Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Investigative reports by The Lens lead to City of New Orleans investigation

May 31, 2011, 11:04 a.m., Posted by Susan Mernit

Gloria's restaurant in Gert Town, 2007 photo by

The City of New Orleans Inspector General is probing a local nonprofit organization following a series of investigative articles published by The Lens, a Knight Community Information Challenge grant winner.

According to The Lens, the financial documentation for the Gert Town Revival Initiative is quite incomplete — and too much of the $404,000 it received to revitalize the area may have gone to the salary of organization's president—and to rent on the building that houses both her home and officers for the organization.

The Inspector General's office says it’s now in the process of obtaining documents from the city to determine whether GRI committed any wrongdoing in how it spent the hundreds of thousands of dollars —and The Lens was the trigger for both greater oversight by the city and the new investigation.

City officials first announced they were scheduling a monitoring visit of the organization after The Lens published its original story, with a follow-up story days later.

The Knight Community Information Challenge encourages community foundations to fund news and information projects that inform and engage communities. The Lens is funded through the Greater New Orleans Foundation.

Oakland hackathon inspired by Apps for Communities contest

May 26, 2011, 10:59 a.m., Posted by Marika Lynch

Oakland, Calif. is hosting a hackathon on June 4 - inspired by Knight Foundation and the FCC's Apps for Communities contest.

The contest, which aims to cultivate software applications that deliver personalized, actionable information to people least likely to be online, was officially announced in Oakland this spring. So Oakland Local, a local news start-up, and editor and publisher Susan Mernit, decided to get Bay Area coders together to help the city.

Code for America's Jennifer Pahlka, who lives in Oakland, writes about the event:

Oakland doesn’t have an official data catalog, or an open data initiative, or even a CIO or CTO. (There is instead a director of information technology, whose job sounds very difficult, and who reports to the City Administrator. By contrast, most of the CIOs and CTOs we work with at Code for America have cabinet-level positions and work closely with their mayors.) But Oakland does have a great community, and some support from City Hall, so a handful of folks are pulling together what datasets they do have in advance of the event.

The Apps for Communities contest is open through July 11. Read more about the June 4 Oakland event on the Code for America blog.

Update: In quest for community hurricane prep, Castaways win Battlestorm tournament

May 26, 2011, 5:54 a.m., Posted by Marika Lynch

The East Biloxi Castaways won Saturday’s Battlestorm tournament and, along with a trophy, got 500 free hurricane kits to distribute in their neighborhood. In the lead up to the tournament and at the event 300 additional hurricane kits were distributed to players, families and around town.

Because of the success of the hurricane prep game funded by Knight Foundation, the Boy and Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast are planning to continue playing Battlestorm throughout the summer at five of their clubs to keep hurricane preparedness in the minds of kids and their families. And, other Boys and Girls Clubs are thinking of modifying the content of Battlestorm to address disaster preparedness more generally at other sites.

Knight Foundation is interested in new and innovative ways to tackle community issues like disaster preparedness. Last year, the foundation funded Area/Code (now part of Zynga) to use their expertise in social-impact games to create a way to help Gulf Coast families prepare for hurricane season. Area/Code worked with community partners to design Battlestorm, a game that combines freeze tag and capture the flag and teaches kids how to prepare for hurricanes at the same time. (For more background, see previous posts here and here.)

In an interview with Mississippi Public Broadcasting, Alicia Tarrant, Program Director for the Boys and Girls Club of East Biloxi, gave some background on why the game was important to the kids, many of whom lived through Hurricane Katrina:  "A lot of them lost their homes. Many of them had to wait it out in the attic, maybe even a tree, hanging on. Others evacuated and weren't able to come back for a very long time…"

Read the full story here.

Congrats to the Castaways for proving that their team statement was right on: “After the storm, many residents of East Biloxi felt like ‘castaways,’… However, we persevered and are on our way back—stronger than we were before!” And, more prepared!

Coming soon - video from the game and later this year a full evaluation of its effectiveness.

Related Posts:

Saturday Showdown in the Gulf Coast: Battlestorm Tournament Helps Kids Prep for Hurricane Season

Real World Social Games are Fun…But Do They Work?

New digital tool helps Serbians prosecute war criminals, unlock secrets

May 25, 2011, 12:02 p.m., Posted by Mayur Patel

Today, the president of Serbia announced the arrest of one of the world’s most wanted fugitives Ratko Mladic – a general accused of masterminding a 1995 massacre.

Prosecutors from The Hague, where the general will be tried, frequently visit a new digital archive in Serbia that is unlocking some of the country’s long-guarded secrets. Records from the archive already have helped indict 14 paramilitary members, charged in the deaths of 70 unarmed civilians during the rule of Slobodan Milosevic, a new Knight Foundation report has found. (It's not yet known if the archive played a role in the general's arrest.)

Using new digital software developed with seed money from Knight Foundation, records dating to 18th century Serbia can be key word searched and retrieved in seconds. Previously, the country’s military records were scattered around the city, many of them disintegrating in basements and in complete disarray.

Serbia enacted a law opening many government records to the public in 2005. But practically speaking, military records were available -- but not accessible -- until the digital software made them easy to retrieve.

The report  found that this powerful new tool also helped the government uncover mass graves of people who disappeared during the post-World II Tito regime.

“For too long, the government in Belgrade acted as if it owned history – to hide and manipulate as it chose,’’ said Aaron Presnall, president of the non-profit Jefferson Institute, a Knight grantee. “The digital archives have returned the ownership of history to the people who lived it … and made government accountable for its abuses and mistakes.’’

