Many roads to change


Just as we consume too much comfort food,
we are, more and more,
consuming “comfort news.”

Many roads to change

Not everything a foundation does is conceived as a major initiative. Between 2003 and 2012, Knight Foundation made more than 751 journalism and media grants totaling more than $343 million. Projects fell under the general headings of journalism, media innovation, freedom of expression and community, and they came in all sizes.

cloudThe best part of this work is seeing the modest turn to the transformative. Just two examples:

With the American Society of News Editors and the Radio and Television Digital News Association, Knight funded a major youth journalism initiative. Its portal inspired the creation or improvement of thousands of middle and high school media outlets, helping re-ignite secondary school journalism in the U.S.

With the Associated Press, newspapers nationwide and many others, we created Sunshine Week. That national campaign provides an annual status report on the state of freedom of information, aimed at that those who use open government laws — for the most part, not journalists but citizens themselves. Sunshine Week seems to have helped slow the never-ending attempts to roll back freedom of information in the U.S.

Today, we continue to promote new digital tools and best practices through media innovation programs, endowed journalism training and teaching programs. Here’s a sort of crazy salad of issues I’ve been thinking about lately: digital media literacy, including First Amendment education; IRS nonprofit media rules; a collaborative challenge fund for “teaching hospital” experiments in journalism education; and, last but not least, clear writing.

Of those, let’s look at two:

  • Digital Media Literacy — Call it news or digital literacy, civics or media literacy. No matter what form it takes, thriving communities need it. These are 21st century literacies, keys to the growth of an information economy. Part of modern literacy is understanding how news really works and how in many ways it’s like food. Because we are talking about digital media literacy, though, we need to find ways to use digital media tools to better make and consume news.
  • Foundation Collaborations — Some of our successes (such as the Challenge Fund for Journalism) emerged because foundations worked together through a funders group we started a decade ago. As a foundation started by one of America’s great newspaper families, Knight hopes to continue working with foundation colleagues on such issues as clear writing, funder transparency, open source licensing, technology for engagement, and nonprofit media transformation. An example: Funders are creating a Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education to support the “teaching hospital” model.

cloudThis, the final chapter of Searchlights and Sunglasses, looks at things still simmering. (You can explore the work of our grantees at Will all the news community’s projects succeed? No. In fact, the more we venture into the unknown, the higher the risk, the greater the chance of failure. As in science, though, experiments are not really failures if you learn from them.

Some may say we should not be so ambitious. But that isn’t the Knight way. In the early 20th century, after Jack Knight inherited the Akron Beacon Journal, he and brother Jim built it into what was once the biggest (and many would say best) newspaper group in the country. Later, Jack said he really didn’t inherit a newspaper; he inherited an opportunity. That’s all any of us have: the opportunity to try.

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  • Many roads to change


  • How much comfort news is in your information diet?


  • Would nutrition labels work for news?


  • A problem with non-profit news


  • Teaching the First Amendment


  • How the Challenge Fund for Journalism helped…


  • Clearer writing means wiser grant making


  • Acknowledgements


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Field notes from the digital age of journalism

by Eric Newton
ISBN# 978-0-9749702-4-0

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Creative Commons LicenseSearchlights and Sunglasses: Field notes from the digital age of journalism by Eric Newton is licensed
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Searchlights and Sunglasses is an open educational resource provided by Arizona State University Cronkite School Innovation Chief Eric Newton with initial assistance from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

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