Knight News Challenge Update

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A fire at the Miami airport couldn't keep 16 media and technology experts from joining Knight Foundation in our board room last Friday to review 75 Knight News Challenge semifinalists. (I've listed the reviewers below, along with the name of those who read applications earlier in the contest.) We asked them here to help us winnow down the field to 28 finalists. The discussion was serious and deep — though it helped to have a professional comic (and at least one amateur one) in the room.

This week we let 28 of the applicants know that they're still in the running. Over the next few weeks, Knight Foundation staff will conduct due diligence on each of the projects. [Update: just to be clear, the goal of this process will be to narrow the group down to a smaller number.] It's been several months since they submitted their proposals — we want to know what, if anything has changed and what they may have built or accomplished since submitting the original application. Lastly, we plan to sit down with each of them (in person when feasible, over Skype when not) to get a better sense of who they are and why their idea is significant.

Working backwards, here is our timeline:

  • We will announce the 2011 Knight News Challenge winners at MIT's Media Lab as part of the Center for Future Civic Media's annual conference, June 22-24.
  • Jose Zamora, our newest addition Michael Maness and I will propose a slate of grants to the Knight Foundation board of trustees for their approval at its quarterly meeting on June 20.
  • Beginning tomorrow, we will evaluate the proposals that remain under consideration and schedule interviews with each of the applicants.

A couple of additional notes:

  • As I've mentioned before, we have had to turn down more good ideas than we can fund, and that can be frustrating. I'd like to to agree with @longcreative, who earlier today, after receiving his turndown email, wrote that the News Challenge "is as much about losers as winners. They made 1,000s of people think through a news startup."
  • Over the last couple of weeks, we've received questions about how we use the public's comments in our consideration of proposals. The fact that we consistently receive such questions, and criticisms, despite a FAQ (#9) that specifically addresses the issue ("Do the comments really matter?") means we need to do a better job communicating what we have said there: "It is interesting and important for us to learn what the public thinks, but we don't give grants based on the public rating."
  • Led by our Vice President of Strategy and Assesment Mayur Patel, we've been conducting thorough reviews of the successes, and the faults, of the News Challenge, with the help of Lucy Bernholz and her Blueprint team and LFA Group, led by Steven LaFrance. We'll be sharing their feedback in coming weeks.

Finally, I want to thank two sets of people for their help in making the News Challenge possible this year. Last fall, Google made a $2 million grant to Knight Foundation — half of which will be awarded in this year's contest. That endorsement of our work will make this year's contest even more impactful. Second, we would not be able to do our work without the active participation of outside reviewers. The Knight Foundation makes the decisions, but we benefit from the advice and counsel of a set of software developers, journalists, scholars, investors and entrepreneurs. Below are the names of the reviewers who traveled to our offices in Miami last week, and those who helped us in earlier stages of review: Final round reviewers

Reviewers from earlier rounds

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