Knight Blog

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

Ohio nonprofit news site partners with ProPublica

July 31, 2012, 9:13 a.m., Posted by Michele McLellan


Above: Inside the ProPublica newsroom. Photo credit Flickr user propublica.

The News Outlet, a two-time winner of Knight's Community Information Challenge based at Youngstown State University, has attracted an important partnership with ProPublica, a leading national investigative reporting organization.

Stephen Engelberg, managing editor of ProPublica, will help lead an Advanced Reporting course at Youngstown State University in the fall, working with students to report and produce investigative stories.

Engelberg said ProPublica is interested in sharing its expertise, and that the university’s open-access mission and heavy emphasis on investigative reporting make it a strong fit for the project, according to a press release about the partnership.

"With regional publications under financial strain, the question of how to train the next generation of investigative journalists is now a critical one. We are delighted to participate in this approach, which shows real promise,'' he said.

Engelberg will join Youngstown State University Journalism Professors Tim Francisco and Alyssa Lenhoff in leading the class. Francisco and Lenhoff are co-directors of The News Outlet, which won the Knight Community Information Challenge in 2010 and 2011 with support from the Raymond John Wean Foundation and the Youngstown Foundation.

The News Outlet was launched at Youngstown State University and has grown to become a joint venture among several other universities and professional media organizations in Ohio. The News Outlet’s student journalists produce enterprise and investigative stories that are shared on different platforms with news organizations, including local newspapers and public radio stations.

Nonprofit news site honored for excellence

July 30, 2012, 11:53 a.m., Posted by Michele McLellan


The Lens, a two-time winner of the Knight Community Information Challenge, won big at this year's local Excellence in Journalism Awards. 

The site, supported by the Greater New Orleans Foundationreceived three first-place awards, including Best Local News Website., the site of the local Times-Picayune newspaper, came in second. 

The Lens also received first place for Best Investigative Story in Print as well as third place in this category and first for Best News Affiliated Blog in the annual contest, sponsored by the Press Club of New Orleans.

The awards came at the start of a busy week for the news media scene in New Orleans, which learned recently that its daily newspaper would publish only three days a week, starting in the fall.

The week ended with the announcement of formation of a new nonprofit news organization,, a collaboration of NPR, the University of New Orleans.

Growing citizen philanthropy in Philadelphia and Detroit

July 26, 2012, 12:09 p.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller


Detroiters gathered at Crank Up the Cause to learn more about Citizen Effect's Detroit4Detroit initiative. Photo Credit: Khaaliq Thomas for Citizen Effect.

Growing up, Clarence Wardell cultivated a love of learning and technology at the Detroit Area Pre College Engineering Program. So when he came across Citizen Effect’s Detroit4Detroit, a platform that helps people find projects that meet their interests and raise funds to support them, he immediately joined to help send one student from the Detroit area to spend a summer learning about engineering at the University of Michigan.

Through the platform, which is supported by Knight’s Technology for Engagement Initiative,  Wardell was able to leverage his existing social networks to raise $2,000 for the program. He was the first of 150 people participating in Detroit4Detroit to meet his fundraising goal.

Citizen Effect, part of a growing citizen philanthropy movement that seeks to democratize giving, is expanding to Philadelphia with the Philly4Philly campaign. Knight caught up Citizen Effect’s Founder and CEO Dan Morrison to find out what excites people about being engaged in local philanthropy efforts, how he defines success and more.

What do you mean by the term citizen philanthropist?

D.M: When you hear the word "philanthropists," you think of Gates, Rockefeller, MacArthur, Ford and other titans of industry.  But that's a vastly incomplete definition. A citizen philanthropist may not have a lot of money to give, but they have the passion to lead a critical community project and raise the money from their friends, family and social networks.

What excites people about being engaged with Citizen Effect?

D.M.: Results. When a citizen philanthropist holds an event or sends an email that results in donations, they get excited because their fundraising strategy is working. And when they receive photos of and a report on their completed project, they feel like they can change the world, because they in fact have.

What are some examples of what people in each city are up to?