What’s more, the tools are open source, so archives around the world can use and adapt them.

While federal agencies in the U.S. are making huge strides toward digitizing federal records, state and especially local records are decaying “before our eyes,’’ Presnall said. The Serbian digital project has captured the interest of U.S. archivists, museums and libraries, Presnall said.

The digital archives are not without shortcomings, a Knight-commissioned Reporter Analysis report that overall gave the project high marks.

Lead reporter Joan McQueeney Mitric found that too many military records are still classified and that hoped-for media interest in the records has not been piqued. After four years, only about 10 percent of 40 million records are digitized – although these are from critical periods in Serbia’s history. The archive’s location on a military base is not ideal. But plans for web access are under discussion; meanwhile, the National Archive in neighboring Sarajevo has engaged Jefferson Institute to digitize its records.

Using new tools to increase access to information is key to Knight Foundation’s mission of promoting informed and engaged communities. Eventually, Jefferson hopes that archives – in post-conflict countries and U.S. cities and towns alike – will use the tools to keep public information in the public’s hands.

Judy J. Miller, Editor, From Ruins of War, Nation’s History Preserved; Former Managing Editor, Miami Herald

Mayur Patel, Vice President for Strategy and Assessment, Knight Foundation

Livestream tomorrow: Analysis of 2010 political campaign ads

May 20, 2011, 1:06 p.m., Posted by Marika Lynch

During last year’s mid-term elections, the Knight-funded Wesleyan Media Project provided real-time analysis of the 1.6 million political ads aired on behalf of state and federal candidates. Together they cost a record breaking $735 million – and comprised the most negative campaign in history, the project found.

Tomorrow at 10 a.m. EDT, watch online as the project’s leaders delve into how they went about their analysis. The seminar is being livestreamed here.

Knight Foundation President and CEO Alberto Ibargüen, a Wesleyan alum, will speak along with Assistant Government Professor Erika Franklin Fowler.

What’s the impact of a community-wide arts contest?

May 19, 2011, 12:34 p.m., Posted by Mayur Patel

In 2008, Knight Foundation launched the Knight Arts Challenge in Miami, a five-year, $40 million initiative to support the most innovative and transformational arts ideas in South Florida. Since then, 78 grants have been awarded to a range of projects, everything from live concerts to ballet, film festivals and opera performances. In November, we’ll announce the 2011 Challenge winners, marking the initiative’s fourth year.

2009 Knight Arts Challenge winner, the Miami Downtown Development Authority

As we approach this milestone, we’re going to be taking a deeper look at the contest’s impact to date on the Miami community. We’ve partnered with AEA consulting, one of the world’s leading cultural consulting firms, to assess the extent to which the Challenge has selected and nurtured high impact projects, helped attract new capital into the arts through its matching-grant requirement, and contributed to the overall vibrancy of the cultural sector. We hope that this interim review will provide winners and individuals involved in the arts with useful insights, and provide us with feedback to help strengthen the initiative.

The Challenge was conceived as a way to draw out and amplify good ideas about the arts from the community, showcase the best and invest in them. In short, it was hoped that a community-wide contest, open to everyone, would fuel Miami’s zeitgeist. In the assessment, we’ll be taking a look at the extent to which the Challenge has contributed to the growing momentum in the arts sector – by engaging residents who were new to the arts, helping Miami become a more supportive place for artists to live and work, and bringing together diverse communities.

We’re going to be conducting interviews and surveying winners, finalists, applicants and sector leaders to hear directly from the community about the impact of the contest. In the coming months, we’ll be sharing our findings in a series of blog posts, and releasing the interim assessment results in the fall.

As we get the assessment underway, we’re interested in ways you think we should be reviewing the contest or the kinds of questions you think we should be asking. If you have any ideas that you’d like to share with us, please get in touch.

Crossposted from

Going beyond grants: Eight new ways news nonprofits are raising revenue

May 19, 2011, 7:41 a.m., Posted by Elise Hu

This post is the third in a series about a Knight Foundation roundtable that brought together news start-ups and tech entrepreneurs. A report is forthcoming. 

Journalists are notoriously averse to math, but there’s no equation in which nonprofit news organizations can survive for the long term without a steady mix of revenue. 

The more diversified a revenue portfolio, the greater promise of stability. So the business objective for local news nonprofits has moved beyond foundation grants and major giving to multiple revenue streams. How best to get there was a central question at the Knight Foundation’s May 6 roundtable meeting of nonprofit news organizations, tech entrepreneurs and researchers. 


20 plus reasons why investing in journalism and media creates lasting change

May 18, 2011, 6:58 a.m., Posted by Eric Newton

Over time, we’ve noticed a growing myth about media grant making – that the outcomes aren’t quantifiable, that it doesn’t produce a tangible, measurable impact.

In a new report, the International Center for Journalists offers 20 plus reasons to the contrary. That’s how many changes to government policies were brought to bear by the work of fellows. For example, in

  • Kenya, a series on shoddy care in public hospitals resulted in $7.5 million to improve care;
  • Indonesia, a series on medical waste prompted the government to order hospitals to build their own wastewater treatment facilities; and in
  • Peru, after crimes by unlicensed cab drivers are exposed, taxis were required to show official identification

How did 19 fellows accomplish so much in such a short time? ICFJ made major changes to its flagship program, the Knight International Journalism Fellows. The center extended the fellowships to at least a year, recruited international fellows and targeted developing countries where the opportunity for impact was greatest.

