The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Feb 18, 2012

Knight Chairs in Journalism share new projects and ideas

Posted by Eric Newton

Knight Foundation journalism and media innovation team members met Saturday with 18 Knight Chairs in Journalism from all across the country to talk about new projects and new ideas.

A few of the new projects:

· – This web site tests new technology to see what works and doesn’t for journalists. Knight Chairs Sarah Cohen and team at Duke University are looking at both new digital tools and popular ones, like Twitter.

· – A web experiment already online looking at new ways of engaging young people in politics, run by Kansas Knight Chair Pam Fine.  Political news of the day in different ways.


· – A site to be launched this spring by University of North Carolina Knight Chair Penny Abernathy and her colleagues and students, for traditional media trying toconvert their business models in the digital age.


Michael Maness, vp/journalism and media innovation at Knight Foundation, launched the discussion of new ideas with his TED-style talk on the news industry. Highlights:

·      We’re in a state of continuous disruption. A huge trend is mobile, with half of all data traffic expected to be mobile by 2016. Company life cycles are shortening: 75 years for top U.S. firms, now down to 15 years, heading down to five years.

·      How can you innovate? 95 percent of all innovations fail. But human-centric design increases the success rate. What’s human-centered design? When you dive deeply into the needs, wants and behaviors of potential product users during the design process.

·      Curious, open-minded, ego-free people are good innovators. Small, dedicated teams in interestingly designed work spaces, who can “ferociously browse,” “relentlessly observe,” and “apply insights” – like anthropologists – are good at innovation and human-centric design.

·      So if you are looking for an engaging site, you may start with Twitter. Why? Because Twitter users are four times more likely to do other engaging things with content on media sites, such as commenting on blogs, providing their own content, sharing news content, and so on.

The foundation's innovation network, Maness explained, focuses on speeding digital media innovation and encouraging its wide adoption.  

To round out the day, Knight Journalism Program Associate Amy Starlight Lawrence gave a presentation on chair finances (endowments total more than $60 million now for the total 25 chairs); Knight Journalism Program Associate Jose Zamora explained the Knight News Challenge (moving to three contests a year with themes), and Ben Wirz, director/business consulting at Knight Foundation, talked about how the world of media startups actually works. While failures are a given, he said, the key is to learn from each effort.  An essential part of that is being open about what has really gone wrong and which assumptions proved untrue when projects fail.

By Eric Newton, senior adviser to the President at Knight Foundation.

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