How It Works


The Challenge Fund is open to U.S.-based colleges or universities working in teams made up of educators, students, researchers, media professionals, technologists and designers to provide local news coverage and investigate issues of interest to their community.

Endorsements for the programs from the Dean or Program Director are encouraged but not required. The ability to obtain matching funds is considered in project selection but not required.

Here’s an example of a project team:

  • Educators (Team Lead)
  • Students
  • Local media partners such as local television, radio, newspaper, and online outlets
  • Researchers
  • Technologists and designers
  • Local community residents


This challenge is about experimentation. We want to fund experimental projects that encourage collaborative local news coverage and investigations, bridge the academic and professional communities, improve training for students and generate meaningful lessons for digital news. In 2020, we know that collaborations may look different than they did in the past. We also know that educators are some of the most innovative people we know. When compiling the necessary information for your application, think about ways to talk to us about your local circumstances and how you might adapt your projects to foster collaboration. Winners receive up to $20,000 in funding to support local news experiments.

Projects should inform and engage your local community. In 2020, The experiments will focus on four core areas:

  • Diversity: Experiments will focus on underreported or underrepresented communities. Experiments in diversity might involve unique coverage of these communities or the internal structure of the project teams.
  • Technology: Experiments will build innovative tools to advance digital storytelling or to engage audiences in a creative through technology.
  • Community Engagement and Civic Participation: Experiments will focus on stories or ideas that identify issues of public concern or involve the community in the storytelling and news gathering process. Experiments can focus on outside-the-box ways to engage audiences as part of the story.
  • Building Trust: Experiments will focus on processes or ideas that build trust between communities and news organizations. Experiments can focus on projects that improve the flow of accurate information.

We also understand that not all great ideas will fit into these categories. If you have an idea that doesn’t quite fit, you’ll have the option to select “other” in the application.

Successful projects will reflect:

  • Ambition: Your project should stretch the limits of what you think you can do.The size of your school or program shouldn’t limit the project’s ambition. Don’t be afraid to fail. We’re looking for projects that implement news experiments in a variety of ways by empowering journalism schools to lead innovation and thought leadership.
  • Innovation: Your project should have an approach that represents a genuine innovation in technology or journalism in your community. You should attempt to solve a problem in your community’s local news coverage. We’re looking for projects that will chart new territory.
  • Collaboration: Your project should bring together a diverse team. Winning teams could include students, researchers, local media professionals, educators, developers, technologists and designers. Projects should use engagement platforms to involve local communities and encourage professionals and scholars to work together to study the experiments.
  • Discovery: The community is your laboratory. Your project should include a researched evaluation with professional involvement and provide solid analysis of the results that candidly describe successes, failures and lessons. The collaborative team should seek to publish results in both professional and scholarly publications and include these results in journalism curricula.

Applicants will have slim odds of selection if they propose a traditional news gathering project without engagement, innovation or research and a clear idea to test. The news organization and university should be willing to change the status quo based on these results.


The application deadline is October 28, 2020, at 11:59 p.m. ET. Questions on the application give you an opportunity to speak to what you will test and who you will reach, the specific innovation and how you plan to collaborate with local media partners. You can start an application and save it as you put together the different pieces.


Up to 10 projects will be selected this year. An Advisory Committee will review the applications and send recommendations to the Funder Committee for final selection. Winning teams will be featured on


We’re deeply committed to the future of journalism education and winners should be, too. We’re looking for teams whose lessons can be shared with the larger journalism community.

If you’re interested in finding other collaborators in your area or hearing what the community is saying about the challenge, use the hashtag #hackcurriculum and join the ONA Educators Facebook Group.

Additional question may be answered in the Challenge Fund program FAQ.