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Nov. 16, 2017, 9 a.m.
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Ten years, 190 projects, and $49 million later, the Knight Foundation has released a report about what it’s learned over a decade of funding the Knight News Challenge. It’s also giving eight previous award winners a combined $4.5 million in new funding for new projects. (Disclosure: Nieman Lab also receives funding from Knight.)

Among the projects receiving new funding: Code2040 gets the bulk of the funding, $3 million, to expand its program to more people of color working in tech. Columbia Journalism School’s “Workbench,” a collaborative platform that lets reporters “produce sophisticated data journalism without coding,” is receiving $250,000. The Data & Society Research Institute gets $250,000 to launch the Disinformation Action Lab, “a project to study and analyze propaganda and disinformation threats and develop solutions to address them.” The full list of winners is below.

Knight also commissioned Arabella Advisors to prepare a report on how the Knight News Challenge (KNC), founded in 2006, “impacted winners, their projects, and the broader fields of news, media, and journalism.” The report covers 139 projects. Among its findings:

— Of all the winners, 84 percent are still working in the field of journalism, technology, and media.

— Nearly half the winning projects (43 percent) were hosted by nonprofits; 22 percent were hosted by for-profit businesses, and 21 percent by individuals.

— “Of the projects that the KNC seeded and supported for which we have data (103 projects), 73 percent remained active at the end of the grant year (according to final grant reports).” (The analysis didn’t include 18 current grants, and another 18 had no data available.)

— “The most prevalent impediments winners reported during their grant period were a lack of technical expertise (37 percent) and difficulty acquiring users (31 percent).” Knight began screening for technical experience in 2011:

From 2007 to 2010, 45 percent of 55 projects reported technical expertise as a hurdle. Once Knight Foundation began screening for technical experience at the outset of the KNC in 2011, this decreased to only 32 percent of 84 projects from 2011 to 2016. Projects also cannot survive without getting traction with intended users. 24 percent of all projects reported they had trouble penetrating the market or acquiring users.

— Funding remains a challenge:

During their grant period, only 13 percent of the KNC winners flagged funding as an obstacle, likely because Knight’s support was generous enough for them to carry out their work. However, 65 percent of winners reported in our 2017 survey that funding has been a significant challenge. Furthermore, of those who remained at their projects after the Challenge (39 respondents), nearly a third say they are dependent on a small number of funders (with some noting that the overall pool of potential funders is small). Another 26 percent report they have had trouble securing new funding.

Winners also found, though (not surprisingly), that the award made them appear more credible and did make it easier to raise funding.

Here are the eight projects receiving new funding:

Code2040 | Project lead: Laura Weidman Powers | $3 million | Twitter: @Code2040, @laurawp | San Francisco: ($3 million): Funding will support the growth and sustainability of Code2040, a nonprofit that seeks to build a more equitable, inclusive, and prosperous economy by diversifying tech. Code2040 will expand programs that connect Black and Latinx tech talent with leading companies and broaden its focus beyond technology enterprises to work with industries that are becoming more tech-driven such as finance and media. It will grow its advisory services, which help companies create more inclusive workplaces, while increasing its communications and evaluation capacities. Through these efforts, by 2020, Code2040 will have 40,000 students, professionals, companies, and volunteers in its network, who will work to diversify tech and create economic opportunity. Code2040 is a 2014 winner of the Knight News Challenge on Strengthening the Internet and received additional funding from Knight in 2015.

Columbia Journalism School | Project leads: Jonathan Stray and Pierre Forcioli-Conti | $250,000 | Twitter: @cjworkbench, @jonathanstray and @pierreconti | New York: Columbia Journalism School will enable reporters to produce sophisticated data journalism without coding through an innovative collaborative platform called Workbench. The tool allows reporters to scrape, clean, analyze and visualize data by snapping together community-built modules, then share both the results and the process behind them. The team will work to establish a community of journalists and developers that use and contribute to Workbench. Jonathan Stray is a 2011 winner of the Knight News Challenge on Data.