Along the way, we also made some important discoveries about what works:

  • Strong journalism skills are not enough to ensure a fellow’s success. The most effective fellows are entrepreneurs with solidmanagement skills needed to lead complex projects in difficult environments.
  • High-impact projects need a strong commitment from local partners. We need to get buy-in, not just from top management at our partner organizations, but also from those working most closely with the fellow. By putting their own resources into the project, local partners have a stake in its success.
  • Projects are more likely to be successful in stable countries with a relatively high level of media freedom.
  • Projects focusing on digital journalism are more likely to produce lasting impact. Mobile phones reach many more people in developing countries than other media. Authoritarian regimes tend to regulate traditional media more than the Internet.
  • Fellows have greater success the longer they are in the field. But we ask only the strongest fellows to extend.
  • Language fluency is essential for success. Previous experience working in a country is not.
  • Innovations developed by Knight fellows can be replicated in other ICFJ programs.

By sharing this report, we hope that others in the field can learn from it – and that they too will share their best practices and lessons learned.

Eric Newton

Senior Adviser to the President, Knight Foundation

and Joyce Barnathan

president, ICFJ

Saturday showdown in the Gulf Coast: Battlestorm tournament helps kids prep for hurricane season

May 17, 2011, 10:52 a.m., Posted by Jessica Goldfin

With names like VikingTNTBandit and Buzz Kill, the team roster for The Hurricane reads like a mix between X-Men and Ocean’s 11. But their opponents, teams of kids from Boys and Girls Clubs in the Gulf Coast, say they’re ready for whatever their U.S. Navy-trained, adult counterparts can bring.

This Saturday, more than 600 people are expected to pour into the Biloxi High School Competition Gymnasium for a tournament of champions known as the Battlestorm Big Event. The game, funded by Knight Foundation and created by design firm Area/Code, helps families get ready for hurricane season by engaging residents and community partners. The result keeps kids active while teaching them how to help their families prepare. (For more background, see previous posts here and here.) Knight is interested in whether innovative strategies that apply gaming concepts might be able to change how people get ready for storms.

Each and every story on a neighborhood that has been devastated by extreme weather recently reinforces the need for families to be aware and prepared by having disaster plans and emergency survival kits.

Thanks to United Way, people who come on Saturday to cheer for their teams will be able to build a free hurricane kit at the event to take home with them at the end of the day.

Teams have been practicing every week and reaching out to the community around them to get as many people involved as possible. Over 100 people have submitted pictures of their own hurricane preparedness kits to the game’s website as a way of supporting the kids. (With every post in their name, a team gets a “Power Token” that gives them an advantage in the tournament.) Business leaders from the Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce, the Hard Rock Casino, Mississippi Power and the local ABC news station have submitted pictures of their kits. Even the mayors of Gulfport and Ocean Springs and a Mississippi Gubernatorial candidate have taken the time to smile for the camera.

Now all that remains is to see who is left standing at the end of the day – the kids, who represent Gulf Coast communities, or the Hurricane, which represents the upcoming storm season. I’m rooting for the kids because as Shannon from the BGCGC of Hancock County says in their team profile below, “We are the Swamp Roots and we’re coming for you, Hurricane!”

Akron program director seeking to help engage Akron in its future

May 17, 2011, 8:54 a.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

Jennifer Thomas

Jennifer Thomas, Knight Foundation Akron program director, at the Andrew Jackson House in Akron. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal)

On the heels of news that Knight will support Northeast Ohio's Cascade Village with a $1.7 million grant to Community Builders, Akron Beacon-Journal Reporter Betty Lin Fisher profiles Knight's Akron Program Director Jennifer Thomas.

In the interview, Thomas said her Akron strategy is ''to develop, attract and engage the next generation of talent to bring expertise and perspective to the civic and economic challenges we'll face in the transformation.''  The ''next generation'' doesn't necessarily mean young people.  She said, "we need leaders who are as tech savvy as they are strategic. This is not just about young people. It's not age specific to me."

"It's definitely not just the 20-somethings, but they are a part of it. As we develop Akron into an engaged community, then they'll want to be here."

Contact Jennifer Thomas with your ideas for engaging Akron.

Chairman Rob Briggs Featured as 'Difference Maker' for Akron

May 16, 2011, 3:14 p.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

Crain's Cleveland Business magazine features Knight Foundation Chairman Rob Briggs as one of ten "Difference Makers" in its May 16th edition.

Reporter Kathy Ames Carr says of Rob:

"Throughout his career, Robert Briggs has exhibited a tireless devotion to regionalism and community outreach, and colleagues say his advocacy has been a driving force in improving the region's economic competitiveness"

Currently, Briggs is the chairman emeritus and former CEO of Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs LLP. He became a Knight Foundation trustee in June 2002 and was elected chairman in 2010.

Rob Briggs
Rob Briggs

At Knight, he has helped the foundation shift toward making grants that have a lasting transformational impact and promote informed and engaged communities.

An active member of the Akron community, Briggs is involved with several regional organizations. He is a board member and former co-chair of OneCommunity; a board member and chair of Invent Now Inc. – The National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation; founding chair and current member of the Fund For Our Economic Future, an unprecedented collaboration of more than 80 philanthropists in Northeast Ohio. He also serves on the board of FirstMerit Corp. and those of other for-profit businesses.

Inspiration, South Florida style: Knight Arts Challenge Miami finalists announced

May 16, 2011, 2:23 p.m., Posted by Marika Lynch

Last fall, we asked for the best ideas for the arts in South Florida. We received more than 1,300 ideas, and today we're happy to announce the 56 finalists for the Knight Arts Challenge Miami.

We hope you're as inspired as we were by these innovative ideas for bringing people together through the arts. Read on for more, and stay tuned for the announcement of the winners in November.

