Consortium unveils $1M Challenge Fund to “hack’ journalism education

By on October 17, 2013

ATLANTA — Four major foundations today launched a $1 million challenge encouraging universities to create teams that will experiment with new ways of providing news and information. The two-year micro-grant contest will be run by the Online News Association (ONA), the world’s largest membership group of digital journalists.

The competitive Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education, announced today at ONA’s 2013 conference, is the brainchild of a collaborative 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.

The fund will support “live news experiments” that further the development of teaching hospital models in journalism education, in which students create innovative projects with professionals, professors and researchers.

The fund will produce from 15 to 25 projects during the next two years with micro-grants of as much as $35,000 each. The four founding funders have committed $850,000 to launch the project, and additional funders are being sought to join next year, to bring the total to at least $1 million.

Contest rules and application forms will be unveiled in November for projects to be completed either in the summer of 2014 or in the 2014-2015 academic year.

“We are excited by the opportunity to inspire innovation, collaboration and real-world impact in academia and media,” said Jane McDonnell, ONA Executive Director. “We hope to see projects from digital natives teaming up with professionals that will truly hack the system and push boundaries.”

Teams will be selected based on ideas that show the most potential for encouraging collaborative, student-produced local news coverage, bridging the professor-professional gap, using innovative techniques and technologies and learning from digital-age news experiments.

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 winners, chosen in consultation with academic advisers and ONA leaders, will be featured at upcoming ONA conferences and other news media education events. Winning teams could include students, researchers, media professionals, educators, developers and designers.

“Last year, journalism funders called upon America’s university presidents to accelerate journalism education reform through the ‘teaching hospital model,’ in which students, professionals and professors work together to provide both news to a community and knowledge to the field of journalism,” said Clark Bell, Journalism Program Director, McCormick Foundation. “These micro-grants offer opportunities for experiments to establish, improve and expand those kinds of projects.”

“Of the 12,000 college-level journalism professors, the number active in digital groups is in the hundreds,” said Eric Newton, Senior Adviser to the President, Knight Foundation, and author of an open educational resource, Searchlights and Sunglasses, also launched today at ONA13. “Those pioneers may only be a small number now, but they can be like a drop of neon green dye in a clear liquid, spreading out and changing everything,”

“By doing real journalism in a living lab — the community — students are not only exposed to the way media ecosystems work and are better prepared for real-world careers, they also have the opportunity to meaningfully contribute to and invest in the community in which they are living,” said Bob Ross, President and CEO, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

“These grants would be substantial enough to stretch the teams to experiment with new ways to provide news to the local community and knowledge to the journalism community,” said Tom Glaisyer, Principal, Democracy Fund. “We would hope to see the ripple effect of these projects shape local community ecosystems over time.”

Applications will open in November for projects completed no later than the 2014-15 and 2015-16 academic years.

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

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, follow us on Twitter at, or like us on Facebook at

For more information on the Challenge Fund, contact


Jennifer Mizgata

Jennifer Mizgata is Director of Programs at the Online News Association, where she leads the Women's Leadership Accelerator. At ONA, Jennifer focuses on identifying talented digital journalists and innovative journalism projects and providing them with support. Jennifer is a business and design strategist with over a decade of experience creating industry-changing training programs, investing in award-winning projects, and managing key relationships with journalism partners and tech stakeholders. She regularly coaches managers, senior leaders and entrepreneurs on challenges related to their careers and launching new ventures. Jennifer shares advice for navigating tough work challenges in Work Space, a monthly column for Fortune.