New Media and Technology Get Cash Infusion

In rough economic times such as these, it is important to recognize the more optimistic efforts being made to inspire change by way of new media and technology.

Thanks to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, an organization dedicated to awarding grants to help transform journalism and communities, twenty-one innovative ideas that will help residents lead informed lives have received US$ 5 million. The projects are the first winners of the Knight Community Information Challenge, a five-year, US$ 24 million initiative to help community foundations support creative ways to use new media and technology to keep communities engaged.

Due to a weakened economy, the endowments of hearty philanthropic organizations are shrinking. Yet, the Knight Foundation still managed to carry out the challenge -- a matching grant program aimed at encouraging community foundations to fund information projects. The challenge is premised on two strongly held beliefs -- democracy and community.

These projects range from creating hyperlocal online news sites to building local Web portals and establishing local news bureaus. Tackling a variety of social issues -- from global warming to education and senior services -- the projects aim to reach thousands of people with varied backgrounds and interests. For example:

  • A hyperlocal news site staffed by professional journalists and citizen contributors in the five ethnically diverse towns of Connecticut's Lower Naugatuck Valley. They have lost their newspaper and local radio station over the last decade. The site will be modeled after an online news source in nearby New Haven.
  • "Story-stations" in underserved communities throughout San Diego, including the region's 18 Indian reservations. The reports will be produced and distributed through a newly created digital news network spearheaded by the local start-up
  • A state-wide competition in Minnesota to come up with the best solutions to community problems. Priorities will be identified through community listening sessions in conjunction with Minnesota Public Radio. Winning ideas will become a reality, thanks to grants from the Minnesota Community Foundation and its partners.

Innovation within news media is the key to surviving the more than difficult times facing print media, as they struggle to make ends meet. That is also true for online news sites that struggle to earn their keep. The Community Information Challenge is just one of six Media Innovation Initiatives funded by the Knight Foundation. Among them are:

As we in the United States embark upon an inaugural weekend rooted in hope and change, let us remember that our work in digital media and technology can bring great things to world. We have a great responsibility to inspire change and democracy to the communities we serve.