56 Finalists announced in Knight Arts Challenge Miami

Contest part of $40 million cultural initiative to spur community engagement

MIAMI (May 16, 2011) – The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced the finalists in the Knight Arts Challenge Miami, an annual contest that aims to bring South Florida together through the arts.

The 56 finalists...

No dead ends: How news sites can keep readers engaged

May 13, 2011, 2:17 p.m., Posted by Elise Hu

This post is the third in a series about a Knight Foundation roundtable that brought together news start-ups and tech entrepreneurs. A report is forthcoming.

A few simple guidelines when it comes to user engagement online from Hong Qu, former user interface designer for YouTube:

  1. Follow-up
  2. Follow-up
  3. Follow-up

In other words, make sure there are no dead ends when it comes to opportunities for user engagement with your site.  Always have another level of engagement that people can find.

By constantly giving the user more actions and functionality to engage more deeply with the platform, you can move users from passive outsiders to active participants in your communities.

“When a visitor finishes reading an article about health care reform, she should be asked to sign up to follow future developments,” Qu offered as an example. “The next time she goes back to the site, health care articles should be prominently displayed to her.  The goal is to convert this visitor to become a regular reader.”

If you’re a nonprofit news organization, getting members to donate is just a starting point in a relationship. Follow up with new members to learn how to contact them, and survey them to see what they want from your organization. They might also be willing to help you in the future.

Research today indicates that the social web is rapidly becoming a major driver of users to sites and news articles. For news organizations, this trend presents an opportunity to use existing community members to nudge outsiders to start reading. With smart follow-up, you can win them into your community, too.

For many local news nonprofits, these conversions are already happening. Paul Bass of the New Haven Independent holds competitions for its users to find typos. Winners get a coffee mug. Such an approach offers an initial entry point for users, some of whom enjoy seeking and finding errors in stories. The news organization gets another layer of editing — for free.

Once a community starts forming, news organizations are finding ways to grow it. Bass’ organization leverages community members by inviting their participation in live events or projects. At one event, for example, the community was asked to participate in a book club that would result in the author of the book showing up to take questions before a live audience. This presentation was then covered by the NPR member station and local TV, and both were live streamed and live blogged. Initially, engaging the community by encouraging it to find typos led to more engagement, and them more, and so on. Bass said that he always asks “Where do you bring them next?”

These opportunities for follow-up don’t have to be technological features. By breaking up stories or themes into discrete parts or packaging them differently, users benefit from new paths of engagement established by the content. Sites can re-package larger narrative content with archival pieces to make better sense of breaking stories, for example, or re-introduce previous content in a numbered list or a timeline structure when appropriate. Such practices can help the community gain more understanding about news topic and allow the journalism to get more mileage. In my previous job at The Texas Tribune, we re-packaged the best of our previous reporting on the so-called ‘sanctuary cities’ topic to help provide context and another entry point to coverage for audiences to explore. Create new paths, and leave no dead ends.

So remember Qu’s number one rule: Follow-up. Use every opportunity to activate your user to move up the participation spectrum.

Elise Hu is the digital editorial coordinator of NPR’s Impact of Government project. She covered the Knight Foundation’s ‘Getting Local’ roundtable as a freelancer.

Seven lessons for journalists from tech entrepreneurs

May 11, 2011, 11:02 a.m., Posted by Elise Hu

The marriage of journalism and tech is expected to last, and the union has created opportunities for each industry to share important lessons. Last week, Knight Foundation gathered a dozen leaders of non-profit news organizations with some of the most innovative minds in tech entrepreneurism to share ideas for user engagement that transcend industry.

Reed and Adler

For the entrepreneurs, who ranged from the former CTO of the online T-shirt giant Threadless, to one of the earliest user interface designers for YouTube, the overriding message was simple: leverage new technology to empower your user communities. Seven lessons they shared in Miami on Friday:

Just as Knight facilitated with Friday’s meeting, hearing from people with tech backgrounds outside news — especially those who don’t even own button-up shirts — can be worthwhile.

Elise Hu is the digital editor of the Impact of Government project at NPR. She wrote this post as a freelance writer for Knight Foundation.

