ONA Challenge Fund to ‘hack’ journalism education gets new $985,000 boost

By on September 15, 2016

DENVER — Sept. 15, 2016 — To help journalism educators better prepare students to meet 21st century information needs, five major foundations today announced nearly $1 million in support to the Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education. The micro-grant contest, which encourages universities to create teams to experiment with new ways of providing news and information, is run by the Online News Association (ONA), the world’s largest membership group of digital journalists.

Announced today at ONA’s 2016 conference, the funding will provide an additional two years of support for the challenge, which was launched in 2013 by a funder collaborative that includes the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; the Democracy Fund; Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation; the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and the Rita Allen Foundation. All five foundations have renewed their support for this round of funding, totaling $985,000.

The challenge will support “live news experiments” that further the development of teaching hospital models in journalism education, creating opportunities for journalism schools to collaborate with newsrooms, researchers and other professionals to produce innovative local news for a digital audience.

The fund will produce 15 to 20 projects during the next two years with micro-grants of as much as $35,000 each. Applications will open this fall for projects to be completed no later than the 2017-18 and 2018-19 academic years.

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. This round will also focus on projects that experiment in four key areas: diversity, technology, community engagement and civic participation.

“We’re excited to help educators continue to push boundaries of experimentation within journalism education,” said Irving Washington, ONA deputy director. “The projects from our first cycle had tremendous impact in their local communities and showed the critical role of collaboration to the future of journalism.”

Highlights from the first cycle include:

  • Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara launched an investigation into the New York City Housing Authority based on documentation and complaints about health conditions in public housing, including unhealthy living conditions because of mold, which was the focus of a CUNY/New York Daily News series;
  • Investigations by Georgia News Lab student reporters published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution led to the retirement of the county health director charged with overseeing a program that squandered millions of dollars of federal HIV grant money. The News Lab raised funding of $90,000 toward its ongoing efforts, plus the $65,000 grand prize from ONA;
  • Florida International University’s “Eyes on the Rise” app, which lets users enter Florida addresses to explore potential sea level risks, was included in a presentation to the White House by FUI environmental experts;
  • TruthBeTold.news, Howard University’s digital network for fact‐checking and investigating reports and claims about the African‐American community, won a 2016 Salute to Excellence Award from the National Association of Black Journalists.
  • Kennesaw State’s peer-reviewed paper “Journalism: How One University Used Virtual Worlds to Tell True Stories” won the research paper competition at the International Symposium on Online Journalism in April 2016.

This cycle’s competition will also 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.

“The ONA Challenge Fund makes sure the next generation of journalists are prepared to deliver the news and information needs of local communities,” said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism. “The fund also supports a community of  innovative journalism educators driving much needed cultural and digital transformation in journalism education.”

“Earlier rounds of the ONA Challenge Fund have generated a number of excellent projects and it has been great to see many of them endure,” said Paul Waters, Public Square program associate, at Democracy Fund. “We are excited that the fund will continue for an additional two cycles. Democracy Fund believes this will aid journalistic innovation across the country and provide pointers for the next decade.”

“Journalism programs that have benefited from the ONA Challenge Fund are proving hands-on training for students results in more accurate and impactful stories,” said Bob Ross, president and CEO, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. “These students are the future of an informed and collaborative news industry ready to innovate and transform delivery of credible information in the digital age.”

“With all of the changes taking place in our news and information environment, it seems obvious that we need new and innovative ways to tell stories and engage readers, viewers, and listeners,” said John Sirek, director, Democracy Program, Robert R. McCormick Foundation. “It is, therefore, more important today than ever before to leverage the best journalists, journalism educators and students to drive innovation in journalism education and news production.”

“This effort already has demonstrated its potential to infuse journalism with innovative, collaborative approaches to improve citizen engagement with the news,” said Elizabeth Good Christopherson, president and CEO of the Rita Allen Foundation. “We are pleased to support another round with this distinctive group of partners, and are eager to see new tools and strategies emerge.”

For more information, contact challengefund@journalists.org.

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 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. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

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 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.

About the Rita Allen Foundation
The Rita Allen Foundation invests in ideas in their earliest stages, promoting breakthrough solutions to significant problems in science and society. Established in 1953, it has provided major grants to more than 150 biomedical scholars, many of whom have made important advances with their research. Since 2009, the Foundation’s resources and areas of investment have expanded. It now uses strategic philanthropy to promote civic literacy and engagement, as well as to support young leaders in the sciences and social innovation.

Jeremiah Patterson

Jeremiah Patterson

Jeremiah was ONA's Digital Manager from 2012 to the fall of 2016 and was responsible for ONA's collection of websites, including journalists.org, conference websites, the membership center, awards platforms and more. Before joining ONA, he served as a web producer and content developer at The Wildlife Society, maintaining the organization’s website, email marketing and other online services. An Ohio native and media enthusiast, Jeremiah grew up with a deep interest in video production and graphic design. He now focuses in user experience and human-centered design.