by Rick Cohen
For the past five years, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has been supporting approximately 100 community foundations in a five-year initiative to incentivize foundations to invest in news and information projects. Yesterday, foundation president Alberto Ibargüen announced that Knight would extend the program for another three years.
Ibargüen’s opening presentation at this year’s Media Learning Center emphasized the importance of the media, or more specifically, the importance of the free flow of news and information for a well-functioning democracy. Getting community foundations and other place-based foundations to invest their own dollars in building and strengthening this essential building block of democratic practice—Knight requires a real dollar-for-dollar match from the community foundations in the program—is a significant achievement given the frailty of local media around the nation.
Going forward, the Knight Community Information Challenge (KCIC) will emphasize expanded technical assistance through teams of Knight Foundation consultants, work with a number of existing community foundation grantees to partner with others and share their knowledge, and seed funding support for new community foundation-generated information projects. For the latter, Ibargüen made clear what he and the foundation are particularly interested in seeing as avenues of exploration.
Ibargüen’s first theme was open government, which he referred to as “the motherload of information that is available but not accessible” to most citizens. He suggested that projects that give “average citizens…the means to access information to drive positive change in their communities” would be a high priority. Consequently, the foundation’s interest in open government projects isn’t simply an academic interest in increased government transparency. Ibargüen indicated that he hopes that these projects will be predicated on specific problems that citizens face that can be targeted for solution by virtue of these open government initiatives.
Ibargüen’s other priority interest was in mobile communications and information sharing. With half of all web data to be accessed by mobile devices by 2016, Ibargüen said that the ubiquity and low price point of mobile “gives everyone the ability to communicate in immediate and affordable ways.” He called it “a community organizer’s dream.”
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.