D.M.: Michele Whitehead, a Detroit native, is raising money for a reading program for low income youth with Wellspring. She’s raised $1,250 of $1,500 via a walk-a-thon and received in-kind food and water donations from local businesses. Gerard Smith, a rising senior at Gross Point High School, heard about Detroit4Detroit's Crank Up the Cause on WDET and asked his dad to take him. He signed up to raise money for a music therapy program for homeless kids and has raised $785 of $1,000. Eli Kahn, a fellow at LIFT Philly (a Philly4Philly nonprofit partner) is one of the first Philly4Philly citizen philanthropists. As a child, he beat cancer and since has raised over $100,000 for cancer research at John's Hopkins University by having people donate used printer cartridges and recycling them.


Meet Lena Groeger: @ProPublica’s newest news app developer

July 25, 2012, 6:12 a.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller

As ProPublica’s newest news app developer, Lena Groeger is helping the investigative news organization expand its field-leading efforts in data driven news.   

lenagroegerDevelopers on the app team create software that lets readers interact with news stories, making them more relevant to people’s lives. Think of projects like the Dollars for Docs database, where people can find out if their doctors have received payments from drug companies.

Groeger was hired recently as part of a Knight-funded expansion that will not only allow the team to develop more apps across a variety of subject areas, but build the field by providing a job shadowing program for journalists nationwide.

In a conversation with Knight, Groeger shares what helped prepare for her role, some of her recent projects and what she thinks about the future of data, design and journalism.

What’s an example of a recent project you worked on?

L.G.: I worked with reporters Paul Kiel and Cora Currier, who were researching where money from the mortgage settlement was going in each state. Once we had the precise data (the five biggest banks agreed to pay over $2.5 billion to 49 states and the District of Columbia), we ultimately decided an interactive map would be a good way to visualize the information. It was a group effort where the process was just as interesting as the outcome. I wrote more about it in a blog post “How a Map That Wasn’t a Map Became a Map.”  

Another story looked at how different claims about drone deaths compared over time. Drone death estimates vary widely in the media, but one would think the government would keep at least a nominally "official" count. Apparently, they don't. The challenge in this graphic was to link together different aspects of the story in a coherent and understandable interface. After we laid out the claims, we decided that it would be helpful to "highlight" certain contradictory claims, so people could easily see what we were describing. We added the right-hand column, which also linked to Justin Elliot’s story.

How do you decide what kinds of projects to take on? What interests you?

L.G.: Sometimes I will pitch an idea I think would work best, or suggest a specific format for a project, whether it’s a map, a timeline, an interactive graphic or something else. Other times I have gotten paired up with a reporter already working on a data story. It’s been flexible and there have been a range of projects, that’s very characteristic of what goes on at ProPublica. Your role is less important than the way you can tell a story.

What’s your background? How have some of your existing skills been helpful in your new role?

Just a few days left - apply now to the Civic Data Challenge

July 24, 2012, 10:53 a.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller

Excited about civic data? Don't miss an opportunity to win prizes and money for your ideas to make it understandable and useful.

The Civic Data Challenge, sponsored by Knight Foundation and presented by the National Conference on Citizenship, is looking to turn existing civic health and community attachment data into beautiful, useful applications and visualizations to help build stronger communities. The deadline to apply to the challenge is 11:59 p.m. EST on Sunday July 29. Designers, data scientists, researchers and app developers are especially encouraged to apply.

Participants who analyze and visualize data on health, safety, education and the economy will be eligible for various prizes. 

To enter The Civic Data Challenge, you must first join its Google group. After joining, participants will be provided with existing civic health and community attachment data sets to analyze. After identifying connections and correlations, participants are encouraged to create visual representations and interactive products to showcase their findings. These may include infographics, apps, animations, videos, or other content.

For each category, cash prizes of up to $10,000 will be available for Best Visual Representation and Best Interactive Product. Best in Show and Wildcard Winners will be eligible to receive $5,000. An individual can submit as many entries as they like and can submit one entry in multiple categories. 

