

Or as Benton put it, when governments give grants to nonprofits, “About 72% of the extra money is counterbalanced by a decline in support from private donors.” Which means: “Getting $1000 in government money only nets out to $410 in the end, on average.”

The NBER study did not specifically examine nonprofit news operations. However, Benton recommends that nonprofit news organizations should continue investing in fundraising and donor outreach, even if they get big grants (from the government or elsewhere).

“Success in one source of revenue can’t lead to the abandonment of others,” writes Benton. “The smartest nonprofit news organizations are busy trying to build a multi-pronged model for financial sustainability—often blending advertising, sponsorship, small individual donors, money from big foundations, content-sharing alliances, and more. Over-reliance on any one source is dangerous; just ask the publisher of a major metro newspaper about classified advertising circa 1995.”

This advice is especially useful to journalists, who often go the nonprofit route when they decided to become news entrepreneurs because it’s more culturally acceptable to them than running a strictly commercial business. However, traditional journalists typically have had little to do with the money side of the news business, and aren’t comfortable with fundraising. It may be tempting to slack off on fundraising when you get a grant. But this new research indicates that you should keep it up, even when big grants roll in the door.

Grants only last for so long, and they may or may not get renewed. Growing a dedicated donor base will be one of your nonprofit’s most valuable assets in the long run.

September 24, 2010

CUNY to offer first masters degree in entrepreneurial journalism

$10 million in new grants will allow the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism to offer the first Master of Arts degree in Entrepreneurial Journalism—and do much more to further the burgeoning field of entrepreneurial journalism…

This two-year program will add business training and research to CUNY’s existing masters in journalism. Students will be trained to launch their own enterprises or work within traditional media companies.

CUNY recently received a $3 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and another $3 million from The Tow Foundation of Wilton, Conn. Additional funding is coming from the McCormick, MacArthur, and Carnegie foundations—as well as in-kind contributions of staff and technology from the CUNY J-School.

CUNY journalism professor and noted blogger Jeff Jarvis will be directing the new Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism. This center will open in October 2010:

According to CUNY’s press release, the Center will will help “create a sustainable future for quality journalism” by:

  • Educating students and mid-career journalists in innovation and business management.
  • Researching relevant topics, such as new business models for news.
  • Developing new journalistic enterprises.

The Center also will open courses to mid-career professional journalists, who would earn a new Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism.

September 24, 2010

Stanford showcases Knight fellowship projects, continues program evolution

Last year, Stanford University’s John S. Knight fellowship program for professional journalists adopted a new focus on journalistic innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

Those changes have begun bearing fruit…

Stanford recently posted the projects done by the fellows. These journalists have created iPhone apps, mobile journalist-user collaboration models, new training programs to address journalistic challenges in several countries, and more. Some fellows even launched nonprofit or for-profit journalistic ventures.

The fellows collaborated extensively with each other. Many also enlisted Stanford students from other disciplines, and received valuable coaching from faculty members. Others found informal partners at Silicon Valley technology companies.

Dawn Garcia, deputy director of the program, said “We learned a lot from of fellows’ experiences, and we’ve made further adjustments in the program for our new class of Fellows, who have just started their year here at Stanford.” Here’s an update on changes to the program.

To apply for next year’s fellowships: The US application deadline for the 2011-2012 academic year is Feb. 1, 2011. The international application deadline is Dec. 15, 2010. The application will be available in October 2010. More info.

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