Knight Foundation expands support for civic media at MIT

Cambridge, Mass. (June 22, 2011) – The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is investing an additional $3.76 million in MIT’s Center for Civic Media to further its groundbreaking work with new technologies to inform and engage communities.

The center, launched in 2007 with seed funding from Knight, will use the new support to solidify its leadership in the emerging media innovation field and expand its curriculum and outreach programs.

In addition, MIT announced today that Ethan Zuckerman, a leading scholar on digital issues and the Internet’s role in society, will become the center’s new director.

“Since its founding five years ago, the center has enlisted leading innovators and new technologies in empowering communities through grassroots information experiments.  Its work shows that lab-based news technologies can be applied successfully in geographic communities,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation. “The center now aims to build on that strong foundation with new leadership and expanded programming. If it becomes an international hub of civic media, as it strives to, we expect the benefits to radiate to communities everywhere.”

“The importance of civic media in documenting the protest movements of the Arab Spring has been a reminder of both the power of digital tools and how little we understand the ways in which citizens, activists, governments, new and traditional media interact,” Ethan Zuckerman said. “I believe the Center for Civic Media, in large part through Knight Foundation’s commitment, will be able to contribute both to the understanding of the role and power of civic media in the broader media ecosystem, and build tools that help communities around the world share their perspectives and stories.”

The announcement took place at the MIT/Knight Civic Media Conference, an annual gathering hosted by the center that has helped build and bring a sense of community to the media innovation field.

With the new funding, the Center for Civic Media will:

  • Expand its outreach and role as an incubator for community news experiments. The work will build on the center’s most successful experiments to date, including Grassroots Mapping, where residents used balloons, kits and cameras to map the Gulf oil spill, and SourceMap, a social network built around supply chains that helps residents and companies better understand where and how products are made;
  • Develop an undergraduate curriculum in civic media and additional graduate seminars, in addition to extending its fellows program;
  • Continue to help build the media innovation field by hosting gatherings of leading thinkers and innovators year-round.

The center was a first-year winner of the Knight News Challenge, an international media innovation contest funding digital news experiments. (The fifth round of winners were also announced today. See The Challenge is part of Knight Foundation’s $100 million Media Innovation Initiative, which includes projects to explore national media reform, increase broadband access and transform journalism education, among others.

The new support comes after an external evaluation was recently completed of the Center for Civic Media’s impact in its first three years of operation. The review found that despite facing early implementation challenges in building an interdisciplinary program, the center has pioneered a community-oriented approach to media and technology development. “The center has created a teaching program that is attracting top-flight graduate students, and incubated several promising and important student projects rooted in addressing the information needs of specific communities,” said John Bracken, director of digital media at Knight Foundation.

About John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged.



Marc Fest, Vice President/Communications, (305) 908-2677, [email protected] 
Andrew Whitacre MIT Center for Civic Media (617) 324-0490, [email protected]