Articles by Elizabeth R. Miller

  • Article

    Messing with Texas: empowering citizens to push for open government

    March 11, 2013 by Elizabeth R. Miller

    Photo credit: The Texas Tribune

    “You have to have a healthy disrespect for government,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), at a SXSW gathering on civic engagement co-hosted by Knight Foundation and The Texas Tribune this weekend in Austin, Texas. He called for citizens to take action, stressing the responsibility of governments to open up data and information access so that citizens can be empowered to engage in healthy debate.

    Issa kicked off a conversation about several Texas initiatives designed to make citizen interaction with the government more open and participatory. His talk was followed by a discussion between Texas Reps. Donna Howard (D-Austin) and Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake), with Tribune Editor-in-Chief and CEO Evan Smith acting as a moderator. Despite coming from different ends of the political spectrum both representatives agreed on the need for government to be more accessible and transparent.

    The conversation highlighted three specific ways pending legislation could fundamentally change Texas’ current disclosure systems. They are:

    1. Increase transparency on financial interests of state legislature’s family members: Currently, elected officials aren’t obligated to disclose enough information about their families’ financial dealings or interests, said Smith. Unfortunately, it can perpetuate self-dealing and lead to a lack of accountability. Pending legislation would require lawmakers to “report all contracts they, their spouses or their close relatives have with any government entities, from state agencies all the way down to municipal offices, public universities and taxing districts,” according to the Texas Tribune.

    2. Digitize financial disclosure forms: The Texas Ethics Commission does not make this information available online. Pending legislation would make financial disclosures - like personal financial statements and government contracts - available on the commission’s website no later than 10 business days from the date of request. Although The Texas Tribune has manually digitized much of this data, it shouldn’t be up to the media to gather and publish this information, said Howard: “It’s the responsibility of state government to put [it] online ...make it searchable.” Legislation also suggests that an interim 11-member committee “study and review the procedures and effects of the filing of personal financial statements.”

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    Successful collaboration a critical element in community engagement

    May 3, 2013 by Elizabeth R. Miller

    Above: The Knight Neighborhood Challenge in Macon 

    The following is part of blog series highlighting communities profiled in "Bright Spots in Community Engagement," a report authored by the National League of Cities with support from  Knight Foundation.  It showcases 14 U.S. communities that are building greater civic participation and engagement from the bottom up. Previous blog posts included an in-depth look at PhiladelphiaDetroitAkron, Ohio, St. Paul, Minn. and San Jose. Calif.

    New research finds that collaborative civic revitalization efforts go a long way towards enabling residents to help improve their communities.  

    Bright Spots” - a new report released earlier week - demonstrates that successful collaborations including multiple networks and representatives from all facets of the community, led to significant improvements in both Macon, Ga. and Charlotte, N.C.

    For example, in Macon, Ga., the launch of the College Hill Corridor in 2007 offered new opportunities for residents to be involved in the physical, economic and civic revitalization of the neighborhoods surrounding Mercer University. It truly sprung from the ground up - a group of students first proposed the idea as part of their capstone project. The university’s president also took a leadership role in helping bring the idea to light. With financial support from Knight Foundation, the multi-sector redevelopment planning process was really a collaborative effort: in addition to the university and private philanthropy, it involved the city, local business and neighborhood residents. It ultimately led to new and rehabilitated housing through a partnership with Historic Macon and helped create everyday leaders in the community.

    Simultaneously, “Knight Neighborhood Challenge” grants (which ranged from $450 to $10,000) supported “bottom up” ideas from the community. Projects that received funding to improve the community ranged from social events like an annual soapbox derby and movies in the park, to physical upgrades, like park improvements and the Historic Macon Facade Loan Program.

    Involving multiple sectors in citywide visioning processes was a successful tactic used in Charlotte, N.C. “Crossroads Charlotte” - a civic project - encouraged corporate and civic leaders to examine four possible scenarios of the city’s future and steps to steer the community towards better collective outcomes. As a result of the project (and combined with other community initiatives), some 30 organizations - representing the corporate, service, nonprofit and government sectors - have undertaken project programs to address issues related to access, inclusion and equity in the community.

