December 17, 2013

Wikimedia’s Sue Gardner received the Knight Foundation’s first innovation award Monday night and she paid it forward with a $25,000 grant to MuckRock, an open government platform that eases requests for public records.

Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation which operates the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, was honored for her leadership in digital media and universal access to the Internet. Since she was named as foundation executive director in 2007, Wikipedia has grown to become the world’s fifth largest website, the Knight Foundation said in a press release.

Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner (Wikimedia Foundation photo).

The Wikipedia Zero program was launched under her watch to provide free data access to users in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East. In 2012, Gardner also led the day-long blackout of Wikipedia in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act.

Beyond a $25,000 award for herself, Gardner received a $25,000 grant to give away to a startup of her choosing — and she selected MuckRock. MuckRock’s user interface allows journalists and others to easily submit Freedom of Information requests to federal and state agencies.

MuckRock also makes requests for its own projects. In one of its latest efforts, it sought public records on the Boston Police Department’s automated license plate reader scanning program and found the department violated its own program rules and fell short in following up on leads produced by the scans. “The Boston Police Department, which took all scanners offline indefinitely as a result of MuckRock’s public records request, also gathered data on dozens of its own officers and failed to protect the sensitive personal information the surveillance program gathered,” according to a post by MuckRock’s Shawn Musgrave.

The Knight Foundation’s innovation award ceremony was held at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, which hosts the award program along with the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism.

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