What makes a winning Challenge Fund entry? Imagination

By on November 4, 2014

Music, maps and mold. That may not entirely sum up what we were shooting for when we opened applications last year for the first Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education, but it comes close.

The $1+ million competitive fund, aimed at seeding experiments in J-schools, received 125 entries in its first year from schools hoping for the resources to reinvent their curriculum and local news. The dozen schools selected each won $35,000 micro-grants by highlighting collaboration, innovation and solid planning. Winning teams included some combination of students, researchers, media professionals, educators, developers and designers, all focused on community engagement.

The Challenge Fund 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, This year, the Challenge Fund is expanding with additional support from the Rita Allen Foundation.

Applications for 2015 opened November 5, and for this year’s launch, we’re highlighting just a few of our 2014-15 winners below to illustrate the diversity of focus and approaches.

Texas State University: Can journalism about music break out of routine story forms, uncover unheard voices and untold tales, and provide more useful formats to the community? Texas State University partners with Texas Music Magazine, KUT Austin, Texas Music Office, Cox Media Group, consultants from NPR, Twitter and MakerSquare to find out with “TexasMusicViz.”

University of Illinois: “Intersections” is tackling the idea that openly mapping a city’s often invisible social media conversations will change the nature of journalism in that community, working with its media partner CU-CitizenAccess.org.

CUNY Graduate School of Journalism: With “Hack the Mold,” CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and its partner, The New York Daily News, is experimenting 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.

You can hear more details about the work and progress of many of our winners by watching them present at ONA14 in Chicago in September.

The deadline for this year’s applications is Jan. 15, 2015. Make sure to check out these very helpful resources as you’re deciding what project to pursue or applying to the Challenge Fund. In addition to the micro-grants, 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.

We plan to support up to 23 projects by the end of this round. We hope yours is one of them.

Jane McDonnell

As executive director, Jane oversees and manages the day-to-day operations of the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists, working closely with the Board of Directors. Her purview includes membership, partnerships, global community outreach, budgeting and revenue generation, fundraising and development, the Online Journalism Awards, and providing vision for ONA’s state-of-the-art annual conference.