Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Knight Challenge Grant Winners Reveal Creative Plans

By Jose de Wit

FIU Student Journalist

Some three dozen people won $12 million in Knight Foundation grants Wednesday in Miami, seed money they’ll use to develop innovations in digital media.

One of the strings attached to the awards is that the recipients must blog about their projects,detailing their progress, the obstacles they encounter and the tools they develop to overcome them. Through their blogs, everyone – other grant recipients, fellow conference attendees, members of the media industry and even the general

Foundation CEO Alberto Ibarguen

public – can offer comments, feedback and possible solutions.

“The user’s manual manual for each of these projects will be open source and free,” said Gary Kebbel of the Knight Foundation.

That means you – whether your company is a newspaper with a Web presence or a ‘Net-based startup – can take these ideas and put them to use on your site. You can take them as-is or modify them at your convenience.

So pay attention to what some of the winners will be using with their money:

MIT Media Lab Awarded $5 Million

Chris Csikszentmihalyi and Henry Jenkins, from MIT’s Media Lab and Comparative Media Studies department want to use their $5 million to influence young engineers to think about journalism-related issues such as freedom of speech when designing technology.

Adrian Holovaty, already a celebrity for having co-created the Django open-source web development framework, plans to spend his $1.1 million on making a series of city-specific sites that aggregate local information. The sites would offer news, local blogs and public records. He came up with the idea, he said, after finding it hard to follow mainstream media publications and networks to stay on top of local news in his Chicago. Holovaty previously created The cities getting the new sites devoted to public records and hyper-local information will be Miami, Philadelphia, Detroit, San Jose, and Charlotte, NC.

Media Law Project to Encourage Citizen Journalists

Instead of using his $250,000 on creating new online content, David Ardia, director of the Citizen Media Law Project at the Harvard Law School, wants to help other citizen journalists. He plans on creating a library of online resources of citizen journalists that will include state and federal legal guides and a database of legal threats involving citizen media.

According to a Knight Foundation spokesman, the winners' blogs will most likely come online by August or September. Stay tuned to the Knight News Challenge’s Web site for more information.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funded the contest with $25 million over five years to help journalism continue moving into a digital future. The initial winners -- chosen from among 1,650 applicants -- will receive $12 million, including several multi-year awards.

Other grants included:

$885,000 to VillageSoup in Maine to build free software to allow others to replicate the citizen journalism and community participation site VillageSoup.

$700,000 to MTV to establish a Knight Mobile Youth Journalist (Knight "MyJos") in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia to report weekly -- on cell phones and other media -- during the 2008 presidential election.

$639,000 to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism for nine full journalism scholarships for students who have undergraduate degrees in computer science.

$552,000 to the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University for an "incubator" in which students will learn how to create and launch digital media products.

Also, nine individual bloggers will each get $15,000 to blog about topics ranging from GPS tracking devices to "out-of-the-box" community publishing solutions.

"We want to spur discovery of how digital platforms can be used to disseminate news and information on a timely basis within a defined geographic space, and thereby build and bind community," said Knight Foundation President and CEO Alberto Ibarguen in a statement. "That's what newspapers and local television stations used to do in the 20th century, and it's something that our communities still need today."

Csikszentmihalyi, MIT's director of the Computing Culture Research Group, added:
"We are moving to a Fifth Estate where everyone is able to pool their knowledge, share experience and expertise, and speak truth to power."

Applications for the next Knight News Challenge round can be submitted at starting July 1, with the application deadline Oct. 15.The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has given out more than $300 million since its 1950 founding.

E&P Staff contributed to this report