Innovating philanthropy while innovating media: thoughts from the Knight News Challenge review

Reposted from the original on The Knight Foundation Blog.

Raina Kumra, CEO of Juggernaut and co-director of innovation for the BBG (along with Robert Bole), was one of 19 readers who helped decide which of the 52 projects moved to the next round of the Knight News Challenge on networks. Here, she provides her thoughts on trends that emerged from the entries considered.

Knight’s News Challenge is one of the few events in the foundation world that I can think of that makes foundation funds accessible to real people with big and small ideas. This was my first time as a reviewer for the News Challenge (its sixth one to date) and I walked away with an appreciation for each of the ideas put forth, as well as the design of the challenge itself.

rainaThis challenge had over 1,000 submissions. That’s an indication alone that there are few mechanisms in the foundation world that are as widely publicized and instantly accessible for those looking at apps that help media help people. The reviewers were made up of an impressive and diverse group of journalists and other media-centric folk including: Olivia Ma from YouTube, Ethan Zuckerman from MIT’s Center for Civic Media and Harvard’s Berkman Center and Dan Greene from the Gates Foundation to name a few. Lucky for us, the Knight team along with another group of advisors whittled down the entries to about 50 for us to review before the full day session began.

Since the focus of this round of the challenge was networks, a variety of themes emerged from the proposals we reviewed:

·      Truth and Verification were big. Many entries proposed solutions to a long standing and increasingly relevant issue with digital sources and distribution.

·      Another more mature problem that many newsrooms need to tackle is that of the social media dashboard, and there were a slew of entries on that topic. Many of these ideas were well developed, and some had great commercial potential.

·      There were some solid entries looking at sensor based networks and automated data gathering for the news, and for community monitoring of public services or the environment. All very cool and so good to see the arduino being referenced so heavily in so many pitches.

·      Countering homophily was another frequent and interesting topic this year, and there were some great suggestions on how to make news less biased and the curation of news more balanced.

·      A few entries approached the theme of networks in the more traditional way: looking at demographic slices of people i.e. women, environmentalists, or residents of a single city and pitching tools that help strengthen these networks, to collaborate and communicate more effectively.

Working at an international media agency, I am on the constant hunt for projects that can be deployed globally – but there were so many compelling, hyper-local entries that it was really refreshing to think about single community impact without its potential for scale. With my consultant hat on though, I could see so many new startup ideas having their first walk down the aisle. Nascent teams and seedlings of relevant and useful ideas that could eventually grow to scale were given an early debut. There are few arenas for ideas – outside of Kickstarter and the crowdfunding platforms that followed it – that offer pre-flight funding and support like the News Challenge does for ideas that don’t necessarily fit into a typical grant framework.

Knight Foundation also designed the News Challenge to be a feeder for other types of capital and funding, including small and large investments, which I think is smart since philanthropy can only go so far on its own. The News Challenge seems to be a really interesting feeder to some of Knight’s successful investments such as Snag Films, Next Drop and Front Porch Forum.

The News Challenge also informs other aspects of Knight’s journalism grantmaking. Projects like Voice of San Diego, MinnPost.com and The Texas Tribune, although not News Challenge winners themselves, were funded in part because in the second year of its challenge, Knight saw a large amount of entries proposing community news sites. Although the projects weren’t innovative enough to fund through the challenge, the foundation felt there was a definite need for them in local communities and decided to find the most promising models to support.

After a day and a half chatting with my fellow reviewers, I’m even more certain the solutions that newsrooms need won’t be coming from the newsrooms themselves. The News Challenge’s meta theme of networks has provided a smart first funnel for innovation in news and philanthropy, by creating opportunities for news consumers, thinkers, tweakers and hackers to help media evolve.

How Satire Can Save the World

Co-authored with Paula Goldman and originally posted on Huffington Post

You’re an activist in Kenya. You’re mad about corruption in your country — with hundreds of millions of dollars meant to aid people in poverty being siphoned off by greedy officials. You want to speak out, but worry that doing so might put your life in danger.

