Knight Blog

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

Crowdsourcing in a crisis: mapping radiation levels in Japan

June 30, 2011, 1:32 p.m., Posted by Annie Shreffler

Above: iGeigie from Joi on Flickr

Yesterday, we looked at crowdsourcing in crisis, taking the Middle East as an example. The thoughts came from Al Jazeera’s head of New Media Mohamed Nanabhay, who spoke on a panel at the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference.

Today, we turn to the experiences of Joi Ito, new director of the MIT Media Lab, who has been crowdsourcing radiation levels in post-quake Japan:

On the panel, Ito said he was frustrated with the lack of useful information from Japan’s news organizations in the first few hours after the earthquake. As he monitored events from the U.S, he was glad for the rapid Twitter updates.

“People sitting in pitch dark rooms, phones aren’t working and they’re on the net or watching TV. They don’t know what to do. They don’t know if they should be running away. Twitter was offering instruction long before news organizations offered any information. In that way, they were more effective in the early hours of the crisis.”

After the nuclear plant meltdown at Fukushima, Ito’s frustration was compounded by the ongoing misinformation from the government on safe levels of radiation. Rather than relying on inaccurate reports from government agencies, Ito began...

Chicago Community Trust study: Links foster healthy online information flows

June 30, 2011, 1:20 p.m., Posted by Michele McLellan

A new report for The Chicago Community Trust analyzes news flows in Chicago and provides a thought-provoking analysis of the city's emerging news ecosystem and the roles of key information providers and sharers. It also shows the potential power of Web savvy community news start ups and nontraditional information providers as a new news environment takes shape.

In the national, often web-ideology-driven, debate about value on the Web, news aggregators often take a big hit as parasites on organizations doing the expensive work of actually producing original content. Any aggregator who takes advantage - by stealing significant chunks of material from other sites and/or by failing to credit and link back to the original - deserve our disdain and more. After all, content producers (many of whom are professional journalists) need a paycheck just like the rest of us.

But the aggregators who play fair deserve another look. At least on the ground on the local news start up scene, where I spend most of my time, aggregators have a valuable role to play in an increasingly diffuse news ecosystem. In a world where news is abundant but traditional bundles are dissolving, smart curation (which we used to call editing) and thoughtful selection and outbound linking is a service that stands alongside creating content. Right now, it is vital both to information consumers as well as producers, including many journalists who are desperately trying to get their work in front of people now that corporate-owned news organizations have shed them by the thousands.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in my home base, Chicago, where feisty news start ups like Gapers Block, Windy Citizen and dozens of others, frequently link to the best content on other, lesser known sites.

As Andrew Huff, editor and publisher of Gapers Block told me this week in an e-mail:

"Having grown out of the weblog community rather than the traditional media community, we've had a philosophy from the beginning that linking is the coin of the realm on the web. We link to other websites because that's what makes the Internet work -- if you can't trust your readers to come back to you after...

Lend local, lead local: Kiva Detroit empowers Detroiters as champions of local businesses

June 30, 2011, 10 a.m., Posted by Rishi Jaitly

Delphia Simmons of Detroit is a Kiva donor

Above: Delphia Simmons, who has received a microloan.

What if you could make a loan to your favorite new art gallery in town?  What if you could connect with others lending to the art gallery and, together, discover other small businesses in need that your community might rally around?

Now, you can: today, we’re happy to announce the launch of Kiva Detroit, an innovative effort to empower Detroiters by enabling them to lend to and champion the success of local businesses through

Knight Foundation is contributing $250,000 to Kiva Detroit: our grant will match citizen lending dollar-for-dollar on, while also helping the program scale.  Kiva Detroit is the organization’s first locally-organized effort in the United States.

Other partners are helping, too. Michigan Corps, a network of local and global Michiganders committed to social change across the state, leads a volunteer community of Detroiters who source businesses for Kiva Detroit and builds enduring, productive relationships among lenders, borrowers, and the community at large. ACCION USA, a U.S. microfinance institution, approves and administers loans.

Paula Ellis on kick off of first Clinton Global Initiative focused on America

June 29, 2011, 1:28 p.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

Watch live streaming video from cgi_plenary at

President Clinton kicks off the first Clinton Global Initiative focused exclusively on America.  This conference is focused on revitalizing the economy. I was invited to represent Knight and join in the working groups on service corps.  We had a preliminary work call last week and will meet over the next two days to discuss transformnig "economic dislocation into community engagement."  Other groups are focused on STEM education, Veterans, workforce development, startups, manufacturing, healthcare workforce, infrastructure and the rural economy.

By Paula Ellis, VP/Strategic Initiatives

A rock in one hand, cell phone in the other: Crowdsourcing crisis info in the Middle East

June 29, 2011, 11:11 a.m., Posted by Annie Shreffler

If you take a look around these days at any event, you can be sure to spot mobile phones taking pics and video – allowing anyone to share news in real time. So how does our society adjust to gather and disseminate accurate information?

That was a session topic at last week’s MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference, featuring Mohamed Nanabhay, head of New Media at Al Jazeera and Joi Ito, director of MIT’s Media Lab and co-founder of the crowdsourcing project Safecast, which aggregates radiation levels in post-quake Japan.

Journalist’s Resource offers research and reference material for journalism schools

June 28, 2011, 2:43 p.m., Posted by Emily Mirengoff

The Harvard Kennedy School’s Joan Shorenstein Center has recently launched its newly-redesigned Journalist’s Resource, where journalists, students and instructors can find research studies on current events, syllabi and course materials for journalism lessons, and references for journalism basics. All content is free.

