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June 17, 2009, 2 p.m.

Knight News Challenge announces a (smaller) slate of winners for 2009

(See a larger map of the winners here.)

The winners of the 2009 Knight News Challenge have been announced, about seven and a half months after the initial deadline for entries last November. The envelope, please:

DocumentCloud, $719,500 for a ProPublica/New York Times effort to open up the documents reporters and advocates use in their work. (Read more in Zach’s post.)

Media Bugs, $335,000 to Scott Rosenberg’s idea to create an open process for correcting news coverage, a la the bug trackers that software projects use. (Read more in Zach’s post.)

Councilpedia, $250,000 to Gotham Gazette to build a user-contributed wiki on New York’s city council members. (Read more in Michael’s post.)

Data Visualization, $243,600 to the Jefferson Institute and Aaron Presnall to build cheap and easy tools for visualizing data sets. (Read more in Ben’s post.)

Mobile Media Toolkit, $200,000 to MobileActive and Katrin Verclas to build tools to make media creation on cell phones easier. (Read more in my post.)

The Daily Phoenix, $90,000 to Aleksandra Chojnacka and Adam Klawonn to build a news product around Phoenix’s new light-rail system. (Read more in Michael’s post.)

Crowdsourcing Crisis Information, $70,000 to Ushahidi to further develop its system for allowing citizen reports of events by cell phone. (Read more in Jessica’s post.)

Virtual Street Corners, $40,000 to John Ewing to create a way for citizen-created video newscasts to be shared between two Boston neighborhoods. (Read more in Lois’ post.)

CMS Upload Utility, $10,000 to the McNaughton Newspaper Group to build a tool to make it easier for small newspapers to move their content online. (Read more in Lois’ post.)

We’ll be profiling the winners in other pieces over the next few days. Zach and I are at the MIT conference where the winners are being announced, so we’ll have more to come.

Are there any trends to be found? Cell phones continue to be a focus; so does finding creative ways to use the knowledge of non-journalists to do better journalism. There are some great ideas on that list that I’ll be excited to see the results of; personally, I’ve got soft spots for DocumentCloud, Councilpedia, and Ushahidi.

But the most obvious trend is a decline in the number of winners and the amount they’re given. In 2007, the News Challenge funded 26 projects at a total of $11.7 million. In 2008, it funded 16 new projects at $5.5 million. And this year, it’s nine new projects at a little under $2 million.

Knight rightfully points out that several projects funded in ’07 and ’08 were designed to be paid over multiple years, so total Knight outlay this year for News Challenge projects — new and ongoing — will total about $5.1 million. Considering that the News Challenge was originally announced as a $25 million investment over five years, that seems to be about on pace.

But the buzz for months in future-of-journalism circles has been that the News Challenge hadn’t generated as many ideas to get excited about as in previous years. I certainly don’t think that’s a comment on Knight, which went out of its way this year to encourage more and better applications and has (admirably) continued to fund a lot of journalism projects through the economic downturn. But does it mean something larger that, for the largest and most high-profile source of grants to experimental news startups, there seems to be a shortage of great ideas to go around?

Are more of those great ideas finding V.C. funding, or money from some other grant program? Has most of the low-hanging fruit already been picked? Has Knight’s increased dedication to other journalism funding mechanisms drawn away some of the projects that otherwise would have gone through the News Challenge?

And some of the ideas that did advance far into the News Challenge process — while totally admirable and funding-worthy — seemed to have only a tenuous connection to what we’ve traditionally known as journalism. I would have expected the declining state of the industry to lead to more great funding-worthy ideas — as more folks are forced to think about new ways of doing journalism (and making a living) — not fewer.

So while we celebrate these new projects and Knight’s generosity toward them, it’s worth stopping to think about why the list of great projects to fund isn’t a lot longer — and what you can do to add to it.

POSTED     June 17, 2009, 2 p.m.
PART OF A SERIES     Knight News Challenge 2009
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