Emblematic Group | Project lead: Nonny de la Peña | $250,000 | Twitter: @emblematicgroup | Santa Monica, California: Emblematic Group will design and build REACH, a platform for hosting and distributing 3D models of locations that news organizations can use to create innovative and cost-effective ‘walk around’ VR content. Emblematic will seed the platform with five prototypical locations, exterior and interior, captured via photogrammetry; the platform will also include a simple interface that allows journalists to insert their own material, such as interviews with individuals who will appear to have volumetric depth inside the environment. Nonny de la Peña is a 2010 News Challenge winner.

mRelief | Project lead: Rose Afriyie | $250,000 | Twitter: @mrelief_form | Chicago: mRelief will promote efficient and responsive government interactions through the use of technology, by developing the Benefits Information Project, a system designed to make it easier for individuals to check their eligibility and apply for government programs. The team will build a tool in which application data can be loaded and then standardized; the data can then be shared with agencies responsible for delivering benefits, thereby streamlining the process. In addition, they will introduce speech-to-text transcription to provide end-to-end social services support to people in need of benefits. mRelief is a 2016 winner of the Knight News Challenge on Data, they also received initial support from Knight through the Prototype Fund.

Data & Society Research Institute | Project lead: Janet Haven | $250,000 | Twitter: @datasociety | New York: Data & Society will launch the Disinformation Action Lab, a project to study and analyze propaganda and disinformation threats and develop solutions to address them. The lab will use research to explore issues such as: how fake news narratives propagate, how to detect coordinated social media campaigns; and how to limit adversaries who are deliberately spreading misinformation. To understand where online manipulation is headed, it will analyze the technology and tactics being used by players at the international and domestic level. Data & Society is a 2016 winner of the Knight News Challenge on Data, they also received additional funding from Knight in 2016.

Historypin | Project lead: Jon Voss | $250,000 | Twitter: @jonvoss, @Historypin | New Orleans: Funding will support the national rollout of Historypin’s Storybox project, a kit designed to strengthen communities through shared personal stories. Against the backdrop of an increasingly polarized nation, the small story-sharing sessions bring strangers together in ways that help participants focus on commonalities, bridging divides between generations, cultures, and rural and urban locations. By partnering with local libraries, Historypin’s Storybox helps leverage and support a national network of trusted institutions and dynamic civic meeting places. The project will make available free-to-download kits, kits for purchase, subscription services, training, and customizations. The Historypin.org platform also provides content gathering and curation tools, together with evaluation tools and data dashboards that help organizers show the social impact of the program.

DocumentCloud | Project lead: Aron Pilhofer | $50,000 | Twitter: @documentcloud | Philadelphia: DocumentCloud, an open-source platform used by thousands of newsrooms to share, analyze and publish documents, will help create innovative tools for journalists by opening its platform to a select number of contributors, through a program called News Nerds in Residence. Select collaborators will work closely with the team to develop and launch open-source tools, products and services designed to help journalists do their jobs better. Collaborators will have instant access to DocumentCloud’s user base to test and learn throughout the development process. If testers find them useful, the tools will become a core feature of DocumentCloud. Document Cloud will host will host one News Nerd in Residence per quarter through calendar 2018 (a total of three). Collaborators will be chosen through an open application process. DocumentCloud is a 2007 winner of the Knight News Challenge, and has received additional funding from Knight Foundation.

Code for Science & Society | Project Lead: Max Ogden |$200,000 | Twitter: @dat_project | Portland, Oregon: Support will help academic and government institutions more easily share data on the web using Dat, a suite of tools that allow users to track changes, collaborate, and redistribute data over a peer-to-peer network. Through outreach and pilot programs with universities, Dat has established a growing community of engaged users, and an exciting ecosystem of peer-to-peer web-based tools and products built on Dat. Funding will help Dat in growing the team’s business and client development expertise to transform the way academic institutions and government clients handle data. Max Ogden is a 2013 winner of the Knight News Challenge on Open Gov.

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