On the instructor’s guide, professors can find full, semester-long syllabi, which emphasize knowledge-based journalism, as well as case studies and adaptable teaching assignments. Furthermore, all of the Journalist’s Resource’s policy studies come with teaching notes, which provide suggestions for instructors on how the studies can be used in the classroom. The site also discusses journalistic problems, and suggests examples that instructors might use to help students avoid those pitfalls.


Art and innovation in uptown Charlotte

June 27, 2011, 5:02 p.m., Posted by Susan Patterson

Those who've attended an artist open house at McColl Center for Visual Art or tapped into their own creativity through the Innovation Institute know just what Chris Gergen is writing about in this column from Sunday's Observer. It's a special place in the heart of uptown. Tuesday night, it will be even more fun when poet-in-residence Scott Cunningham takes to the scaffolding for a special performance at the center from 7 to 9 p.m. I wouldn't miss it.

Jumpstart, Inc., labeled "Ohio's signature job producing nonprofit"

June 27, 2011, 4:52 p.m., Posted by Jennifer Thomas

Jumpstart, Inc. a Northeast Ohio based organization which invest in entrepreneurial start-ups is receiving national attention for it's model. Called "Ohio's signature job producing nonprofit", Knight Foundation has funded Jumpstart to help six Knight cities to create entrepreneurial support systems. Jumpstart is also working with the Obama administration's Start-Up America Campaign to help entrepreneurs nationwide.

Congratulations to this year's winners of the Civic Media Conference Collaboration Contest!

June 27, 2011, 11:59 a.m., Posted by Annie Shreffler

Each year at the Knight-MIT Civic Media Conference, to foster the spirit of innovation and cooperation, attendees are welcome to participate in the Collaboration Contest. Ideas are pitched during dinner, feverish campaigning occurs to win votes, submitted by text, and the winners are announced during the conference wrap-up.

Civic media mobilization: putting down the screens, and putting on a T-shirt

June 24, 2011, 11:45 a.m., Posted by Annie Shreffler

Social media tools may connect us over geographic or social barriers, but are we hitting that “Like” button too much rather than actively participating in our own governance? Chris Faulkner thinks so. As a political consultant and Tea Party member, he wants to see people leave their screens and congregate in person more often.


Civic fictions – the opportunities and limits of online personas

June 24, 2011, 10:52 a.m., Posted by Annie Shreffler

When is it OK to create an online persona – and when is it wrong?

The answer varies, depending on whether the alternative persona is for works of fiction or deception, for entertainment or personal protection, panelists said at the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference Thursday.

“There are some civic-ly useful stories that are probably best told through fiction,” said Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT’s Civic Media Lab, who moderated the panel. “We’ve also got an understanding that there are necessary fictions to allow people to communicate with the media.”

Diving deep into their own experiences, Zuckerman and three writers and star tweeters discussed the role of  civic fiction: Dan Sinker, author of the wildly popular @MayorEmanuel feed, and BlogHer journalist Liz Henryand NPR’s Andy Carvin, who both helped unmask a middle-age man in Scottland who had been posing as a gay Syrian woman blogger named Amina.  

Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron engages health professionals to create community model

June 23, 2011, 1:46 p.m., Posted by Jennifer Thomas

Frank Douglas

Today, the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron held a conference called Healthier by Design: Creating Accountable Care Communities. Over 130 medical, pharmaceutical, university and public health professionals from around the nation attended. ABIA plans to engage the community to create a model for health promotion and disease prevention and increase the quality and delivery of service. ABIA president and CEO Frank Douglas said the goal is to “lessen the burden of disease, thus reducing healthcare costs and improving lives and the productivity of the community.”

Read the releaseAusten BioInnovation Institute in Akron Begins Work on Roadmap for First U.S. Accountable Care Community

Zuckerman: Open Media’s Doors to the World

June 23, 2011, 11:59 a.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

With little pomp, and amid excitement not meant so much for him as for the winners of the fifth round of the Knight News Challenge, Ethan Zuckerman became director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT yesterday.  Zuckerman is the third renowned media leader to head the  effort to improve the lives of citizens with media innovation.

Zuckerman joins his longtime friend, Joi Ito, who was named director of MIT’s Media Lab in April, and Sasha Costanza-Chock, who recently joined the media studies faculty and will serve as co-principal investigator at the Civic Media Center. Together the three powerhouse technologists, with their interest in citizen empowerment via effective communication, stand to make a significant impact on how news is gathered, what stories are reported and how people are moved to participate in their communities.

Zuckerman wants to make that effort bigger than ever with the help of another organization he co-founded, the citizen media platform used in nearly 100 countries called Global Voices.

“I’m hoping to lean on the 400 plus people who work on Global Voices day to day, and the thousands of people that they work with, to bring in citizen media voices from around the world into the civic media program,” he said.

With a new director, and a new $3.76 million grant from Knight, the center is expected to build upon its original mission. It was first proposed to the Knight News Challenge in 2007 as a joint effort between MIT’s Media Lab and the Center for Media Studies, to develop new reporting tools and techniques for local information sharing and citizen journalism. Design-based solutions with practical applications will continue to be a goal for research coming from the Media Lab, but Zuckerman looks forward to the influence Ito will have on the openness of the lab’s culture.

“The Knight Foundation has really insisted that we work in an open source environment. And so I’m hoping that the work that’s been done at ‘Civic’ over the last four years [under the leadership of outgoing director Chris Csikszentmihályi], is some way an example of the idea that you can work in an open source fashion, and still produce something that’s interesting to industry on a lot of different levels,” Zuckerman said.

After reuniting with friends at this year’s MIT-Knight Civic Media conference and celebrating with the final batch of Knight News Challenge winners, Zuckerman took a few minutes to talk about how he sees the media needs of the global community and his notions of civic media.

