Knight Blog

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

The Civic Commons shows impact in Northeast Ohio

March 8, 2012, 11:27 a.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

Knight funds The Civic Commons to build on existing citizen engagement efforts to provide new ways for citizens to learn about local issues. Here, Dan Moulthrop from The Civic Commons, writes about its impact.

Sam Bell is an auto mechanic in an inner ring suburb of Cleveland. He calls himself an "eco-conscious" auto mechanic, and what that means, practically, is that he recycles everything he can at his garage (The Lusty Wrench), and he rides his bike to work every day. It also means that he takes a very active interest in his community. As the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district began public engagement on their proposed strategic plan, he grew worried that the district's commitment to sustainability was little more than "lip service." He had tried to raise this at public meetings but to no avail. So, in late December, he turned to The Civic Commons and invited the community to join in a conversation about his ideas.

At first, no one seemed to be paying attention.  Since then, though, a few hundred people have accessed the conversation and almost 30 have participated in some fashion. The real success, though, lies in the fact that as a result of his efforts online and in the community, Sam recently got a meeting with the district superintendent. Here's what he posted on the Commons about that meeting:

"We wound up spending nearly an hour together, instead of the 20 minutes I had asked for.  I think neither of us was unhappy about having spent so long....I invited him to call the Cambridge MA Supt of Schools, whom he turns out to know through involvement in a committee on which they both serve, to ask about their experience.  He is willing to do so, and has asked me to furnish him information from other school systems which have managers of sustainability in place."

Election perceptions: From thoughtful data crunch to wild media hunch

March 8, 2012, 8:44 a.m., Posted by Eric Newton

Today we serve up the first of three election/media blog posts. They’ll range from serious data analysis (today), to a story tip and a wild hunch about media history.

This season’s Super Tuesday primary races were covered by the full-fledged data-mapping project Patchwork Nation, founded with Knight funds, and now run through the nonpartisan Jefferson Institute.

Patchwork Nation’s creator, journalist and author Dante Chinni, has mapped America, diving it into 12 “voter communities” – ranging from tractor country to monied burbs – each a social-demographic type, each a different color in the embeddable maps.

Using Patchwork Nation, instead of red states and blue states, we see all the colors of the American political scene. The widely used mapping system has become a book.  

This post shows the Ohio map generated by Super Tuesday. Hover over the voter type and see how the Republican candidates did in this key race, narrowly won by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Open preferred, not required in Knight News Challenge

March 7, 2012, 11:23 a.m., Posted by John Bracken

Last week, I described our approach to open source software in the News Challenge. We support open source and strongly encourage applicants in the contest to use it.

Similarly, we think ideas are strengthened, and society most benefits, when they’re shared and discussed publicly.

As such, we’ve set the default for the Challenge to public: you post an idea on the News Challenge Tumblr. You, and your networks, can promote it. Others can critique it, suggest collaborators or point you to similar ideas. In the future we hope that the News Challenges will be seen more as a platform for the exchange of ideas than as a source of funds.

Someone recently mentioned to me that her company is eager to enter, but that they were apprehensive about possible negative reactions to a public proposal. We realize, however, that some (mostly organizations, but some individuals, too) do not want to share their ideas in public. That’s why we do allow you to skirt the public Tumblr should you choose. To keep your idea between yourself and us, email your answers to the 7 questions to us at We will evaluate your application just as we will the other ones, albeit without the benefit of public discussion. (You may want to use this News Challenge collaborative editor from Charlie DeTar to compose and copy your entry.)