Knight Blog

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

Local journalism site helps hold the powerful accountable

Sept. 7, 2012, 9:52 a.m., Posted by Jenna Buehler


Karen Gadbois, co-founder of The Lens, is the 2012 recipient of the Society of Professional Journalists’ annual Ethics in Journalism Award.

The Lens has twice received funding through the Knight Community Information Challenge.

Gadbois won the award following a complex policy story that held the New Orleans Police Department accountable to its own policy that requires police records of homicide victims at crime scene new conferences.

Her story, though initially unpopular, highlighted inconsistencies in that policy that were likely neglected in an effort to protect the reputation of a local police department volunteer.

Its commitment to the public’s right to know has brought The Lens multiple awards this year including the National Edward R. Murrow Award for reporting on one homeowner’s ultimately unsuccessful six-year struggle to get back into her Katrina-damaged house. The nonprofit site also collected multiple Excellence in Journalism Awards.


Protecting student journalists

Sept. 6, 2012, 2:56 p.m., Posted by Amber Robertson


Photo credit: Flickr user Thomas Hawk

Students doing more journalism in the “teaching hospital” model is a win for journalism education. But if universities want more from their student journalists, they should do more for them. That means legally protecting them even when the community and police don’t. Nationwide, universities are rightfully touting the benefits of the teaching hospital model. Yet students are missing from this debate.

Even if they weren’t interested in filling local news gaps with actual journalism, universities would seem to be obvious supporters and protectors of their students. Their roots, after all, are in freedom and learning. Ironically (and sadly) universities are often the first to challenge their own students for fear they might cause legal problems.

According to Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, most censorship complaints boil down to students vs. administration. The Knight-funded center serves students who believe they have been censored or denied access to public information. LoMonte estimated that about 70 percent of calls to their hotline are on censorship and public information issues, with the school or college administration being the culprit.

What happens to student journalists? Schools have, for example, removed newspaper racks from campuscut funding for school newspaperslocked out radio station staff members and restricted students from circling a petition around campus. Organizations such as the Student Press Law Center serve as valuable resources for students who feel their rights have been encroached upon.

It is not just the administration that tries to control student-run media. At times, community leaders are the problem. Recently, the staff of the independent University of Georgia newspaper, Red and Black, a non-profit corporation, walked out when it discovered a memo from a board member saying faculty must play a larger role in what would be published in the paper. The stated reason: an attempt to turn around a decline in readership. After the walkout, students created a website called Red and Dead where they covered their own story. After the outcry, the memo was dropped and the Red and Black editor-in-chief and managing editor returned.

Ingredients for successful Knight News Challenge projects

Sept. 6, 2012, 11:06 a.m., Posted by Michael Maness, Lucy Bernholz, Mayur Patel

If the number one question for Knight Foundation is "how do I win the News Challenge," a close second is "how can I make my media innovation project successful." 

To help answer that question, and to provide insights on how Knight can strengthen its grant making, the foundation has been conducting, in partnership with Arabella Advisors, an ongoing review of the Knight News Challenge with an eye towards what makes media innovation projects work. Today we're releasing a review of the 2009 News Challenge winners, which include nine projects that, among other things, provided new ways to visualize data, platforms for crowdsourcing and mapping, and tools for exploring and sharing primary source documents on the web. 

Predictably, not all of these funded innovations have succeeded in gaining traction. After all, the News Challenge is intentionally designed to encourage experimentation with new ideas for gathering, sharing and using news and information. In many cases, individual projects are still evolving as they continue to influence their targeted field and communities.