Clear writing at foundations: An issue we won’t give up on

July 23, 2012, 3:15 p.m., Posted by Eric Newton


At Knight Foundation, we believe clear writing makes our work more effective. If you have ever seen a sentence promising that one of our grantees will “leverage the stakeholder infrastructure” you know exactly what I mean. If no one can understand us, if we can’t even understand ourselves, how are we going to help communities become more informed and engaged? On our website is a guide for press release writing, an explanation of the readability standard we use, the Flesch score, and, below, an opinion piece I wrote on the subject for the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Clear writing doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be fun: the picture in this blog is of me leading a “game show” seminar for the staff called Jargon Jeopardy.

For Foundations, Clearer Writing Means Wiser Grant Making

by Eric Newton

Clarity matters. That seems obvious. Yet in our nation’s capital, when the Sunlight Foundation this spring released a study measuring how well lawmakers communicate, we learned even clarity can be controversial.

Sunlight found that members of Congress have made a big leap these past seven years in their ability to talk clearly. You would think all would jump for joy. We want open government: Clear talk is more accessible than jargon. But no. Sunlight’s news release—and most of the news-media coverage—took a different tack. They asked: “Is Congress getting dumber or just more plainspoken?”

That’s just wrong, and it brings into focus a big issue for foundations.

Too often, we fall into the trap of believing complex communication equals intelligence. Fancy words mean you’re smart; simple words mean you’re dumb. Because my foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, was founded by two of America’s leading newspapermen, we think about this topic a lot and we believe the opposite is true. You have to be smart to convey difficult subjects in clear, understandable prose. If you can do it, your work will be more effective.

To measure Congress, Sunlight used something called the Flesch score. Rudolf Flesch, author of Why Johnnie Can’t Read—and What You Can Do About It, created this measure of readability. The higher your Flesh score, the more understandable you are. The clearer you are, the more people you can reach. Let’s test the Flesch score of a classic children’s song:

Three blind mice
Three blind mice
See how they run
See how they run
They all ran after the farmer’s wife
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife
Have you ever see such a sight in your life
As three blind mice?


Funding for five new media innovation projects announced at #awesummit

July 23, 2012, 1:57 p.m., Posted by John Bracken

Today in Boston, Knight is sponsoring Awesome Summit: Connect, an Awesome Foundation conference focused on rethinking and democratizing philanthropy. (You can follow the conversation via the Center for Civic Media’s blog and on Twitter via #awesummit.)

We became a part of the Awesome Foundation community last year, when we funded the creation of the Awesome Foundation News Taskforce, starting with a project to support media innovation in Detroit.

Today, we announced five new projects with the same theme of media innovation:

SuperPAC App, Jennifer Hollett and Dan Siegel 
SuperPAC App, a project that grew from the MIT Media Lab, is building an app that allows users to quickly capture audio from an ad that's playing on TV or online and fingerprint it. The app then delivers the user information about the ad, including what organization paid for it, where the ad is running and information about the organization funding it. Users can share, comment on and interact with news about the ad.

TheLi.stRachel Sklar (pictured left) & Glynnis MacNicol
Rachel Sklar, creator of Change the Ratio (a project aimed at increasing the presence and success of women in technology and entrepreneurship), is taking her community of leading women to the next level. Sklar and MacNicol are launching, a hub for women in technology that includes a subscription listserve and discussion community, free content and resources for women in the field, and events and convenings on the topic. Knight Foundation is supporting’s work to engage more women in innovation and technology, and to support their rise and success in the space.

These three projects will receive support through our new prototype fund, which offers $50,000 or less to test promising media innovation projects:  

Human rights funders consider mobile media projects

July 23, 2012, 9:33 a.m., Posted by Amy Starlight Lawrence

Funders working to safeguard human rights have a wealth of opportunity in new mobile media tools. They got a glimpse of several of them recently in New York at the Paley Center during the annual meeting of the International Human Rights Funders Group.

Andrew Puddephatt, of Global Partners & Associates set the stage for why the digital age has made mobile media integral – both through opportunities and risks – to the human rights field.

