Articles by

Elizabeth R. Miller

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    Photo credit: Robertson Adams. Today reviewers are gathering in Miami to help Knight review the 56 semifinalists in the Knight News Challenge on strengthening the Internet. By the end of the day we expect to have a group of finalists that we’ll examine more deeply over the next few weeks. The next public announcement will be that of the winners, on June 23, at the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference in Cambridge, Mass. Finalists can expect to hear from us next week. We may also follow up with several projects individually if we feel it is better suited to another funding option at Knight.
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    Knight Foundation’s summer internship program is currently accepting applications.  The foundation offers competitive internships in a variety of program areas that work to promote informed and engaged communities. Below, Romina Herrera, who interned at Knight in the summer of 2013, shares highlights of her experience and offers advice to those seeking an internship at the foundation. You graduated with a digital media major in December 2013 from Florida International University. What are you doing now? R.H.: I’m working at an agency in Miami called Cause Populi. We offer marketing, branding and social media support to a variety of nonprofits. I’m the project manager, so I delegate what needs to be done for different clients and help get campaigns off and running. We work with different types of organizations, from adoption agencies to disability community centers and more. I originally freelanced for the company doing design work and was recently hired full time. How did you first hear about Knight Foundation’s internship program? RELATED LINK "Knight internship unveils a network of opportunity" by Elizabeth R. Miller on KnightBlog.org R.H. Through the internship counselor at Florida International University where I was a student. She was familiar with my portfolio and thought that I would be a great fit for the program. What did you study in school? Was it useful for your experience at Knight? R.H. I received my associate’s degree in graphic design from Miami Dade College. When I transferred to FIU, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do; I had interests in a lot of things, like education, arts and advertising. Then I found out its School of Journalism and Mass Communication had created a digital media major and it was a perfect combination of all my interests. It was sort of an experimental program, but I got to learn as I went and I really enjoyed that. My background in graphic design and that notion of experimentation were important for my work at Knight on “Searchlights and Sunglasses.” What was your experience like working on the digital e-book “Searchlights and Sunglasses?” R.H.: When I arrived at Knight, Eric Newton, the book’s author, already had the written materials ready and had started a prototype of the website with a designer. When it got to the production stage, I helped to test the site as a beta user and added in missing content and links. I also worked directly with the designers and Knight Creative Director Eric Schoenborn to figure out what sorts of updates we could incorporate into the book. When the site was finished, I attended the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference in Washington, D.C., to demo it and get feedback from people about what they found most useful with the resource.
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    Strategic communications is about reaching the right audience with the right message, says Knight Foundation’s communications director Anusha Alikhan. When done well, it successfully advances the goals of an organization. It also takes into account any potential challenges and opportunities. Alikhan says that successful communications plans adhere to three basic tenets: “First, be consistent. Second, know your audience. Third, always measure your impact.” We recently talked with Alikhan to get her advice on how nonprofits and startups can create targeted messages and how they can avoid common stumbling blocks. She also shares how growing up as the daughter of a diplomat helped shape her own view of diverse communities. Why is it important for Knight Foundation to invest resources in strategic communications? A.A.: Knight takes a unique approach to communications. Similar to our grant-making, we are not afraid to be bold and try new approaches. We see communications as an important way to advance social change and spread new ideas. Our mission focuses on getting news and information to communities to help strengthen democracy. We use communications as a way to help put the projects we fund into the hands of people so that they can use them to shape their own communities. That means we need to make the public aware of the funding opportunities available through Knight. It also means attracting a wide and diverse community of grantees so that we can constantly surface good ideas and help spread them. RELATED LINKS Lilly Weinberg, exploration enhances her understanding of Knight communities Marie Gilot: How people practice journalism is as important as the content Tatiana Hernandez: Art is joy George Abbott: Everyone can be engaged in improving their community Jon Sotsky: Use assessment to add value, not prove it Ben Wirz on providing venture funding for media innovation Bahia Ramos feels the beat of local communities in her grantmaking Benjamin de la Peña considers the future of cities and the power of philanthropy You spend much of your time shaping messaging and pitching stories about our grantees to journalists. What advice would you give to Knight grantees that are better trying to market themselves? A.A.: My overall guidance would be that effective media relations still relies on good storytelling—using a compelling narrative to emphasize who or what is going to benefit from your idea. At the same time the opportunities to tell those stories has changed fundamentally. The Internet and social Web