Articles by

Emily Mirengoff

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    Freedom of Information Audits and Government Transparency from Knight Foundation on Vimeo. Excessive bureaucratic delays have kept many Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from being fulfilled in a timely manner, making our government less open than it should be, the New York Times said in an editorial this week, citing the work of the Knight-funded National Security Archive. The editorial’s title, “What’s Secret About World War II,” refers to the oldest unfulfilled FOIA request on record: Filed in 1991, the request asks for documents about atomic energy negotiations between the US and its allies at the close of World War II.  And as we previously noted, eight different federal agencies have pending requests over a decade old.
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    In order for a news organization to succeed, its staff must be as passionate about business innovation as it is about quality journalism, Michelle Foster writes in her new report, Matching the Market and the Model: The Business of Independent News Media. The report, released by the Center for International Media Assistance, stresses there is no one successful model that all independent media organizations should emulate. Instead, each news organization should take their customers and their environment into account to create sustainable business models.
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    Poynter’s News University, a Knight-funded program that provides affordable journalism-related training for writers, editors, bloggers and students, has nearly 200,000 registered users. To celebrate, it's sharing the stories of users and offering prizes, including an Apple iPad, for the best ones. A previous contest winner, school newspaper advisor and English teacher Elisabeth McMullin wrote, “I was surfing the Web and trying to find some help when a high school newspaper advisors resource site pointed to NewsU. You were the answer to a desperate prayer from a desperate advisor! Everything I saw was excellent and easy to understand.”  One of this year’s contestants, Drew Selman of the St. Louis Photojournalism Project, explained the importance of NewsU for their project.  “Their practical classes along with courses that cover more in-depth topics keep my photographers well armed to gather truly great stories,” he said.  NewsU’s online resources include a wide variety of webinars and self-directed courses. Hundreds of courses, including Introduction to Reporting, Cleaning Your Copy and First Amendment for the High School Journalists are free thanks to the support from a Knight grant.  NewsU plans to expand its curriculum with additional courses with topics including investigative journalism, business, Web design and user interface design and understanding media audiences. NewsU is also launching The J101 Project, a 16-week, college credit Introduction to Journalism course that will be available to students at NewsU’s partner schools: Florida Atlantic University, Missouri State University and California State University, Fullerton.
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    Universal broadband, stronger public media and government transparency are just three of the wide-ranging reforms required to make communities throughout the country more healthy, informed and democratic, according to the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities. The Knight Commission, which was made possible by a $1.7 million grant from the Knight Foundation in 2008, assembled 17 media, policy and community leaders to identify the changing information needs of communities and to suggest policies for enhancing the free flow of information and its uses. The Knight Commission recognized that communities flourish when their residents are well-informed, have an abundance of local news available, and have the skills and tools needed for enacting change. However, the era of digital media has greatly altered the quantity, quality and accessibility of news and information. Americans have access to more information than ever before, but...
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    For local journalists, journalism students and communities, the Initiative for Investigative Reporting has been a win-win endeavor. The Knight-supported program, which pairs Northeastern University journalism students with community news organizations to produce local investigative news stories, has so far published 19 in-depth pieces. For students, the program provides the opportunity to collaborate with journalists and professors on hard-hitting local pieces; for the news organizations, the program offers quality, in-depth stories fit for publication. For communities, the program has shed light on important local issues, including the Dorchester local government’s plans for crime-ridden properties and Cambridge’s lax inspections of school cafeterias.
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      What do a high school student from San Francisco, a New Hampshire state legislator, and an undocumented artist from San Jose have in common? They all discovered serious information shortages in their communities and worked to improve local information flow. They are also all a part of Ohio State University’s Knight-sponsored project, Information Stories. This site contains a dozen video stories, each of which documents an individual’s struggle to increase information access and civic engagement in his or her community. The videos, compiled by Professor Shane and his colleague Liv Gjestvang, feature a diverse group of speakers from all over the country who champion a large range of causes. In one video, a community organizer describes her decades-long battle to bring media attention to asbestos-related disease in her town; in another, the Executive Director of Native Public Media discusses the importance of bringing universal broadband access to the Native American community. Taken together, the videos demonstrate the importance—and power—of local information, whether...
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    What strategies are non-profit media organizations using to become financially viable? Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president of Knight Foundation, talks about the successes of non-profits, the role of foundations in the media and “citizen journalists.” The interview, conducted by Michelle Foster, was done for the newest edition of “Empowering Independent Media,” a publication produced by the National Endowment for Democracy's Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA). Knightblog is publishing excerpts in two parts. The first is here.  The second follows: Michelle Foster: There have been attempts at hybrid commercial/donor-funded news outlets; how sustainable is this approach? Can these media “graduate” to self-sustainability? Eric Newton: No model is automatically better or worse than any other...In the United States in recent years, there has been a proliferation of nonprofit digital news sites, such as the Texas Tribune, MinnPost and the Bay Citizen. These work in media rich environments where there are commercial media ready to pay in partnerships for news, and where the community is ready to donate. In other parts of the United States, citizen journalism models seem to work better where there is no existing media and where there is a tradition of volunteerism. In the U.S., there’s a new emphasis on collaboration and news sharing between former competitors because of the 15,000 journalists who were downsized since the recession…The only real mistake these days is to not try something new.
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      Link Media, which broadcasts documentaries, global news, world music, international cinema and more on its Link TV satellite channel in the U.S., is expanding its news video offerings with the launch of Link News.  Link has long been a provider of international news reporting. During the recent uprisings in Egypt, it provided extensive coverage thanks to feeds from Al Jazeera English and Mosaic, its Knight-sponsored, Peabody Award-winning daily news program on the Middle East and North Africa. But with the launch of Link News, the site’s powerful new search tools will bring an even greater variety of stories from all over the web, which will be available to users worldwide for free. With support from Knight Foundation, Link Media developed semantic search technology for its news video platform. This technology, based on Link’s ViewChange.org, analyzes the transcripts and descriptions of the videos and produces multiple topic keywords. These topics are then used to find related videos and articles from all over the web. The search also...
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    (Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president) The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which is supposed to guarantee prompt responses from the government to information requests, turned 45 last week. However, the 2011 Knight Open Government Survey showed that some federal agencies have been letting requests languish for years – including a request to the National Archives dating back to 1991. FOIA, which President Johnson signed into law in 1966, dictates that government agencies process and respond to requests within 20 days, with a possible 10-day extension to accommodate “unusual circumstances.” However, according to the 2011 Knight Open Government Survey, eight  federal agencies have requests that date back more than a decade, demonstrating that the government still has a long way to go before it successfully fulfills the terms of its own law.   “We need public information, just like we need freedom of speech or freedom of the press,” said Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president of the Knight Foundation. “In order to be great citizens, we need to know something about what we’re voting about, we need to know how our government is working.” In order to test which government agencies were responding promptly to FOIA requests, the National Security Archive ...
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    The Harvard Kennedy School’s Joan Shorenstein Center has recently launched its newly-redesigned Journalist’s Resource, where journalists, students and instructors can find research studies on current events, syllabi and course materials for journalism lessons, and references for journalism basics. All content is free. On the instructor’s guide, professors can find full, semester-long syllabi, which emphasize knowledge-based journalism, as well as case studies and adaptable teaching assignments. Furthermore, all of the Journalist’s Resource’s policy studies come with teaching notes, which provide suggestions for instructors on how the studies can be used in the classroom. The site also discusses journalistic problems, and suggests examples that instructors might use to help students avoid those pitfalls.