Foundations strengthen local journalism, open government

10 projects win matching funds from Knight Foundation


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"Strengthening journalism, increasing government transparency: 10 new projects" by Susan Patterson on Knight Blog

(Sept. 18, 2013) Ten local information projects, all backed by their community or place-based foundation, will help improve journalism and increase government transparency as winners of the Knight Community Information Challenge. 

A project of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the challenge helps community and place-based foundations become leaders in supporting local news and information, a vital component of healthy communities.

For the first time, the challenge prioritized awarding funds to Open Government projects that improve the way people and their governments interact. Half of the winning projects fall into that category.

The winners include projects that will:

Strengthen Local Journalism: In Boston, by using a beat reporting model pioneered by the startup Homicide Watch to amplify education coverage on WBUR public radio and online; in Anchorage, by training journalists in data reporting; and in rural Washington and New Mexico, through community news partnerships;

Use Data to Promote Government Transparency: In Los Angeles, through a project simplifying the city budget online; in Gary, Ind., by implementing tools to help track blighted properties and engage residents in revitalizing them; and in New Orleans, with a new database from the nonprofit news site The Lens that will track government contracts, and more.

A full list of projects is below.

 “Whether you’re interested in improving schools, affordable housing or air quality, good information is a key ingredient to social change,” said Bahia Ramos, director of Knight Foundation’s community foundation program. “A growing number of community and place-based foundations realize that and are stepping up to invest in meeting community information needs.”

Over the past six years, close to half of the community foundation field in the United States has applied for Knight Challenge funding, with 100-plus winning projects. Projects have launched state investigations in New Jersey, helped pass a measure funding early childhood education in Colorado, and drawn more people into public planning discussions in California.

To build on its success, Knight Foundation last year extended the challenge through 2015. In addition to providing matching funds, the challenge includes expanded technical assistance, offering foundations tech consultants to think through issues no matter the stage of their project, year-round training through the Knight Digital Media Center and the annual Media Learning Seminar, which has become the place for foundations to explore media trends and exchange insights.

Additionally, Knight plans to launch a series of learning networks where community foundations experienced in the field will receive additional funding and be asked to share their lessons with the greater philanthropy field.. Knight Foundation will celebrate the winning foundations at a Tuesday night event at the Council on Foundations’ annual fall conference.

As part of the Knight Community Information Challenge, community and place-based foundation leaders are invited to attend Knight’s Foundation’s seventh annual Media Learning Seminar, a gathering to discuss ways in which foundations can support news and information needs and opportunities. The seminar will take place Feb. 16-18, 2014 in Miami.  Registration will open soon at

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit


Anusha Alikhan, director of communications, Knight Foundation; 305-908-2646;

2013 Knight Community Information Challenge Winners

The Alaska Community Foundation

Anchorage, Alaska

Investigative journalists will train reporters at the Anchorage Daily News to use data to create a compelling, multimedia story. The first issue they will tackle is alcohol abuse, which many consider Alaska’s No. 1 public health problem. The reporting will be part of the Daily News’ yearlong investigation on the impact of alcoholism on the state, though the skills learned will be used on future journalism projects. The community foundation will also partner with the newspaper on a series of community conversations on the issue. The Daily News’ series is part of a statewide effort called Recover Alaska that aims to tackle alcoholism by educating the public, influencing public policy and social norms, and improving access to treatment.

Benwood Foundation

Chattanooga, Tenn.

Building on successful efforts to make city data more accessible, the Chattanooga Open Government Collaborative will use challenge funding to train key groups, including journalists and city employees, in using the available information. The Chattanooga Public Library will create an online portal housing community data, and provide workshops and training on how best to use it to better the community. To start, the collaborative will focus on six community groups interested in a specific issue like public safety. At the end of one year, the collaborative hopes to have an engaged community of data consumers helping to identify needs and assist in designing and utilizing open data tools.

Blue Grass Community Foundation

Lexington, Ky.

