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Cronkite School Alumni Win Knight Foundation Innovation Grant

March 18, 2015

 Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant
Clockwise top left: Cronkite alumni Nora Avery-Page, Lauren Gilger, Natasha Khan and Kerry Oslund are recipients of the Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant.

Four Arizona State University graduates working at news organizations across the country are recipients of the Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant, a special journalism innovation fund for alumni of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Cronkite alumni Nora Avery-Page of the Herald and News in Klamath Falls, Ore., Lauren Gilger of ABC15 News in Phoenix, Natasha Khan of PublicSource in Pittsburgh and Kerry Oslund of Schurz Communications in Mishawaka, Ind., each received up to $15,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The alumni are the second group to receive this grant in the past year, with applications for the third round opening March 23.

The Knight-Cronkite Grant, created by Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen specifically for Cronkite alumni working in newsrooms, aims to disrupt the status quo in journalism and stimulate new cutting-edge technologies, practices and ideas. Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan said the selection committee was impressed by the latest proposals from alumni.

“Our outstanding graduates are leaders in innovation and entrepreneurship at news organizations around the world,” Callahan said. “We were impressed with the trailblazing ideas proposed by Nora, Lauren, Natasha and Kerry and look forward to seeing them in action.”

Khan, a 2012 graduate who covers the environment and energy for PublicSource, will use the grant to equip families living near shale gas operations in Pennsylvania with cameras and air quality monitors to document how fracking affects quality of life. Khan plans to publish a series of multimedia stories on the collected data.

“I am very honored to be chosen for this incredible opportunity,” she said. “There are still many unanswered questions on how shale drilling affects people’s health. We at PublicSource believe this could be a turning point in the conversation in Pennsylvania and elsewhere about fracking and health.”

Gilger, a 2011 graduate, is a Peabody Award-winning investigative journalist at ABC15. She plans to use the grant to establish a digital source database that would streamline and archive news tip submissions, making it easy for reporters to locate and manage contacts and story ideas. The technology could be expanded to other newsrooms across the country.

Oslund, a 1983 graduate, is senior vice president of publishing and emerging media at Schurz Communications, a national multimedia company. He will use the funding for RedPost iBeacon applications. RedPost is a new kind of newspaper rack that is a digital display affixed atop shelves at stores. With iBeacon, it can send real-time information, including news alerts and video, to mobile devices.

“The students Dean Callahan and his A-list professors at Cronkite are sending into the media space are remarkable,” Oslund said. “With the Knight Innovation grant, we can together fast-track development of mobile proximity triggering from RedPost digital displays. Editorial teams will be able to send ultra-local push notifications and mobile messaging to the smartphones and smartwatches of people on the go — particularly millennials.”

Avery-Page, a 2010 graduate who serves as a reporter at the Herald and News in Oregon, will use the grant to implement an augmented reality technology that merges traditional print content with new digital features. The technology allows readers to use their smartphones with print materials to unlock dynamic features such as video or animation.

Ibargüen announced the Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation program during the Cronkite School’s May 2014 convocation ceremony. Ibargüen pledged $250,000 from Knight Foundation, challenging Cronkite graduates to disrupt the status quo in newsrooms. In November 2014, the Cronkite School awarded inaugural grants to National Journal correspondent Weston Phippen and Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting Executive Director Brandon Quester. To date, nearly $75,000 in grants has been awarded to Cronkite alumni.

About the John S. and James L. 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. More information is available at www.knightfoundation.org.