  1. Your platform is a product. Thinking of your news organization as a product provides a compelling incentive to build a strong platform and have more personal relationships with your users. “You’re a product for engagement, instead of a news organization,” said Charles Adler, who co-founded, a site that helps find community funding for creative projects. “Content is a conduit to get people to come back. But then you need platform to keep them engaged and tools to keep them engaged,” Adler said.
  2. Build the small things to test your premise. To iterate quickly and test quickly, slice up the development of major news products into small pieces. In the software development world, this is known as “agile” or “iterative” development. As Threadless’ former Chief Technology Officer Harper Reed explained, imagine if you’re selling cars online and you create a simple form to sell those cars. And every time someone filled out a form you called a dealer for a car, first, just to see if this idea worked. Do that part instead of building out a massive online car sales system with complicated front ends and back ends that could be a failure. “Build out the smallest piece of functionality you can, and then do it over and over again [for each piece],” Reed said.
  3. Free your content by letting people share it. The YouTube community grew around an action that allowed users to spread the YouTube brand: an embeddable video. Hong Qu, former user interface designer at YouTube and now a graduate student at the CUNY school of journalism, says you can easily translate that YouTube type of engagement to the news ecosystem by creating news widgets that are easily embeddable for your audience. It's a way of freeing your content and letting it go. However, those embed "stickers" can still be tracked to measure what's happening as your widget is spread across the web and boost search engine ranking. “How can they embed your message in a small package? That will draw passive readers into fans. And when a donor and advertisers see these real life, in the physical world presence of your brand, then they’ll possibly see how your product matters in the community,” Qu said.
  4. Seek feedback simply. Get feedback quickly from your users the way does. The server company includes a box at the bottom of every one of their pages that allows users to complete the sentence “I wish this page would…” Users can enter whatever they want, and the company responds quickly. Harper Reed suggests this for news sites, so long as someone can respond to the messages. If the user wished for something and someone could respond and say “We’re working on it, it’s coming in two weeks” or “thank you do you want to test our new functionality,” you’ve won over a member of the community and/or found a new source. “If you give the users you use to moderate your content, they will use it and do your job for you,” Reed said. “Give them the tools to be the cops … the tools to help make the community to go. Who watches the watchmen? You watch the watchmen.”
  5. Re-engage users every time they come back. What does Amazon do so well? It recommends products that you might like based on your viewing and buying habits. If you’re reading the Kindle, it tells you where you were in your reading when you got distracted. For long-form journalism, that kind of guide could work well. Or, suggests Reed, it would be great to add community and see what your friends were reading, where their mouses hovered or how they annotated a story. Adding an additional functionality to reveal what posts were written by outside bloggers based on a news organization’s original article can be a powerful tool to get people caring and sharing. “That shouldn’t be the focus of your site, it should be the accidental background feature,” Reed said. But in today’s social web, part of your communities will likely find those tools quite useful.
  6. Be authentic to your community. Be similar to the community you build. You have to live it, believe it and be part of it; otherwise your attempts to harness it come across as false. In the T-shirt universe, people in the company who wore suits or button-up shirts had to adapt to wear tees, or go elsewhere. In the news universe, avoid a situation where you’re looking up or looking down to your users.  “Give the users a place that they can trust. They need to trust you and trust their fellow users,” Reed said.
  7. Get close to the natives. Reach out to other folks who are building online communities, even if they don’t seem close to your core product. “There are groups of people who are very good at building online communities… Even if they don’t do news, grab those people and keep ‘em close,” said Reed. Problems with trolls, bad content or poisonous participants in internet forums, for example, have been addressed creatively by people who aren’t part of the news universe, like engineers at Google, who explained how they keep their open source communities clear of poisonous people in this video.

Just as Knight facilitated with Friday’s meeting, hearing from people with tech backgrounds outside news — especially those who don’t even own button-up shirts — can be worthwhile.

Elise Hu is the digital editor of the Impact of Government project at NPR. She wrote this post as a freelance writer for Knight Foundation.

Real-world social games are fun…but do they work?

May 10, 2011, 3:23 p.m., Posted by Mayur Patel

Mayur Patel

For centuries, humans have used games to learn survival and social skills through play. According to the Institute of Play, chess was used to teach strategy, and in his 1938 book “Playing Man,” Dutch Historian Johan Huizinga posited that play was necessary in the generation of culture. It’s no surprise then that theorists and do-gooders alike are turning to game theory to design strategies to influence the culture of communities – how individuals connect with one another and how they develop new skills and attitudes.

In a previous post we talked about two real-world games funded by Knight Foundation and developed in partnership with Area/Code that have the potential to create changes in attitudes and behaviors in communities. While much has been written about how digital games, in particular video games, have the potential to improve learning and influence behavior, less attention has been paid to the effects of real-world games – i.e., games that are played out in the physical world. Through our work with Area/Code we’re exploring this very topic.

Over the next six months we’ll be conducting evaluations of Macon Money and Battlestorm and sharing results along the way. We hope that this will allow other communities, funders, researchers and gamers to explore the potential of these games with us and help move the field forward. We are working with Cause Communications and Madeleine Taylor from Arbor Consulting Partners to evaluate the process of each game (how it actually gets planned and implemented) and the outcome of each game (its overall effectiveness).


  • What is the effect of the games on community members who participate? Does participation in the game affect participants’ knowledge, attitudes and behavior as intended?
  • What is the role of community partners in the games? What is their role in institutionalizing learning and sustaining elements of the project after it is completed?
  • What factors affected game implementation and outcomes? Can the games be replicated in other settings?

We’re interviewing participants and conducting surveys and focus groups to hear directly from community members about the impact of the games. In a series of posts, videos and graphics, we’ll share a glimpse into Macon, GA, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast as we think about what the implications of the evaluations could mean in a larger context.

We’re also keeping a close eye on how communities adapt to unforeseen barriers as they play the games. For example, in Macon, game partners are already shifting their strategy to respond to large coupon offers like Groupon that are flooding businesses at the same time that they are being asked to promote Macon Money. And in Mississippi, game designers are using feedback from kids who are testing the game to change the rules to make the gameplay more fun and effective.

We’re interested in hearing your questions about the games and suggestions for what potential impact they can have as currently designed, or, what their application might be in other contexts. If you have any thoughts, please get in touch with us.

Stay tuned for the findings as the evaluation progresses!

Macon Money: a game that uses an alternative form of local currency – Macon Money – to connect residents to each other and to attract and expose residents to local business in the College Hill Corridor and downtown area. The game is being implemented and developed in partnership with the College Hill Alliance.


Battlestorm: a game designed to promote the importance of hurricane preparedness through activities focused on youth.  The game is being developed and implemented in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club, United Way of South Mississippi, and Harrison County Emergency Operations Center.


Tonight: Book launch celebrates impact of Knight Community Information Challenge

May 10, 2011, 2:55 p.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

Paula Ellis

By Paula Ellis, VP/Strategic Initiatives

Knight Foundation is featured in a new book about how how funders are going beyond grant making to help make transformational change in communities.

Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World features the Knight Community Information Challenge, which encourages community and place-based foundations to fund news and information projects.

Tonight, Paula Ellis, Knight's vice president for strategic initiatives, will talk about the challenge at the book launch, to be televised at 5:30 p.m. on C-Span Book TV.

Ellis will speak about how Knight is working with a network of peers - in this case community and place-based foundations - to help ensure communities are informed and engaged around issues important to them. To help build this network, Knight Foundation has gone beyond traditional grant making to push for catalytic change by:

As a result, the number of community and place-based foundations that fund in this area is growing. In a 2010 survey, 46 percent of foundations said their funding in news and information has increased in past three years, and 59 percent said it will increase in the next three years. Learn more about the challenge at

Do More Than Give was written by Leslie Crutchfield, John Kania and Mark Kramer of FSG, a nonprofit consulting firm.

Knight Foundation awards infuse Philadelphia arts scene with $2.7 million

May 9, 2011, 5:30 p.m., Posted by Dennis Scholl

Crossposted from

2011 marks the inaugural year of the Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia, our three-year, $9 million initiative to fund the best ideas for the arts in Philadelphia. Today, we’re pleased to announce the thirty-six winners receiving $2.7 million in new funding.

Like you, we believe the arts inspire and enrich communities. Last fall, we asked the community one simple question: "What’s your best idea for the arts in Philadelphia?" The response was a record-setting 1,752 applications from a wide range of independent artists, organizations, community groups and businesses, demonstrating the city’s vibrant creativity and passion for the arts.

We congratulate the winners and thank everyone who submitted an idea. Applications for year two will open this fall, and we look forward to seeing even more great ideas from the Philadelphia community!

Read on below for the full list of winners and their inspiring ideas...

Getting Local: Pondering the Future of News Engagement

May 9, 2011, 3:36 p.m., Posted by Elise Hu

"I'm excited about news. I'm not excited about paper." - Harper Reed, founder of Threadless

Knight's local nonprofit news summit in Miami.

It's the ultimate mind-meld in Miami. We've teamed up representatives from some of the hottest local nonprofit news organizations around the country with smart thinkers from the entrepreneurial community for a day-long conference on how to build sustainability through not just revenue, but better audience engagement and organizational capacity.

We'll be putting up inpidual posts about the themes that emerged, but here's a brief preview:

The engagement-donation paradox The paradox describes a situation in which the most active users of a site are also the least likely to give. Joel Kramer, CEO of MinnPost, said the biggest donors to his news organization tend to be older, philanthrophic folk who don't frequently interact with the site. On the flip side, the audience members who are most engaged with the site — those who are part of MinnPost's robust commenting community or share its stories through social media — give in the smallest numbers if they give at all. At the St. Louis Beacon, "Someone who gave us $750 didn't even know our URL," said the Beacon's Nicole Hollway.

Everything old is new again We know journalism is no longer a lecture, it's a conversation. For many of the local news startups meeting Friday, those conversations are best cultivated and nurtured through face-to-face interactions. The Texas Tribune has found a reliable revenue stream through major sponsorships of its TribLive breakfast events, in which key newsmakers are interviewed before live audiences. The St. Louis Beacon, which sees itself "not as a news organization but as an engagement engine," hosts three or four events per month. Voice of San Diego is seeing its most loyal readers show up at coffees with its staff.  "Our coffees are so simple because we invite the members to come in and talk to us. Our agenda is to find out what they are up to. But their agenda is to spread influence/gawk at the people whose words they read," said VOSD engagement editor Grant Barrett. These in-person engagements are creating higher brand identity, trust in the news organization, and in many cases, they can translate to dollars. But open questions remain about how to reach audiences beyond those who are most loyally showing up at in-person get togethers.

Comparing apples to monthly uniques to oranges The two dozen journo-entrepreneurs in Miami could agree on the various factors that defined engagement, but they lack a universal system for measuring it. Where monthly uniques are valuable for many, the news organizations that favor a dedicated, intense community cared far less about sometimes-vaunted uniques. The group called for a universal system to measure the strength of their social value in communities, but acknowledged that if revenue sustainability is the goal, "the metric that matters" tends to be the ones that sponsors and advertisers care about at the point they're deciding to spend.

Make an embeddable The YouTube community grew around a simple action that allowed users to spread the YouTube brand: sharing an embeddable video. Hong Qu, former user interface designer at YouTube and now a graduate student at CUNY, says you can easily translate that YouTube type engagement to the news ecosystem by creating news widgets that are easily embeddable for your audience. It's a way of freeing your content and letting it go, but those embeddables can still be tracked to measure what's happening as your widget is spread across the web.

My community, myself T-shirt company Threadless was built on the strength of a vibrant community of amateur t-shirt designers and the people who voted for them. Sometimes, those preferences were for keyboard cat tees. But hey, community rules. Threadless co-founder Harper Reed's simple truths:

  1. If you empower the user, they will empower you and empower your community.
  2. "If you don’t identify with your community, you are not in the right community. If you feel you are above, or below, you are not in the right place. You can argue with that, but that’s true."

So you can probably tell it was an intense day of big brains sharing big ideas. But even larger questions remain: how can strong communities be better leveraged for sustainable revenue? What is the value of a community? Are we doing a good enough job of engaging the wider audience, and not just our most loyal community members? To be continued...

Elise Hu is the digital editor of the Impact of Government project at NPR. She is covering this event as a freelance writer for Knight Foundation.