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    Civic incubator looks to speed rate of innovation

    January 7, 2013 by Elizabeth R. Miller

    Civic incubator looks to speed rate of innovation

    From better designed trash cans to apps that help parents track their kids’ school buses, community-centered technologies are being developed in cities across the country.

    In Boston, a civic innovation incubator is working to better design and deploy these types of technologies to more effectively address community needs.   Nigel Jacob and Chris Osgood co-founded the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics in 2010, after years working in both the public and private sectors.  Just one year later in 2011, the two were named “Public Officials of the Year” by Governing Magazine.   One of the office’s major assets is its ability to act quickly and collaborate across sectors in creating, implementing and deploying technology. Knight, which is interested in how governments can use technology to engage residents, recently talked with Jacob to find out how the department works in practice and to learn more about some of the projects its helping to develop. How are you leveraging technology to build more partnerships between residents, city staff, entrepreneurs and non-profits? N.J.: By supporting civic innovators (inside or outside of government) in the development and testing of new technology tools. New Urban Mechanics works with innovators to build a proof-of-concept of their proposed product and on rolling it out to the public. The support and development of the concept is done by bringing in one or more partners into a small network to help the civic innovator with building the technology as well as its design. So how does that works in practice? N.J.: Testing is usually done in collaboration with a city department, like our collaboration with Technology for Autism Now. Two years ago we were approached by Marie Duggan, the parent of an autistic 19 year old, who had developed several well-thought out concepts for new products to enable autistic youth to learn new tasks (brushing teeth, waiting for the school bus, etc). We assembled a network of resources to enable her to create the organization, to develop the apps with support from Boston companies, FableVision and GetFused, and to test it in Boston Public Schools. We're working on a date, but with some luck the beta test will roll out in the spring. What are some of the projects or areas you're working on now?

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    While student media presence remains strong in schools, only one-third have online media

    November 9, 2011 by Elizabeth R. Miller

    Source: 2011 Scholastic Journalism Census

    A new study reveals that while student media presence remains strong, only one-third of schools surveyed have any online student media. Additionally, schools that are smaller and poorer or have large minority populations are more likely to have no student media. The study by the Center for Scholastic Journalism is one of the most extensive national counts of American public high school student media ever conducted.

  • Article

    Knight welcomes @ElzbthMllr as new communications associate

    August 30, 2011 by Elizabeth R. Miller

    Elizabeth R. Miller

    I am excited to announce that earlier this week I joined the communications team at Knight Foundation. As a communications associate, I will be working to help engage audiences online.

    You can expect to see a lot of me as I work with the communications team in its efforts to increase its digital outreach. As part of my new role, I will be blogging, tweeting and producing other social media content. I'll also be spending quite a bit of my time listening and responding to you, our community, and reaching out beyond our existing network to help keep fresh new ideas coming into our organization.  

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    The Charlotte Observer profiles launch of new website

    September 1, 2011 by Elizabeth R. Miller


    The Charlotte Observer this week covered the launch of a new website that gives Charlotte art lovers the opportunity to choose exactly how they want their money to be spent on cultural projects.

    The article highlights the new site’s unique way of engaging and connecting visitors directly with the wide variety of cultural events in the city and how it allows them to share their ideas with others:

    “A visitor to the site can filter the requests by topic - such as music, visual art, history or science - or search for a specific cultural group. A viewer who's won over by a project can make a donation by credit card. Links to Facebook and Twitter enable donors to tip off their friends.”

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    Change By Us launches in Seattle

    September 9, 2011 by Elizabeth R. Miller

    Earlier this week Code for America announced the beta launch of Change By Us Seattle, a new application to support volunteerism in the community. The idea behind the project is to empower neighborhoods in Seattle to coordinate offline efforts to make their city better.

    The new site helps you share ideas, start projects, connect with resources and make your community better. You can join a project or start your own and a network of city leaders is ready to hear your ideas and provide guidance for your projects. 


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    Knight Foundation heads to the 66th Annual Conference on Citizenship to discuss civic health and Soul of the Community

    September 22, 2011 by Elizabeth R. Miller

    Knight Foundation heads to the 66th Annual Conference on Citizenship to discuss civic health and Soul of the Community


    This afternoon Knight Foundation will help lead a discussion on measuring civic health at the 66th Annual National Conference on Citizenship, an annual event that explores the revised roles of citizens, nonprofits, and governments in a 21st century democracy. The theme for this year’s conference is “Redefining America’s Social Compact.”

