New report provides lessons on advancing innovation in journalism and information

Press Release

August 27, 2014


MIAMI — Aug. 27, 2014 — A new report offers a view into the factors that contribute to successful media innovation, tracking the progress of the 2010-2011 Knight News Challenge winners. Part of an ongoing review of the Knight News Challenge, it outlines eight main lessons for innovators on how to make news and information projects work. It also allows a window into Knight’s approach to open challenges contests, providing guidance to funders looking to strengthen their own giving practices.

Related Link 

"A new report looks for lessons in successful (and unsuccessful) Knight News Challenge winners" -- Aug. 27, 2014 article on Nieman Journalism Lab

The report includes in-depth profiles on the 28 winners. Some were emerging and new; others were more established, working on new projects or looking to scale up. The represent a diversity of journalism and information projects—from 2010 winner Front Porch Forum, a Vermont-based community-building service that helped organize recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, to FrontlineSMS, a 2011 winner that uses mobile technology to inform communities across the globe.

Many of the projects profiled in the report have succeeded, while others have changed course or faltered. These experiences form the basis of the lessons and insights detailed in the report, in keeping with the intent of the News Challenge as an experiment in gathering, sharing and using news and information.

“Since the first winners were announced in 2007 the News Challenge has served as both a driver of innovation and a learning tool for what works and what doesn’t,” said Michael Maness, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism and media innovation. “Innovators can learn from both the successes and the setbacks of the projects profiled in the report and move closer to developing a model for promising news and information projects that benefit communities everywhere.”

“In many ways, generating the ideas to fuel successful innovation is easy—it’s in the implementation of such ideas that innovation can stumble,” said Bruce Boyd, principal and senior managing director at Arabella Advisors, a philanthropic advising firm that partnered with Knight on the report. “The lessons learned by the News Challenge winners can inform not just other media innovators, but also any funder looking to nurture and support innovative solutions to society’s greatest challenges.”

The report was completed in partnership with Arabella Advisors using survey and interview data submitted by each of the Knight News Challenge winners, along with grant materials, web metrics and social media data. Some of the lessons align with trends seen in past years. Others reflect a maturing climate for news innovation focused on principles of entrepreneurship and business development. They include:

  • Measure success with a broad focus: The best barometer of success is the impact a project has on the field.
  • Fill a need: The most successful projects address a tangible community need.
  • Open the project to new ideas: Your project might appeal to a different audience than you initially imagined.  
  • Get the user interface right: An interface that is easy to use or saves a user time will make a big difference for adption.
  • Provide support beyond funding: Opportunities for collaboration with other innovators and building connected networks are key to long-term growth.
  • Anticipate resistance to innovation: Development and marketing plans that encourage buy-in can help people see past traditional practices.
  • Identify staffing resources: Full-time staff may be vital for some functions, while volunteers or a dedicated user base may be sufficient.
  • Open source: Open source code has benefits beyond iteration and improvement; it allows innovators to collaborate and push the field forward.

“Knight News Challenge: A Review of the 2010 and 2011 Winners” studied innovations in news and information, including: (2010) Basetrack, CityTracking, Front Porch Forum, Game-O-Matic, GoMap Riga, LocalWiki, NowSpots, Open Court, PRX Story Exchange, SeedSpeak; Stroome, and TileMill; (2011) Awesome Foundation News Taskforce, DocumentCloud Reader Annotations, FrontLine SMS, iWitness, NextDrop, OpenBlock Rural, Overview, PANDA, Poderopedia, the Public Laboratory, ScraperWiki, Spending Stories, The State Decoded, StoriesFrom, SwiftRiver andZeega.

To download the report, visit Follow @knightfdn on Twitter, #newschallenge for updates on the Knight News Challenge.

The report is the fourth in a series of studies tracking the progress of Knight News Challenge winners since 2007. Other reports include: Knight News Challenge Interim Review 2007-2008, Experiments in Media Innovation: A Look at the 2009 Knight News Challenge Winners, Knight News Challenge: Casting the Net Wide for Innovation (2007-2010).

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



Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, Knight Foundation, 305-908-2677, [email protected]

Note: this release was updated Aug. 28, 2014 to add the statement from Arabella Advisors.