Innovation in Media – change has only just begun

Jess Dillman

As many of you know, Powell Tate is hosting several sessions for this year’s Social Media Week, and our session on Innovations in Social Media in the Developing World featured a speaker from the Knight Foundation’s International Journalism Fellowships, who told us about the many ways technology is transforming lives and creating better futures for millions of people around the world.

The Knight Foundation is well-known for advancing ideas that promote journalism and innovation in media, and we’d like to continue the conversation we started at social media week by telling you about an annual grant program funded by Knight that supports experiments and ideas that could revolutionize tomorrow’s newsrooms.

Last year, the Knight News Challenge awarded $4.7 million for 16 project ideas developed by organizations standing at the intersection of journalism, innovation, and technology - some of which are the biggest names in their industries (Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, Ushahidi, universities like MIT and UVA) - that have the potential to shape the future of media.

Together these organizations are collaborating, competing, and driving a major transformation that will ultimately shape the way news is reported. Here are a few of the grantees that we thought you should know about:

iWitness by Adaptive Path
Award: $360,000
Ten years ago, reporters were the only people at an event with the capability to broadcast the news live – today – it’s just about everybody. When an outlet sends a camera and a reporter to cover a political uprising, it’s actually a very narrow scope of what else is being transmitted from the ground – where virtually every active participant, protestor, and observer is live-tweeting, live-streaming, facebooking and twitpic’ing the events as they unfold. The iWitness Initiative may be the key to channeling these individual broadcasts – tweets, photos, videos – so that the voice of an event is no longer the single voice of a reporter speaking on its behalf, but the true and collective voices of every person experiencing it directly.

Frontline SMS
Award: $250,000
A lack of communication can be a major barrier for non-profits and other organizations working in developing countries. FrontlineSMS is the first text messaging system created exclusively with this problem in mind – facilitating dialogues between individuals and organizations without the need for the internet. By leveraging basic tools already available to most NGOs — computers and mobile phones — FrontlineSMS enables instantaneous two-way communication on a large scale. The software platform will be expanded through its grant project with Knight to work with community radio stations and other rural journalists to further innovate how underserved countries access and distribute information.

Swiftriver, by Ushahidi
Award: $250,000
As news events unfold, mobile phones and the Internet are flooded with unfiltered information. One of the greatest challenges especially in times of crisis is figuring out how to determine the good information from the bad, the relevant from the irrelevant, the urgent from the non-urgent. Through a new platform called SwiftRiver, Ushahidi aims to verify information by parsing it and evaluating sources to make such floods of information more useful and actionable to those who need it. Working across email, Twitter, web feeds and text messages, the platform will use a combination of techniques to identify trends and evaluate information likely to be credible based on its source. The project builds on Ushahidi’s past efforts to verify the crowdsourced information collected in global crisis scenarios like the Kenyan election crisis in 2008 and the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan.

We encourage you to take a look at each of the grantees on the Knight Foundation’s website, because chances are, you’ll be seeing them soon enough. 

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