Annie Shreffler is a freelance journalist covering the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference

Announcing the 2011 Knight News Challenge Winners

June 22, 2011, 2:20 p.m., Posted by John S. Bracken

I'm excited to tell you about the 16 projects Knight Foundation has selected as winners of the fifth Knight News Challenge . (The Center for Future Civic Media is streaming the announcement live.)

Several of the early-arriving winners met for dinner with Knight Foundation staff last night. I was excited to see them discover connections and potential overlaps among their projects that I had not previously noticed. In the list below, you'll find some leading web innovators, two of the most recognized news brands in the country, a couple of prior News Challenge winners and several unfamilar names.

A couple of the themes that I have seen in this group of 16:

  • The rise of the hacker/data journalist. When the News Challenge started, the notion of the programming journalist was a bit of a novelty. Now the hacker-journalist is an established position-- as the vibrancy of projects like Hacks/Hackers attests.

  • A broad interpretation of "news." At dinner last night, two of the winners told me that they were surprised to even make it to the contest's second round; they were not sure they belonged in a news contest. One of the goals of the News Challenge is to find ways of informing and engaging communities in innovative ways, which means we were excited to see applications from people and organizations that wouldn't traditionally be considered part of the news and journalism community.

  • The need to make better sense of the stream. News consumers and journalists alike need help making sense of the streams of data now available to us. Human aggregation and vetting of the type NPR's Andy Carvin has been modeling is one route. Two of the projects below will build tools to help us better understand who is speaking about breaking news events.

A couple of other observations:

  • When we launched the contest last fall we, for the first time, asked for applications in four categories: mobile, sustainability, authenticity and technology in community. In evaluating the projects, we looked for the best ones, independent of category. We saw a lot of ideas in mobile; not as many ideas related to business models advanced deep in the contesst. Of the 16 projects before you, only one relates to potential business models for news.

  • This is the fifth year of an original five year commitment our trustees made in 2006. We don't have news to announce on the next phase of the News Challenge today, other than to say that we expect it to continue, and we expect to do it better and faster. We'll have more details in the fall, but we know we need to make the contest more agile and responsive to changes in the field. We also think that we, like so many others in the tech innovation field, need to do a better job of identifying women entrepreneurs. (We shared a synopsis of what we learned through the first two years of the News Challenge earlier this week.)

  • I want to thank Google, which last fall donated $2 million towards our media innovation grantmaking-- $1 million of which has been applied to the $4.7 million in grants that we are announcing today

  • I want to acknowledge the efforts of the 42 people who contributed their expertise to our review of the applications. (I listed the reviewers in an earlier post.) In particular, we were lucky to have Maria Thomas and Catherine Bracy involved through every step of the process.

Here are the 16 projects Knight Foundation selected from the more than 1600 applications we received in December.

2011 Knight News Challenge Winners

Project: iWitness

Winner: Adaptive Path, San Francisco, Calif.
Award: $360,000
Project Lead: Jesse James Garrett
Twitter: @AdaptivePath

To bridge the gap between traditional and citizen media, iWitness will create a web-based tool that aggregates user-generated content from social media during big news events. Whether a parade or protest, election or earthquake, iWitness will display photos, videos and messages in an easy-to-browse interface. Created by a premier web design firm, iWitness will make it easier to cross-reference first-person accounts with journalistic reporting, opening up new avenues for storytelling, fact-checking and connecting people to events in their communities.

Project: Overview

Winner: The Associated Press, New York, N.Y.
Award: $475,000
Project Lead: Jonathan Stray
Twitter: @overviewproject

Overview is a tool to help journalists find stories in large amounts of data by cleaning, visualizing and interactively exploring large document and data sets. Whether from government transparency initiatives, leaks or freedom of information requests, journalists are drowning in more documents than they can ever hope to read. There are good tools for searching within large document sets for names and key words, but that doesn't help find stories journalists are not looking for. Overview will display relationships among topics, people, places and dates to help journalists to answer the question, “What’s in there?” The goal is an interactive system where computers do the visualization, while a human guides the exploration – plus documentation and training to make this capability available to anyone who needs it.

Project: The Awesome Foundation: News Taskforce

Winner: The Awesome Foundation, Boston, Mass.
Award: $244,000
Project Lead: Christina Xu
Twitter: @higherawesome

To experiment with a new funding model for local journalism, The Awesome Foundation: News Taskforce will bring together 10 to 15 community leaders and media innovators in Detroit and two other cities to provide $1,000 microgrants to innovative journalism and civic media projects. By encouraging pilot projects, prototypes, events and social entrepreneurial ventures, the News Taskforce will encourage a wide swathe of the community to experiment with creative solutions to their information needs.

Project: PANDA

Winner: Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Ill.
Award: $150,000
Project Lead: Brian Boyer
Twitter: @pandaproject

To help news organizations better use public information, the PANDA Project, in partnership with Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE), the Chicago Tribune and The Spokane Spokesman-Review, will build a set of open-source, web-based tools that make it easier for journalists to use and analyze data. While national news organizations often have the staff and know-how to handle federal data, smaller news organizations are at a disadvantage. City and state data are messier, and newsroom staff often lack the tools to use it. PANDA will work with tools like Google Refine to find relationships among data sets and improve data sets for use by others. PANDA will be simple to deploy, allowing newsrooms without software developers on staff to integrate it into their work.

