The challenge: Create, collaborate, apply — and disrupt

By on January 29, 2014

It’s not often you have a front seat to witness the effects of change.

When we launched the Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education, 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, we knew the program was right in our sweet spot — the intersection of journalism and technology. Since the launch, though, we’ve been amazed by the interest, questions, ideas and explorations from countless numbers of journalism educators looking to expand their concepts of collaboration and news experiments within their university.

In short, the fund supports live news experiments that further the development of collaborative models in journalism education. Teams of educators, students, professionals, technicians and researchers will conceptualize and implement their ideas, using micro-grants of up to $35,000 each.

If you’ve been thinking of ways to shake up your curriculum for a while, this $1 million is for you. The application deadline is coming up quickly (Feb. 13), so if you plan to apply, consider these tips.

Don’t make a volcano

Take a cue from your childhood science fairs. Is there still any mystery about what will happen if you experiment with baking soda and vinegar? No matter how elaborately your volcano is decorated, the result remains the same: lots of lava. Right now, journalism needs disruption — new ideas, fresh thinking, and fearless experimentation — and many journalism educators recognize that. Think up ideas that will be true experiments for your university. This is called a challenge for a reason.

Play well with others

A critical piece of the challenge is true, experimental collaboration. Put aside ideas of internships, a speaker series or career days. We’re betting that professionals, scholars, students, technologists and researchers can work together to help each other and collectively provide news and information to communities — and include the community in the process. True collaboration means each member of your team is equally important.

Get out of your own way

If you’ve read about the challenge and had any of the following thoughts, here’s a tip: Don’t create invisible barriers like these …

  • My school doesn’t have enough resources to pull off this type of experiment and can’t compete with other established programs.
  • We don’t have an accredited journalism program.
  • It will be too difficult to pull this kind of team together.
  • My idea is not what they’re looking for.
  • I don’t have time to get this application in by the deadline.

Earlier, I wrote about avoiding application silos and making the process a team effort. You can also get encouragement by joining the ONA Educators Facebook group, joining the conversations on Twitter with #hackcurriculum, or getting inspiration from our resources.

Your project should stretch the limits of what you think you can do. Don’t be afraid to fail. Remember that our goal is to empower journalism schools to lead professional innovation and thought leadership. The size of your school or program shouldn’t limit the project’s ambition.

Will this challenge change the face of journalism education as we know it? We hope so. We know there are many educators, technologists, researchers, students and media professionals out there who are excited about collaboratively exploring the possibilities and we’re looking forward to seeing what you come up with.


Irving Washington

Irving Washington is the Executive Director/CEO for the Online News Association (ONA), the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists. As a media diversity advocate, Irving has led programming and fundraising initiatives for journalists, media professionals, and students worldwide.