To help strengthen Lexington’s leadership, the foundation and partners at ProgressLex will create a fellowship to equip local change agents with skills in engaging local government, storytelling and media production. Through weekend seminars, the diverse group of EngageLex fellows will receive a tech toolkit, learn media basics and create short films about the community that will be shared on social media and with local news outlets.  By empowering EngageLex fellows with knowledge, production skills and confidence, the foundation hopes to support a culture of engaged residents who feel ownership over their government and can tell the story of their community from the inside out.

Greater New Orleans Foundation

New Orleans

To increase transparency in New Orleans, The Lens, a nonprofit, public-interest newsroom, will collect all public contracts in the city and make them fully searchable and publicly available. The Lens will then marry the contracts with an existing website that delineates the members of all 140 boards and commissions that have the ability to spend public money, making it easier to track any conflicts of interest. The contracts will be housed on DocumentCloud, a tool for journalists funded through the Knight News Challenge.  A data journalist will join the newsroom and find and use the data as well.

Legacy Foundation

Merrillville, Ind.

To empower residents to revitalize their neighborhoods, challenge funds will enable the city of Gary to engage the community around improving vacant and abandoned properties.  Currently, Gary residents are looking for ways to invest their financial resources, ideas, professional expertise and sweat equity into combating blight, but aren’t sure how to engage in the process effectively or legally. Challenge funding will help the city use tools like Civic Insight’s Blight Status to track the status of properties, and create a process for approaching these lands that reflects residents’ interests.

Liberty Hill Foundation

Los Angeles

To increase transparency in Los Angeles, challenge funds will help the Advancement Project create an easy-to-use online forum and information source about the Los Angeles city budget. While L.A.’s budget is publicly available, its data is embedded in hard-to-navigate documents numbering more than 600 pages. The online comparison tool will aid diverse audiences in analyzing funding changes for departments that have a significant impact on the quality of life for low-income communities, including housing, public works, transportation, parks and recreation, and services for the elderly. Message boards and social media integration will allow open discussion on the quality of city services and finances. Through the tool, the project hopes to engage more Angelenos in city government by helping them uncover and understand government data that represents their community’s needs.

New Mexico Community Foundation

Santa Fe, N.M.

To increase access to news across rural New Mexico, challenge funds will help develop a news-sharing service for small-town independent newspapers. In New Mexico, locally owned community newspapers thrive in their small-town environments as the dominant source for news and information. Nevertheless, many do not have easy access to news from other communities of similar size and circumstance, even though they face many of the same issues related to water access, ranching, economic development and more. Through the Community News Exchange, each participating newspaper will grant access to their content to an editor, who will then prepare news briefs and stand-alone stories to be shared with all the participating newspapers. All outlets will also benefit from original coverage at the 2014 New Mexico Legislature.

P.L. Dodge Foundation


As a way to empower South Floridians, Florida Pro Se Mobile is a mobile app that will help low-income residents understand basic legal procedures. Designed to complement the work of legal aid organizations, the app will provide guidance on legal topics. The app will also direct users to low-cost public legal services and government service providers. Miami-based nonprofit New Equity Partners, the app’s creator, expects the tool to reduce the demand for publicly funded legal services.

The Boston Foundation


This partnership—between the Boston Foundation, public radio station WBUR and Glass Eye Media—will launch a statewide education reporting project creating space for thoughtful conversation around improving Massachusetts schools. The project will use Glass Eye Media’s structured beat approach used in its site Homicide Watch, WBUR’s editorial resources and the Boston Foundation’s connection to the education community to build data, tools and change. The project will increase the station’s capacity to cover education, and build a replicable framework for effective coverage of education reform in other regions and states.

Yakima Valley Community Foundation

Yakima, Wash.
$100,000 over one year

To share stories across diverse communities, Northwest Public Radio (NWPR) will partner with a Spanish-language radio station to create and share reports that both stations will broadcast and disseminate across a variety of platforms. A bilingual reporter and university students will translate reports for use by both stations. 

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

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