has disrupted communications as much as any other field. That means you may not be going after the biggest outlets like The New York Times anymore, but rather you now have the opportunity to tap into a much wider network of specialized news sites, bloggers, social media enthusiasts or publications to help get the word out about your project. Keep in mind that whatever news you put out there isn’t going to go away, so you need to be very clear about your messaging and prepare to respond to feedback—good or bad. Can you give us an example of grantees that have done this well? A.A.: Code for America is very good at storytelling. They do a lot of diverse work but do a good job of connecting their initiatives across the board and to their overall mission of engaging people in civic participation. Matter also recognizes communications is important for getting the word out about their initiatives. Whenever they have a milestone, they’ll connect with us to help them think about opportunities. They have also engaged successful public relations efforts beyond their coordination with Knight and do a great job at leveraging their partnerships.
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    Above: Andries Vaisman. Knight Foundation’s summer internship program is currently accepting applications.  The foundation offers competitive internships in a variety of program areas that work to promote informed and engaged communities. Below, former intern Andries Vaisman shares highlights of his experience, how it influenced his career and what advice he’d give to incoming interns. You work now in partnership development at General Assembly in New York. What are your primary responsibilities? A.V.: I’ve been at General Assembly  - an educational institution that transforms thinkers into creators through education and opportunities in tech, business and design - for four months. Specifically, I work on building relationships with companies in the tech and business community in New York so that they can hire from our pool of talent. I’m also helping to manage our apprenticeship program. How did you first hear about Knight Foundation's internship program? A.V: I was a sophomore at Vassar College in New York and I was planning on being a lifeguard for the summer. Luckily, I met someone who worked at Knight Foundation who recommended that I apply and give it a shot. It turned out to be the perfect opportunity, as it was my first real experience working in a real professional setting. I had an awesome time.  
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    As special assistant to Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen, there’s no typical day for Lilly Weinberg. It’s in her job description to work with the foundation’s program staff, its vice presidents and many of its grantees to implement its grantmaking strategy. It’s a broad job at Knight, a national foundation that also works in 26 communities where founders John S. and James L. Knight once operated newspapers. Luckily, a love of exploration and understanding communities has always guided Weinberg.  When she retired from competitive swimming at Emory University, she finally had the time to develop those interests. Her college studies in economics and environmental studies took her all over the world  – from Botswana to Peru to the Turks and Caicos Islands. “I love that sense of discovery. I love meeting people and learning about all sorts of things. This job allows me to do that,” she says. Below Weinberg shares what lessons she’s learned from working in economic development, how she finally feels at home in Miami, and what a recent trip to Chile taught her about livable cities. Your job includes a variety of responsibilities. What are your top priorities? RELATED LINKS Marie Gilot: How people practice journalism is as important as the content Tatiana Hernandez: Art is joy George Abbott: Everyone can be engaged in improving their community Jon Sotsky: Use assessment to add value, not prove it Ben Wirz on providing venture funding for media innovation Bahia Ramos feels the beat of local communities in her grantmaking Benjamin de la Peña considers the future of cities and the power of philanthropy Chris Barr on the importance of funding early stage media prototypes L.W.:  My priority is working directly with Alberto. He travels 70 to 80 percent of the time and has a major public appearance as a keynote speaker, opener or panelist nearly every week.  I help prepare him for all that, write his talking points, etc. Another important part of my job relates to grants management. I see every single grant write-up, and I work with my colleagues to improve them before sending them on to Alberto. Because I review all grant agreements and letters, I get a good perspective of the totality of our work. We made over 500 grants last year, which means thousands of documents pass through my desk. It’s a lot! I’m also involved in Knight’s organizational development; for example I worked on a learning initiative to help staff better communicate what we’re learning and have helped organize sessions designed to improve staff’s writing skills. Before Knight, you worked at the New York City Economic Development Corp. How is that relevant to what you do here? L.W: Specifically, I worked within the Center for Economic Transformation, which focuses on implementing policies and programmatic initiatives that promote entrepreneurship and economic growth in New York. They do a lot of competitions because Mayor Bloomberg used them as a vehicle to for entrepreneurship. That’s similar in spirit to what we do around using contests to spark innovation. Of course, economic development isn’t just as simple as bringing in businesses; it’s a complex ecosystem involving many factors. And that overlaps with how Carol Coletta, Knight’s vice president of community and national initiatives, talks about talent, opportunity and place. People want communities that are livable and easy to walk around in. There’s evidence to suggest that young college grads first chooses the place they want to live and then they go about getting a job.
