ONA launches $1 million Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education

The Online News Association is running a competition to explore new forms of journalism education

The Online News Association launched a $1 million micro-grant contest on Monday to help universities and news outlets find new ways of bringing news to local communities.

Sponsored by the Knight Foundation, the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the competition is open to US-based colleges and universities, in collaboration with local newspapers, television, and radio stations. (The Democracy Fund supports CJR’s United States Project and the McCormick Foundation funds CJR’s news literacy coverage.)

Teams of teachers and students will work together with journalists, designers, and local residents on projects that aim to take a fresh look at local news coverage. Irving Washington, ONA’s Director of Operations, said the Challenge Fund organizers considered giving examples of possible projects, but decided not to. It’s more important “for folks to think outside the box and not simply copy something they’ve seen another school do,” he said. (There is, however, a list of resources to provide inspiration and get people started.)

“The collaboration is the key part of this,” he added. As long as it’s innovative and brings a diverse team together, “anything can be submitted for this project.”

The 10 winning projects will be awarded micro-grants of up to $35,000, and teams will also compete for a grand prize of up to $100,000 for the best project.

According to ONA’s website, “the challenge is about experimentation”:

We want to fund projects that encourage more collaborative local news coverage, bridge academic and professional gaps, better train students, and provide lessons from digital-age news experiments.

Teams should also try to develop projects that attempt to solve problems in news coverage in their communities, and that allow journalism schools to promote professional innovation.

Applications close on February 13, 2014, and winners will be announced in early April.

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Edirin Oputu is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @EdirinOputu