Project: DocumentCloud Reader Annotations

Winner: Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), Columbia, Mo.
Award: $320,000
Project Lead: Aron Pilhofer
Twitter: @documentcloud

A 2009 Knight News Challenge winner, DocumentCloud helps journalists analyze, annotate and publish original source documents. Hundreds of newsrooms are already using the tool. With this grant, DocumentCloud will develop a new feature allowing newsrooms to invite public participation in annotating and commenting on source documents. The tool will help newsrooms involve their readers in the news and improve DocumentCloud as a journalistic tool and investigative reporting resource.

Project: FrontlineSMS

Winner: The Kiwanja Foundation, Palo Alto, Calif.
Award: $250,000
Project Lead: Sean McDonald
Web link:
Twitter: @frontlinesms

FrontlineSMS: Media will create a new platform that allows journalists to more effectively use text messaging to inform and engage rural communities. The Frontline SMS platform already enables users in underserved areas to organize interactions with large numbers of people via text messages, a laptop and a mobile phone – without the need for the Internet. This grant will enable FrontlineSMS to expand its software platform and work with community radio stations and other rural journalists.

Project: Zeega

Winner: Media and Place Productions, Cambridge, Mass.
Award: $420,000
Project Lead: Kara Oehler
Twitter: @karaoehler

To help tell rich multimedia stories, Zeega will improve its open-source HTML5 platform for creating collaborative and interactive documentaries. By using Zeega, anyone can create immersive, participatory multimedia projects that seamlessly combine original content with photos, videos, text, audio and maps from across the Web. With this grant, Zeega will expand their experimental prototype to work on Web, tablet and mobile devices and pilot a series of collaborative and interactive documentary projects with news organizations, journalists and communities across the globe.

Project: The State Decoded

Winner: The Miller Center Foundation, Charlottesville, Va.
Award: $165,000
Project Lead: Waldo Jaquith
Web link:
Twitter: @waldojaquith

The State Decoded will be a platform that displays state codes, court decisions and information from legislative tracking services to make government more understandable to the average citizen. While many state codes are already online, they lack context and clarity. With an improved layout, embeddable definitions of legal terms, Google News and Twitter integration, and an open API for state codes, this project aims to make important laws the centerpiece of media coverage.

Project: Poderopedia

Winner: El Mostrador, Santiago, Chile
Award: $200,000
Project Lead: Miguel Paz
Twitter: @poderopedia

To promote greater transparency in Chile, Poderopedia (Powerpedia) will be an editorial and crowdsourced database that highlights the links among the country’s elite. Using data visualization, the site will investigate and illustrate the connections among people, companies and institutions, shedding light on any conflicts of interests. Crowdsourced information will be vetted by professional journalists before it is posted. Entries will include an editorial overview, a relationship map and links to the sources of information.

Project: Nextdrop

Winner: NextDrop, Berkeley, Calif., and Hubli-Dharwad, India
Award: $375,000
Project Lead: Anu Sridharan
Web :
Twitter: @NextDrop

To develop a new way of disseminating critical community information, NextDrop will launch a service, in conjunction with local utilities, that notifies residents of Hubli, Karnataka, India when water is available. NextDrop will work with water utility employees who operate the valves that control the infrequent flow of water. The service will notify neighborhood residents via text when the water is turned on. This system will be replicable in any community as a way to distribute all types of community information.

Project: Spending Stories

Winner: Open Knowledge Foundation, Cambridge, England
Award: $250,000
Project Lead: Martin Keegan
Twitter: @okfn

News stories about government finances are common, but readers often find it challenging to place the numbers in perspective. Spending Stories will contextualize such news pieces by tying them to the data on which they are based. For example, a story on City Hall spending could be annotated with details on budget trends and related stories from other news outlets. The effort will be driven by a combination of machine-automated analysis and verification by users interested in public spending.

Project: The Public Laboratory

Winner: The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, Cambridge, Mass.
Award: $500,000
Project Lead: Jeffrey Warren
Twitter: @publiclaboratory

To make technology work for communities, The Public Laboratory will create a tool kit and online community for citizen-based, grassroots data gathering and research. The Lab is an expansion of Grassroots Mapping – a project originated at the Center for Future Civic Media at MIT. During the project, residents used helium-filled balloons and digital cameras to generate high-resolution “satellite” maps gauging the extent of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill – at a time when there was little public information on the subject. Expanding the tool kit beyond aerial mapping, Public Laboratory will work with communities, both online and offline, to produce information about their surroundings.

Project: ScraperWiki

Winner: ScraperWiki, Liverpool, England
Award: $280,000
Project Lead: Francis Irving
Twitter: @scraperwiki provides a way to make it easier to collect information from across the web from diverse sources. The site helps anyone freely create “scrapers” to collect, store and publish public data, and make it freely available for anyone to use. As such, the site provides journalists with updated, aggregated data that allows them to produce richer stories and data visualizations. This grant will add a “data on demand” feature where journalists can request data sets and be notified of changes in data that might be newsworthy, and data embargos that will keep information private until a story breaks. To accelerate the adoption of the platform, the U.K.-based site will host “journalism data camps” in 12 U.S. states.

Project: Tiziano 360

Winner: The Tiziano Project, Los Angeles, Calif.
Award: $200,000
Project Lead: Jon Vidar
Twitter: @tizianoproject

Using visually dynamic, multimedia storytelling, the Tiziano Project provides communities with the equipment, training and web platform needed to report on stories that affect their residents’ lives. Tiziano will build an improved platform based on the award-winning project Using HTML5, the platform will display the work of professional and community journalists and will enable news organizations, community groups and individuals to easily manage digital content for mobile and tablet devices. The project will also build an interactive map to serve as a hub for projects developing similar sites in their communities and enable direct communication between these communities and their audiences.

