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Oct. 4, 2017, 6 a.m.
Audience & Social

The News Integrity Initiative gives $1.8 million to 10 projects focused on increasing trust in news

“The flip side of disinformation is trust.”

More community involvement in investigative reporting. New messaging tools to increase contact between journalists and readers. Better comments. More diverse hires.

The News Integrity Initiative (NII), the $14 million news project launched earlier this year out of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, on Wednesday announced its first 10 grantees. The projects are getting a combined $1.8 million to focus on projects that build trust between newsrooms and the public, make newsrooms more diverse and inclusive, and make public conversations more fruitful and less polarized.

“The traditional journalism framework usually engages the public after the stories are published, and misses a lot of opportunities to gain insight about what people want and need from their local news outlets,” said Molly de Aguiar, managing director of NII. “It’s no wonder that people are angry at the media right now, and that trust is falling. That’s why these grants are focused mostly on tools and methods to help newsrooms engage the public regularly, while also addressing lack of diversity in newsrooms and thereby coverage that doesn’t accurately reflect the whole community.”

For instance, Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications is getting $300,000 to support the News co/lab, a newly launched collaborative lab that helps local news organizations and communities work together. The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal Labs is getting $250,000 to create engagement around investigative reporting and develop new “public-powered” investigative projects. The Center for Media Engagement (formerly the Engaging News Project) at the University of Texas, Austin, is getting $75,000 to support the “Making Strangers Less Strange” research project. The Maynard Institute received $100,000 to support its Maynard 200 initiative, which seeks to train and support 200 journalists of color over the next five years. (That grant was matched by another $100,000 from the Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund; Newmark is a member of NII’s executive committee.) The Coral Project is getting $200,000 to bolster newsroom adoption of its tools. (The full list of grantees is below.)

“Internally we have all these categories around engagement and public conversation and diversity, but honestly they’re all so closely linked and they overlap a lot,” said de Aguiar. “It’s hard to put these projects in one category or another.” One common thread between the projects is that most of them focus on building trust up rather than, for instance, exploring the repercussions of fake news (though Free Press’ News Voices project in New Jersey and North Carolina will look specifically at the impact of misinformation on local news). “The flip side of disinformation is trust,” de Aguiar said. “People are angry at the media, and it’s not enough to just curate your news carefully for accuracy. If audiences don’t trust you to begin with, that’s not going to get them to trust you more. These news organizations have to signal other ways that they’re trustworthy. NII focuses really strongly on the concept of more listening to what the public needs.”

NII has already made grants to First Draft News and WikiTribune, and plans to announce a handful of grants with an international focus in the coming weeks. Eventually, it will also host some of its own events.

The News Integrity Initiative’s first $14 million in grant money comes from Facebook, the Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund, the Ford Foundation, the Democracy Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Tow Foundation, AppNexus, Mozilla and Betaworks. (Knight is also a funder of Nieman Lab.)

Here’s the full list of grantees.

Arizona​ ​State​ ​University​ ​($300,000)

To support the News Co/lab, a newly-launched collaborative lab at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications. This grant supports a hands-on pilot project working with local news organizations and communities to develop innovative ways to increase transparency, engagement, mutual understanding and respect. Over time, the lab will work with a variety of partners, from educators, librarians and technologists, to community groups and newsrooms of different types and sizes.

Center​ ​for​ ​Investigative​ ​Reporting​ ​($250,000)

The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal Labs model establishes reporting collaborations with local newsrooms and builds relationships with a variety of community partners and the public through innovative storytelling experiments. This grant will help CIR test new ideas for creative community engagement rooted in investigative reporting, develop new public-powered investigative projects, and document the Reveal Labs model.

Center​ ​for​ ​Media​ ​Engagement​ ​(formerly the Engaging News Project)​​ ($75,000)

The Center for Media Engagement (formerly the Engaging News Project) at The University of Texas at Austin provides news organizations research-based techniques for engaging digital audiences in commercially viable and democratically beneficial ways. This grant will support the “Making Strangers Less Strange” research project, which aims to shed light on methods that newsrooms can use to address polarization and divides among social groups.

EducationNC​ ​($155,000)

EducationNC provides citizens and policymakers with nonpartisan data, research, news, information, and analysis about the major trends, issues, and challenges bearing on education in North Carolina. This grant supports the expansion of their “Reach NC Voices” project to enable community journalists to deliver personalized, local, and actionable data via a suite of messaging and mapping tools that will engage people in two-way conversations, and deepen relationships between newsrooms and the public.

Free​ ​Press​ ​($250,000)

Free Press’ News Voices Project in New Jersey and North Carolina builds bridges between journalists and everyday people to improve local news, increase access to credible information, and foster public support for quality journalism. This grant will help Free Press explore with its NJ and NC partners how a community loses trust in the media, how misinformation reshapes local narratives and identities, and what kind of new approaches and interventions might rebuild trust and disrupt local media’s downward spiral.

Listening​ ​Post​ ​Collective​ ​($200,000)

The Listening Post Collective is a community news initiative offering mentorship, tools, peer-to-peer support, and a shared online learning space for journalists, newsroom leaders and community groups who are looking to revitalize their local news and information ecosystems and connect more directly with the public. With this grant for operating support, the Collective will continue to mentor and build capacity for the existing Listening Post partners and will seek new partnerships that address information gaps in traditionally marginalized communities.

Maynard​ ​Institute​ ​($100,000)

This Maynard Institute is the nation’s oldest organization dedicated to helping the news media accurately portray all segments of society, particularly those often overlooked, such as communities of color. This grant supports the newly-launched Maynard 200 initiative, which will train, mentor and support 200 journalism leaders, entrepreneurs and community storytellers over the next five years. In partnership with NII, the Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund matched the grant to Maynard.

OpenNews​ ​($200,000)

OpenNews connects a network of developers, designers, journalists and editors to collaborate on open technologies and processes within journalism. This grant supports a number of new offerings for emerging diverse leaders within the journalism code community, beginning with diversity scholarships for the upcoming SRCCON:WORK conference.

Public​ ​Radio​ ​International​ ​($60,000)

PRI is a global non-profit media company focused on the intersection of journalism and engagement to effect positive change in people’s lives. This grant supports “The Bridge,” project to specifically build PRI’s audience across cultural divisions so PRI can distribute its work broadly, preempt misinformation, and create a foundation for civic engagement.

The​ ​Coral​ ​Project ​($200,000)

The Coral Project is an open source project to help publishers of all sizes build better communities around their journalism by bolstering healthy communication between journalists and their communities such that everyone feel safe, respected, and heard. This grant will support continued newsroom adoption of The Coral Project’s community engagement tools (“Ask” and “Talk”), and provide ongoing support and guidance in community engagement best practices for the journalism field.

Photo of CUNY Graduate School of Journalism by CC0 used under a Creative Commons license.

Laura Hazard Owen is the editor of Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email ( or Twitter DM (@laurahazardowen).
POSTED     Oct. 4, 2017, 6 a.m.
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