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June 23, 2014, 10:45 a.m.
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New Knight News Challenge winners receive funding to help strengthen the Internet

Libraries and anti-censorship efforts are among the big winners.

The Knight Foundation is out with the most recent group of winners in the Knight News Challenge, with $3.4 million going to projects that help promote innovation on the Internet.

The 19 winning projects will expand access to libraries through new digital tools, create pipelines for underrepresented talent in the technology sector, and bolster efforts to track online censorship around the globe. The announcement was made moments ago at the annual MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference at the MIT Media Lab.

The theme of the most recent News Challenge was “strengthening the Internet for free expression and innovation.” The winning entries represent a wide variety of players connected to online life, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, The New York Public Library, and the Guardian Media Group.

One difference in this year’s News Challenge is a slight shift in funding mechanisms for winning entries. While nine winners are getting grants between $200,000 and $500,000, the remaining projects are being awarded $35,000 as part of the Knight Prototype Fund. The Prototype Fund has typically been used for early-stage projects that need a short-term boost in funding to reach the next stage of their development.

Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation, said the News Challenge started as a way of looking for new ways to deliver news and information on digital platforms. But the more critical fight might be ensuring a free and open Internet, which makes delivering news and informing communities possible.

It’s a busy time for the future of the Internet. The Federal Communications Commission is considering new rules for governing the Internet while mergers like the proposed Comcast/Time Warner Cable deal will have an effect on broadband access. Because of all of this, Ibargüen says Knight plans to turn more attention to keeping the Internet open. “We think that the subject of a free and universal web, of a free and accessible Internet, is hardly exhausted with one attempt on our part,” said Ibargüen

This time last year, the future of the News Challenge seemed in doubt as Ibargüen mused that “It might be finished.” But he said Monday the contest will continue on, with the subject of the next round later this year yet to be determined. In nine years, the News Challenge has shifted from a general call to more issue-focused areas around health, government data, and mobile.

Ibargüen said it was “naive” for Knight to think they could address issues around news and community information on the web without supporting projects to ensure access to the Internet. Knight is looking for ideas on how to shape the next round of the competition and how to support open Internet projects going forward. “If you had this amount of money to invest on projects to ensure the openness and accessibility of the Internet, how would you do it?” he asked.

Here are the projects. Make sure to check out the full rundown from Knight. And, full disclosure: The Knight Foundation is a funder of Nieman Lab, though not through the News Challenge.

Check Out the Internet

Award: $500,000
Organization: New York Public Library
Project leads: Tony Marx and James English
Twitter: @nypl

In a city where 27 percent of households don’t have access to broadband, The New York Public Library will expand its efforts to bridge the digital divide by allowing the public to borrow portable Wi-Fi hotspot devices for up to a year. Through its pilot project launching in September, the project seeks to reach 10,000 households, providing 24/7 quality access to people whose current access to the Internet is limited to 40-minute, once-a-day time slots, available on a first-come, first-serve basis in one of the library’s 92 branches. Providing continuous access will expand their ability to participate fully in the modern economy and allow them to continue to learn, work, explore and create after the library’s doors have closed.


Award: $400,000
Organization: CODE2040
Project lead: Laura Weidman Powers
Twitter: @CODE2040, @laurawp

A diverse community of people working on strengthening the Internet is an important part of ensuring its future as a public resource. While black and Latino students currently earn nearly 20 percent of computer science degrees, they make up only 9 percent of the technology industry and less than 1 percent of technology company founders. CODE2040 seeks to strengthen the Internet by opening more pathways for people of color to top jobs in technology and bolstering professional support networks to sustain their success. The core component of this initiative will be a new iteration of the CODE2040 Fellows Program. The program matches black and Latino software developers with internships at tech companies to which they would not usually have access and supports them with a robust leadership development curriculum. Lessons from the Fellows Program will also be applied to develop a curriculum for thousands of computer science students of color nationwide.

Getting It Right on Rights: Simplifying, Harmonizing and Maximizing the Openness of Rights in Digital Libraries Around the World

Award: $300,000
Organization: Digital Public Library of America
Project leads: Dan Cohen and Emily Gore
Twitter: @dpla, @ncschistory, @dancohen

Huge collections of content from libraries, museums, archives and other sources are freely accessible on the Web through the Digital Public Library of America, Europeana, Trove and other organizations. However, these collections lack consistency on people’s usage rights and are further weakened by inconsistent copyright law and aversion to risk by nonprofit institutions. Getting it Right on Rights will create a simplified and more coherent rights structure, along with best practices that institutions around the world can use to safely make more content available to the public. The project will include two international summits to convene experts in the field, from museum leaders to intellectual property lawyers and policymakers, the creation of a new digital rights standard and production of a best practices guide.

Global Censorship Measurement

Award: $350,000
Organization: Open Technology Institute at New America Foundation
Project leads: Ben Scott, Thomas Gideon, and Alan Davidson
Twitter: @OTI, @cmdln, @abdavidson

Private telecommunications companies control the majority of Internet traffic and can potentially exert significant control over what Internet users see and how they see it. However, little is known about how they exercise this control. New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute works in support of Measurement Lab, a collaboration and research platform that hosts a suite of tools for assessing the openness of the Internet through metrics such as connection speed and blocked sites. They will work to make the software and data more accessible and provide journalists and policymakers with information about Internet openness.

