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Dec. 2, 2010, 5 p.m.

First Look: New Knight News Challenge entries emphasize data, mobile, community, and games

With the application period officially closed on this year’s Knight News Challenge, the work now shifts to the judges who have to winnow down the proposals for the $5 million that could be at stake for this year’s grantees.

If you’ve spent any time around the Lab, you know we’re fans of speculation, prognostication, and outright betting (OK, not really — yet) on the outcome of the News Challenge. We thought we’d take an early peek at this year’s proposals (the open ones, at least) to scout for interesting projects or trends. One thing that is clear from a first look at this year’s entries is that applicants took the suggested categories to heart: A number of projects deal in news credibility, revenue generation, and mobile platforms.

Project: iBreakNews

Grant Requested: $350,000

Taking advantage of mobile devices, geolocation, and citizen journalism, iBreakNews wants to make it easy (and fun) for people in a community to supply tips to their newspapers and report news themselves. The mobile app not only encourages engagement between readers and their local news site, but creates (in theory) an alternate stream of content that is potentially verifiable through the network of other readers using the app. Plus, it wouldn’t be geolocation app without badges, which would be awarded based on the type of news reported. This project was first developed in the News Consortium and Hacks/Hackers mobile hackathon in October.

Project: The Pioneer Press Prediction Project

Grant Requested: $400,000

It’s hard to ignore a pitch like this: “I need the Knight Foundation to stake my scheme to become a high-tech, online, public affairs bookie. More precisely, I’d like to start a newspaper-sponsored, prediction market to forecast news events in the state of Minnesota.” On the surface this may seem silly, but consider the use of games as a means of getting attention for news. Also, let’s not forget that one of last year’s grant winners was “The Cartoonist,” which sought to build a tool to create editorial cartoons based on knowledge of news. The goal of the Prediction Project would be to create better knowledge of current events, as well as divine the outcome of elections and pending legislation. As the application puts it: “The concept would generate news stories and provide information to readers as the likelihood of important or interesting local future outcomes rise and fall. It would provide an incentive to market participants to become informed about the public policy issues at stake in order to make intelligent bets.”

Project: DataStandards.org

Grant Requested: $325,000

With the explosion of publicly available data, DataStandards.org is trying to help the public understand the reliability of information and verify the methodology and visualization of databases. “As government data is increasingly used to power applications and visualizations, information consumers are relying more and more on unverified sources. There is a growing need to educate and inform users of the difference between artistic representations of data and truly rigorous methods that allow for consistent, reliable decision making.”

Project: MuckRock

Grant Requested: $300,000

You may recall that we profiled MuckRock a few months back. The team behind the Freedom of Information Act tool, which uses a letter wizard to help hone FOIA requests and tracks document processing, is looking to expand its services. MuckRock hopes to build tools for data analysis, link connections across various documents, and better share records once they are received.

Project: Mobile Wits

Grant Requested: $450,000

The news quiz was once a staple of many newspapers, the back-page attempt to see just how informed readers were on national and global happenings. The people behind QRANK want to revive the news quiz in a fashion similar to their popular online game. Swapping out pop-culture and historical knowledge, Mobile Wits would be a customizable game that would allow news organizations to test readers’ knowledge on local events and recent news. And since it’s QRANK, all the same social/competitive factors would apply. (See, for example, how well you match up against friends or others in the area.) As they wrote: “We take the best aspects of social games, such as friending, achievement systems, power-ups, and social network integration, and layer it on top of news content. The result is a delightfully fun game that actually encourages users to pay more attention to the news and the world around them.”

As the entries page lists more than 136 pages of applications, we should note that this list is just scratching the surface. If you’ve found News Challenge entries that look interesting, make sure to let us know in the comments.

POSTED     Dec. 2, 2010, 5 p.m.
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