Applications open for new $1M Challenge Fund to hack journalism education

By on March 31, 2017

WASHINGTON DC — Journalism educators can now apply for a $1 million challenge encouraging universities to create teams that will experiment with new ways of providing news and information, run by the Online News Association, the world’s largest membership association of digital journalists.

The competitive Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education is the brainchild of a 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.

This year’s challenge will provide micro-grants of up to $35,000 each to 10 projects to be completed during the fall of 2017.

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 producing shared learnings from their experiments.The challenge also places a special emphasis on experiments focusing on diversity, technology, community engagement and civic participation.

Started in 2013, the initial challenge resulted in micro-grants to 23 recipients to support live news experiments that further the development of teaching hospital models in journalism education, in which innovative projects are created by teams of educators, students, professionals, technicians and researchers.

Some results from the first year experiments include:

  • Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara launched an investigation into 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 the CUNY/New York Daily News series.
  • Investigations by Georgia News Lab student reporters published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution led to a state ethics commission investigation into the disappearance of tens of thousands of dollars from the campaign records of a longtime county commissioner, and the retirement of the county health director charged with overseeing a program that squandered millions of dollars of federal HIV grant money.
  • 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.

“Our goal has been empowering journalism schools to lead professional innovation and our first two rounds of grantees did exactly that,” said Irving Washington, ONA’s Executive Director. “Universities can play a critical role as change agents within the industry and we look forward to uncovering projects from the next round.”

The competition will culminate in at least one substantial grand prize for the project most likely to change either local newsgathering, journalism education or both. An overall prize will be given for the best project evaluation, regardless of the experiment’s outcome. The winners and their projects, chosen in consultation with academic advisers and ONA leaders, will be featured at the 2017 ONA annual conference and other news media education events.

To apply, and for FAQs and resources, visit: For questions, email

Deadline: June 20, 2017. Winners will be announced in August, 2017.

Follow the conversation on #hackcurriculum.

Learn About the Program

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 is a bipartisan foundation established by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar to help ensure that our political system can withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people. Since 2011, Democracy Fund has invested more than $50 million in support of effective governance, modern elections, and a vibrant public square

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 is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believes are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit

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.

About the Robert R. McCormick Foundation

The Robert R. McCormick Foundation’s mission is fostering communities of educated, informed, and engaged citizens. Through philanthropic grant-making and Cantigny Park, the Foundation works to make life better in Chicagoland. The McCormick Foundation, among the nation’s largest foundations with more than $1.5 billion in assets, was established in 1955 upon the death of Col. Robert R. McCormick, the longtime editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. Find out more at, follow them on Twitter at, or like them on Facebook at


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.