Project: OpenBlock Rural

Winner: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Award: $275,000
Project Lead: Ryan Thornburg
Twitter: @rtburg

Rural news organizations often struggle to move into the digital age because they lack the staff to make public data digestible. OpenBlock Rural will work with local governments and community newspapers in North Carolina to collect, aggregate and publish government data, including crime and real estate reports, restaurant inspections and school ratings. In addition, the project aims to improve small local papers’ technical expertise and provide a new way to generate revenue.

Project: SwiftRiver

Winner: Ushahidi, Orlando, Fla.
Award: $250,000
Project Lead: David Kobia
Twitter: @ushahidi

As news events unfold, mobile phones and the Internet are flooded with information. Through the SwiftRiver platform, Ushahidi will attempt to verify this information by parsing it and evaluating sources. Working across email, Twitter, web feeds and text messages, the platform will use a combination of techniques to identify trends and evaluate the information based on the creator’s reputation. The project builds on Ushahidi’s past efforts to verify the crowdsourced information collected in global crisis scenarios like the Kenyan election crisis in 2008 and the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan.

Impact of games on engaged communities illustrated, presented at Games 4 Change

June 22, 2011, 12:24 p.m., Posted by Jessica Goldfin

If you’re interested in how games can bring people together, take a look at the new data visualization illustrating the first 1,047 players of Macon Money, an award-winning, Knight Foundation-sponsored game in Macon, Ga. Dots on the map fill the screen, showing how people from across Macon found each other as part of the game, and together spent their “Macon Money” at local businesses.

Good Sense, good fortune

June 22, 2011, 11:42 a.m., Posted by John Palfrey

Not quite 10 years ago, a literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came my way: I got the chance to be the third executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard. It was about four years old. The Berkman Center was blessed with visionary founders and talented students. It had been set up by a single, generous, equally visionary founding donor. It was embedded in an institution devoted to teaching and learning, with high ambitions for both; it had a global outlook; and it had a clear, important mission, both in academic terms and for the good of the public at large.

And yet there were many things still to be done as an incoming executive director. The future was bright, but much work was (and still is) before us.

Last fall, I got a second, extraordinary opportunity, one of another sort. The Knight Foundation invited me to review the progress of one its grantees: the Center for Future Civic Media at MIT. I had a wonderful time over the course of a few months, talking to as many people as would talk to me about C4. I learned a great deal about the emerging field of civic media; about ambitious and inspiring projects in Juarez, Mexico and along the Gulf Coast and in communities across America; and about what makes an institution of teaching and learning grow and thrive in an academic institution.

Partway through, I was struck by a sense of parallelism. It is a rough-and-ready parallel, not totally precise. C4, at age 4, had many of the same qualities as the Berkman Center that I had come back to (I'd been a student there in its early days) at age 4. C4 is blessed with visionary founders, in Henry Jenkins, Chris Csikszentmihályi, and Mitch Resnick.

It has brilliant and engaged students from multiple departments -- the MIT Media Lab and Comparative Media Studies. It has the support of the Knight Foundation, headed by president Alberto Ibarguen and his program officers, who have a vision for the future that they are nurturing and supporting across a range of initiatives, like the Knight News Challenge. C4 has a broad and ambitious mission that promises to change the world in positive, public-spirited ways. And it has lots of work still to do.

There are many reasons to be excited about the future of C4. A straight continuation of the work that it's begun would be highly worthwhile. And I am betting on much more. C4's trajectory of the past eighteen months or so, under the leadership of Chris Csikszentmihalyi in particular, gives me reason for these high hopes. The methodology that C4 has pioneered is proving itself out in a range of projects that can make real differences to communities and to the students who work on the projects. SourceMap, Grassroots Mapping, Crónicas de Héroes (Hero Reports), and several other projects hold special promise. The incoming group of students is amazing, I'm told.

On a personal level, I'm especially excited about the news that the new director will be Ethan Zuckerman. I can think of no one better than Ethan to take up the leadership of C4, to build upon the great work of the founding directors. Ethan is among the small handful of most productive and influential fellows the Berkman Center has ever had (it is only partly in jest when I say that Ethan is now in the eighth year of his one-year Berkman fellowship). Ethan is talented in so many ways: a powerful public voice for what civic media can and should be; the co-founder of non-profits and proven builder of for-profits; an inspired writer and teacher; a prince of a man; and a leader I'd follow off any number of cliffs. Much of what I learned during my six years as the Berkman Center's executive director I learned from Ethan.

To make things yet more promising, MIT and the Knight Foundation have the great good sense and great good fortune to have attracted Ethan to lead C4 in its next chapter of development just as Joichi Ito takes over at the MIT Media Lab. The addition of Prof. Sasha Costanza-Chock at CMS is yet more in the way of great news for the future of C4.

The future is bright for C4 and for civic media in general. I can't wait to see the wonders that Ethan, Joi, and the C4 team come up with next.

Strengthening community information experiments at MIT's Center for Civic Media

June 22, 2011, 10:22 a.m., Posted by John Bracken

Today’s a busy day for Knight Foundation. In addition to the list of News Challenge winners, which we will share later this afternoon, we are announcing a $3.76 million grant to the (newly renamed) Center for Civic Media at MIT. This is a major investment for us, one that we’re excited to make because of the center’s trajectory and its status as a driver of technology in service of communities. The grant will enable the center to expand its curriculum and outreach programs that make new technologies work for communities.

Learning from Experimentation: An assessment of early News Challenge Winners

June 20, 2011, 4:39 p.m., Posted by Mayur Patel and John S. Bracken

Knight News Challenge Year 1 and 2 Assessment Report - INFOGRAPHIC by Kiss Me I'm Polish.

