Knight News Challenge on Networks opens: Your shot at a share of $5 million

Note: To apply for the News Challenge, and read our FAQ, visit

Today, and for the following 19 days, the Knight News Challenge is open for business. The theme of the challenge is Networks. 

The most common question I’ve been asked since we announced the challenge is exactly what we mean by Networks. We’re trying not to define the term too narrowly, but I thought a look at David Sarnoff, the creator of the broadcast network in the U.S., might provide some insights into our motivations. (We’re launching the Networks challenge on the anniversary of Sarnoff’s birthday, coincidentally.) In the 1950 film Mid-Century: Half Way to Where?, Sarnoff foresaw the coming “pocket-sized radio instruments [that] will enable individuals to communicate with anyone anywhere.” According to Cisco, the number of those “pocket-sized instruments” will equal the number of people on the planet by the end of the year. David P. Reed later extended “Sarnoff’s Law” (a broadcast network’s value is proportional to the number of people it reaches) to make the case that networks can scale exponentially. Today’s communications networks are different from the broadcast tower and its one-to-many reach. The Internet, and the mini-computers in our pockets, enable us to connect with one another, friends and strangers, in new ways. Witness the roles of networks in the formation, coverage and discussion of recent events such as the rise of the Tea Partyflash mobs, the Arab Spring, last summer’s UK riots and the Occupy movement.  We’re looking for ideas that build on the rise of these existing network events and tools – that deliver news and information and extend our understanding of the phenomenon. Anyone – businesses, nonprofits, individuals – can apply. On the application form, we’re asking you seven questions – about you, your idea, the problem you want to attack and the network you want to leverage. We’re not asking for business plans or budgets – those questions will come later.  For now, we want to hear a concise description of what you want to do. To encourage your brevity, we’ve listed word limits for each question. We won’t reject your application if you go over the limit – you can write 203 words instead of 200 on why you think your idea will work.  But the ability to successfully convey thoughts with precision is a criteria we will use in reviewing the applications.  We will also look for your ability to walk the talk around networks. Can you encourage support for, and critiques of, your idea, and others’ ideas, on the News Challenge Tumblr?  Change happens quickly in this space. To try to keep pace, we’re running three versions of the News Challenge this year instead of one, and are doing so more quickly than we have in the past. On March 17, we, with the help of a number of outside advisers, will begin to review the applications. By mid-April, we will have a set of finalists, who will then be asked a deeper set of questions. We’ll announce the winners at the MIT-Knight Civic Media conference on June 18. We expect to issue 4-6 awards. (Depending on your project and your structure, we can issue the funds as grants, loans or investments.) News Challenge awards have ranged between $10,000 and $1 million. Last year’s Knight News Challenge winners received an average of $294,000. In addition to the money, winners will join our network of media innovators. Some of their work was featured at the recent NICAR conference in St. Louis, including Knight News Challenge-supported projects such as OverviewPandaDocument Cloud and ScraperWiki, along with other Knight-supported projects such as OpenNews, our collaboration with the Mozilla Foundation. Others will be showing their work at the Knight exhibition space at SXSW Interactive next month. Later this spring, we’ll launch our second Challenge of 2012, the theme of which will be, well, anything. We’ll select a theme for our third contest later in the year. Until March 17, you can learn more, and apply, at NewsChallenge.orgMichael Maness  and I will be answering questions on a Google Hangout at 1 p.m. EST on Wednesday. Our FAQs is available online. And you can reach us at  @knightfdn and [email protected]  Good luck!