Three hands-on demonstrations provided participants with an opportunity to see how mobile technology is currently being used to advance accountability and advocacy for human rights: 

  1. Yvonne MacPherson from BBC Media Action brought hand-held card sets that interact with mobile phones to allow health workers to better communicate with individuals in their communities. Using pictures on the cards and recorded voice messages by a doctor on the phone – these tools help the health workers explain situations to the people they are trying to help.
  2. Rob Baker from Ushahidi showed the group its water mapping tool and explored the ways this platform could be used in different contexts by human rights funders and grantees.
  3. Sean Bonner from Safecast put Geiger counters, that measure radiation levels,  in the hands of participants and explained why the tool worked to map radiation safe – and unsafe zones – in Japan. He talked about the implications and opportunities of using these types of initiatives in pre- and post-disaster zones.

Workforce development creates economic impact in community

July 20, 2012, 6:35 a.m., Posted by Jennifer Carp


Knight Foundation supports CareerEdge, a site of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, to strengthen and expand high-impact workforce development initiatives. It efforts are aimed at helping move low-wage workers into higher-paying jobs in Florida’s Manatee-Sarasota regionJennifer Carp, senior program director at CareerEdge, writes about the impact of the project’s first year. Above from (l) to (r) Cynetra Freeman, Felicia Hammonds, participants of the Bridges to Careers program, and Sandy Bond, a mentor from the Sarasota RSVP Program with the Senior Friendship Center of Sarasota. Photo Credit: Jessica Ruter.

CareerEdge, a public-private entity that seeks to diminish skill gaps through a localized approached to decrease unemployment, has made significant strides in its first 14 months of operations.  

More than 1,400 people received training that resulted in an economic impact of $8.5 million dollars in wages for the Sarasota and Bradenton region. Our significant gains in workforce development were recently covered in Florida Trend magazine. The article notes:

“On the demand side, [CareerEdge] — funded by local businesses, foundation grants and charitable support — is playing an economic development role. When it appeared, for example, that Sarasota County’s offer of $400,000 in incentives might not be enough to keep a Health Management Associates central business office in Venice, CareerEdge sweetened the pot with an offer of $100,000 worth of job training for Health Management employees. The package ultimately helped preserve 148 jobs in the county with the company promising to add 217 more over the next two years.”

Engaging residents in increasing civility in Akron

July 19, 2012, 1:49 p.m., Posted by Jennifer Thomas

Over 120 people came together this week in Akron to engage in a discussion about how residents and politicians can best address critical issues that are polarizing the nation. 

The conversation also featured a new Knight grantee, The Civility Project, whose goal is "to return civility to public discourse." It plans to use its $33,000 support from Knight to increase the community's ability to respectfully and safely discuss issues that divide people, by engaging citizens, organizations and political campaigns to live by a specific community civility code of conduct.  The code of conduct is currently being developed.

The discussion featured panelists from the Akron Beacon Journal, the University of Akron and various faith based leaders, who collectively asked the community's input at they create a civility index that could help change behavior. The full conversation is available in the video above.

The Civic Commons, another Knight grantee, has started an ongoing conversation about The Civility Project via its online platform which it hopes will engage community members in understanding the basic pillars of civility, how to improve it and how to best apply standards. 

As evident by their participation in the conversation, the community is energized around the conversation. It is also looking forward to shaping a model that can be used in other communities.

Bringing the medical school model of journalism to Central Georgia

July 19, 2012, 9:45 a.m., Posted by Marika Lynch

In just a few weeks, reporters from the Macon Telegraph and Georgia Public Broadcasting will move into a new newsroom, bringing the medical school model of journalism to Central Georgia. And shortly after that, the first students from Mercer University will join them at the university’s Center for Collaborative Journalism, reporting alongside and learning the latest in digital storytelling from professional journalists from the two organizations.

Their newsroom will be named for Peyton Anderson, the former owner of the Telegraph, whose foundation today announced a $1 million gift to the effort. The new support means the center has met its funding goal.

The center launched in December with more than $4 million in support from Knight Foundation, which was founded by Jack and Jim Knight, also one-time Telegraph owners.

As the Telegraph reported today, the combined support ‘‘sends an incredibly powerful message about how vitally important it is that our community continues to receive the same high level of public service journalism that we have delivered for 185 years,” Telegraph Publisher George McCanless said.