Informed optimism in Detroit

May 9, 2011, 1:50 p.m., Posted by Rishi Jaitly

By Rishi Jaitly, Knight Foundation Program Director, Detroit

What happens when you mix community engagement, contemporary art, and architectural beauty? That’s the question Knight Foundation’s VP/Arts Dennis Scholl and acclaimed community builder Tony Goldman asked during a joint visit to Detroit last week.

Tony Goldman (L) and Dennis Scholl on a site visit to Michigan Central Station, photo courtesy of Rishi Jaitly

Goldman, chairman of Goldman Properties, is well known for the significant role he played as a real-estate developer in the renewal of New York’s SoHo, Miami’s South Beach, and Philadelphia’s Center City. “I had heard of Detroit’s great potential before my visit,” said Goldman. “But the city’s greatness far surpassed my expectations.”

Goldman and Scholl’s visit included discussions with place-based community artists like the Power House Project, visits to historic sites such as the abandoned Michigan Central Station and gatherings involving the city’s top officials and youngest “do-ers”. “The city’s grand landscape and its imaginative people present a rare opportunity to invest in community reactivation,” added Goldman. “And I believe contemporary art in particular could be what transforms Detroit.”

Scholl, a recognized leader in the arts and a long-time friend of Goldman’s, also played an important role in the revitalization of Miami’s South Beach. “Time and again, as they did in Miami, artists often lead urban renewal,” said Scholl. “Supporting the energy of Detroit’s artists and nurturing their connection to community is crucial.”

Hope, optimism, and ideas abound among many across Detroit these days. But Scholl and Goldman’s “we’ve-done-it-before” credibility provided a good dose of informed optimism across the city. “Detroit will get there and, in many respects, is already there,” said Goldman. “I have no doubt that, with vision, optimism, and a little patience, Detroit’s inherent beauty will shine for all.”

Exploring the current state of arts education

May 6, 2011, 5:50 p.m., Posted by Dennis Scholl

By Dennis Scholl and Tatiana Hernandez

Today, the President’s Committee on Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) released its Knight Foundation funded report on the current state of arts education. For those of us passionate about the arts and concerned over recent trends, this report couldn’t have come at a better time. The Committee found that, despite decades of research linking high-quality arts education with increased academic achievement, school engagement and creative thinking, overall access to arts programs has been limited. So, where do we go from here? According to the PCAH, we need to develop more and stronger networks of support between educators, legislators and leaders in the arts, to build the social capital needed to move things forward. We must also deepen the integration of art throughout curriculums – establishing interdisciplinary touch points. Interestingly, the Committee also recommends expanding opportunities for teaching artists in the classroom similar to the suggested national “ArtistsCorp” program – mentioned in the President’s Arts Policy Platform.

Professional development opportunities for working artists that educate and engage the community are exactly the kind of programming we want to see more of. The arts are once again demonstrating their importance in the development of strong, well-rounded and informed citizens. Click here for the full report.

People at center of effort to strengthen Akron neighborhood

May 5, 2011, 10:06 a.m., Posted by Jennifer Thomas

Jennifer Thomas, Akron program director

This afternoon, Jeannie Wilson and her friends and neighbors in Akron’s Cascade Village will gather to celebrate their new neighborhood.

New is a relative term. For generations, the neighborhood was a dilapidated housing project considered one of the most troubled areas in the city. Its rebirth began in 2006, when 250 new homes, complete with front porches and tree-lined streets, were built on the site.

The neighborhood was physically transformed. But what about the residents?

The Community Builders, which has 50 years of experience in affordable housing, knew that the key to the neighborhood’s success was the people who lived there, not just the bricks and mortar.

The staff at Cascade Village started to invite residents to coffee hours, knitting circles and salsa classes - as a way to build the personal relationships and networks that strengthen communities. Today, Knight Foundation is enhancing this resident-led effort, with $1.7 million in support to help residents come together to build a community as welcoming and engaging as its new homes.

The  program will provide career and financial coaching, improve school and youth programming and bring people together so that neighbors can help each other solve problems. The key here: it’s resident-led. Neighbors will rely on each other come up with their own solutions to problems. They aren’t turning to outside experts.

As Knight Foundation Vice President Paula Ellis told the Akron Beacon Journal:

''We are committed to helping unlock all of the power that people have and involve people in creating their own solutions. The idea is that you have a more resilient community if there are more people creating solutions.''

The support is part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to strengthen communities by engaging them in issues critical to their future.

Jeannie Wilson, a community organizer who lives in Cascade Village with her son, is excited by what’s to come.

“When I heard about this program, I got really excited,” Wilson said. I couldn’t help but think that my neighborhood would be like the one I grew up in – where everybody knew each other, and looked out for each other. You didn’t have to go outside for help.”

Examining the future of arts journalism

May 4, 2011, 10:38 a.m., Posted by Dennis Scholl

Cross-posted from

On Wednesday, April 13 I was invited to be a panelist at a Christie’s panel discussion titled “A Second Look at the Future of Arts Journalism.” The auction house convened a pretty august group, including Lindsey Pollack, editor in chief of Art in America, a 98-year-old magazine and one of the big three in contemporary art and Eric Gibson, editor of the Wall Street Journal’s Leisure & Arts page, which has been become a must-read with for all things cultural with the infusion of Rupert Murdock's money. The panel was led by Sree Sreenivasan, dean of student affairs & digital media professor at the Columbia Journalism School

The room was filled with some of the leading arts journalists in the world, including Blake Gopnik of Newsweek; Kelly Crow of the WSJ; freelancer Lee Rosenbaum, also know by her blog handle CultureGrrl; and Phoebe Hoban, author of the recently published and beautifully written biography Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty.