Internet to Go

Award: $400,000
Organization: Chicago Public Library via Chicago Public Library Foundation
Project leads: Brian Bannon, Michelle Frisque, and Andrew Medlar
Twitter: @bbannon, @mfrisque, @ammlib, @chipublib

To increase engagement with the Internet in communities with extremely low Internet use, Chicago Public Library will test Wi-Fi hotspot lending from six neighborhood libraries in combination with robust digital skills coaching. Laptops and tablets will also be available. Devices will be loaned for three weeks, and digital and information literacy services will be made available to patrons at checkout. Internet to Go will allow the library—already the city’s largest provider of free Internet access—to test the idea, refine it and ultimately expand the project.

Award: $250,000
Organization: Electronic Frontier Foundation
Project leads: Jillian York
Twitter: @EFF, @jilliancyork

As private Internet companies handle a growing amount of online communication, society faces a new set of challenges about censorship and free speech: When should governments and companies be able to remove content from a private Internet service? What policies should companies follow when dealing with copyright or censorship requests? The Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the country’s leading advocates for an open Internet, will further develop Co-founded by Jillian York and Ramzi Jaber, the project collects information about online censorship incidents. The Electronic Frontier Foundation will make use of this data to explore concerns about censorship and map a better way forward for freedom of expression online.

Ranking Digital Rights

Award: $300,000
Organization: New America Foundation
Project leads: Rebecca MacKinnon
Twitter: @rmack, @netizenproject, @NewAmerica

While private companies have the potential to exert a growing amount of control over the public’s use of the Internet, little is known about how that control is exercised or how companies’ practices compare. To bring this issue to light, the Ranking Digital Rights project at the New America Foundation is developing a system for benchmarking and ranking the world’s most powerful tech companies on how well they protect the free expression and privacy of users. The ranking and its underlying data will help journalists and investors encourage companies to improve their practices.


Award: $416,000
Organization: Open Whisper Systems
Project leads: Moxie Marlinspike
Twitter: @whispersystems, @moxie

While millions of people communicate every day over text messages sent between mobile devices, this is usually not a secure way to transmit information. Additionally, existing solutions for safeguarding mobile text communication require time and effort. TextSecure tackles this problem through a simple secure messaging application that requires no special knowledge from the user. Its Android application has hundreds of thousands of active users. With Knight Foundation funding, the team will continue development of the application and make it available on additional mobile devices.

Who Are the Gatekeepers?

Award: $200,000
Organization: Journalism Development Network
Project leads: Paul Radu and Manuela Preoteasa
Twitter: @OCCRP, @EurActivRomania

Cable and Internet providers control much of the public’s communication, but in many countries there is little public knowledge about those companies. This project will examine the gatekeepers of Eastern Europe’s digital infrastructure, by analyzing the ownership and connections of Internet service providers, and cable and satellite operators. The project will ask a series of questions: Who controls access to TV stations, the Internet, online news outlets and other forms of information? How transparent are these groups? Are they connected to political parties, public officials or organized crime? The project will then visualize and map the information and conduct an advocacy campaign to bring it to the attention of relevant organizations.

Prototype Fund winners

Anti-censorship Alert System by Center for Rights (Boston; project lead: Tiffiny Cheng, @fightfortheftr) allowing the public to see a blocked website by launching a series of tools, including an index and shareable website widgets, that enable the distribution and decentralization needed to provide local access to proxies and mirrored versions of the sites.

Breedrs by Swell Creative Group (Los Angeles; project lead: Phillip Holmes, @phillipholmesis): creating a platform for parents so they can better understand the apps, games and technology that kids buy, use and learn with.

CertiDig by University of Kansas (Lawrence, Kansas; project lead: Michael Williams, @mikewms, @KUJournalism): providing a seamless, secure method for authenticating information and data sources online while maintaining the privacy of the identity of sender and receiver.

Checkdesk by Meedan (San Francisco; project lead: Tom Trewinnard, @tom_el_rumi @meedan, @checkdesk): helping journalists quickly verify the accuracy of online media–whether it’s a video, photo or a tweet through a digital tool–in deadline situations.

Inquisite by Whirl-i-gig (New York; project leads: Seth Kaufman, Maria Passarotti, @inquisitely): promoting collaboration among researchers on complex investigative projects across disciplines through an online hub. By combining an open sharing, visualization and publishing platform with mobile data gathering tools, researchers can use the hub to contribute media and data, and share projects.

Poking the Bear by Salak TeleSystems (Washington, D.C.; project lead: Bart Stidham, @STSnet): creating a new family of tools that can detect and prove network neutrality violations even when it occurs within mobile network operator networks.

Report-a-Troll by Hollaback (New York; project lead: Emily May, @ihollaback) creating a platform where victims can safely report online harassment—including violent threats, stalking and racial epithets—and volunteers can respond.

Safe Travels Online by Tibet Action Institute (Boston; project lead: Nathan Freitas, @n8fr8, @tibetaction): helping people avoid cyberattacks, malicious software and digital surveillance, by testing and improving resources that allow users to safely navigate the Internet. The resources were initially designed for high-risk communities in Asia subject to strict controls on freedom of expression and other human rights.

Swarmize by Guardian Media Group (London; project lead: Matt McAlister, @mattmcalister @swarmize): allowing journalists to conduct research with the help of readers by creating a platform to improve data collection, analysis and distribution of crowd research.

Threshold Future, Inc. (San Francisco; project leads: Elizabeth Stark and Mike Sofaer, @starkness, @mikesofaer): making it easier for open Internet projects to find funding by creating an open Internet-themed virtual currency as a way to build a community of interested investors.

POSTED     June 23, 2014, 10:45 a.m.
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