An update on Knight News Challenge: Data

July 19, 2012, 8:50 a.m., Posted by John Bracken

knc reviewers


Based on the comments from our team of advisers who helped review the apps and our internal own review, we’ve selected and are in the process of contacting 16 finalists in the Knight News Challenge: Data. Over the next two weeks, we’ll be doing in-person interviews or video chats with each of them them. We’ll announce that list of finalists, and the winners of the contest, in September.

This morning, we’ve also sent an email to the remaining 765 letting them know that they will not be receiving funding via the the News Challenge. One of the great things about the News Challenge is that it exposes us (and everyone else who reads the entries) to ideas and people. While we can fund only a fraction of the ideas that come through the News Challenge, we have other means for funding promising initiatives. For example, last month, we announced a grant to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to fund an idea that originally came to us through the News Challenge on Networks. And our new prototype fund  allows us to test ideas quickly - we announced some that will receive funding last month. We’ve begun to reach out to some News Challenge applicants to explore whether their ideas might fit this program, and we plan to announce some prototype grants soon.

Here are a few of the insights we took from last week’s review session:

  • A need for partners. We saw many projects with promising concepts or products, but that need partnerships with news organizations or others to test their use cases and find social impact. There’s a need for better partner matching in the media innovation space.
  • Data standardization. A segment of applications dealt with the need for standardization of data.
  • Designing for user experiences. The strongest projects were those that joined compelling uses of data with an experience carefully designed for a well-understood group of users. Many data projects are taking the next step from availability to effective presentation and interaction.

The ProPublica Pair Programming Project

July 18, 2012, 10:27 a.m., Posted by Scott Klein



Come code with us! The ProPublica Pair Programming Project -- or P5 -- opens the ProPublica News Apps desk to newsroom coders who want to work on a ProPublica project, or to finish a project of their own, from the ProPublica offices in New York. P5 is made possible by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Maybe you’re the only coder in your newsroom, or you’re the best coder on your graphics desk. Maybe you’re a javascript hacker who’s been trying to finish a crime map for your local site and sitting with other news coders will help you finish it. Maybe you’re a coder who’s never worked in news but has entered an Open Data contest or two and is looking to see what newsroom coding is all about.

A news app is a web-based interactive database that tells a journalistic story using software instead of words and pictures. It’s code and it’s journalism — both at once, and by the same people. News apps are an exciting, emerging discipline within journalism.

Each P5 participant will work in the New York offices of ProPublica for 2-4 days, depending on the scope of the project they’re working on.

Goal: Growing the Field

P5 will provide mentorship, advice, and an environment where good work can actually happen.

The mission of this project is to increase the number of people doing this kind of work, and to encourage newsrooms to see this as work to be fostered. We hope to establish that this is a basic journalistic function and not a faddish, high-tech gizmo, by exposing talented journalists to a fully functioning department.

This is a brand new idea for ProPublica. We admit we don’t have all the answers so if you’re awesome but some of this doesn’t quite describe you, apply anyway. However, this really isn’t and can’t be a program that will teach non-developers how to code. You’ll need the skills to hack with us and to go back to your newsroom ready to take it the rest of the way to the finish line.

More Details

Supporting and enhancing ProPublica’s news applications desk

July 18, 2012, 10:11 a.m., Posted by Scott Klein


Above: ProPublica celebrates its second Pulitzer Prize

We’re very pleased to announce that the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has made a grant to support ProPublica’s news applications desk. The grant will support and enhance our ongoing efforts in what we call “news applications,” which we believe are an emerging discipline within journalism.

A news application is a large web-based interactive database that tells a journalistic story using software instead of words and pictures. It’s software and it’s journalism — both at once, and done by the same people. From Dollars for Docs, which lets readers find out if their healthcare provider is taking payments from pharmaceutical companies, to Opportunity Gap, which helps readers understand the sometimes-unequal distribution of educational opportunites to high poverty schools, ProPublica’s news applications strives toward the same goal as the traditional journalists in our newsroom do: To spur reform through a sustained spotlight on problems.

News applications afford readers the opportunity to see a broad national problem but also to understand how that problem affects them personally. It’s one thing to understand abstractly how, say, educational opporutnities are distributed. But it’s quite another to see your own high school and how it compares to the poorest and wealthiest in the state. If the best way to learn is to apply new knowledge to what you already know, then the ability of a news application to contextualize data has limitless possibilities to do great journalism.

