Background information on our survey of Knight News Challenge projects

If you’re reading this post because I, Chris Amico, or one of two other collaborators emailed you this link, congratulations! You’re one of the 64 projects funded since 2007 through the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge contest. These projects have been granted $21.9 million dollars over the last four years, and we’re curious to hear how they ended up.

A bit of background. Next weekend, David Cohn of (not one of the trouble-makers) is bringing a couple dozen of us together for Hardly Strictly Young. It’s at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, sponsored by the Knight Foundation, and will be my first trip to Missouri. Over two full days, we’ll discuss facets of the Knight Foundation’s commission on the information needs of communities. Part of this, or at least what those of us running the survey think, is to help the Knight Foundation learn from the first four years of the News Challenge. It is arguably the most significant effort from news industry actors to inspire innovation within said industry. In other words, it’s been our only hope.

Unfortunately, there’s not much data for us to work with. Yet. The Knight Foundation has all of the winners listed on the News Challenge website, along with their project descriptions and amount granted, but very little information on outcomes. This is where you fit into our crowdsourced reporting project.

We have two sections on our survey form. The first asks for quantitative information on your project, and is intentionally required for you to submit the form. We want to know whether your project is still active, how much of you grant you actually spent, and whether you achieved your stated objectives. These responses will go on the big ol’ spreadsheet of data we’ll eventually release. The second (optional and/or anonymous) section asks for a qualitative perspective on your project, including how it was successful, what challenges you faced, and what you thought of your experience with the News Challenge. These questions are intentionally broad. If you decide to respond anonymously, we won’t publish the remarks with your name (if we choose to publish them).

This data is quite important. Thank you in advance for taking at least a few minutes to respond. To make things fun, we’ll be updating a public list of who has and hasn’t yet responded. So encourage your friends who haven’t yet replied to do so. I’d like to thank On The Media for the creative idea.

Journalism should be reproducible

The idea came a month ago: “journalism should be reproducible.” After a conversation with Miles this weekend, I’d like to explore this further.

First point: Let’s approach journalism as the science for civic participation. Give journalism the goal to help us improve our standards of living, create a more just society, and so on. Make the goals measurable in various ways, and we can track our progress towards them.

Science, according to Wikipedia, “builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the world.” A report in a scientific journal has an abstract, methodology, presentation of the data, discussion and conclusion. News articles typically have the first and last. They’re missing two critical pieces: presentation of the data and the methodology used to collect the data. Reproducibility is a vital aspect of the scientific method (related: Jonah Lehrer has a fascinating article on this topic in the New Yorker). Continue reading “Journalism should be reproducible”

Universities as hubs of journalistic activity

In the first Carnival of Journalism of the new year, David Cohn asks: How do we increase the role of higher education as hubs of journalistic activity?

First, the why. Educational institutions often have long-standing ties to a local community, both in terms of physical location as well as relationships. In New York City, there are families with multiple generations who have attended CUNY. Educational institutions are also in a unique position where they have access to continually fresh human capital. These are the strategic advantages.

As to the how, there are dozens of projects we could embark on. For instance, we could team with computer science students build a tool that maps a community’s information needs. Or we could offer low-cost multimedia reporting courses to active community members in hopes they will take the initiative to cover their own neighborhoods. Or we could reorient the entire institution to be a working newsroom and task hundreds of students as boots-on-the-ground reporters. Continue reading “Universities as hubs of journalistic activity”