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Knight News Challenge Years 1 & 2 Assessment


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The Knight News Challenge launched in 2007 as a $25 million contest to bring out the best new ideas that improve the information about a specific geographic locale. This report looks at the first two cohorts of winners (2007 and 2008). Later, additional cohorts will be published.

Credits: Graphics by Kiss Me I'm Polish, New York.

Published in: Technology, News & Politics

Knight News Challenge Years 1 & 2 Assessment

  1. 1. A Contest to Accelerate Innovation The Knight News Challenge was launched to advance the future of news by supporting new ways to digitally inform communities.
  2. 2. Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves2007–08 Knight News Challengewhat the media landscape actually looked likewhen the Challenge began.
  3. 3. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge Pushing the Envelope “When you don’t know what the future looks like, you have to engage in intense experimentation and stay open to new trends and ideas.” – Alberto Ibargüen, President, Knight Foundation We asked all applicants to stick to three simple rules: 1. Use digital, open source technology 2. Distribute news in the public interest 3. Test the project in a local geographic community
  4. 4. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge Ideas by the Thousands The contest changed the way we operated – it lowered the barriers to entry, inviting in thousands of applicants over the past 4 years.
  5. 5. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge By the Numbers
  6. 6. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge Winners Circle** This slide and the review that follows do not include grants made to individuals to blog.
  7. 7. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge What Emerged Taking a closer look at the early winners
  8. 8. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge Experimentation & Learning Funding innovation requires being open to experimentation and a commitment to learn from the experience. We reviewed the early winners to better understand their impact and influence as they’ve progressed.* * The findings that follow are based on an independent assessment conducted by LFA Group and commissioned by Knight Foundation.
  9. 9. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge Where are they now? * The list does not include grants that were made to individuals to blog about their projects and ideas.
  10. 10. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge Scaling & Spreading One of the contest’s aspirations was that winners might catalyze broader change through the adoption, replication and expansion of their ideas.
  11. 11. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge Creating code The contest supported open source product development to encourage widespread adoption of funded ideas.
  12. 12. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge A Capital Idea 19 of the 31 winners secured additional funds beyond their News Challenge grant, sometimes tapping into multiple sources, to continue or expand their projects.
  13. 13. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge Project Status
  14. 14. 2007–08 The Evolution of an Idea: Knight News Challenge Freedom Fone (2008 winner) A project to create a DIY platform for two-way, phone-based information services, using interactive audio voice menus, voice messages, SMS and polls. 2009 2010 2011
  15. 15. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge Key Insights Learning from the early winners
  16. 16. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge Mobile News Platforms Patterns, Platforms Digital Tools for & Products Public Media Citizen Media To surface key lessons, we grouped winners together in Innovative Tools & Practices terms of their platform type and approach. We didn’t start with News Games these categories in the contest, Local News but found the winners clustered Aggregators together in these ways. Field-Building for Media Innovation
  17. 17. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge Mobile News Platforms Hand-held news • Knowing Your Niche: By actively listening to users and adapting to new opportunities, winners found unexpected successes. • Setting Expectations: Early community partners need to be comfortable deploying platforms still under development. • Versatility Matters: Ensuring users could access content, regardless of which mobile network they belonged to, helped support more seamless pilot testing.
  18. 18. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge Digital Tools for Public Media Going Public • Retrofitting Challenges: To successfully use digital tools, organizations need to adopt new work processes vastly different from traditional broadcast media. • Using Local Assets: Connecting digital content to local, physical events helped increased levels of interactivity and engagement. • Think Modular: Building specific modules that allow users to customize may generate greater adoption than developing a universal platform.
  19. 19. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge Citizen Media Re-sourcing the news • Training Inspires: Training was a powerful tool for providing users with the necessary skills to produce content and building overall commitment to the project. • Trust and Identity: A consistent presence in communities and strong relationships with local partners were critical to ensuring ongoing project success. • Scope and Skills: Projects that stumbled often overestimated the reporting skills of individuals and underestimated the challenges of keeping people engaged.
  20. 20. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge Innovative Tools & Practices Transforming the News • Marketing and Outreach: Investing time and resources in effective marketing was critical for gaining widespread adoption. • Transparency Rules: Crowdfunding models require journalists to be highly entrepreneurial and comfortable with transparent approaches to pitching and producing stories. • Data Potential: Efforts to improve authenticity and accuracy by surfacing the metadata in stories might also help create a richer media environment.
  21. 21. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge News Games What’s the Score? • The Pros: Building a compelling gaming experience requires a rare combination of design skills, technical skills and expertise in interaction design. • Feeding the Beast: Producing high quality games involves heavy content development requirements, which winners often found to be overwhelming. • Development Difficulties: Open source requirements created a unique challenge for news games, impacting their implementation.
  22. 22. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge Local News Aggregators Knowing Your Town • Built for Me: Personalisation of the product helped build audience traction and engagement over time. • Network Power: Project leaders with a rich network of contacts and strong online reputations were able to translate these assets into early traffic and media attention for their projects. • Team Assembly: Identifying, building and structuring strong technical teams took time, but helped prevent unnecessary development problems down the line.
  23. 23. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge Field-Building for Media Innovation Behind the Scenes • Innovation Hurdles: Finding the right set of faculty and students to participate in interdisciplinary programs focused on innovation, technology and media is challenging. • Constant Adaptation: Teaching innovation requires an effective process for revising curricula on a much more rapid and frequent basis than traditional academic programs. • Alumni Prowess: Leveraging alumni and their success is a powerful asset for marketing programs, recruiting new students and securing new funding.
  24. 24. The Hacker Journalist Many of the field-building projects are focused on creating graduates with a new hybrid set of skills required to advance the future of news and information.** Loosely based on the life of Brian (Boyer), a programmer bored with creating e-solutions for insurance companies, who got jazzed about journalism and received one of the Digital News Academics (News Challenge Winner 2007) scholarships to attend Northwestern. He now runs the Chicago Tribune’s news application team that’s built tools to help parents compare school performance, used data to contribute to nursing home reforms and supported other investigations.
  25. 25. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge What we learned How we can improve our efforts to support media innovation
  26. 26. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge Room for Improvement • Speed of a Contest: The 8 months cycle between the receipt of applications and announcement of winners is inconsistent with the rapid pace of innovation and affects applicants’ ability to respond to market opportunities. We need to move faster. • Open Source: Open source licenses can be a powerful way for ensuring greater adoption of funded software development, but it often requires documentation, training and technical assistance to support user adoption. We need to be mindful of the time and resources it takes to build a developer community.
  27. 27. 2007–08 Knight News Challenge Room for Improvement • Building Budgets: Many winners experienced difficulties in accurately budgeting for project costs and technology and marketing expenses. Upfront assistance in both business development and programming prowess can help address some of these issues. • Tapping into Talent: Many winners faced challenges in assembling a team that possessed the necessary mix of skills to be effective on the web: content development, user experience, and technical programming. We need to explore ways to help winners connect to other resources.
  28. 28. Continuing toExperiment & LearnThis review is part of an ongoing assessment of theNews Challenge. We continue to track the progress of2009, 2010 and (tba) 2011 winners. Findings from thiswill be shared on a regular basis as insights aregathered.