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July 24, 2012, 9:14 a.m.
Business Models

Knight Foundation funds new projects for fact-checking and transparency

Several of the new projects first popped up through the last round of the Knight News Challenge.

The Knight Foundation added to its investment in media on Monday, supporting five new innovation projects from startups and established media companies. The funding from Knight will go toward fact-checking and transparency work, as well as to efforts to increase support for and visibility of women in the tech sector.

The Washington Post will receive money for TruthTeller, a live fact-checking tool for audio and video content, which the paper plans to use during this fall’s presidential debates. Wired magazine plans to use Knight funds to build off its journalism-on-Github experiment by developing a WordPress plugin that would allow readers to assist in error reporting, translation, and other feedback. Sourcemap, which allows users to track the supply chain of products, is developing a mapping tool for the Concord, Mass., school department to follow the path of food to the schools’ meals.

All three projects will be funded out of Knight’s new Prototype Fund, which provides organizations or individuals with $50,000 or less to test ideas.

Knight is offering its more traditional line of grant funding to startup projects TheLi.st and SuperPAC App. Developed at the MIT Media Lab, SuperPAC App, as the name suggests, helps users capture audio from ads with their smartphone and identify who’s paying for a political ad, where it’s airing, and more.

TheLi.st is a project from Rachel Sklar, founder of Change the Ratio and more, and Glynnis MacNicol, a founding editor of Mediaite. More on TheLi.st from Knight:

Sklar and MacNicol are launching TheLi.st, a hub for women in technology that includes a subscription listserve and discussion community, free content and resources for women in the field, and events and convenings on the topic.

John Bracken, Knight’s director of journalism and media innovation, was in Cambridge Monday to announce the new projects at the Awesome Foundation’s Awesome Summit: Connect. Bracken told me several of the projects announced today came to Knight through the most recent round of the News Challenge. Though they didn’t get funded through that route, the projects still showed enough promise to support through other means, he said. The beauty of the Prototype Fund, Bracken said, is that it gives Knight the ability to use a small amount of money to see where ideas can go.

Knight — by far the largest philanthropic funder in the journalism-innovation space — has been tinkering with its funding methods in the last several years to emphasize speed in innovation. Bracken told me the revamped News Challenge was designed to produce projects that build off existing work and can succeed under their own power. But with the Prototype Fund, he expects to see some failures. Broadly speaking, the News Challenge is aimed at stable projects; the Prototype Fund should be pursuing riskier bets. “If the vast majority of those projects work, we’re doing our jobs wrong,” he said of the Prototype Fund. The basic steps of the fund’s work: “Idea, test, learn, share.”

With the News Challenge, the Enterprise Fund, and the Prototype Fund, Knight is setting up systems to help companies and entrepreneurs at different stages in their growth. Bracken said Knight is trying to learn lessons from venture capital firms on how to structure investments and better support companies in their network. Though the foundation is refining its methods, Bracken said its goals of supporting journalism and the information needs of communities hasn’t changed.

“When you set up a mechanism for people to tell you their ideas, and the people are awesome and the ideas are awesome, it’s incumbent upon you to mine that,” he said.

Disclosure: The Knight Foundation is a funder of the Nieman Journalism Lab.

POSTED     July 24, 2012, 9:14 a.m.
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