    The Civic Health Index, funded in part by Knight Foundation, is an annual report that elevates the discussion of our nation’s civic health by measuring a wide variety of indicators. This effort to educate Americans about civic life also seeks to motivate citizens, leaders and policymakers to strengthen it.

    Tomorrow on Sept. 23, Paula Ellis, vp/strategic initiatives at Knight Foundation will present on a panel titled “Best Practices in Creating Civic Strategies” from 10 - 12:15 p.m. The session, moderated by Lattie Coor, chairman, Center for the Future of Arizona will bring together local, regional and national leaders to talk about civic strategies that help communities thrive and discuss the future of our nation’s civic information infrastructure.

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    Why @knightfdn uses social media to become a better grantmaker

    September 27, 2011 by Elizabeth R. Miller

    Why @knightfdn uses social media to become a better grantmaker

    Can social media help foundations become better grantmakers? What do tools like Facebook, Twitter and blogs mean for philanthropy?

    This morning, Knight Foundation participated via Twitter in a session that brought together a group of foundations to explore these questions. The session, “Good Grantmaking: What’s Social Media Got to Do With It? was hosted by Philanthropy New York.

    Two of the key questions discussed: Why would a foundation use social media? And, how is social media helping some foundations do their work better?

    Here at Knight Foundation, we use social media as a way of building the best networks of partnerships and grantees that we possibly can. We see it is an integral part of the foundation’s overall communications strategy to engage and inform people about our work. To that end, we use a variety of tactics to communicate with various audiences, including our website, blog and Twitter feed.

  • Article

    Following FCC report, new projects will focus on ways public policy can improve local news and information flows

    October 3, 2011 by Elizabeth R. Miller


    Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission released a landmark report on community information needs that was the most comprehensive national look at media policy in a generation.

    Today, in an effort to ensure that the important public policy recommendations in the report become fully realized, Knight Foundation announced several new projects to highlight ways public policy improvements can in turn improve local news and information flows.

    In one of the new efforts, Steven Waldman, the report’s author, will become a visiting senior media policy scholar at Columbia University. There, Waldman will study emerging media issues and advocate for the report’s recommendations to help build pressure for action.

    The foundation also will fund a series of events and research papers hosted by universities to encourage debate and feedback around the report’s major recommendations. Another project announced is a convening of the National Association of State Public Affairs Networks at the Newseum to develop a plan to create “state C-Spans” in all 50 states.

  • Article

    News21 investigation into tainted seafood in the U.S. informs’s coverage of food safety

    October 6, 2011 by Elizabeth R. Miller

    Organoleptic Specialist Steven Angold inspects seafood at the FDA's $40 million facility in Irvine, Calif. Photo: Kyle Bruggeman/News21

    Earlier this week, Knight Foundation blogged about how the student-led News21 program published a major food safety investigation in The Washington Post and on’s coverage continued with a story on how tainted seafood reaches U.S households. According to the article, an analysis done by News21 showed the U.S. imported more than 17.6 million tons of seafood over the last decade and that only 2 percent of it went through inspection. The investigation was based on import data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This is cause for serious concern because “80 percent of the seafood in America is imported.” Furthermore:

    “[A] News21 analysis of FDA import-refusal data reveals an unappetizing portrait. In more than half of cases when seafood is rejected, the fish has been deemed filthy, meaning it was spoiled or contained physical abnormalities, or it was contaminated with a foodborne pathogen. About 20 percent of those cases involved salmonella.”

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    This Monday, find out the finalists in the community arts journalism challenge

    October 7, 2011 by Elizabeth R. Miller

    This Monday, tune in for the announcement of the Knight/NEA Community Arts Journalism Challenge finalists from 1:00-2:30 pm EST.

