Knight News Challenge Gives Away $5 Million On Tumblr

The 2012 Knight News Challenge is looking for a few good journalism projects to receive $5 million in funding… but applicants share their ideas with Tumblr’s user base.


The Knight Foundation, one of America’s best known journalism non-profits, is holding their sixth annual Knight News Challenge (KNC). Journalists, publications, web sites and media organizations worldwide have until March 17 to submit ideas for innovative news projects. Winners will receive grants, zero-interest loans, and investments from an approximately $5 million purse at the Knight Foundation will disburse. The catch? In order to apply, journalists are encouraged to post their ideas on Tumblr for the world to see.

Applications to the KNC are submitted via Tumblr–they include a short description of the potential project, who’s behind it, and how the project would be funded post-Knight. As of March 2, over 40 projects have been submitted. The Knight Foundation began accepting project proposals on February 27; Vice President for Journalism and Media Innovation Michael Maness tells Fast Company that Tumblr lowered the barrier for entry and that the public application method encouraged applicants to share their ideas.

The theme of this year’s KNC is networks. Promotional materials obtained by Fast Company mentioned “networks” in terms of the Tea Party, flash mobs, the Arab Spring, the British summer riots, and the Occupy Wall Street movement–”ideas that build on the rise of these existing network events and tools–that deliver news and information and extend our understanding of the phenomenon.” Maness also noted that most of the Knight Foundation’s 2011 winners integrated networks into their projects.

There are several interesting project proposals among this year’s crop. Journalists worldwide have pitched ideas such as a widgets to embed news stories in iBooks and Kindle ebooks, an Excel-based mapping tool for social media crowds, reputationware for journalists and news providers, and a seed project for student newspapers in Eastern Europe. Applicants include a healthy mix of journalists, activists, entrepreneurs, and community figures.

Several previous KNC winners have been featured in Fast Company, including FrontlineSMS, Nextdrop, and MobileActive.

The network news challenge is one of three that the Knight Foundation’s holding this year. Two more news challenges–with different themes–will be held throughout 2012. All will disburse funds from the same $5 million purse. According to Maness, the total fund amount will hover around $5 million and can be raised or lowered as circumstances dictate. This triple news challenge arrangement is new for Knight; the foundation just held one larger competition in previous years.


First round winners will be announced on June 18th at MIT. Between four and six award winners are expected to be named; funding will be given in the form of grants, zero-interest loans, and investments.

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Email Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, here or find him on Twitter and Google+.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that all applicants had to post their submissions on Tumblr. The Knight Foundation encourages all applicants to make their submissions public, but will keep proposals off their Tumblr upon request. Fast Company regrets the error.