Foundations give local news and information projects a boost

Twenty winning ideas receive $3.67 million in matching funds from Knight Foundation

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"Strengthening support for local news and information projects" by Bahia Ramos Synnott and Susan Patterson

MIAMI -- (Sept. 5, 2012) -- Twenty local news and information projects across the country, all backed by their community or place-based foundations, have been awarded $3.67 million in matching funds as winners of the Knight Community Information Challenge.

The challenge was created by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to help community and place-based foundations become leaders in supporting local news and information, seen as vital to helping communities shape their own futures.

The winners will:

Open up data: In Boston, a project will train journalists and community members on how to better use data in reporting, and in Chicago, a project will use existing data to increase local government accountability by creating mobile apps and tools.

Strengthen their local news and information infrastructure: In New Jersey, Portland, Ore. and Santa Barbara, Calif., news collaboratives will create and share content across print, web and radio platforms.

Empower communities around social issues: In Mississippi, residents targeted by payday lenders in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Horizon oil spill will learn about local safe lending options. In Washington, D.C., an online tool will track affordable rental properties and in Key Biscayne, Fla. residents will monitor coastal and marine habitat to inform people about and help protect the environment.

A full list of winning foundations reflecting a range of projects is below.

“These foundations join the 80-plus community and place-based foundations who are leading by informing and engaging the public on issues they care about,” said Trabian Shorters, vice president/communities for Knight Foundation, who leads the challenge.

As part of the Knight Community Information Challenge, community and place-based foundation leaders are invited to attend Knight’s Foundation’s sixth annual Media Learning Seminar, a gathering to discuss ways in which foundations can support news and information needs and opportunities. The seminar will take place Feb. 10-12, 2013 in Miami.  Registration will open later this month at www.informationneeds.org.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit KnightFoundation.org.

Contacts:

Andrew Sherry, VP/Communications, Knight Foundation, 305-908-2677; media@knightfoundation.org

2012 Knight Community Information Challenge Winners

Providing Reliable Disaster Recovery Information in Arizona

Summary: To ensure that residents are prepared for and quickly recover from wildfires, floods, hazmat incidents and disasters, the Arizona Community Foundation will help Flagstaff’s two largest news organizations provide better real-time information. A digital project manager will work with KNAU Arizona Public Radio and the Arizona Daily Sun newspaper to create a real-time emergency information network that employs mobile apps and audio and video streaming.

Filling Information Gaps in Underserved Pennsylvania Neighborhoods

Summary: To identify information gaps in five neighborhoods, Berks County Community Foundation will use Knight Foundation’s Information Toolkit to determine what kind of information residents need but aren’t getting through the online news site, bctv.org, and other media outlets. A previous Knight Community Information Challenge project, bctv.org is an important source for professionally reported stories and a voice for local residents. However, it is unclear how much of that news is being received in Berks County’s communities. Students from nearby Alvernia University will be trained to produce reports on issues that need further exploring.

Adding Environmental Coverage to a Buffalo Investigative News Site

Summary: To increase local environmental coverage, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo will fund a beat reporter dedicated to environmental issues at a newly launched nonprofit investigative news site. The new reporter will tap into the expertise of local academics and environmental groups, recruiting them for multidisciplinary research teams to produce high-quality investigative journalism. The teams will be built in collaboration with the Western New York Environmental Alliance and many of the region’s 20 universities and colleges, including the State University of New York at Buffalo, St. Bonaventure University, Canisius College and Medaille College. This project deepens the community foundation’s commitment to engaging the public in Western New York’s environmental issues. In previous years, the foundation has received funding from the Knight Community Information Challenge for its efforts to build and expand GrowWNY.org , a communications hub for citizens and environmental groups in Western New York. The foundation is currently working on a Knight-funded project to develop a mobile platform that enables low-income communities and people of color to protect their neighborhoods from environmental hazards.

Tracking Affordable Rental Housing in Washington, D.C.

Summary: To track affordable rental housing in the District of Columbia, the D.C. Preservation Network will create an online tool. By combining federal and local data on subsidized housing with on-the-ground information about individual buildings from D.C. agencies, advocates and residents, it will enable information sharing and real-time collaboration on the affordability of specific buildings. Nonprofit housing advocacy organizations will use the information to focus tenant organizing and landlord outreach to properties most at risk.

