Knight Blog

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

Supporting transformational innovation in news

Nov. 11, 2012, 9:49 a.m., Posted by Nate Matias

Dan Sinker and Michael Maness are Serious about News

At the Mozilla Festival, Knight participated in a panel discussion about the future of innovation in the news and announced a new set of prototype grants. Nate Matias, a research assistant at the MIT Center for Civic Media, blogs the session's higlights. The following is crossposted from the center's blog. Above: Dan Sinker is serious and Michael Maness uses his long form explainer claw to outline the future of Knight's journalism and media innovation strategy.

Today at the Mozilla Festival, Dan Sinker and Michael Maness hosted a conversation about the Knight Foundation's funding programs and evolving priorities for journalism and media innovation. The session started with pretty grim context on the state of journalism and turned into an exciting and deeply practical conversation about supporting transformational innovation in the news.

In the last five years, $3.5 billion  have been eliminated from newsroom payrolls. Knight Foundation spends 100 million dollars a year, and they spend 30-40 of that on journalism. Michael shows us a graph of newspaper advertising revenue adjusted for inflation 1950 to 2012. The drop from 2000 has been precipitous.

How does Knight respond in this environment? Knight funds projects towards Freedom of Expression (26 grants), journalism education (28), Digital Transformation (19), Media Innovation (53), and open government data (6). In the near term, they expect to offer more grants and more money in digital innovation as well as more money for opening government data.

Michael talks about the Knight Prototype fund, which offers $50,000 or less to prototype projects. He announces the latest set of prototype grantees:

  • UNICEF Amplifying Voices of Youth. UNICEF tried this in Rio and Haiti, and it took off, so they're trying to reflect and scale the project.
  • FOIA Machine makes it easy to find out how to make freedom of information requests in many countries.
  • Ground Truth is a system for crowdsourcing citizen reports.
  • Kon*Fab links news with the real-time activities of news readers.

On average, an innovation takes around four iterations before it stabilises into something that's consistent, but people often use grants just to build the first version. That's where the Knight Prototype Fund can help. Through the prototype fund, Knight will be funding 70-80 grants of $5-50k. Knight also hopes to fund 10-15 of these projects to help them scale.

Dan Sinker tells us about the new Code Sprint project within the Open News program. The core mission of Open News is to place highly skilled developers within newsrooms. Open News has also funded numerous hack days.

There's a big gap between developers who spend a year at newsrooms and people who spend a single weekend in a hack day. Especially when people don't need to make a startup but want to make tools, they often can benefit from to bringing people together across organizations for a longer code sprint. The output of springs need to be replicable, open, and able to solve a common problem for several news organizations. (read more at the Nieman Lab)

We're well beyond the days of trying to save journalism, Dan Sinker reminds us. He's excited that we're at a stage where people can try lots of new experiments, where building small is smart.


Test first, then scale - four prototype ideas for media innovation

Nov. 10, 2012, 7:46 a.m., Posted by Chris Barr

In June, we announced the creation of the Knight Prototype Fund to support the building and testing of new ideas in media and public information. This initiative allows small teams to create minimum versions of projects, test major assumptions and understand user behavior before making decisions about full-scale development.

We believe this rapid and nimble approach to innovation will help us and our grantees move at "Internet speed" to solve complex problems in a changing information ecosystem.

Since then we have developed grants to groups working on diverse problem sets. Today at the Mozilla Festival, we are happy to announce four of these projects:

FOIA Machine, Djordje Padejski, Center for Investigative Journalism 

FOIA Machine will aid journalists and private citizens in accessing millions of important governmental documents around the world that are covered by freedom of information laws (which exist in more than 90 countries). FOIA Machine will help people navigate FOI laws by automating submissions, creating requests in the proper format, making documents publicly available on the web and using the web to rally support when governments are not responsive.

GroundTruth, Andrew Haeg, World Press Institute

GroundTruth is a communications platform designed to help journalists, researchers and community organizers establish engagement with people who have valuable expertise via text messages and mobile phones.  It will give producers the tools to build panels of sources, send out simple surveys, visualize resulting data and followup with sources for interviews and other needs. 

Kon*Fab, Katy Newton & Sean Connelly

Most newsreaders are built on predictive behavior algorithms that can lead to an uninspiring repetitious flow of the news.  The mission of Kon*Fab is to explore news and information through a more serendipitous discovery. Kon*Fab will improve user experience by linking news with the real-time activities of individuals inhabiting physical locations. This alternate model for presenting the news will provide users the opportunity to stumble across new people with new interests potentially improving local engagement around news and community. 

Igniting new thinking about the future of philanthropy

Nov. 9, 2012, 11:41 a.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller

Knight Foundation and several of its partners will be at the Independent Sector's annual conference starting this Sunday in San Francisco. Over several days, the conference will feature game changing people, events and ideas to ignite new thinking on the future of charitable sector. 

Sunday's luncheon plenary conversation will focus on what lies ahead for America after the election dust settles. The conversation will be moderated by Knight Foundation President & CEO, Alberto Ibargüen, with speakers Matt Miller of the Washington Post, Arturo Vargas, of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials and Ken Harbaugh, of ServiceNation. It will consider how the 2012 election results will shape the nation's future and how they will affect communities.
 The plenary will be emceed by Steve McCormick of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

Also on Sunday at 2 p.m. PT, Knight Foundation trustee Mariam Noland will moderate a breakout session on strategic leadership for nonprofits. Led by Professor James Phills, director of the Executive Program in Social Entrepreneurship at Stanford University
, it will focus on how creating strategic change is one of the most critical challenges that CEOs face today. Phills will draw from his research and consulting experience to illustrate the psychological and organizational barriers that can get in the way.

Belinda Lawrence, Knight's vice president/chief administrative officer, will co-facilitate a breakout session with Barbara Kibbe of  "Move the Needle By Thinking Better Together" will explore ways those in the sector work together to meet needs and address tough challenges.

On Monday, at 10:15 a.m. PT, Knight Foundation's Vice President/Strategy and Assessment, Mayur Patel, will be on a panel about how using data effectively can lead to innovation and better decision making. The conversation will explore ways to harness new and existing data to increase impact.
 Other discussion participants will be Kevin Bolduc, The Center for Effective Philanthropy, Elizabeth Boris, National Center for Charitable Statistics, Urban Institute, Nancy Lublin, Do Something, Inc., Rebecca Masisak, TechSoup, Elizabeth Pastor, Humantific;  Jake Porway, DataKind and Jennifer Sigler, GlobalGiving Foundation
. Fay Twersky, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation will faciliate the conversation.