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June 18, 2012, 1:47 p.m.

Android sensory data, streaming breaking news, and better real-time filters: The winners of the 2012 Knight News Challenge

Six winners share more than $1.3 million in the first post-reboot round of the Knight Foundation’s news-innovation contest.

At the 2012 MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference (livestream here), the winners of the latest round of the Knight News Challenge have just been announced. This is the first go-round since the News Challenge’s reboot earlier this year, which aimed to both quicken the pace and give applicants a focus. Instead of one competition a year, Knight now runs three; instead of a (relatively) open call for applications, it now asks for ideas tied to a broad theme — in this case, networks.

With the split into three, there are fewer winners to be announced today than in past KNC cycles. But my unscientific observation was that the general quality of applications was up; the 52 entries that made it to the first cut seemed particularly strong and drew on what felt like a broader base of applicants than previous rounds had. (While the application process allowed for audience voting, democracy has its limits; none of the five most popular entries among the crowd ended up winning. Also, full disclosure: Knight is a funder of the Nieman Journalism Lab.)

One item of note: For the first time, Knight isn’t sharing the funding amounts for two News Challenge winners. That’s because they’re being funded through the foundation’s Knight Enterprise Fund, which operates as an early-stage venture fund for for-profit ventures, rather than through straight grants. (We wrote recently about Knight’s similar investment in Umbel.) So today’s funding total is somewhere north of $1.37 million. The four grantees for whom we do know the amounts were all between $320,000 and $360,000.

Without further ado, here are today’s six winners. We’ll have fuller profiles of each over the next couple of days. And meanwhile, the second News Challenge of the year is well underway. The theme this time is data, and time’s running short: The deadline to enter is noon Eastern on June 21 — that’s Thursday. (Even if you don’t plan on entering, check out the description just to see use of the word “datasexuals.”) The topic of the third round this year hasn’t been chosen yet, Knight CEO Alberto Ibargüen just said from the stage.


Award: $355,000
Winners: Nadav Aharony, Alan Gardner and Cody Sumter
Twitter: @behav_io, @nadavaha, @alan_gardner, @codys

Behavio wants to open access to, and help make sense of, the data routinely collected by mobile phones. The open source Android platform turns phones into smart sensors of people’s real world behavior and surroundings, sensing how people use their phones, how they communicate with others in addition to environmental factors like sound, light and motion. As a result, Behavio can understand trends and behavior changes in individuals as well as entire communities, and help them understand and make use of this information. With News Challenge funding, Behavio will create a software development kit for programmers to build apps with smarter sensors, build a set of tools for journalists and others who want to see trends in community data, and launch a mobile application that allows individuals to explore data about their lives.

Award: $360,000
Winners: Felipe Heusser and Jeff Warren
Twitter: @fheusser

Live streaming breaking news has proved its potential — but hasn’t yet reached it. aims to change that by creating a streamlined platform for posting, finding and watching live streams from around the world. The team will build a searchable map, aggregate streams from other sources, create topic curation and add features like music and social media interaction. The idea grew from a mini-media innovation challenge at last year’s MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference.

Award: $340,000
Winners: Caitria O’Neill, Alvin Lang and Morgan O’Neill
Twitter: @recovers_org

When a tornado touched down in her Massachusetts yard, Caitria O’Neill and her neighbors struggled to match the sudden wave of resources with massive community needs. While large aid organizations can deliver significant resources, in each disaster untrained local volunteers must help structure unofficial resources long-term. O’Neill and her sister Morgan O’Neill teamed up with engineer Alvin Liang to create, and to build and deliver Web tools and local hubs for disaster recovery efforts. Their online organizing platform, located at [], can be launched before or immediately after an event, to turn interest into aid. Already their platform has helped turn the post-disaster spike in interest into money, supplies and volunteers in five communities. Post-disaster launches are pro-bono, but the team licenses the software to areas interested in preparing and enabling the community’s response. The platform is already being used ahead of a disaster for preparation and community organizing in five communities nationwide.

Award: undisclosed
Winners: Mohamed Nanabhay and Haroon Meer
Twitter: @mohamed, @haroonmeer

With newsrooms stretched for resources, editors have to increasingly make difficult decisions about which stories get covered and promoted. aims to help, by tracking social engagement with the news — scanning social network activity to provide real-time information on what’s resonating with readers. Editors are able to track their own — and competitors’ — stories. will sort not just headlines but news topics — to spot trends and spikes in interest. Mohamed Nanabhay, former head of online at Al Jazeera English, saw the potential for providing richer editorial analytics to newsrooms while leading his organizations’ award-winning coverage of the Arab Spring. He cofounded with Haroon Meer to extract the signal from the noise and close the loop between what audiences are interested in and what editors focus resources on.

Tor Project

Award: $320,000
Winner: Andrew Lewman and Karen Reilly of Tor Project
Twitter: @torproject, @akareilly

With world press freedom in decline for the past decade, journalists and their sources are often threatened by governments, criminal organizations and others who monitor their mobile and online communication to see who is talking to the press. To help protect reporters and their sources, The Tor Project will use its vast network of volunteers to create a tool kit for journalists. The kit will include The Tor Project’s secure Web browser and anonymous upload utility, along with new tools and training videos.


Award: undisclosed
Winners: Adriano Farano and Jonathan Lundell
Twitter: @watchup, @farano

Watchup is an iPad application that will help people find high-quality news videos. While identifying relevant content is often time-consuming, Watchup speeds the process with a curated playlist that aggregates news reports from a variety of networks into a simple interface. The service plans to sustain itself by selling video advertising on the site. Watchup will partner with major media organizations in the United States.

Joshua Benton is the senior writer and former director of Nieman Lab. You can reach him via email ( or Twitter DM (@jbenton).
POSTED     June 18, 2012, 1:47 p.m.
PART OF A SERIES     Knight News Challenge 2012
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