Knight Blog

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

19 projects win Knight News Challenge on strengthening the Internet

June 23, 2014, 10:52 a.m., Posted by John Bracken

Today we’re announcing 19 winners of the Knight News Challenge on strengthening the Internet with total awards of $3,466,000.

We launched the challenge Feb. 27 with our partners Ford Foundation and Mozilla Foundation by asking the question: How can we strengthen the Internet for free expression and innovation? We saw several themes emerge in the 704 challenge entries; the nine winners of the major prizes each fit within one. The winners fall within one of three approaches to building a stronger Internet.

Access: Enabling more people to participate and create.
Transparency: Providing a better understanding of who is doing what online.
Safety: Building more effective tools for engaging with the Internet securely.

Access. Several projects sought to provide broader or improved access to the Internet through training, providing hardware or developing new tools and other resources to allow more people to participate and create.

Check Out the Internet
New York Public Library
$500,000 | James English, Tony Marx and Jeff Roth (project leads)

The New York Public Library will lend wireless hotspots to low-income families and will couple this with educational programs designed to increase media and Internet literacy among participants.

Code2040
$400,000 | Laura Weidman Powers

The News Challenge grant will support Code2040’s efforts to diversify the technology workforce by providing professional support for underrepresented minority students, principally through a summer fellows program and professional mentoring.

Getting It Right on Rights
Digital Public Library of America
$300,000 | Dan Cohen and Emily Gore

The grant will enable the Digital Public Library of America to build simplified and more coherent proposals for intellectual property rights to make it easier for libraries and others to share their material online. [Disclosure: Knight’s board chair John Palfrey is president of the Digital Public Library of America and was not involved in the consideration of the proposal.]

Internet to Go
Chicago Public Library
$400,000 | Brian Bannon, Michelle Frisque and Andrew Medlar

Chicago Public Library aims to increase Internet usage by lending wireless hotspots and coupling them with free digital skills classes. It will test the project in six Chicago neighborhoods that have broadband adoption rates of 50 percent or less. [Disclosure: My wife, Andrea Sáenz, works at Chicago Public Library as first deputy commissioner; I was not part of considering the proposal.]

Transparency. Many of the ideas we received sought to provide Internet users a better understanding of who is doing what online. Four of the winning projects fit within this category.

Measurement Lab
New America Foundation
$350,000 | Alan Davidson, Thomas Gideon and Ben Scott

The grant will enable New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute to expand Measurement Lab, a suite of tools for assessing the openness of the Internet through metrics such as connection speed and blocked sites.

OnlineCensorship.org
Electronic Frontier Foundation
$250,000 | Jillian York and Shari Steele

The Electronic Frontier Foundation will build out OnlineCensorship.org, to collect data about incidents of censorship on online platforms with the aim of helping society to better understand and manage censorship and free expression issues.

Ranking Digital Rights
New America Foundation
$300,000 | Rebecca MacKinnon

The grant will enable MacKinnon and her team to rank Internet companies on how well they protect the privacy of their users, and publish a global ranking to help encourage companies to improve their practices.

Who Are the Gatekeepers?
Journalism Development Network
$200,000 | Paul Radu and Manuela Preoteasa

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, part of the Journalism Development Network, conducts journalism on corruption in Europe. Their News Challenge project examines Internet, cable and satellite providers in Europe and experiments with new ways for raising public awareness of ownership.

Security. We saw many ideas on building privacy and security tools that are easier to use.

TextSecure
Open Whisper Systems
$416,000 | Moxie Marlinspike

TextSecure has built a mobile secure messaging application for Android with hundreds of thousands of users. Our grant will enable them to expand their work, and make it available for iOS and other mobile systems.

At Knight Foundation, we will continue to focus on strengthening the Internet as an open platform for expression, innovation and entrepreneurship. At the 2014 MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference, which started last night, we’re talking about “The Open Internet… and  Everything After”; you can tune in here. In a few weeks we’ll be sponsoring a convening at the Aspen Institute to explore the topic; that meeting will also be streamed live. Lastly, we’re working with Quid to survey funding in this space (we worked with them on a similar analysis of civic tech last year). And we of course will be exploring other ways we can contribute towards a stronger Internet.  

For the first time in the News Challenge, 10 of those winners will receive prototype funding. We’ll award those projects $35,000, provide them training in human centered-design, and feature their work at a demo day early next year. (To be part of the next prototype fund cohort, apply by Aug. 1.) The winners of prototype awards are:

Anti-censorship Alert System
Center for Rights
Tiffiny Cheng | Boston (project lead)
A series of tools that enable the distribution and decentralization needed to provide local access to proxies and mirrored versions of the sites.

Breedrs
Phillip Holmes | Los Angeles
A mobile app that helps parents work together to navigate the technology and online content available for their kids.

CertiDig
Michael Williams | Lawrence, Kansas
A seamless, secure method for authenticating information and data sources online while maintaining the privacy of the identity of sender and receiver.

Checkdesk
Meedan
Tom Trewinnard | San Francisco
A tool that helps journalists quickly verify the accuracy of online media in deadline situations.

Inquisite
Seth Kaufman and Maria Passarotti | New York
A tool that helps groups collaborate together digitally on complex research projects.

Poking the Bear
Bart Stidham | Washington, D.C.
A set of tools for measuring censorship and surveillance by mobile network operators.

Report-a-Troll
Hollaback
Emily May | New York
A platform where victims can safely report online harassment and volunteers can respond.

Safe Travels Online
Nathan Freitas | Boston
Tools that help people avoid cyberattacks, malicious software and digital surveillance.

Swarmize
Matt McAlister | London, UK
A tool that helps journalists conduct research with the help of readers.

Threshold
Elizabeth Stark and Mike Sofaer | San Francisco
A virtual currency that makes it easier for open Internet projects to find funding.

A special thanks to everyone who participated in the challenge. Ford Foundation and Mozilla Foundation partnered with us on this challenge, helping us to define the idea and reviewing proposals, and Ford contributed $250,000 towards the awards. As in previous News Challenge contests, we relied upon the help of outside advisers as part of our review process. This time more than 30 people helped us with the proposals, asking questions of the applicants, spending time with us during two in-person review sessions, and taking part in interviews of the finalists. I’d also like to thank everyone who asked questions and made suggestions on the News Challenge platform.

John Bracken is director of journalism and media innovation at Knight Foundation.