When Knight Foundation launched the News Challenge in September 2006, the media landscape looked a lot different than it does today.  The iPhone was merely a rumor-- Motorola's Razr was the  top selling phone. Twitter was still a project of ODEO and, for many of us, RSS was the future of distribution on the Internet. Netflix, which had 5.6 million customers compared to 24 million now, had yet to launch the Netflix Prize.

Since then we've experienced a constant stream of new ideas, practices and behaviors. Though the scene changes rapidly, lessons still matter. In some ways, they're more important than ever if they can help us get a sense of the bigger picture.

Funding innovation requires openness to experimentation and a commitment to learn and adapt. In this spirit, we asked LFA Group, an evaluation and consulting firm, to take a closer look at the first two cohorts of  News Challenge winners (2007 and 2008) to better understand their impact and influence. (As Mayur mentioned recently, the review is part of an ongoing assessment of the News Challenge; we are tracking the continuing progress of 2009, 2010 and soon to be announced 2011 winners. The findings from this also will be shared on a regular basis.)

The interim assessment comprises a cross-cutting overview as well as a series of thematic cluster reports exploring projects in terms of the outcomes they have achieved in their targeted communities, their influence on the field of journalism and media, as well as their contribution to learning.

We hope the lessons contained in our assessments of the News Challenge will spark conversation not merely about our work, but about innovation in general.




We’ve displayed some of the highlights of the report in the infographic on the left hand side (click to enlarge) the image and in a SlideShare presentation that we built in partnership with the design firm Kiss Me I’m Polish.

We hope that you’ll explore all the reports; we’re eager to know what you think and what insights you’re taking away.

On Wednesday we'll announce the fifth round of News Challenge winners at the MIT/Knight Civic Media Conference. We'll refrain from talking about this year's winners here-- but we will predict that they will prove to be an exciting mix of innovators, entrepreneurs and journalists. You can track the announcement at the conference livestream, and over Twitter via @knightfdn and #newschallenge.

From Information to Action: Becoming a Data-Driven Organization

June 17, 2011, 10:10 a.m., Posted by Susan Patterson

Becoming a Data Driven Organization, Charlotte

Yesterday morning, I sat in on a workshop for Charlotte's nonprofit leaders on how to create a data-driven organization, organized and led by Knight Foundation grantee, NPower Charlotte region.



News21: From successful experiment to field-wide initiative

June 16, 2011, 11:34 a.m., Posted by Eric Newton and Amy Starlight Lawrence

Today Knight Foundation and Carnegie Corporation are announcing new support for News21 and the Carnegie Knight Initiative for the Future of Journalism Education that will take the project from a successful experiment to a field-wide initiative which any journalism or mass communication program can nominate students.

Construction of playground brings together some (powerful) D.C. neighbors

June 15, 2011, 5:12 p.m., Posted by Christopher Sopher

Hundreds of volunteers channeled their inner children today by coming to Imagine Southeast Charter School in Washington,D.C., to help build the 2,000 playground constructed by KaBOOM!, a nonprofit dedicated to saving play.

New Knight projects launched in response to urgent challenges of FCC report

June 15, 2011, 2:52 p.m., Posted by Eric Newton

Above: Steven Waldman's report to the FCC on the information needs of communities makes recommendations Knight will pursue with new projects announced today.

Eric Newton is the Senior Adviser to the President at Knight.

Today, Knight Foundation and our partners in the field are announcing two new research projects that will help philanthropy increase its role in meeting local information needs. Both were inspired by the FCC's new report, “Information Needs of Communities,” a groundbreaking effort that focuses on practical ways society can improve the environment for local accountability journalism.

First, we're partnering with Grantmakers for Film and Electronic Media (GFEM), Ford Foundation, the Foundation Center and GuideStar on a research project to develop new ways of measuring whether foundations are indeed increasing journalism and media grant making.

Foundation Center and GuideStar keep large databases of foundation and nonprofit work, and the project will develop technology to mine those databases specifically for journalism and media grants. The tracking information will be publically available, so citizens wanting to support nonprofit media can see what foundations are doing.

In the second project, Knight Foundation will fund the Council on Foundations to examine how tax law may be stunting the growth of nonprofit media – and to suggest improvements. The FCC report finds that while nonprofit status offers news outlets clear advantages, the federal tax code was not written specifically for information providers and can be both ambiguous and too restrictive in areas such as advertising and political coverage. For example, the report says nonprofits are fearful of losing their tax exempt status if they publish commentary on legislation.

Read the full release of today's announcement.

First Lady, Washington volunteers and Knight build playground today in D.C.

June 15, 2011, 10:18 a.m., Posted by Damian Thorman, J.D.

Above: Kaboom! volunteers work on a playground today in Washington D.C.

By Damian Thorman (bio)

I'm here in Washington, D.C. to build a playground with the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. As you may know, Knight Foundation is all about informed and engaged communities. Today's KaBOOM! build is also about engaging community.

The build is at Imagine Southeast Public Charter, a beacon of hope in a very challenged neighborhood. While the school has been open for a while now, it has necessarily focused inward to adjust to its new home and build a strong education foundation for the kids attending the school. The KaBOOM! build has provided the school an opportunity to connect with the surrounding community and engage them. As part of the build process, KaBOOM! reaches into the community and involves the surrounding neighborhoods in the design and building of the playground. The process is more about building community than building a playground. The idea is that at the end of the process, everyone involved will have experienced being engaged in their community, which we hope engenders a desire to continue to be involved.

