July 1, 2007

Knight News Challenge 2007: unofficial guide for applicants

Starting today, and until October 15, media innovators have a second chance to submit their projects to the Knight Foundation up-to-5-million-dollar News Challenge grants. "Before you apply, study last year’s winners", the organizers recommend. A good resource is the fantastic series of interviews by E-Media Tidbits. But I found difficult to get the big picture, so here are the facts in a nutshell:

Criteria. In the 2006 edition, 1,650 applications where received and only 25 were selected, the grants ranging between $15.000 and $5 million. Gary Kebbel, one of the persons directly involved in the selection process, explained to Tidbits editor Amy Grahran that they were looking for projects which:

  • Involved innovative uses of digital media
  • Would help to build, bind or create a sense of community
  • Focused on a specific geographic area
  • Would make the results of their work available to all: free, open source, with open standards.
  • Offered the broadest appeal and greatest replicability, and projects that will continue to grow and take on a life of their own.
Update 7/17: hear more from Kebbel along with 2006 grantee Nora Paul (IMNS) at NPR's Future Tense (MP3).

Most of the winners of the first edition are veteran activists and researchers in online media, but there is also a 20-year-old Information Systems graduate student. Even though profiles are hybrid in many cases, academics and activists are the ones involved in most of the winning projects:
9 were led by universities
7 by citizen media activists
3 by professional journalists
3 by software developers
2 by consultants
Only one mainstream media company (MTV) was awarded last year. For the 2007 edition, Kebbel suggested they wanted more "young people and more international applications".

Content. The official categories for the News Challenge projects are Ideas, Pilot projects, Leadership projects, and Commercial products. Regardless of this, I feel that 2006 grant winners can be organized into five different kinds of projects: framework projects (6) aiming to be incubators of actual citizen media projects; software development projects (7), mainly in the areas of information mapping and content management; reporting projects (5), focused in citizen journalists' training; games-as-news projects (3), exploring playful ways for storytelling; and other projects (4) ranging from citizen-media law databases to exploring new newsroom models. Here is a list of the projects based on these categories (I will be adding links to the projects websites as they become available):
  • Framework projects: This projects are meant to foster new developments in citizen media software and strategies. Many seek to make journalism and programming students meet to create new applications.
  • Software development: The first four projects are related to mapping information to make it more easy to access by citizens, relating it to specific locations.
    • Adrian Holovaty's Every Block, a public databases visualization tool inspired in his previous project ChicagoCrime.org. $ 1.1 million, 2 years.
    • Placeblogger, proposing an universal geotagging standard. $ 222,000, 2 years.
    • Dan Schultz, works on a GPS-based news management system. $15,000, 1 year.
    • Paul Lamb and Leslie Rule develop a GPS tracking system to tailor information for mobile users. $15,000, 1 year.

      The rest of the projects in this category are focused in content management tools for citizen media.
    • Village Soup will create an open-source version of their citizen media sites content management system. $ 885,000, 2 years.
    • Benjamin Melançon is developing a Drupal module called Related items. $15,000, 1 year.
    • JD Lasica's blog Social Media will follow and analyze innovations in community media software. $15,000, 1 year.

  • Reporting projects: These are mainly devoted to develop training for citizen journalists.
    • MTV will fund youngsters to cover the US presidential campaign. $ 700,000, 2 years.
    • The Chicago citizen news site Chi-Town Daily News will train 75 neighborhood reporters. $ 340,000, 2 years.
    • The Media Mobilizing Project by Indymedia Philadephia will train 40 immigrants to do video reports. $ 150,000, 2 years.
    • Boulder Carbon Tax Tracker, a weblog fostering the debate between experts, public officers and citizens on this local issue. $ 90,000, 2 years.
    • Jay Rosen will be blogging about how beat reporters can work with social networks to improve their reporting. $15,000, 1 year.

  • Games as news: These projects explore gaming as a new way to explain news.
    • The Gotham Gazette, a citizen news site in New York, will produce "news games" to engage their readers and help them understand local policy decision-making. $ 250,000, 2 years.
    • The Institute for New Media Studies at the University of Minnesota will create prototypes that will let journalists develop game-like scenarios for community issues. $ 250,000, 2 years.
    • Paul Grabowicz, at the University of California, will create a video game recreating the Oakland jazz and blues club era. $ 60,000, 2 years.

  • Other projects:
    • Citizen Media Law Project, at Harvard University, provides legal information and advice to citizen journalists. $ 250,000, 2 years.
    • The Duke Chronicle, student run newspaper at Duke University, will explore new newsroom configurations for a digital converged environment. $ 50,000, 2 years.
    • Dori Maynard will blog about creating and maintaining diversity in digital media.
    • G. Patton Hughes will blog about making his hyperlocal web site, Paulding.com, a financial success. $15,000, 1 year.
Applications. The 2007 applicants must register before filling in the forms with their project data. This year you can make your project idea public in the News Challenge site and have feedback from other registered users to improve the project if you submit it early enough. Users will be able to rate the projects, therefore helping to the final decision of the Knight Foundation. Look forward to the list of public projects in the following weeks. Be inspired and inspiring, check the official FAQ for common doubts and... good luck!

Update 8/17: There are already 20 public projects receiving comments and suggestions. I plan to analyze the proposals soon.