Investing in journalism education and local news: ONA awards $140,000 to seven universities through the 2020 Challenge Fund

Each winning project will receive $20,000 to experiment with local news collaboration. ONA also announces $15,000 research prize to Northern Arizona University.

By on December 16, 2020

Seven universities will share $140,000 in new support as winners of the 2020 Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education. Each university will partner with local news organizations to explore news ways of teaching journalism and delivering information to their local communities.

We are also pleased to announce Northern Arizona University has been awarded a $15,000 research prize, in recognition of their work to cultivate culturally sensitive reporting and expand representation of Indigenous communities through citizen-driven news. Northern Arizona University was among 9 universities that received grant funding through the 2018 Challenge Fund; all 2018 grantees were encouraged to apply for the research prize.

Since 2014, the Challenge Fund has provided unique support to universities and journalism educators as they led collaboration among students, local news professionals, researchers and technologists. Over the years, the program has been supported by the following key partners: the Democracy Fundthe Inasmuch Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Rita Allen Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and The Scripps Howard Foundation. Their generous contributions have made a significant impact on our grantees, and the communities they serve. In total, 48 collaborative projects to boost journalism education and local news have received over $1.7 million of support through the fund.

For this final round, ONA partnered with the Democracy Fundthe Inasmuch Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and The Scripps Howard Foundation.

The 2020 Challenge Fund winners were selected through an open call for ideas launched earlier this year. Each winner will receive a $20,000 micro-grant to carry out their experiments, including projects focused on engaging community members in telling their own stories, detecting bias in local coverage of Black communities and neighborhood-level efforts to improve voter turnout and availability of health data.

The seven universities and their projects are:

Boston University | @COMatBU

Project: Justice Media Co-Lab: Media Racial Bias Self-Assessment Tool
Lead: Michelle Johnson, @mijohn

This project will focus on creating an automated approach to uncovering bias in local media’s coverage of Black people and communities by creating a self-assessment tool produced by an interdisciplinary team of students and faculty with input from community organizations and media partners.

Craig Newmark School of Journalism at CUNY | @newmarkjschool

Project: Civic Newsroom
Lead: Terry Parris Jr.

THE CITY and the Craig Newmark School of Journalism at CUNY will test to see if community engagement, community-centered responsive reporting and creating a culture of constant communication will increase voter turnout in the five neighborhoods in New York City where voter turnout is currently the lowest.

Colorado College Journalism Institute | @ColoradoCollege

Project: Mapping and Engaging Allies to Build Colorado’s Local News Future
Lead: Corey Hutchins, @CoreyHutchins

This project will help Coloradans and media organizations make sense of a fragmented local news landscape by mapping assets that currently exist in each of Colorado’s 64 counties and identifying existing outlets, potential partners, innovators, and individuals who can play new roles in supporting community information needs.

Hussman School of Journalism and Media, UNC Chapel Hill | @UNCHussman

Project: Operationalizing Professional-University Investigative Reporting Partnerships
Lead: Erin Siegal McIntyre, @ESMcIntyre

This project aims to design and execute a collaborative reporting and publishing process that serves both student reporters and local news outlets, providing high-quality investigative news to local outlets, professional experience/bylines for student reporters, and efficient collaboration.

Universidad del Sagrado Corazón | @sagradoedu

Project: Nuestro Barrio Community Media Lab
Lead: Lillian Agosto, @LillianEnid

This team will test the idea that empowered communities can reframe news media discourse towards social justice by taking ownership of their stories, testing the idea in Santurce, a low-income, economically distressed neighborhood of the capital city of San Juan, P.R.

DePaul University | @DePaulU

Project: Journalism for Health Equity in Chicago
Lead: Amy Merrick

This experiment — a collaboration between students, professors, researchers and local news outlets — will test whether a text-messaging service or app providing residents hyperlocal health data and news will increase awareness of community health needs and resources, and improve engagement with health journalism that serves Chicagoans most impacted by health disparities and news deserts.

University of Southern California | @uscannenberg

Project: The LA Taco x USC Collaborative Community Zine Project
Amara Aguilar, @amara_media

Faculty and students at USC Annenberg will work with media partner LA Taco and people who live in Los Angeles to create a collaborative zine with work produced for, by and with the community.



To learn about more resources and opportunities from the Online News Association, subscribe to the ONA Weekly newsletter.

We’re also always interested in exploring partnerships that align with our mission to inspire and support innovation in digital journalism. There are many ways to connect with ONA’s global community, collaborate on programs and invest in our mission throughout the year. Contact Chief Strategic Partnerships Officer Jessica Strelitz at for details.


Karolle Rabarison

Karolle Rabarison is ONA's Director of Communications. She collaborates across the team to connect ONA members and the broader journalism community to emerging tech and leadership training, networking, industry trends, and career development resources.