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    Above: 99% Invisible: Season 3 via Kickstarter The goal for Radiotopia from PRX - a new podcast network of the best emerging and established talent - is to create a model for sustaining story-driven public radio, says Jake Shapiro. As CEO of PRX, an online marketplace for public radio programming, Shapiro has the expertise to guide it to fruition. Launched today with support from Knight Foundation, Radiotopia will cultivate a new generation of storytelling talent, shape a replicable framework for digital first audio programming and develop new audience engagement and revenue growth techniques. The network will experiment with collaborative crowdfunding and new methods of sponsorship and cross-promotion, helping independent producers develop their programs over the long run. Content will be varied: one podcast will focus on design and architecture, another on how people connect in the modern world. We recently talked with Shapiro to find out how he expects Radiotopia’s inaugural lineup will better serve and help build the growing audience for original spoken word content. What’s most exciting for you about the launch of Radiotopia? J.S.: It’s a lot of things at once. First and foremost we’re really excited about the programs and the producers we’ve chosen to launch with. They are the kinds of stories in audio we love, and that lots more people would love if they knew about them. We can’t wait to take them to bigger audiences. It’s also a critical moment for PRX as we realign around helping producers reach new audiences, both on public radio and beyond. We hope it will increase our understanding of how audiences are finding and experiencing this type of content.  
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    "Leveraging Digital Platforms for Health" via Clinton Foundation Understanding the context of people’s actions is essential to leveraging digital platforms, Knight’s Vice President of Journalism and Media Innovation Michael Maness told participants gathered this week at the 2014 Clinton Health Matters Conference. In the future, individuals and communities will be able to make decisions in real time, Maness said, enabled with a trove of personal data generated from wearable devices, Internet enabled-cars and apps. Ultimately, he predicts that this will “lead to better health and well-being." The conversation, which took place in La Quinta, Calif., was moderated by Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation. Clinton challenged the panel to think broadly about how the rapid growth in technology and data might impact people’s health five years from now. Other panelists in “Leveraging Digital Platforms to Promote Health” included: Travis Bogard, senior vice president, Jawbone; Dane Atkinson, CEO, SumAll; Peter Tippett, chief medical officer and vice president of Verizon Enterprise Solutions’ health IT practice; and Kathy Chang, a codeathon winner for an app to help people track their water consumption and founder, Moro.
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    PAMM is #openforkids with Knight Schools Program from Knight Foundation on Vimeo. Some 60 third-graders were the first to participate in the Knight Schools Program this week at the new Pérez Art Museum Miami. The kids, who arrived on school buses from the Irving and Beatrice Peskoe Elementary School in Homestead, Fla., are just a fraction of the 27,000 that will have the opportunity to visit the museum each year for free, thanks to support from Knight Foundation. Knight’s Vice President of Arts Dennis Scholl and Museum Director Thom Collins welcomed them Tuesday morning. Collins thanked Knight for its support, noting it will “ensure every year, generations of kids growing up here in Miami will have the shared experience of learning about the arts and learning about the world through the arts.”   Following a booming chant of “Open for Kids!” the third-graders set off in small groups to explore the museum with the help of several teaching artists. What ensued was an hour of arts, learning, and of course, fun.  
