Announcing the 2011 Knight News Challenge Winners

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

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


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


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


Winner: Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Ill. Award: $150,000 Project Lead: Brian Boyer Web: 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.


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


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.


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


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.


Winner: El Mostrador, Santiago, Chile Award: $200,000 Project Lead: Miguel Paz Web: 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.


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.


Winner: Open Knowledge Foundation, Cambridge, England Award: $250,000 Project Lead: Martin Keegan Web: 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.


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


Winner: ScraperWiki, Liverpool, England Award: $280,000 Project Lead: Francis Irving Web: 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.


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


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



Winner: Ushahidi, Orlando, Fla. Award: $250,000 Project Lead: David Kobia Web: 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.

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