Knight Foundation media innovation contest announces 2011 winners

Knight News Challenge winners receive $4.7 million, including $1 million in support from Google; winners include traditional news organizations and Internet entrepreneurs, projects focused on government transparency, mobile and more.

– Note: hi-res photos of the winners are available at: for winners’ contact information, contact [email protected]

Cambridge, Mass. (June 22, 2011) Sixteen ideas that push the future of news and information will receive $4.7 million in funding as winners of the Knight News Challenge, an international media innovation contest funding digital news experiments that inform and engage communities.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced the winners today at the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference.

The ideas come from leading Internet entrepreneurs including Christina Xu and Jesse James Garrett, and top legacy newsrooms like the Associated Press and Chicago Tribune, and originate in North Carolina, Chile and the U.K.  Together, they employ a range of techniques for delivering news and information in the digital age. They include experiments to:

  • Help newsrooms organize and visualize large data sets so that they can find relationships and stories they might not have imagined (with projects from the AP and the Chicago Tribune.)

  • Create a mobile platform that will enable residents of a city in India to learn when water is available (an unpredictable event that has residents waiting hours).

  • Build tools that help to verify and display breaking news – with projects from Ushahidi and premier Web design firm Adaptive Path.

  • Leverage efforts to improve the use of government data in the U.S. – with projects from the Open Knowledge Foundation, ScraperWiki, the University of North Carolina and The Miller Center Foundation at the University of Virginia.

A full list is below.

“Through the News Challenge, Knight Foundation fosters innovators that push the intersection of journalism and technology,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation. “From individuals to institutions, the contest has generated or helped promote a wide variety of experiments and initiatives, including popular new tools like DocumentCloud and Ushahidi. Media innovators like David Cohn of Spot.Us or ‘journalist hackers’ like Brian Boyer are exactly the kinds of people we expected to participate.  It has also pleased us very much to welcome the up-front engagement in the contest of great news organizations like the Associated Press and Chicago Tribune,” added Ibargüen.

This year, Google has supported innovation in journalism through Knight Foundation with a contribution of $1 million to the News Challenge prize funds. The Internet company was not involved in the winner selection process.

“Quality journalism remains a crucial ingredient of democracy,” said Jim Gerber, director of strategic partnerships, at Google.  “As the Internet continues to extend how we communicate, gather information, and publish, innovations in news are emerging from organizations of all sizes around the world.  We applaud the initiatives recognized today in the Knight News Challenge and hope they inspire even greater innovation.”

Over the Challenge’s five years, Knight Foundation has reviewed more than 12,000 applications and funded 76 projects for $27 million. For the first time this year, the Knight News Challenge focused on entries four categories: Mobile, Authenticity, Sustainability and Community. Two categories – mobile and community – received the most interest.  

Past projects have been adopted by large media organizations and are having an impact. DocumentCloud, which helps journalists analyze, annotate and publish original source documents, is being used by more than 200 newsrooms nationwide. The site, which recently merged with Investigative Reporters and Editors, is again a 2011 winner for a project that will allow the public to comment on source documents in an effort to crowdsource news and information.

Meanwhile, hNews, a project by Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and the Media Standards Trust, is also being used by more than 200 newsrooms including the Associated Press. It allows readers to see the source of information in online articles.

The Knight News Challenge is part of Knight Foundation’s $100 million Media Innovation Initiative, designed to find digital ways to effectively inform communities so they may better function in a democracy.  The initiative includes projects to deliver news and information on digital platforms, explore national media reform, increase broadband access and transform journalism education, among others.

“A well-informed citizenry is essential to a functioning democracy.  That makes it a natural for investment by philanthropy,” Ibargüen said. “We’re proud of our partnerships, which include Google for the Knight News Challenge, community foundations all over the United States to support community information projects in the Community Information Challenge, and with great national foundations like Carnegie for the transformation of journalism education and leadership for the digital age.”

For more information about the contest and videos of the winners visit

About the 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. For more, visit

2011 Knight News Challenge Winners

Project: iWitness

Winner: Adaptive Path, San Francisco, Calif.

Award: $360,000

Project Lead: Jesse James Garrett

Twitter:  @AdaptivePath

To bridge the gap between traditional and citizen media, iWitness will create a web-based tool that aggregates user-generated content from social media during big news events. Whether a parade or protest, election or earthquake, iWitness will display photos, videos and messages in an easy-to-browse interface. Created by a premier web design firm, iWitness will make it easier to cross-reference first-person accounts with journalistic reporting, opening up new avenues for storytelling, fact-checking and connecting people to events in their communities.

Project: Overview

Winner: The Associated Press, New York, N.Y.

Award:     $475,000

Project Lead: Jonathan Stray

Twitter: @overviewproject

Overview is a tool to help journalists find stories in large amounts of data by cleaning, visualizing and interactively exploring large document and data sets. Whether from government transparency initiatives, leaks or freedom of information requests, journalists are drowning in more documents than they can ever hope to read. There are good tools for searching within large document sets for names and key words, but that doesn’t help find stories journalists are not looking for. Overview will display relationships among topics, people, places and dates to help journalists to answer the question, “What’s in there?” The goal is an interactive system where computers do the visualization, while a human guides the exploration – plus documentation and training to make this capability available to anyone who needs it.

Winner: The Awesome Foundation, Boston, Mass.

Award: $244,000

Project Lead: Christina Xu

Twitter: @higherawesome

To experiment with a new funding model for local journalism, The Awesome Foundation: News Taskforce will bring together 10 to 15 community leaders and media innovators in Detroit and two other cities to provide $1,000 microgrants to innovative journalism and civic media projects. By encouraging pilot projects, prototypes, events and social entrepreneurial ventures, the News Taskforce will encourage a wide swathe of the community to experiment with creative solutions to their information needs.

Project: PANDA

Winner: Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Ill.

Award: $150,000

Project Lead: Brian Boyer

Twitter: @pandaproject

To help news organizations better use public information, the PANDA Project, in partnership with Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE), the Chicago Tribune and The Spokane Spokesman-Review, will build a set of open-source, web-based tools that make it easier for journalists to use and analyze data. While national news organizations often have the staff and know-how to handle federal data, smaller news organizations are at a disadvantage. City and state data are messier, and newsroom staff often lack the tools to use it. PANDA will work with tools like Google Refine to find relationships among data sets and improve data sets for use by others. PANDA will be simple to deploy, allowing newsrooms without software developers on staff to integrate it into their work.

Winner: Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), Columbia, Mo.

Award: $320,000

Project Lead: Aron Pilhofer


Twitter: @documentcloud

A 2009 Knight News Challenge winner, DocumentCloud helps journalists analyze, annotate and publish original source documents. Hundreds of newsrooms are already using the tool. With this grant, DocumentCloud will develop a new feature allowing newsrooms to invite public participation in annotating and commenting on source documents. The tool will help newsrooms involve their readers in the news and improve DocumentCloud as a journalistic tool and investigative reporting resource.

Project: FrontlineSMS 

Winner: The Kiwanja Foundation, Palo Alto, Calif.

Award: $250,000

Project Lead: Sean McDonald

Twitter:   @frontlinesms

FrontlineSMS: Media will create a new platform that allows journalists to more effectively use text messaging to inform and engage rural communities. The Frontline SMS platform already enables users in underserved areas to organize interactions with large numbers of people via text messages, a laptop and a mobile phone – without the need for the Internet. This grant will enable FrontlineSMS to expand its software platform and work with community radio stations and other rural journalists.

Project: Zeega

Winner: Media and Place Productions, Cambridge, Mass.

Award: $420,000

Project Lead: Kara Oehler


Twitter:   @karaoehler

To help tell rich multimedia stories, Zeega will improve its open-source HTML5 platform for creating collaborative and interactive documentaries. By using Zeega, anyone can create immersive, participatory multimedia projects that seamlessly combine original content with photos, videos, text, audio and maps from across the Web. With this grant, Zeega will expand their experimental prototype to work on Web, tablet and mobile devices and pilot a series of collaborative and interactive documentary projects with news organizations, journalists and communities across the globe.

Winner: The Miller Center Foundation, Charlottesville, Va.

Award: $165,000

Project Lead: Waldo Jaquith

Twitter: @waldojaquith

The State Decoded will be a platform that displays state codes, court decisions and information from legislative tracking services to make government more understandable to the average citizen. While many state codes are already online, they lack context and clarity. With an improved layout, embeddable definitions of legal terms, Google News and Twitter integration, and an open API for state codes, this project aims to make important laws the centerpiece of media coverage.

Project: Poderopedia

Winner: El Mostrador, Santiago, Chile

Award: $200,000

Project Lead: Miguel Paz

Twitter: @poderopedia

To promote greater transparency in Chile, Poderopedia (Powerpedia) will be an editorial and crowdsourced database that highlights the links among the country’s elite. Using data visualization, the site will investigate and illustrate the connections among people, companies and institutions, shedding light on any conflicts of interests. Crowdsourced information will be vetted by professional journalists before it is posted. Entries will include an editorial overview, a relationship map and links to the sources of information.

Project: Nextdrop

Winner: NextDrop, Berkeley, Calif., and Hubli-Dharwad, India

Award: $375,000

Project Lead: Anu Sridharan

Twitter:   @NextDrop

To develop a new way of disseminating critical community information, NextDrop will launch a service, in conjunction with local utilities, that notifies residents of Hubli, Karnataka, India when water is available. NextDrop will work with water utility employees who operate the valves that control the infrequent flow of water. The service will notify neighborhood residents via text when the water is turned on. This system will be replicable in any community as a way to distribute all types of community information.

Project: Spending Stories

Winner:      Open Knowledge Foundation, Cambridge, England

Award: $250,000

Project Lead: Martin Keegan

Twitter:   @okfn

News stories about government finances are common, but readers often find it challenging to place the numbers in perspective. Spending Stories will contextualize such news pieces by tying them to the data on which they are based. For example, a story on City Hall spending could be annotated with details on budget trends and related stories from other news outlets. The effort will be driven by a combination of machine-automated analysis and verification by users interested in public spending.

Winner: The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, Cambridge, Mass.

Award: $500,000

Project Lead: Jeffrey Warren

Twitter:   @publiclab

To make technology work for communities, The Public Laboratory will create a tool kit and online community for citizen-based, grassroots data gathering and research. The Lab is an expansion of Grassroots Mapping – a project originated at the Center for Future Civic Media at MIT. During the project, residents used helium-filled balloons and digital cameras to generate high-resolution “satellite” maps gauging the extent of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill – at a time when there was little public information on the subject. Expanding the tool kit beyond aerial mapping, Public Laboratory will work with communities, both online and offline, to produce information about their surroundings.

Project: ScraperWiki

Winner: ScraperWiki, Liverpool, England (via Tides Center)

Award: $280,000

Project Lead: Francis Irving

Twitter:   @scraperwiki provides a way to make it easier to collect information from across the web from diverse sources. The site helps anyone freely create “scrapers” to collect, store and publish public data, and make it freely available for anyone to use. As such, the site provides journalists with updated, aggregated data that allows them to produce richer stories and data visualizations. This grant will add a “data on demand” feature where journalists can request data sets and be notified of changes in data that might be newsworthy, and data embargos that will keep information private until a story breaks. To accelerate the adoption of the platform, the U.K.-based site will host “journalism data camps” in 12 U.S. states.

Project: Tiziano 360

Winner: The Tiziano Project, Los Angeles, Calif.

Award: $200,000

Project Lead: Jon Vidar

Twitter:   @tizianoproject

Using visually dynamic, multimedia storytelling, the Tiziano Project provides communities with the equipment, training and web platform needed to report on stories that affect their residents’ lives. Tiziano will build an improved platform based on the award-winning project Using HTML5, the platform will display the work of professional and community journalists and will enable news organizations, community groups and individuals to easily manage digital content for mobile and tablet devices. The project will also build an interactive map to serve as a hub for projects developing similar sites in their communities and enable direct communication between these communities and their audiences.

Project: OpenBlock Rural

Winner: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Award: $275,000

Project Lead: Ryan Thornburg

Twitter: @rtburg

Rural news organizations often struggle to move into the digital age because they lack the staff to make public data digestible. OpenBlock Rural will work with local governments and community newspapers in North Carolina to collect, aggregate and publish government data, including crime and real estate reports, restaurant inspections and school ratings. In addition, the project aims to improve small local papers’ technical expertise and provide a new way to generate revenue.

Project: SwiftRiver

Winner: Ushahidi, Orlando, Fla.

Award: $250,000

Project Lead: David Kobia

Twitter: @ushahidi

As news events unfold, mobile phones and the Internet are flooded with information. Through the SwiftRiver  platform, Ushahidi will attempt to verify this information by parsing it and evaluating sources. Working across email, Twitter, web feeds and text messages, the platform will use a combination of techniques to identify trends and evaluate the information based on the creator’s reputation. The project builds on Ushahidi’s past efforts to verify the crowdsourced information collected in global crisis scenarios like the Kenyan election crisis in 2008 and the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan.