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Cronkite Wins Challenge Grant to Hack Journalism Education

April 3, 2014

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is one of 12 select schools to win a grant to seed collaborative news experiments, the Online News Association announced today.

The competitive Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education was created to encourage universities to experiment with new ways of providing news and information. The fund is the brainchild of a collaboration that includes the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund, and is managed by the Online News Association, the world’s largest membership group of digital journalists.

The Cronkite School will use the $35,000 micro-grant for a project on “Finding the Middle Ground,” which will use databases and other engagement tools to test the idea that deep engagement on both sides of a divisive issue may have an impact on how journalists do their work and how audiences react to the final journalistic product.

The experiment in audience engagement will be part of this year’s national Carnegie-Knight News21 project on gun rights and regulation in the U.S., led by Weil Family Professor of Journalism Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post, and News21 Executive Editor Jacquee Petchel, former senior editor for investigations at the Houston Chronicle. The two are working with more than two dozen students from 16 universities who are reporting and producing the multimedia investigation. The engagement work will be led by students in the Public Insight Network bureau, a new collaboration between Cronkite and American Public Media that is led by Rebecca Blatt, who recently joined the Cronkite School after a career at WAMU radio in Washington, D.C. The research and analysis component will be conducted by Cronkite Assistant Professor Dawn Gilpin, who teaches research methods and social media at the school.

“We are honored to receive this special grant for innovation in journalism education,” said Cronkite School Associate Dean Kristin Gilger. “We will have students, faculty and staff all involved in an important experiment that has the potential to show us just how powerful audience engagement can be.”

The 125 entries for the 2014-15 academic year were judged on their ability to create collaborative, student-produced local news coverage, bridge the professor-professional gap, use innovative techniques and technologies and learn from digital-age news experiments. Winning teams included some combination of students, researchers, media professionals, educators, developers and designers.

“We zeroed in on ideas and teams that we hope inspire innovation, collaboration and real-world impact in academia and media,” said ONA Operations Director Irving Washington, who administered the selection process. “The potential for true community engagement in the winning projects was every bit as important as the tools and technology used to achieve it.”

Other winning schools and their experiments, announced at the 2014 Journalism Interactive Conference for journalism educators and digital media, include:

CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, “Hack the Mold”: CUNY will experiment with both in-person and online engagement with tenants when reporting on a low-income community's experiences with mold in New York City public housing. Partner: the New York Daily News.

Florida International University, “Sea Level Rise: South Florida”: Can data feeds, “crowd hydrology” and student-led journalism — with strong support from public television — increase community engagement about the sea level rise in South Florida? Partners: Code for Miami, Hacks/Hackers, WPBT2, South Florida Water Management District.

Georgia Collaborative, “Georgia News Lab”: An ambitious collaborative, including Georgia State University, Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University, University of Georgia and two major local news outlets, will try to increase newsroom diversity by training digitally savvy investigative reporters. Media partners: Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSBTV.

San Diego State University, “What’s in the Air?”: Journalism and geology students will partner with a nonprofit news organization to experiment with the concept that using electronic sensors to test air quality in San Diego can help the public become more informed about pollution and its impact on the city. Media partner: inewsource.

San Francisco State University: “Newspoints”: Can a mobile- and Web-based organizing tool improve reporting and get student journalists into the field sooner? Partners: El Tecolote, Accion Latina, Stamen Design.

Texas State University, “TexasMusicViz”: Can journalism about music break out of routine story forms, uncover unheard voices and untold tales, and be more useful in new forms to the central Texas community? Partners: Texas Music Magazine, KUT Austin, Texas Music Office, Cox Media Group, consultants from NPR and MakerSquare.

University of Illinois, “Intersections”: Will openly mapping a city’s often invisible social media conversations change the nature of journalism in the Champaign-Urbana metropolitan community? Media partner: CU-CitizenAccess.org.

University of Missouri, “The Town Square”: Can television public affairs programming be reinvented by basing it on social media conversations? Partner: KOMU-TV, an NBC affiliate.

University of New Mexico, “New Mexico News Port”: Can a student-powered lab and publishing platform that curates content from a collaborative hub increase news in New Mexico? Partners: Radio station KUNM, television station KNME and The Daily Lobo.

University of Oklahoma, “Talk With Us”: Students will use mobile video and GIS data to experiment with the idea that creating a conversation in Oklahoma City between residents of low-income neighborhoods and area leaders will raise the issue of poverty on the public agenda. Partner: Oklahoma Watch.

University of Wisconsin-Madison, “The Confluence”: A statewide investigative collaborative will use digital tools and community engagement, including volunteer citizen water monitoring, in an effort to increase the impact of journalism on improving water quality and supply issues. Partner: Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Thirteen schools received honorable mention for their projects: American University, Columbia College, DePaul University, El Paso Community College, Emerson College, Howard University, Mercer University, Middle Tennessee State University, University of Kansas, University of Minnesota, USC-Annenberg, Virginia Commonwealth University and West Virginia University.

The winners, chosen in consultation with academic advisers, ONA leaders and funders, will be featured at upcoming ONA conferences and other news media education events.

The competition will culminate in at least one grand prize for the project most likely to change either local newsgathering, journalism education or both. A second overall prize will be given for the best project evaluation, regardless of the experiment’s outcome.

The founding funders plan to support between 20 and 25 projects over the next two years. They have committed $920,000 to launch the project, and additional funders are expected to join this year, bringing the total to well over $1 million.

Applications for the next round of funding will open later this year.

About ONA
The Online News Association is the world’s largest association of digital journalists. ONA’s mission is to inspire innovation and excellence among journalists to better serve the public. The membership includes news writers, producers, designers, editors, bloggers, developers, photographers, educators, students and others who produce news for and support digital delivery systems. ONA also hosts the annual Online News Association conference and administers the Online Journalism Awards.

About the Democracy Fund
The Democracy Fund invests in social entrepreneurs working to ensure that our political system is responsive to the public and able to meet the greatest challenges facing our nation. It was created in 2011 by eBay Founder Pierre Omidyar.

About the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation
Founded by Edith Kinney Gaylord, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation’s mission is to invest in the future of journalism by building the ethics, skills and opportunities needed to advance principled, probing news and information.

About Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

About the Robert R. McCormick Foundation
The Robert R. McCormick Foundation is committed to fostering communities of educated, informed and engaged citizens. Through philanthropic programs, Cantigny Park and museums, the Foundation helps develop citizen leaders and works to make life better in our communities. The Foundation was established as a charitable trust in 1955, upon the death of Colonel Robert R. McCormick, the longtime editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. The Robert R. McCormick Foundation is one of the nation's largest foundations, with more than $1.4 billion in assets. To learn more, visit McCormickFoundation.org, follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/McCormick_Fdn, or like us on Facebook at facebook.com/McCormickFoundation.

For more information, contact Irving Washington, challengefund@journalists.org.