Learning from Experimentation: An assessment of early News Challenge Winners

When Knight Foundation launched the News Challenge in September 2006, the media landscape looked a lot different than it does today.  The iPhone was merely a rumor— Motorola’s Razr was the  top selling phone. Twitter was still a project of ODEO and, for many of us, RSS was the future of distribution on the Internet. Netflix, which had 5.6 million customers compared to 24 million now, had yet to launch the Netflix Prize.

Since then we’ve experienced a constant stream of new ideas, practices and behaviors. Though the scene changes rapidly, lessons still matter. In some ways, they’re more important than ever if they can help us get a sense of the bigger picture.

Funding innovation requires openness to experimentation and a commitment to learn and adapt. In this spirit, we asked LFA Group, an evaluation and consulting firm, to take a closer look at the first two cohorts of  News Challenge winners (2007 and 2008) to better understand their impact and influence. (As Mayur mentioned recently, the review is part of an ongoing assessment of the News Challenge; we are tracking the continuing progress of 2009, 2010 and soon to be announced 2011 winners. The findings from this also will be shared on a regular basis.)

The interim assessment comprises a cross-cutting overview as well as a series of thematic cluster reports exploring projects in terms of the outcomes they have achieved in their targeted communities, their influence on the field of journalism and media, as well as their contribution to learning.

We hope the lessons contained in our assessments of the News Challenge will spark conversation not merely about our work, but about innovation in general.

We’ve displayed some of the highlights of the report in the infographic on the left hand side (click to enlarge) the image and in a SlideShare presentation that we built in partnership with the design firm Kiss Me I’m Polish.

We hope that you’ll explore all the reports; we’re eager to know what you think and what insights you’re taking away.

On Wednesday we’ll announce the fifth round of News Challenge winners at the MIT/Knight Civic Media Conference. We’ll refrain from talking about this year’s winners here– but we will predict that they will prove to be an exciting mix of innovators, entrepreneurs and journalists. You can track the announcement at the conference livestream, and over Twitter via @knightfdn and #newschallenge.