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    There are at least three things that make an early-stage media venture successful, according to Ben Wirz, Knight Foundation’s director of business consulting. First and foremost, it has to tackle a real problem, he says. But beyond that “it has to have a team that cares about that problem and has the persistence and determination to go through several different ways of solving it.” As part of his role managing Knight’s Enterprise Fund - which provides venture funding for media innovation projects - Wirz identifies startups that are aligned with the foundation’s mission. He also consults with grantees on business development and strategy. We recently talked with him about what he’s learned managing the fund, such as some common stumbling blocks for startups. He even shares what it’s like to be a triplet.   How do you identify projects for Knight’s Enterprise Fund? RELATED LINKS Tatiana Hernandez: Art is joy Marie Gilot: How people practice journalism is as important as the content George Abbott: Everyone can be engaged in improving their community Bahia Ramos feels the beat of local communities in her grantmaking Jon Sotsky: Use assessment to add value, not prove it Benjamin de la Peña considers the future of cities and the power of philanthropy B.W: In the beginning, we were just searching for investments we thought were good matches manually. We started attending Y Combinator and TechStars Demo Days; we read TechCrunch and Gigaom, and we continue to invest in companies we find ourselves. But part of the validation for the fund to date is that at least 80 percent of deals we do now are referred to us through Knight’s network, who view it as a natural extension of what we do, particularly with initiatives like the Knight News Challenge, which is open to both nonprofits and for-profits. There’s been a lot less direct outreach; most startups are referred by someone on our staff, board, existing grantees or the greater Knight network because they think they’d be a good fit. That said, Matt Singer, CEO of Videolicious, a mobile video editing company we invested in this year, just sent me an email out of the blue, so folks should feel free to do that as well. What are some examples of Knight-funded projects that you consider successful? B.W.: Well impact is certainly easier to see in consumer-facing companies like Upworthy and PolicyMic which reach millions of people each month and are upending the way news content gets created and distributed. But most of the companies we fund are not direct sources of news. A quarter are companies like OwnLocal, Umbel and TapAd which collectively drive tens of millions of dollars of new revenue to existing news publishers by improving the advertising services they can provide. The bulk, roughly 40 percent, are new publishing tools. Some like Submittable and Chute facilitate submission of content, capitalizing on a publisher’s need to get their audience involved. Others like Atavist and Zeega enable individuals, professionals and amateurs alike, to tell better multimedia stories. The balance aren’t publishing tools so much as tools that reimagine the way that people get access to information they need.  Captricity makes it easy to upload data trapped on paper (like PDFs or faxes, etc.) and ensure that it can be searched, stored and shared. PublicStuff has changed the way citizens give feedback to their local government. The companies we fund offer diverse solutions and products, so we aren’t looking for a single formula.
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    Why Contests Improve Philanthropy from Knight Foundation on Vimeo. At Knight Foundation our work carries across program areas, from the arts to journalism and media innovation to community and national initiatives that improve the cities where we all live. We issued several reports this year, designed to share lessons we have learned while working in a variety of sectors. Here are some of the highlights: “Case Studies: How Four Community Information Projects Went From Idea to Impact”: Through the Knight Community Information Challenge, more than 80 foundations have stepped up to invest in everything from local and state reporting to citizen dialogue and digital literacy, all to help their communities thrive. This report examined four community foundations and asked the questions why are they working in media and how does that connect to their overall goals? It includes lessons on design and planning, community engagement and project development. “The Emergence of Civic Tech: Investments in a Growing Field”: This report offers a broad look at civic tech, including an overview of investments in the sector and the funders behind them. It also features a data visualization component that tracks investments. The study isn’t static, either. We’ll be expanding it in 2014 and encourage input from others to help refine the data.  If you have any feedback, please send your contributions to Jon Sotsky, our director of strategy and assessment, at [email protected]