What should you do?

If you’re like us, hopelessly addicted to checking our smartphones every two seconds, you may think the answer is obvious: Use technology to spread the message. Post your thoughts to Twitter and Facebook and hope that others will follow suit. But of course that only works in a free media environment.

If you’re Gado, Kenya’s best known cartoonist, you’d take a more creative route [because you have to]… involving puppets. Gado was inspired by well-known British and French satire shows Spitting Image and Les Guigons, both of which use latex puppets to poke fun at political absurdities. For six seasons, he’s been producing fifteen-minute episodes of The XYZ Show — broadcast on Kenya’s most popular television channel, and featuring likenesses of everyone from Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki to Barack Obama.

The results have been tremendous, with millions of dedicated fans tuning in each week (and more than a few ruffled feathers amongst Kenyan officials).

Parazit, which is billed as the “Iranian Daily Show” and shot nowhere near Tehran, but in the Voice of America building in Washington, D.C., still reaches millions of Iranians, despite extensive jamming and a heavily censored Internet. The creators of Parazit, Saman Arbabi and Kambiz Hosseini, have, for the past three seasons, delivered important humor to the Iranian people — often using the very footage the Iranian government broadcasts daily on its state run television, as well as footage sent by Iranians from around the world. The Iranian government has attempted a copycat version of the show. Arbabi is currently unveiling his latest project, Weapons of Mouse Destruction, which is an international art and advocacy project against government Internet censorship.

Gado and the Parazit team are far from alone. In some of the world’s most dangerous, politically-stifled geographies — from Azerbaijan to Russia — activists are using comedy to say publicly what would otherwise be unspeakable.

This is not new; political satire is as old as the Greeks. It’s just that we’ve partly lost sight of it in our enthusiasm for new gadgets and gizmos that we’re convinced are the next panacea.

In all the recent debates about whether social media was responsible for movements like the Arab spring or the Tea Part, we’ve forgotten that sometimes humor matters more than the straight news and information, especially in closed media environments. Those who have the ability to make fun of their leaders have the ability to lead a free life in many more aspects.

Here are six key examples from around the world to demonstrate how satire can move the needle on difficult issues that are otherwise unmovable.


Full slideshow available on Huffington Post

UCLA Lecture @ Dept. Of Information Studies

I was asked by UCLA professor Ramesh Srinivasan to come share my thoughts on public space, public data and public content creation. I gave a talk starting with public space, and expanded the definition to eventually include public data and an analysis of how these elements effect our creativity. A dialogue about how much time we spend in our screen environments and ‘actual’ public space soon ensued. I haven’t given too much thought lately about how much time I spend on the screen and facebook and my other screenbased activities – but I have noticed how its truly affecting my creativity. In fact, after a hike or a swim, I feel back at the level of creativity where I was when I was a kid – so I highly encourage you to get outside before you delve too deep into the public ‘web’ spaces. Its just not the same thought creation process you’d get from the organic world.

Here are some slides from the lecture:

How the Arduino will save the World

Back in the day when I was learning physical computing, I never thought about using it beyond anything but art and practical jokes, but the power to manufacture from your own hand-made prototypes and send them out as real viable products in the world, is simply amazing. This is the best type of DIY.

Hello open-source hardware with open source software on it, that anyone can do anything with. Hello creative commons licensing that gives respect to the creators with out limiting creativity from others.
“I hear the sound of a thousand business models crumbling,” says the Clive Thompson.

Why I love this article: 1) My favorite professor ever Tom Igoe is quoted in here about brands. And I love what he says, he sounds a bit like Eric Schmidt.
2) The arduino and things like this could really start a revolution in Africa, and not just mesh networks, but for seriously life enhancing communication tools.
See here:
http://www.wired.com/techbiz/startups/magazine/16-11/ff_openmanufacturing