Knight Foundation Awards for Digital News Projects

Journalism and librarianship are twin professions in many ways. Both professions share the goal of providing people with information, and both deal with issues of intellectual freedom, objectivity and accuracy. And we’re both always trying to anticipate the interests and needs of our readers. We look at trends, events in the news, local situations, seasonal changes, everything, and wonder, “What will this mean to our readers? What will they want to know more about?” [from an earlier post]

And for all the same reasons, both journalism and librarianship are in a period of great change, facing dramatic challenges and perhaps great opportunities. New ideas, and new models for gathering, evaluating and distributing information are clearly needed. That’s why I was really interested to read about the Knight News Challenge. The Knight Foundation has supported journalism for over fifty years, primarily through grants to established journalists, but with the continuing decline in newspaper readership, they decided it was time to try a more adventurous approach.

According to an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Alberto Ibargüen, President of the fund, said the Foundation was looking for ways to help the industry transform itself to stay relevant and wanted to open up as the widest possible pool of potential grant recipients.

“We in philanthropy talk a lot about risk taking. Then we go back and often fund things that are not terribly risky and are not terribly new.”

On the Awards website, Ibargüen is explains:

We want to spur discovery of how digital platforms can be used to disseminate news and information on a timely basis within a defined geographic space, and thereby build and bind community.

The Foundation used unconventional methods to seek applicants for the awards, including this video on YouTube:

The awards are being given to a variety of individuals and organizations. The largest, five million dollars, is going to MIT to fund a Center for Future Civic Media to develop, test and study new forms of high-tech community news. MTV will get $700,000, to develop a a corps of “Knight MYJos,” mobile youth journalists who will cover the 2008 presidential election and other important issues. An award that may be of special interest to libraries went to journalist/web developer Adrian Holovaty, creator of, who received $1.1 million to create a series of city-specific web sites devoted to public records and other local information.

In the next round of the Awards, which begins in July, the foundation is looking for more applicants outside the United States, and is reserving 10% of the awards for people under the age of 21.

I’d love to see someone give grants for similar creative projects involving libraries, or see libraries and library organizations participate in this grant process. The goals are defined broadly enough here to encompass libraries — we certainly need to develop better digital platforms to disseminate information and build communities within geographic areas!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>