The Knight Foundation recently announced its latest News Challenge, a grant contest that gives out up to $5 million to create or advance open source tools and products that could significantly improve the distribution, visualization, and overall coverage of local news. And applications are due soon - on December 1, 2010.
This year the contest is focused on four categories of projects:
Mobile: Seeks projects that use mobile devices to produce, deliver, consume, share and otherwise engage with news. The category reflects the fact that the mobile phone, with 5 billion units in use, has become an important tool for news.
Authenticity: Looks for projects that help people better understand the reliability of news and information sources. We’re hoping to identify promising ideas for helping citizens negotiate our oft-chaotic media world. How can we help news users better evaluate the validity and trustworthiness of news and information? How can we better filter and assess the credibility of what we read and watch?
Sustainability: Considers new economic models supporting news and information. New ways of conducting and consuming journalism may require new ways of paying for it. We’re open to ideas for generating revenue as well as ways to reduce costs.
Community: Seeks groundbreaking technologies that support news and information specifically within defined geographic areas. This is designed to jump-start work on technologies and approaches that haven’t arrived yet. Unlike the first three categories, submissions in this area must be tested in a geographically designated community.
We have applied for the Knight News Challenge twice, once making it to the final round and once winning a grant for our TileMill project, which will make it easier for journalists to create custom maps. We also won a grant from the Knight Foundation for Managing News and related Drupal module development.
Below are a few approaches toward the application process that have worked for us in the past. Eric shared these at the recent ONA (Online News Association) conference.
Tips for Applying
Blog: Start communicating about your ideas and your work in the thought space early. Then, in your application, link to these blog posts to show the evolution of your thinking. Not only does this help establish credibility, it also helps you better communicate within the tight word limits for the application.
Share your code now: Open source is a key requirement of the grant, so why wait to share working code on github? Posting code before you apply will show that you have a working foundation, momentum, and that you like developing in the open. Having an open source project now (even in early stages) will give application reviewers an extra opportunity to see your work and your role in the open source community.
Tell a concrete story: We spend a lot of time setting the stage for our "idea" by discussing the current situations of "why" the idea is needed, and why it is "timely". For example with the recent tile mapping project, we explained how useful custom maps can be in helping journalists better tell stories, and then quickly focused on the reality that making custom maps is really hard. This let us show our experience. We then added the open data angle to our project to paint a timely window on how all the pieces are coming together now to allow hyper-local custom mapping. This let us focus on our idea (TileMill) to help make the solution a reality.
Focus on a key business interest: It is going to be more expensive than you can imagine to do your project the right way. And certainly more expensive than Knight might fund. We make sure that the projects we propose are of key business value to us so that we are able to leverage a lot of internal resources for R&D.
Finally, we recommend making your submissions "public" when you submit. Ideas are cheap, so don't worry about people taking your idea. The real value is in teams that can execute ideas. Having your idea public lets you tweet about your submission and get people excited.