Leading veteran outreach in Philadelphia

July 17, 2012, 12:30 p.m., Posted by Erik Lambertsen


Ari Merretazon and members of the Pointman Soldiers Heart Ministry gather at Philadelphia’s City Hall

A group of Vietnam and Gulf War veterans, awarded a $25,000 grant through the BME Challenge last winter, recently announced a series of veteran outreach activities and seminars taking place in Philadelphia.

Pointman Soldiers Heart Ministry provides spiritual, peer and benefit support, behavior health referrals and family services to veterans of past and current wars. It is led by Ari Merretazon, a Vietnam veteran who has shared his life story in an anthology on black veterans and has since worked to help those returning from war.

The next seminar is scheduled for Saturday, July 21. It will be hosted by the Church of the Holy Redeemer and take place at 1440 South St., Philadelphia, P.A..

Philadelphia City Council Members Curtis Jones, Jr., Jannie Blackwell and David Oh each expressed support for the group's Outreach and Stand-Down Center as a first point of contact for vulnerable veterans.

Making everyday people art collectors with Community Supported Art

July 13, 2012, 12:46 p.m., Posted by Donna Frisby-Greenwood


Photo Credit: Philadelphia Folklore Project

At a packed house in Philadelphia's City Hall, Knight Foundation, in partnership with The City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy and Springboard for the Arts, recently launched Community Supported Art.   

The idea of Community Supported Art is based on the Community Supported Agriculture model, which allows local residents to buy food direct from local farmers. Laura Zabel, who serves as the executive director of Springboard for the Arts, created the program to help local artists with new works establish relationships with local “collectors.”  

In Philadelphia, eighteen artists have been selected by two local arts organizations to create 100 shares of the program.  For $450, a “collector” can get nine pieces from local artists selected by Grizzly Grizzly a local arts collaborative and for $350, a collector can get pieces from nine artists at Philadelphia Folklore project.  Each organization will sell fifty shares.  Once all the shares are sold, artists and collectors come together throughout the year for “pick up” events, where collectors pick up their artwork and have a chance to meet the artists.   

It is a model where everyone wins, artists get paid for their work, everyday people like me get to become collectors and our dollars stay in Philadelphia supporting our own. 

Community storytelling platform makes creating documentary projects easy

July 12, 2012, 9:37 a.m., Posted by Jon Vidar


The Tiziano Project students, Elirë Xhemaili (l) and Aulona Hoxha (r), work on their iPads during a two-week iPad video workshop at the Dokufest International Film Festival in Kosovo. Photo: Grant Slater/The Tiziano Project.

The Tiziano Project is excited to announce the launch of its new community storytelling platform, StoriesFrom, funded by a 2011 Knight News Challenge grant.

The platform allows individuals and organizations to easily create immersive documentary projects that combine the work of both community members and professional journalists and filmmakers. The resulting showcases display completed projects in beautiful and engaging online packages.

StoriesFrom launched on Saturday at the Dokufest International Film Festival in Kosovo, where The Tiziano Project is concurrently teaching a two-week video storytelling workshop entirely using the new iPad. The resulting work will be screened on the last day of the festival and used to populate a new showcase from Kosovo within StoriesFrom.

Four insights into how tech is changing the way communities share, trade and borrow

July 11, 2012, 8:41 a.m., Posted by Mayur Patel


Last month I spoke with Rachel Botsman, founder of the Collaborative Fund and author of What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative ConsumptionBotsman’s work explains how our traditional relationships of mutual assistance – things like sharing, trading and renting – have been entirely reinvented and scaled with the help of new network technologies.

Last year, as part of a Knight Foundation study on social networks, we talked about how various initiatives are trying to catalyze mutual support in communities. They seek to connect residents with one another, encourage them to discover latent assets in their community and build trusted, reciprocal relationships. Through our Technology for Engagement initiative, Knight has supported a number of projects that help neighbors connect with each other to exchange information, goods and ideas, including CommonPlace. Recently, we supported FavorTree, an online platform that allows community members to share, lend or swap goods, services, and information, and as a result, the community increases its social capital. Favor Tree is led by Micki Krimmel, the founder and CEO of, a site that allows users to save money and resources by sharing stuff with their friends.

