Helping people in Detroit shape their own media landscapes

Journalism / Article

Project leader Christina Xu writes about the 2011 Knight News Challenge winner the Awesome Foundation News Taskforce Detroit.

Last night, the Awesome News Taskforce Detroit, a Knight News Challenge winner, announced its first $1,000 grant winner: the Detroit Journal, a series of beautifully-shot, short documentaries produced by two Detroiters about the complex, wonderful people with whom they share their city. It was the Taskforce’s official public debut in the city, and represents the start of what will hopefully be a long-term and fruitful relationship.

The Awesome Foundation concept was born in Boston in the summer of 2009, when 10 trustees committed themselves to setting aside $100 each every month to make awesome projects happen. In less than two years, this concept has spread to more than 35 cities around the world – Detroit is the 30th. Every month, the 10-20 trustees of each Awesome Foundation chapter get together and pick a project out of a public submissions pool to be the recipient of a $1,000, no strings attached grant. When everything aligns, the money pushes the project to the next level and the publicity and feedback that comes with the grant take it even farther.

The Awesome News Taskforce Detroit is focused on funding projects that, as Knight’s motto goes, inform and engage the Detroit community, though they are interpreting this in an open-ended way. The 20 trustees of Awesome News Taskforce come from all different corners of Detroit and boast backgrounds ranging from traditional journalism to founding community hackerspaces. They are united by a love for Detroit, a sense of humor and a desire for reaching across traditional borders to make decisions. Last week, the trustees met for the first time to discuss the feasibility, impact and implementation plans of the 45 projects that were submitted in the first cycle. In classic Awesome Foundation tradition, they also talked about excitement, joy and wonder. And the best part? I was listening in from my room in Massachusetts, 718 miles away. I chimed in once or twice, but for the most part, they did their own thing. It’s a wonderful feeling for an instigator of a group like this to be obsolete so quickly.

Our project is, uniquely among News Challenge winners, not about making new tech or producing a new type of story. The core of our idea is about creating an alternative community for people – journalists and nonjournalists alike – to learn how to shape their own media landscapes together, by-passing the approval of large institutions and the power dynamics that come with it. When the Awesome News Taskforce gives a grant to a project like the Detroit Journal, it’s not just about the money; it’s an act of validation and a commitment by the group members to help this project however they can, not as benefactors but as neighbors.

Xu is the co-founder of the Institute of Higher Awesome Studies