The discussion was far ranging, but landed quickly on the search for the elusive business model that would allow arts journalists to make a living wage.  Doug McClennan's oft quoted statistic of the number of arts journalists in America dropping 50% from 5,000 to 2,500 in the last five years put the issue in perspective.

I whispered about a yet to be formally announced Knight initiative in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts called the Arts Journalism Challenge. The challenge will launch in July in the eight Knight resident cities of Akron, Charlotte, Detroit, Macon, Miami, Philadelphia, Saint Paul and San Jose. Together with the NEA, Knight Foundation will be seeking ideas for how to increase community arts coverage in those eight cities. Knight and the NEA will send out an RFP, select the best ideas and fund the development of an action plan for each of them. The best plans will receive up to two years of funding to be launched with the goal to create a series of sustainable models to increase the level of community arts coverage. The eight knight cities are acting as a beta, with the possibility of a national launch in 2012.

The crowd at Christie’s was quite interested and the Twitter traffic was significant. The panel was live streamed and you can take a look at the discussion here. I want to thank Mary Trudel of Trudel Macpherson for all her efforts in putting the panel together and including me.  And additional thanks to Toby Usnik at Christie’s for sharing feedback on Knight initiatives like Random Acts of Culture and the Knight Arts Challenge.

The Akronist prepares to launch

May 2, 2011, 3:33 p.m., Posted by Susan Mernit

By Susan Mernit

In the hardscrabble city of Akron, staffers at the Akron Community Foundation are putting the finishing touches on of The Akronist, a citizen media web site that will  give local citizens both the tools and a platform to make their voices heard.

Back in 2009, Akron Community Foundation VP Donae Eckert applied for a Knight Community Information Challenge. The ask? Matching funding for a project whose goal was to provide residents in Akron and the Northeast Ohio region with a training academy and a citizen-journalism website where residents could publish, read and comment on locally produced features on critical issues and share news and information about what was happening in their city.

Fast-forward to spring 2011, and the Akron Community Foundation’s dream is becoming a reality. The Akronist, the ACF’s new citizen journalist web site, officially launches soon.

The media academy has trained more than 200 people and is...

Boys of color front and center in Philly educators gathering

May 2, 2011, 1:02 p.m., Posted by Donna Frisby-Greenwood


When a gathering of leaders opens with them spending a day with 30 incarcerated teen boys, you know it's not gong to be just another conference.

Last week, while much of the world focused on William and Kate, 300 education leaders gathered in the City of Brotherly Love to seek knowledge, share experiences, and collaborate on how to change educational outcomes for males of color.  The Knight-funded 5th Annual Gathering of Leaders, hosted by the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC), is designed for leaders to connect, share and learn. 

But what made this gathering unique is that it keeps boys of color front and center.  After spending the first day with incarcerated young men, the second day nearly 80 young men from COSEBOC-affiliate schools from across the country shared their dramatic interpretations and testimonials about the power of their resiliency and why they are and will continue to focus on their education. There was not a dry eye at Temple University as we all swelled with pride.  Young men were at the forefront even during an awards dinner recognizing the efforts of seven prestigious leaders.



Young men from Boys' Latin of Philadelphia High School introduced the honorees, the Young Kings, 6-12 years old, from Boston, Mass. sang and recited poetry and a jazz trio of three young men, ranging in age from 11-19 years-old and studying music after school at the Philadelphia Clef Club, had everyone on their feet asking for more.  It is the brilliance and talent of those young men highlighted throughout the weekend that lies within all males of color and that COSEBOC honoree, Shawn Dove of the Open Society Institute, reminded us that we sometimes have to pull it out.

While the gathering gave leaders an opportunity to talk and listen, it went a step further by  lifting up schools that work, connecting  academics, funders, practitioners and school leaders, and inspiring everyone to return home energized and armed to support better schooling for males of color.

I take my hat off to COSEBOC Executive Director Ron Walker and to Board Chairman Dr. Larry Leverett, as well as to the COSEBOC staff for organizing a community of folks, from all races, to do everything they can to take action on behalf of males of color.

Eric Newton: Where is press freedom headed?

May 2, 2011, 10:06 a.m., Posted by Marika Lynch

Which way is press freedom headed globally?

Eric Newton

Knight Foundation’s Eric Newton asked the question today at the official celebration of World Press Freedom Day, the first time the event has been presented in the United States.

“Looking at the past, you’d have to say it would be forward -- and backward,” Newton, the foundation’s senior adviser to the president, told a panel at the celebration in D.C., sponsored by Knight.

We see violence and instability driving our traditional press freedom indicators downward, and digital revolution and popular uprisings pushing our hopes upward. If we can’t tell where freedom really stands, how can we help it grow?

Freedom House reported today that press freedom worldwide declined to its lowest level in over a decade. Only one is six people live in a country with a free press, the report said. Trends for 2011 are unclear.

Newton also called on the U.S. to increase aid for international media development programs.

This wholesale reinvention of communications should cause western governments, the largest providers of media development aid, to increase support exponentially. Like the century of peace, that’s not happening, either.

Media development money is a pimple on the nose of global aid. Globally, estimates put it at $500 million a year -- the price of four F22 Raptors. This makes no sense. Media development aid creates the independent journalism that tells you whether all the other aid is being stolen. Just as freedom of expression supports all other freedom, media aid supports all other aid.

To help, Knight Foundation, which since 1950 has promoted freedom of expression worldwide, today announced it will support an international effort to get bloggers and online journalists legal help, through the Media Legal Defense Initiative. The effort will pay for legal representation, offer advice and legal resources to lawyers and take on some important legal test cases involving digital media.

Read Newton's full speech.