Four insights stood out from my conversation with Botsman that are relevant to efforts to build mutual support networks in communities.

1. Rethinking Proximity: Transactions of goods or services in a collaborative consumption setting tend to happen physically, even if the introduction is done remotely. This means that people have to be in the same space. We tend to think about proximity in terms of where people live, but there are a range of different places that end up being useful exchange points that fit into someone's everyday life, such as where they work, where they drop their kids off at school and where they go to church, etc. For example, FavorTree, , an online forum for sharing goods between community members, allows users to create a group for their small business, religious organization, or sports team in addition to their entire neighborhood.

Share with your neighbors? There's an app for that

July 10, 2012, 11:57 a.m., Posted by Benoit Wirz


Photo Credit: Flickr user Dean Terry 

Imagine it’s Saturday afternoon in the summer and you’ve just found a lawn chair, a good book and a spot on the front porch to get situated. But the one thing you don’t want to do once you sit down is get up again, so you’ll need a ready supply of cold drinks. For that you need a cooler, which, unfortunately, you don’t have.

As luck would have it, last week you noticed your neighbors wheeling a cooler into their place. You decide to knock on their door and ask if you can borrow it.  Ten minutes later, you’re back in your lawn chair, not only with your cooler stocked, but feeling a bit better about your neighborhood and your community.

To understand the promise of the new startup Favortree, a mobile sharing service funded by Knight that is now open for registration, think about all of the things that had to go right for you to borrow your neighbors’ cooler. Your neighbors had to have a cooler. They had to know that you needed one. You had to know that they had a cooler. They had to be home for you to borrow it and they had to think you were reputable enough to agree to lend it to you.

Favortree is looking to facilitate more of this type of sharing by making all of that information readily available and by enabling users to build reputations as responsible borrowers and lenders in a game-like format. In the process, it hopes to build stronger communities.

Advisers gather to review apps in Knight News Challenge: Data

July 10, 2012, 9:26 a.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller


Today in Miami, we’re gathering 17 journalists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to help us review the applications in the latest Knight News Challenge, on data.

By the end of the day, we hope to have 10-12 finalists that we’ll examine more deeply over the next few weeks. We expect to bring about five of those forward for consideration by Knight Foundation trustees at their September meeting and to publicly announce the winners shortly thereafter. (If you are one of those finalists, you can expect to hear from us by next week.)

We’d like to thank the following people who have taken two days to join us:

Sensor network helps get accurate data about radiation levels in Japan

July 9, 2012, 10:14 a.m., Posted by Sean Bonner


Knight Foundation supports Safecast, a global network of sensor devices that collects crowd-based submissions of data about the environment. Safecast’s Director of Global Operations, Sean Bonner, who was recently profiled for his efforts documenting radiation data in Japan, writes about the project's progress and what's next. Above: Safecast volunteer Richard Zajac.

When Safecast started, we set out to solve one single problem. People in Japan could not get accurate data about radiation contamination and we felt that our efforts could be well spent collecting and publishing that data for people. It was a lofty goal perhaps, but it seems straightforward enough that it was worth a shot.

The fast action and generous support from Knight Foundation gave us the ability and motivation to try and realize that goal.

Our task was not small to say the least. As there was very little interest in measuring radiation prior to March 11, 2011, there was almost no stock of available monitoring devices for us to use. We were able to get our hands on a limited number of devices and to solve the coverage problem we engineered a way to make them mobile thanks to a dedicated team at the Tokyo Hackerspace. We created the “bGeigie” which enabled us to cover a lot of ground in Japan and add sometimes upwards of 20,000 data points in a single day. To just continue along with this would have eventually solved our initial challenge, however we saw the opportunity to take things a bit further.