Today's build is exciting for many reasons. First, it's the 14th build funded by Knight Foundation – and the 2,000th build for KaBOOM!. That's an extraordinary accomplishment for the organization and tens of thousands of community residents they have engaged over the past 15 years. It is also extraordinary because the First Lady of the United States will be here to lend a hand and her voice to the importance of an engaged community. Finally, the build is also part of the annual day of service for the U.S. Congress. Dozens of members of Congress are expected to attend and participate in the build along with the First Lady.

I'm most excited about what will be left behind for this emerging community. I had a chance to sit down with the principal of the school a few weeks ago and talk about what this process has meant for her. She spoke eloquently about how her students had used this build as an opportunity to connect with the surrounding community, by going into local businesses asking everyone to participate.

This is what engaging communities is all about. I can't wait to see the students and the community members come together today to build their community, and I can't wait to see what else they will do in the future as a result of feeling empowered to act.


Knight Center for International Media wins AEJMC's 'Best of the Web' award

June 14, 2011, 3:45 p.m., Posted by Robertson Adams

Fourteen University of Miami multimedia graduate students teamed with students from seven Knight Center for International Media partner schools in Africa and Asia to tell stories that attempt to personalize the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Working with Tom Kennedy, Knight Center Professional-in-Residence, each team found personal local stories that shed light and insight on critical global issues, including poverty, maternal health, environmental sustainability, universal education, gender equality, HIV AIDS and children's health.

FCC's report on community information needs should lead to debate, action

June 10, 2011, 9:47 a.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

At a forum this morning at Columbia University, Knight Foundation President and CEO Alberto Ibargüen said he hopes a new FCC report on community information needs engenders a vigorous debate, and action.

Knight Commission inspires groundbreaking FCC report on Information Needs of Communities

June 9, 2011, 1:22 p.m., Posted by Marc Fest

Today in Washington, the FCC is unveiling a new report that offers practical ways public policy can improve the environment for local accountability journalism, which has suffered significant cutbacks in recent years as traditional media struggle to make the transition to the digital age.

We’re proud that the FCC’s effort was inspired by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, which in 2009 set out a vision for promoting informed, healthy communities into the future. The Commission offered 15 recommendations to help Americans meet their local information needs, including: setting new standards for universal broadband, strengthening public media and ensuring that governments are transparent.

News Challenge Success Story Finds a Home

June 9, 2011, 12:12 p.m., Posted by John Bracken

Today's an exciting day for Knight Foundation, and for the Knight News Challenge. One of the projects that we helped start through our contest, DocumentCloud, is merging with Investigative Reporters and Editors.

Since winning a News Challenge award in 2009, DocumentCloud has become an important tool to more than 200 newsrooms across the country. (A list of newsrooms using it is here.) The merger means that DocumentCloud will continue to provide free hosting for public source documents. The two organizations complement each other well. I'm excited to see what they come up with together.

I-News, Oklahoma Watch featured in study of news partnerships

June 8, 2011, 10:56 a.m., Posted by Michele McLellan

Can partnerships among key institutions support local, investigative journalism? That's the question Sandy Rowe, former editor of The Oregonian, sought to answer as the Knight Fellow this year at the Shorenstein Center for the Press, Politics and Policy at Harvard University.

Her report, published last week, features two Knight Community Information Challenge projects - I-News - the Rocky Mountain News Network and Oklahoma Watch - that are part of a growing breed of independent, nonprofit, investigative news organizations that have start up support from local foundations.

In her paper, "Partners of Necessity: The Case for Collaboration in Local Investigative Reporting," Rowe argues that partnerships between foundations, universities, traditional news outlets and other institutions may provide sustainable sources for important local watchdog reporting as traditional sources wane.

"The sprouting of more than 50 investigative news sites in the last four years has nurtured hope that they will fill the substantial gaps in accountability reporting. Today, however, most of these budding local only  cycle away from hitting their own version of the wall. Some are taking root, many others will not.  Anyone who thinks there’s an easy rescue in sight for rebuilding...

Weave: Visualizing data for civic impact

June 6, 2011, 2:52 p.m., Posted by Lisa Williams

"Utilitarianism," from Jessica Hagy's brilliant site This Is Indexed.

I'm a huge fan of, a blog that's devoted to infographics. We live in a world where our ability to make choices from everything about our health to who we'll vote for -- depends on our grasp of what I'll call The Big Numbers.

Dense walls of text about your risk of developing heart disease or about health care costs often leave me more confused than when I started. Infographics are great because they can give you an understanding of a topic at a glance. There are many important social issues that can't be effectively communicated any other way -- the biggest stories of our times are, in fact, about Big Numbers: the economic crisis, global climate change, healthcare, the foreclosure crisis.

So if infographics are so great, why do so few sites use them? Because generating them and designing them is hard. Current technology makes it easy to publish text to the web, just as I'm doing now. Most of us are carrying a combination still camera and video camera in our pocket, and depending on...

A river runs through them

June 6, 2011, 9:34 a.m., Posted by Lisa Williams


The River Partnership is an association of community foundations located in cities and towns along the Mississippi River. With a watershed of over a million square miles, the river is the kind of natural resource that risks being everyone's treasure and no one's concern. The River Partnership, a second round winner of the Knight Community Information Challenge, will launch six projects that will solve a central problem: residents can't act until they care, and they can't care until they know. Each project will make use of the web and social media to get people engaged with the river that flows through their back yard.

Here are some thumbnails of a few of the projects that will be launched in the coming year:

Community Foundation of the Great River Bend will launch "Quad Cities Wild Places," which is modeled after Chicago Wilderness, which helps people in the Chicagoland area get outside into Chicago's hidden wilderness areas. Quad Cities Wild Places will develop a website with maps, educational material, and even a childrens' "Wild Places Passport," to encourage families to get outside.

