The latest Knight News Challenge has been closed and the winners are in, just announced earlier today. First, the bad news. No one appears to have figured out how to Save Journalism. But the good news is, lots of smart people have figured out lots of useful ways to solve little lower-case-j journalism problems, like how to create a custom, data-filled map of a disaster-area with geo-tagged markers that can rush supplies to where they’re needed most by showing where people needing food and water are located.
The winning projects run the rainbow of flavors when it comes to journalism innovation, including projects focused on hyperlocal journalism, new online advertising models, visualizing raw data, and even bringing digital media into public courtrooms. Though it’s hard to detect a trend but this year, it seems the winning projects have taken on more of a “There’s an app for that!” feel, with more and more and more software, social media, and raw data visualization tools making the cut. It’s a contrast to other Knight alumni projects that, in previous years, were more focused on funding models, crowd sourcing and other ideas that seemed designed to help overworked, underfunded journalists just survive; projects like Spot.Us, which is a crowd-funded model for footing the bill for investigative stories too expensive for freelancers to undertake, themselves. It’s all part of the Robot Journalism wave of the future; in which overworked/underfunded journalists will do less digging thanks to handy tools that make it easier to report the news.
The 2010 Knight News Challenge winners include:
• The Cartoonist, a game-developing application that lets even non-tech savvy journalists take a current news event and generate a simple game, playable online, based on a series of questions about the major actors in the event. Th end result is a sort of interactive version of the Op/Ed page’s editorial cartoons.
I envision an online political corruption game in which Rod Blagojevich tries to sell a Senate seat to the highest bidder, with bonus points awarded in the form of hair grooming tools, like blow dryers and gel. Or maybe a computer game version of Stop-That-Oil-Leak! with BP’s Tony Hayward as the protagonist scrambling to plug the Deepwater Horizon spill with a series of comical solutions at his disposal (Seriously, the whole “top kill” thing, using golf balls, old tires and other detritus to plug a gushing torrent of oil sounded like something dreamed up by a children’s video game developer).
• Another winner is One-Eight, a project that will be an interactive, real-time chronicle of the military’s use of social media, as measured by continuous coverage of the social media use of one U.S. Marine battalion in southern Afghanistan. If the battalion is anything like these guys, this should be interesting.
• Stroome, an interactive video-editing platform that lives on the Internet, will be the moving image’s collaborative editing equivalent of Google Docs.
• And the winner of the most grant money this year at $400,000, CityTracking will make it easier to “create graphics about cities and communities that would be as easy to share and put on a web site as Flickr photos or YouTube videos,” or “generally raise literacy around cities and data” according to project pitchman Eric Rodenbeck, the head of a San Francisco-based mapping and data visualization design studio. It’s a stultifying project description only a total data wonk could love, but it could result in shiny pretty things like this and this.
Of course sometimes a good idea can’t be improved upon; just adapted. In that category this year is:
• PRX StoryMarket, which takes Spot.Us’s crowd-funded model and adapts it for the production of public radio journalism, allowing anyone to contribute money to help produce a story for a local public radio station, which will then hire a professional journalist to do the report.
This is the fourth and penultimate year of the five-year, $25 million Knight News Challenge. Next year will be your last chance to apply for the free money and launch your future-of-journalism saving idea, so get cracking. I, for one, will be creating a lifelike robot journalist named the Cronkite5000, that will report the news in such a likable, gosh-darn friendly, but always authoritative, way that journalists everywhere will gain credibility and people will trust the media again.Alexandra Fenwick is an assistant editor at CJR.