Breakout Session 1: Five Things You Need to Know To Get Started


Session 1: Five Things You Need to Know To Get Started

Facilitators: Eric Newton, Senior Advisor to the President, Knight Foundation; Michele McLellan, Circuit Rider, Knight Foundation

Scribe: Heidi Williamson, Vice President for Grantmaking and Communication, Berks County Community Foundation

“Ideas are easy. Doing stuff is hard.”  — Dan Gillmor

Community information projects range from issues-based websites to full-fledged professional journalism projects. The Five Things You Need to Know to Get Started brochure provides start-up tips for foundations considering jumping into media funding.

Most of the projects that Knight has funded through the Community Information Challenge fall into one of ten categories. The categories are:

1. A community archive is a repository for information and documents posted online so they’re available to the community. Examples of community archives include Black Hills Knowledge Network ( through the Black Hills Community Foundation and Thought Box Charlotte ( through The Foundation for the Carolinas.

2. Local action centers provide information and engage community members to take action. Examples include Grow Western New York ( through the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and Park City Green ( through the Park City Community Foundation.

3. Contests bring new ideas to the table from a variety of players. Minnesota Open Idea ( is an example of a contest. Other organizations, such as allow donors to give directly to stories they’d like to see reported.

4. Mobile is an effective way to reach some groups because it crosses the digital divide. Voto Latino ( is an example of mobile project.

5. Data projects provide numbers, or visualizations of numbers, to aid in understanding an issue. These projects make data usable to community members. Examples of data projects can be seen through the Urban Institute’s website at

6. Citizen Media refers to projects where residents create content for information projects. Examples include the Rapidian ( through the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, ( through Berks County Community Foundation, the Akronist ( through the Akron Community Foundation, and The Community News Commons through the Winnipeg Foundation ( Other examples include Voice of OC’s ( editorial board process, which invites local citizens and leaders to submit op-eds.

7. Ecosystem Support is grant support for existing information or news organizations. In many cases grants fund coverage gaps on specific issues. Ecosystem support can also refer to mapping information resources that already exist (and who is accessing them) in a community using a tool like the Knight Community Information Toolkit, and determining the credibility of each player. Examples include Sameboat (link not available yet) through the Incourage Community Foundation.

8. Student journalism projects create connections between journalism schools, media outlets and foundations. In some projects, classes write enterprise journalism that is distributed through start-ups or established media. An important question to consider is whether the project creates any barriers for students. For example, some students can’t afford to take on an unpaid journalism internship, leading only those who can afford to work for free to apply. Example of student journalism projects are The News Outlet ( through the Raymond John Wean Foundation and youth radio in Oakland. With support from the California Endowment, New America Media is finding ways to engage young people so their voices can really make a difference in their communities through original reporting.

9. Some projects support public broadcasting in new ways. For example, New Jersey cut its public broadcasting budget completely and foundations stepped in to ensure that coverage continued. Hiki No ( is an example through the Hawaii Community Foundation.

10. Finally, some projects fund professional journalism. Examples include New Jersey Spotlight ( through the Community Foundation of New Jersey. In addition to advertising, New Jersey Spotlight generates revenue by conducting forums where sponsors pay $5,000+ to ensure an issue gets discussed. The Texas Tribune ( does this, too, but charges audience members to attend.

Many of the foundations that have embarked on community information projects are thinking about what comes next. Now that information is flowing, there is interest in engaging more and more diverse voices in the conversation, and addressing issues around media literacy and equitable access to information. Games, digital polling and social media are strong engagement tools.

There is a bias toward action, with many foundations using the projects they’ve funded as a platform for community forums and advocacy work. Issues where an existing advocacy structure exists see faster action than those without that structure. An example of a nonprofit that uses this model is the Better Government Association, (, which has an investigative reporting unit, an engagement unit, and a listening unit.

Finally, there is a trend toward traditional and community media outlets working together to address issues, such as community healthcare, food access, etc. (The San Diego Media Collaborative is a successful example).