The Community Foundation of Northwest Missisippi doesn't yet have a name for its project, but it does have big ambitions -- it calls the project "A Huffington Post for the Mississippi Delta. The surrounding region has no regional newspaper or television station, and the community foundation hopes to bring together research findings and the voices of residents.

The IQ Magazine Community Foundation Consortium backs IQ Magazine, which turns each issue into a deep dive on serious issues facing the residents of Minnesota, including...

Random Acts of Culture arrives in Saint Paul

June 3, 2011, 3:28 p.m., Posted by Eric Schoenborn

Cross- posted from

By Brian Woods, The Schubert Club—a member of The Arts Partnership

On Thursday, May 26, 2011, downtown Saint Paul office workers and residents were surprised by Random Acts of Culture® in the city’s skyway system. The Arts Partnership enlisted the talents of two guitarists, winners of The Schubert Club’s Bruce P. Carlson Student Scholarship Competition.


A Random Act of Culture in the St Paul Skyway

Alternating between the two food courts and the skyway corridors of Town Square and Alliance Bank Center, the two musicians offered a diverse mix of solo and duo guitar works. Skyway walkers and food court noshers, several snapping photos and shooting video, paused to take in the unusual sights and sounds.

With music ranging from Bach to Albeniz to Ponce, and duo improvisations that mixed classical with pop music elements, the artists brought some unexpected life to a normal workday lunch hour!

Video is coming soon, in the meantime you can read more about the day courtesy of local media:

Youth Media in California's Central Valley gets rolling

June 2, 2011, 9:38 a.m., Posted by Lisa Williams

The California Endowment and the Knight Foundation are supporting a youth media initiative in California's Central Valley, and judging from the quality of the writing, the investment is paying off. Here's Jesus Vargas, a resident of Coachella, CA, writing about the Coachella Festival, a music festival which triples the population of this town, where 35% of the 18 and under residents live below the poverty level:

"Most people who frequent Coachella Fest or stay at the nearby resorts in the west side of the valley, know nothing about the real Coachella. I live in the actual city of Coachella, less than a 10-minute drive southeast from Indio, a small 40,000 person town that is economically depressed, mostly rural and agricultural and predominantly Hispanic. Further east of the city are the unincorporated communities of Thermal, Mecca, and North Shore, which are home to the migrant workers who toil in the area’s agricultural fields. Many live in poverty. The environmental conditions – contaminated drinking water, toxic landfills, dilapidated mobile home parks – are terrible, and the landscape is desolate. Trash heaps and illegal dumps litter the area. A nearby soil recycling plant emits a stink that many residents say causes them extreme discomfort. The region sits in stark contrast to the glitz and glamour of the western Coachella Valley that’s only a few minutes up Interstate-10.

Coachella 2010

When my friends and I tell our fellow concertgoers that we live literally five minutes away, they are incredulous. They seem to have had the impression that nobody under the age of 40 lives here. When I tell them I’m not from La Quinta, Indio, Palm Desert or Palm Springs, they ask, “What other cities are there here?”

Many times, we just say we’re from somewhere else to avoid the inevitable bemused looks and questioning. Why should I kill their Coachella buzz with tales about Mecca and Thermal, and the poverty and pollution endemic to them?

New impunity index: Iraq, Somalia and the Philippines most dangerous for journalists

June 1, 2011, 9:59 a.m., Posted by Amy Starlight Lawrence

By Amy Starlight Lawrence and Jon Sotsky

The Committee to Protect Journalists released its annual Impunity Index today, which details the 13 most dangerous countries for journalists.

The report highlights countries where journalists are murdered and their governments are unable or unwilling to bring the killers to justice.  The impunity rate calculated by CPJ is a metric based on the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of the population.

Iraq tops the list for the fourth year running, and Mexico’s rating has worsened for the third consecutive year.  CPJ believes that there have been improvements in Russia, where a number of unsolved murder cases were reopened by officials.

CPJ battles impunity using several approaches including research, advocacy, field-building and financial assistance to journalists and their families.

The report provides insights about global impunity trends and in particular that “prior threats against a journalist are powerful indicators of violence to come. More than 40 percent of the victims in this index had received threats prior to being killed.”

Knight Foundation has supported CPJ’s impunity campaign, with an emphasis on its work in Russia and the Philippines.

Media innovation projects: Legal structure matters

June 1, 2011, 9:25 a.m., Posted by Jose C. Zamora


Knight News Challenge finalists have great ideas to speed media innovation. However, like all entrepreneurs and innovators, they need to create an organization that has a legal structure in order to develop their ideas.

Deciding how to incorporate a media innovation or online publishing project is important. The legal structure will have an impact on the organization's liability for defamation and other claims. It will also have an impact on the organization's tax obligations, its assets and its management.

Many of Knight Foundation’s journalism and media innovation grantees have structured their operations as nonprofits. Some examples include Spot.usDocumentCloudProPublicaVoice of San DiegoTexas Tribune and Bay Citizen. However, a 501 (c)(3) is not for everyone. Other grantees have chosen to incorporate as for-profit companies, like NowSpots and Front Porch Forum.

Choosing the best legal structure is not easy; there are many considerations that need to be taken into account. Here are two useful resources that might help you figure out the best structure for your start-up:

  1. For Love or Lucre by Jim Fruchterman, published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
  2. How to decide: nonprofit vs. for-profit [SLIDES] by Ben Wirz, Knight Foundation’s Director of Business Consulting.

You can learn more about how to set-up the legal framework for your organization on the Creating a Business page on the Citizen Media Law Project Web site.

If you prefer one business structure over another, please tell us why and comment below. And look out for the announcement of the 2011 News Challenge winners on June 22.