Grantee roundup (Knight@MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media 3)


Rick Borovoy from nTAG interactive is telling us about how we’ve been interacting with members of other groups. The groups are Knight Foundation staff (there are a lot of them here and they’ve been talking to each other 103% more than random chance would predict), MIT folks, 2007 Knight winners, 2008 Knight winners and staff/guests. Meanwhile, Ellen Hume and Gary Kebbel are at the top of the “Kevin Bacon” list of folks who interact most (I made number 5!)

Now Gary (the proud father) is going to emcee a review of the grantees. He first explains the genesis of the project: newspaper circulation falling, revenue falling, newspapers losing influence, do we have to sit and watch this happening, or are there tools that can help fill the vacuum that is being created? We think yes, we believe in the mission of the news and information industry. What we think newspapers do: unite a town, bring people together to discuss their problems, perhaps lead them to solutions. But it’s also about place. So when we started the News Challenge, people said what is this nonsense using digital media to serve geographic communities, this just shows you don’t understand the Internet, it’s about virtual communities. But we don’t elect virtual presidents, it’s not a virtual school board that cuts arts funding, this geography thing is still important.

Anyway, he’s now going to try to get ALL the new Knight grantees to describe their projects and have the 2007 grantees say something about the impact of their projects (turns out foundations don’t just give away money, they want to see impact from it – who knew?). Important to notice that many grants are using OLD technology in new ways to bridge the digital divide. He gives the 2008 grantees a couple minutes each, see if I can keep up:

Brenda Burrell ( explains that dial-up radio in Zimbabwe is able to provide the information and community-building role of radio without expensive transmitters.

Brein Macnamara of SignCasts is working to find ways for deaf people to be able to do civic reporting using their primary language of American Sign Language (ASL), which means finding ways for them to get better access to video technologies. He’s also remarkably cheerful about the exhausting task of participating in a conference in a foreign language through an interpreter.

Aaditeshwar Seth from University of Waterloo describes his Community Radio in India project to provide radio in rural India, using telephone-based playback and also bringing the Internet to the radio stations who can interpret and contextualize the information for their audience.

Joel Selanikio, co-founder of Datadyne, an organization generally seeking sustainable projects to deliver needed services in the developing world. Knight grants funds a cell-phone project to deliver news. They will likely roll out in Kenya.

Guy Berger, South Africa, project is “The News is Coming,” working with journalism students to connect citizens of black township with white urban residents.

Jessica Mayberry is in India, where her project Video Volunteers is making videos in rural India that are shown on mobile video screens. They promote these screenings widely, sometimes to people who’ve never seen a movie or TV in their lives.

Alexander Zolatarev ‘s Sochi Olympics Project is going to track the attitudes of the people of Sochi, Russia as the town is prepared for the Olympics in 6 years. He’s been studying citizen journalism at CUNY for the year, goes home to Sochi later this summer. Gary Kebbel points out that the accumulation of 5 years of data on citizen reactions will be useful to international journalists who arrive to cover the Olympics.

Transparent Journalism, the project of Tim Berners-Lee and Martin Moore, is presented by Gary K. The idea is you will be able to know more about the journalism that ends up on your screen, things that will let you decide something about its quality. Partnering with Reuters and BBC. I like and respect Martin, but I still find the idea that metadata will solve the credibility problem dubious. Looking forward to being proven wrong.

Printcasting – presented by Dan Pacheco of the Bakersfield Californian, making tools to allow people to produce high-quality printed products.

Tools for Public Access TV presented by Tony Shawcross, is exactly what it sounds like – helping public access stations link to each other and share expertise and content.

RadioDrupal is a really interesting model for a grant-funded project! Local NPR station wanted to hire Margaret Rosas and her company Quiddities to build their site, but had no money. So they applied for the Knight grant to make it happen. And of course be available to other stations. Gary explains why they like funding tools and why they insist that everything developed be openly available, something that to their sadness has led to fewer newspapers applying for these grants (will they ever learn? no, they’ll never learn) because they don’t want to give technology away to their competitors.

Student editors from the UCLA student paper did apply though, to come up with a system that would replace the whiteboards most college newspapers are using now (helloo digital natives – aren’t all people their age know instinctively how to collaborate online??) Project is Community News Network, difficult from their description to get how it’s different from any number of other things, but I’m sure there’s some secret sauce I don’t get. Warning to professors – student says the system will let kids “work on the paper while they’re in class,” stealing away those last few who haven’t succumbed to supplementing your lectures with Facebook, etc.

Ryan Sholin has a small grant to help him develop “Reporting On” in his spare time (his day job is interesting too, helping really small papers across the country get wired). It’s a resource for journalists working on stories of any kind to share and find expertise. So if you’re reporting on an earthquake and building codes, you find out what sources others used, etc.

Our buddy David Cohn explains SpotUs, which I’ve mentioned before. Freelancers pitch stories to communities, communities/individuals can make microdonations to fund reporting on the issues they care about. I think this could be an incredibly tool and if anyone can get it up and running with only $300,000, it’s Dave.

That’s all the 2008 winners, now progress reports from 2007 winners:

Our City, Our Voices project for digital inclusion of immmigrant workers in Philadaelphia also presented through an interpreter. They’re training people in video and online tools and using the free wireless from the city. Originally started with one English-language and one Spanish-language class, used the video to bring people together. Distributed via DVD, public screenings and web.

Geoff Dougherty of Chi-Town Daily News. We have 50 volunteer citizen journalists we train them pair them with professional editors and task them with covering their neighborhoods. Results have exceeded their own optimistic expectations. Now at 18,000 visitors per month. 75% of readers are 18-40, which is exactly who the Tribune is losing. (Gary: Geoff has 2 Pulitzer Prize winners on his board, the original goal was one reporter in each neighborhood: how do you find them, train them, and retain them. Now Geoff knows that 3-4 reporters is what you really need. Also they have synergy with 2 other Chicago Knight grantees: Everyblock and the project at Northwestern. We hope this is what will happen with this year’s 16 projects, that they will help each other do more than they originally planned.)

What is the project at Northwestern? We have 2 students here with us – it’s a scholarship program to give Masters degrees at the Medill School of Journalism to Computer Science students. Ryan Mark says it was surprising that it’s difficult to learn this writing and other stuff that journalists do. He’s getting an A though. Thinking about how to use technology to connect to source or improve data collection. His buddy Brian Boyer says his friends thought he was crazy to do this. Until he read post about this project on Boing Boing it had never occurred to him to consider that journalists have a mission. But the commercialization of the media is weird. He reiterates the broccoli theory (people eat their newspaper for the horoscopes not the news) though he calls the news “medicine.” So although technology has ruined the newspaper, perhaps it will save it. Near-zero cost of production and distribution. Make the news portion of the Tribune part of a foundation and then sell it back to people who want to print it?? He’s out to fix the business model. Rich Gordon is their professor, he’s pleased that Knight would take this risk. All they’ve promised is that 9 folks with CS backgrounds will learn journalism just as we’ve always taught it (well our curriculum is updated, but you get it). I’m confident that they’ll all go off to do something interesting. They still have 5-6 slots – apply now!!

Well that was exhausting, but fun (the liveblogging part). Additional coverage by prolific Tweeter Amy Gahran and others here and by Mark Glaser here.

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1 Comment

  1. Knight Foundation Blog » News Challenge Winners Conference at MIT

    June 12, 2008 @ 10:34 pm


    […] Persephone Miel also liveblogged today’s sessions here. […]