We realized that the data we were creating because it didn’t exist in Japan, also didn’t exist elsewhere around the world and there was a clear need to help document a global radiation baseline – so we set out to do that as well. It became clear that if we had the accurate and granular data we were creating from prior to March 11, we’d know a lot more about what had actually happened. Unfortunately all we know is the results so we’re left guessing what things were like before. Our hope is the global dataset we’re now building will be valuable for future researchers. Within the first 12 months of monitoring we collected and published over three million new data points.

Encouraging research on improving local news

July 5, 2012, 9:48 a.m., Posted by Eric Newton

Along with Jerry Ceppos, dean of the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University, and others, I’ve argued that much of journalism and mass communication research is not as useful as it should be. So it seems only fair to note that some research is useful and much appreciated. Recently at the Harvard Faculty Club, at a meeting chaired by the Shorenstein Center’s Alex Jones, nearly a dozen deans and foundation leaders heard research of the interesting kind.

The deans were from schools participating in the Carnegie Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education. A year ago, they had decided to explore the recommendations of the FCC report led by Steven WaldmanInformation Needs of Communities, modeled after the Knight Commission’s report of the same name, declared a crisis in “local accountability journalism” in the United States. The June meeting at Harvard was an update on research into the report’s suggested remedies.

Several professors agreed with Waldman’s point that foundations can ease the digital transition. They singled out community foundations as helpful new funders of local news and information. Knight Foundation has encouraged this trend through the Knight Community Information Challenge, which is matching some $24 million to help create more informed and engaged communities. Our insights are here. The projects have contributed to Oklahoma taking on chronic prison system problems, Dubuque increasing water conservation, Northeast Ohio improving public health services for the mentally ill and much more. The projects work best when they are collaborative.

Also encouraging was Arizona State professor Len Downie’s paper. Among its recommendations was an endorsement of the Waldman recommendation that the IRS update its rules for approving nonprofit media. Downie, the former executive editor of the Washington Post, knows what nonprofit media can do from his experience with the News21 project. Since Knight currently are funding a project to look at the nonprofit media rules, which haven’t been updated since the 1970s, we were happy to hear of Downie’s support.

New report looks at ties between mobile games and civic engagement

July 3, 2012, 9:47 a.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller



Innovative mobile games, especially those that take place at the local level and focus on issues like art or civics, are often relatively low profile. Thus, it’s hard to determine their impact on communities and the larger engagement field.

A new report seeks to address that problem by profiling nearly 40 games and revealing key opportunities and constraints that will be useful to both practitioners and academics. It outlines the emerging field of mobile and pervasive games across three dimensions: civic learning, performance/art and social change.

The Civic Tripod for Mobile and Games: Activism, Art and Learning,” argues that these three domains are currently fragmented, which makes the learnings hard to share. Its authors believe that this fragmentation of isolated examples undermines the ability to think big, design holistically and evaluate more broadly.

The authors hope that by curating a set of important mobile projects and connecting them across issue areas, they’ll be able to weave them together across their distinct fields of practice.  The different domains of civic learning, performance/art and social change “can and should speak jointly,” the report said.

Finding ways to better describe, measure and replicate community engagement

July 2, 2012, 7 a.m., Posted by Knight Foundation


Photo Credit: Flickr user callumscott2

By Paula Ellis, VP/Strategic Initiatives

While engagement is widely seen as a core feature of the best solutions to community challenges, there isn’t yet an agreed upon way to describe it, copy it, measure it - or even know if it’s spreading.  

A yearlong study of collaboratives found that nearly all of them struggled with how to engage residents as co-producers of change. The study, which examined 100 such community-wide efforts and identified 12 as best of class, looked specifically at how institutions engage with each other and how community members themselves engage to produce impact.

Armed with this body of research on what works and with newly announced support from Knight Foundation, the Aspen Institute is launching a Forum for Community Solutions to do two things: share practical tools and skills that can be put to use immediately and build a community of practice that digs deeper.

To accomplish these goals, they’ll host roundtable discussions around the country with mayors, community leaders, philanthropists and businesses to walk through successful “needle-moving strategies.” The institute uses the term needle-moving to help determine impact. It refers to instances when at least a double digit improvement occurs based upon an agreed measure. They’ll launch a media campaign to publicize what works and provide support to communities with promising, impact-driven engagement projects.