    Viewers can watch the announcement online via a live webcast, as well as the following discussion with the five winners. Joan Shigekawa, senior deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and Dennis Scholl, vice president/arts at Knight Foundation, will announce the five finalists and the six Honorable Mentions at the Grantmakers in the Arts annual conference in San Francisco, Calif. The five finalists will receive grants of up to $20,000 to develop their ideas into action plans. In addition, the finalists will be eligible for up to $80,000 to implement their projects. Over 233 individuals and organizations submitted their solutions to informing and engaging audiences through local arts journalism. The challenge focused on the eight communities where Knight Foundation invests. Follow @knightfdn on Twitter for updates during the session on Monday and join the conversation using the hashtag #artsjourn. For more information, visit Videos of the finalists will be available next week.

  • Article

    How News21 prepares the next generation of investigative journalists

    October 14, 2011 by Elizabeth R. Miller

    How News21 prepares the next generation of investigative journalists

    News21 student journalist Tarryn Mento

    See related article in Nieman Journalism Lab by Eric Newton, Senior Adviser to the President: 'Journalism schools can be leaders in innovation and the news'

    The current listeriosis outbreak linked to tainted cantaloupe is the worst foodborne illness outbreak since 1998 - linked to 21 deaths in 11 states and an additional 109 infections in 24 states, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has found.

    Although the current listeriosis outbreak began in July, the issue of bacteria and food safety is an ongoing problem. 

    Tarryn Mento and Brandon Quester, National Project Fellows at the News21 program at Arizona State University, spent several months researching the implications of food safety and traveled to Guatemala to investigate the site of a farm allegedly at the center of an earlier cantaloupe outbreak that caused 20 people to fall ill, including three who ate salmonella-tainted melons at an Oregon church dinner in February.

    Their efforts resulted in the article “Salmonella Outbreak Traced to Cantaloupes in Guatemala.” The piece raises significant questions about how foodborne illness and outbreaks are investigated in the U.S. - and the steps authorities may or may not be taking to prevent them from occurring. 

    News21’s research has informed the mainstream media’s coverage of food safety over the past several weeks, with and the Washington Post publishing News21's reporting

    Mento and Quester recently answered questions about their experience researching the cantaloupe outbreak and the larger context of how News21 is preparing the next generation of investigative journalists.

    Q: Each year, students in the News21 program study a topic in-depth during a spring seminar and follow it up with a 10-week reporting fellowship during the summer. This year, the topic was food safety. What was the overall process of investigating food safety like?

    B.Q: What we found in doing our research is that there is a massive influx of foreign food being imported into the U.S., which unfortunately is being inspected at a rate of less than two percent. The News21 program allowed us to document that story and frame the context of where your food is coming from and how safe it is.  As we progressed throughout late summer and early fall, we realized that we had in-depth reporting that nobody else in the country had; that elevated our ability to tell the story.

    T.M: Beyond investigating the issue of food safety, the project really allowed us to gain a full understanding, from the beginning to end, as to how the investigation process works for journalists. For example, the information we gained over the phone prior to our trip to Guatemela was not as in-depth as being able to be down there and actually talking to people. The trip itself was hugely beneficial in that way. It also showed that we were taking the story seriously as journalists.

    Q: As your project on food safety and the cantaloupe outbreak developed, what did you find most surprising?

    B.Q: What surprised me was how the overall system of food safety works. In the beginning, it didn’t appear too problematic, but all it took was a little bit of good reporting to find what turned out to be a great story. Through our research, we were able to point to broader implications in food safety, including the struggle of the Food and Drug Administration to regulate imported food.

    T.M: As the investigation progressed, I was simply shocked at the amount of steps it takes to get food from a farm in Guatemala to a household in the U.S.  The exchange of hands that food goes through to get from one place to another is incredibly more complicated than anything I had ever imagined.

  • Article

    Female journalists honored for exemplifying courage in news reporting

    October 27, 2011 by Elizabeth R. Miller

    Female journalists honored for exemplifying courage in news reporting

    Adela Navarro Bello, Parisa Hafezi, Chiranuch Premchaiporn, Kate Adie. Photo by Vince Bucci/PictureGroup

    A luncheon today in New York City is honoring women journalists who have faced danger reporting the news.

    For showing dedication to covering violence, corruption and social unrest in their countries, Adela Navarro Bello of Mexico, Parisa Hafezi of Iran and Chiranuch Premchaiporn each recently received a 2011 Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation.