$1 million in micro-grants available to journalism schools

Journalism schools are being challenged to lead innovative as part of a trifecta of digital initiatives announced by the Knight Foundation today.

A four-way collaboration among the Democracy Fund, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and run by the Online News Association, the Challenge Fund is a “micro-granting program for journalism schools that want to experiment, want to try live news experiments,” said Eric Newton, adviser to the Knight Foundation president.

The 15-25 Challenge Fund grantee teams will get a maximum of $35,000 to produce news projects that foster collaboration, engender student-produced community news coverage, and experiment with new digital technology.

“We hope that through these experiments, those will show that the different kinds of things – the research parts of the university, the tech parts of the university, the journalism parts – can be on a team to try something new,” Newton said.

In “Searchlights and Sunglasses,” a digital tool and teaching tool also unveiled today, Newton alludes to this and programs like it, saying, “We need to develop truth technology to counter those who will use the new tools to mislead.” The opportunity is there for journalism students and researchers to be the innovators, he said.

Two teams will win overall prizes, according to the four organizations’ press release – overall prizes will go to “the project most likely to change either local newsgathering, journalism education or both” and to “the best project evaluation, regardless of the experiment’s outcome.” Winners will be chosen by academic advisers and ONA leaders.

Great tools for storytelling and newsgathering are being invented in colleges, Newton said, but not usually in journalism departments.

“There’s no technological reason why a journalism school couldn’t be part of the whole university, including the part that’s making the communication technologies of tomorrow, and making sure those developments help society,” he said. “The only barrier is a self-constructed one – there’s not a moat filled with hot lava.”

OpenNews Gets $4 Million to Expand Knight-Mozilla Program

The third part of today’s Knight Foundation announcements is that the Knight Foundation will expand its Knight-Mozilla project, OpenNews, by $4 million. Born from Mozilla in 2010 and supported by Knight funding since 2011, OpenNews places Knight-Mozilla fellows in newsrooms to develop digital answers to newsroom problems.

The fellows have created more than 50 software projects, according to the Knight Foundation. The additional funds will support the fellowship program, journalism “hack days,” “Source,” an OpenNews online publication in which developers can share code and journalism tools, and the 2014 Source Conference, which the foundation press release describes as an “unconference” and hack day devoted to journalism technology.

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