Expanding Public Policy News in New Jersey

Summary: To expand coverage in an online statewide policy news site, the Community Foundation of New Jersey will help NJ Spotlight increase its health-care coverage and build an online discussion platform. A previous Knight Community Information Challenge project, NJ Spotlight has established itself as a trusted source of information on critical community issues like public finance, education, energy and the environment. The online discussion forum will build on the site’s successful live “Roundtable” series on public policy issues.

Increasing News Coverage and Collaboration in New Jersey

Summary: With challenge funding, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation will help develop a network of news organizations and journalists in New Jersey, and launch creative projects to encourage more civic dialogue and participation. Given the dramatic changes in media and technology, an opportunity exists to rethink the way New Jersey news organizations can work with one another, share resources and reach broader audiences. The founding partners, which include Dodge, Montclair State University and New Jersey Public Radio, will work on a range of projects to expand coverage, engage the public and provide training and services to the news ecosystem. Selected activities include hiring reporters to focus on New Jersey issues, coordinating collaborative reporting projects, offering website-in-a-box functionality for new organizations and journalists, and developing creative community engagement projects. It will also help foster the next generation of media practitioners by providing them with training in journalism, media and business practices.

Expanding Local News Reporting in Southeast Louisiana

Summary: To increase local news reporting in southeast Louisiana, the Greater New Orleans Foundation will help expand the city’s NPR affiliate, WWNO. Previously devoted almost exclusively to classical music, the station will build a news service to cover issues like education reform, arts and culture. WWNO will add a reporting staff and will partner with two local online news organizations, one of which – The Lens – is a Knight Community Information Challenge project.

Increasing Awareness of Safe-Lending Options in Mississippi

Summary: To combat the problem of payday-lending debt in Mississippi, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation will launch a community awareness campaign on local safe-lending options. With one in five Mississippians carrying payday-lending debt, and with residents struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Horizon oil spill, the campaign aims to educate consumers about safer small loans. It will convene local business, government and nonprofit leaders in an informational session for consumers; hold community educational forums in neighborhoods targeted by payday lenders; and explore innovative solutions with banks and large employers on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Engaging South Florida Residents in the Health of Coastal Areas

Summary: To engage residents and visitors in the health of coastal areas, the Key Biscayne Community Foundation will create a citizen scientist program to monitor the local marine habitat. The project will recruit volunteers to help determine key information gaps, identify critical resources valued by residents and visitors, and develop a way to collect data on the status of the coastal environment. Data collected through surveys, personal interviews and other methods will be analyzed and presented for multiple audiences, and an online data portal will provide public access to the information. The project will help to bring greater media attention to local issues, increase collaboration among community organizations and engage residents in protecting their natural resources.

Engaging Older Maine Residents in Reporting Local News

Summary:  To engage older adults in reporting local news stories, the Maine Community Foundation, in partnership with the University of Maine’s Center on Aging, will train older adults in rural communities to be citizen reporters. These reporters will create local news stories, blogs, newsletters and social media content relevant to the community. The Center on Aging will work with the University of Maine’s New Media Department to provide training in accessing and reporting information. Workshop topics will include journalistic writing and ethics, photography and video production and social media basics. Expert media consultants and advisers will provide assistance in website development, newsletter and e-newsletter design and layout, blogging and more.

Increasing Enterprise Journalism and Media Collaboration in Santa Barbara

Summary: To provide independent, in-depth investigative news and analysis, with an emphasis on content relevant to the county’s substantial Latino community, the Santa Barbara Foundation will launch a new journalism initiative called Newsource. The project will include an online news site with original content that will be shared with media partners in TV, radio, print and online news. Beginning in year two, stories will be produced in English and Spanish, with enterprising beat reporting on public policy, education, the environment and cultural diversity. The project will also offer Media Partnership Grants for two local organizations that want to work together on an investigative topic covered by the initiative. Community participation and engagement will be emphasized.

Training Media and Community Members in Analyzing and Using Public Data

Summary: To encourage the more effective use of data in reporting, The Boston Foundation will train journalists and community members to access information and create compelling data visualizations that can be embedded in news stories and on blogs and websites. The foundation and its partners will use a new, open-source data analysis and visualization platform to engage and train journalists from major community-based and social media outlets. Its efforts to engage and mobilize organizations and residents will focus in three Boston neighborhoods: Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan. It will also coordinate a free one-day conference around the topic of data.

Civic Innovation in Chicago

The Chicago Community Trust will create apps and other tools to help increase the utility of local government data to benefit community organizations and the broader public. The Trust will also help explain and tell stories hidden in hundreds of data sets now available in the region so that they can be used as reporting tools in local media. The project expects to develop at least five apps that will help residents monitor government activities & efficiency and five apps that directly solve community problems.

Connecting Cleveland Area Residents with Local Institutions Via a Smartphone App

Summary: To connect residents to the services and institutions available in the Greater University Circle neighborhood, the Cleveland Foundation will create a mobile app for the Neighborhood Voice, its local news publication and website. By extending the successful community news site, the smartphone app platform seeks to increase the hyper-local opportunities for two-way, real-time exchanges. Residents and employers will be linked through job listings, information will promote healthy lifestyle opportunities, and neighbors will enjoy new connections with their local cultural, educational and medical institutions. Neighborhood and business associations will have access to the app to post information and collect feedback from users. A searchable directory will help grow businesses, connect people and improve access to information.

Tracking Public School Funding in Duval County

Summary: To increase public understanding about how education funding works in Duval County, The Community Foundation in Jacksonville will create a website to serve as a hub of information, interaction and engagement. The site, in partnership with the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, will help residents compare schools in their neighborhood, try their hand at cutting or increasing the school budget or interact with a visualization of district academic performance. Visitors to the site will also be able to research issues and share their opinions with public officials. A full-time staff member will help coordinate the site’s development.

Developing a Local News Syndication Network in Oregon

Summary: To better serve the information needs of rural Oregon news organizations, The Oregon Community Foundation will create a cooperative news network where partners – including Oregon Public Broadcasting and local newspapers – will be able to share content.  Other activities include creating a business plan to make the cooperative self-sustaining based on syndication fees for members and expanding community news partnerships. The network will also hold live events in rural communities to highlight specific issues facing communities and broadcast the discussions on radio and TV.

Investigating Gas and Oil Drilling in Ohio

Summary: To produce an investigative report on gas- and oil-well drilling, The Raymond John Wean Foundation will help enable a new operating partnership between the NewsOutlet.org and a local National Public Radio affiliate. TheNewsOutlet.org, a previous Knight Community Information Challenge project, started at Youngstown State University and expanded to the University of Akron and Kent State. The site has helped the universities strengthen their investigative-reporting and video-storytelling expertise. Media partners benefit from its content, with more than 100 story packages produced across a variety of platforms. In addition to the report on gas- and oil-well drilling, the NewsOutlet.org will report on other investigative and enterprise stories for media partners across Ohio.

Boosting Community Engagement on Education Issues in Philadelphia

Summary: To help a Philadelphia Public Schools news site better connect with its audiences, Resources for Human Development will enable The Notebook to produce more content in accessible and usable forms. The site has established itself as a source of education information among educators and policy makers. Increased capacity will help users better evaluate site content – who is reading it and how it is delivered. The Notebook, a Knight Community Information Challenge project, will then find new ways, like mobile apps, to better reach parents of public school students. The site will also look for ways to increase revenue as its audience grows, whether through membership or fund raising.

Increasing Coverage of Legislative and Minority Issues in Wyoming

Summary: To provide more critical information to residents, the Wyoming Community Foundation will partner with WyoFile.com to build its capacity and readership. A previous Knight Community Information Challenge project, the site will ensure consistent and quality content by hiring a full-time writer dedicated to reporting issues before the Wyoming Legislature. It will also hire a part-time minority reporter, who will cover the Wind River Indian Reservation, which spans 2.2 million acres and is home to 2,500 Eastern Shoshone and more than 5,000 Northern Arapaho Indians.

Expanding Local News Coverage in Milwaukee Neighborhoods

Summary: To increase coverage of local issues like education, safety, and health and wellness, United Neighborhood Centers of Milwaukee, in partnership with the Zilber Family Foundation, and working with the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, will expand the capacity of an existing local news site. The site is currently being piloted in three Milwaukee neighborhoods; additional staff will allow it to cover 10 more. The site will hire part-time staff members who live, work or volunteer in those areas and provide them increased training in reporting, writing and multimedia skills. It also will increase its reach by establishing relationships with media and community organizations and making its website more useful. A partnership with the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University, which has provided in-kind contributions such as a newsroom, computers, software, and video and audio recorders, will continue to be strengthened.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.