Not so long ago, journalists were playing catch-up in the digital media space. But at this year’s MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference, it’s become evident that journalism 2.0 is growing up.

Alberto Ibargüen, CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, today announced the winners of the Knight News Challenge at the annual conference held in Cambridge, Mass. This year, the contest focused on four categories: Mobile, Authenticity, Sustainability and Community, and winners ran the gamut from popular tools like DocumentCloud to a mobile platform that will help people in Hubli-Dharwad, India find out when water is available.

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Alberto Ibargüen announces this year’s Knight News Challenge winners. Photo courtesy of Dan Schultz

The contest, which is in its fifth year, funds innovators in media who are helping to transform the future of community news. This year Knight awarded 16 grants totaling $4.7 million, up considerably from the $2.7 million awarded to 12 winners last year. Winners also pulled in bigger awards overall, bolstered in part by Google’s contribution of $1 million to the News Challenge prize funds. The search giant wasn’t involved in choosing the winners.

Here’s the full rundown on the award grantees. The winners will be blogging about their projects here on Idea Lab, so you’ll be able to learn more about them as they post updates.

iWitness
Award: $360,000
Winner: Jesse James Garrett, Adaptive Path
Web URL: http://www.adaptivepath.com

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Jesse James Garrett

Twitter: @AdaptivePath
Location: San Francisco
Summary: To bridge the gap between traditional and citizen media, iWitness will create a web-based tool that aggregates user-generated content from social media during big news events. Whether a parade or protest, election or earthquake, iWitness will display photos, videos and messages in an easy-to-browse interface. Created by a premier web design firm, iWitness will make it easier to cross-reference first-person accounts with journalistic reporting, opening up new avenues for storytelling, fact-checking and connecting people to events in their communities.

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Overview
Award: $459,000
Winner: Jonathan Stray, The Associated Press
Web URL: http://www.ap.org
Twitter: @jonathanstray
Location: New York
Summary: Overview is a tool to help journalists find stories in large amounts of data by cleaning, visualizing and interactively exploring large document and data sets. Whether from government transparency initiatives, leaks or freedom of information requests, journalists are drowning in more documents than they can ever hope to read. There are good tools for searching within large document sets for names and key words, but that doesn’t help find stories journalists are not looking for. Overview will display relationships among topics, people, places and dates to help journalists to answer the question, “What’s in there?” The goal is an interactive system where computers do the visualization, while a human guides the exploration — plus documentation and training to make this capability available to anyone who needs it.

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The Awesome Foundation: News Taskforce
Award: $244,000
Winner: Tim Hwang, The Awesome Foundation
Web URL: http://www.awesomefoundation.org
Twitter: @higherawesome
Location: Boston
Summary: To experiment with a new funding model for local journalism, The Awesome Foundation: News Taskforce will bring together 10 to 15 community leaders and media innovators in Detroit and two other cities to provide $1,000 microgrants to innovative journalism and civic media projects. By encouraging pilot projects, prototypes, events and social entrepreneurial ventures, the News Taskforce will encourage a wide swathe of the community to experiment with creative solutions to their information needs.

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PANDA
Award: $150,000
Winner: Brian Boyer, Chicago Tribune
Web URL: http://blog.apps.chicagotribune.com/
Twitter: @pandaproject
Location: Chicago
Summary: To help news organizations better use public information, the PANDA Project, in partnership with Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE), the Chicago Tribune and The Spokane Spokesman-Review, will build a set of open-source, web-based tools that make it easier for journalists to use and analyze data. While national news organizations often have the staff and know-how to handle federal data, smaller news organizations are at a disadvantage. City and state data are messier, and newsroom staff often lack the tools to use it. PANDA will work with tools like Google Refine to find relationships among data sets and improve data sets for use by others. PANDA will be simple to deploy, allowing newsrooms without software developers on staff to integrate it into their work.

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DocumentCloud Reader Annotations
Award: $320,000
Winner: Aron Pilhofer, Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE)
Web URL: http://www.documentcloud.org
Twitter: @documentcloud
Location: Columbia, Mo.
Summary: A 2009 Knight News Challenge winner, DocumentCloud helps journalists analyze, annotate and publish original source documents. Hundreds of newsrooms are already using the tool. With this grant, DocumentCloud will develop a new feature allowing newsrooms to invite public participation in annotating and commenting on source documents. The tool will help newsrooms involve their readers in the news and improve DocumentCloud as a journalistic tool and investigative reporting resource.

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FrontlineSMS
Award: $250,000
Winner: Sean McDonald, The Kiwanja Foundation
Web URL: http://www.frontlinesms.com
Twitter: @frontlinesms
Location: Palo Alto, Calif.
Summary: FrontlineSMS: Media will create a new platform that allows journalists to more effectively use text messaging to inform and engage rural communities. The Frontline SMS platform already enables users in underserved areas to organize interactions with large numbers of people via text messages, a laptop and a mobile phone — without the need for the Internet. This grant will enable FrontlineSMS to expand its software platform and work with community radio stations and other rural journalists.

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Kara Oehler

Zeega
Award: $420,000
Winner: Kara Oehler, Media and Place Productions
Web URL: http://www.zeega.org
Twitter: @karaoehler
Location: Cambridge, Mass.
Summary: To help tell rich multimedia stories, Zeega will improve its open-source HTML5 platform for creating collaborative and interactive documentaries. By using Zeega, anyone can create immersive, participatory multimedia projects that seamlessly combine original content with photos, videos, text, audio and maps from across the web. With this grant, Zeega will expand their experimental prototype to work on web, tablet and mobile devices and pilot a series of collaborative and interactive documentary projects with news organizations, journalists and communities across the globe.

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The State Decoded
Award: $165,000
Winner: Waldo Jaquith, The Miller Center Foundation
Web URL: http://www.statedecoded.com
Twitter: @waldojaquith
Location: Charlottesville, Va.
Summary: The State Decoded will be a platform that displays state codes, court decisions and information from legislative tracking services to make government more understandable to the average citizen. While many state codes are already online, they lack context and clarity. With an improved layout, embeddable definitions of legal terms, Google News and Twitter integration, and an open API for state codes, this project aims to make important laws the centerpiece of media coverage.

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Poderopedia
Award: $200,000
Winner: Miguel Paz, El Mostrador
Web URL: http://poderopedia.com
Twitter: @poderopedia
Location: Santiago, Chile
Summary: To promote greater transparency in Chile, Poderopedia (Powerpedia) will be an editorial and crowdsourced database that highlights the links among the country’s elite. Using data visualization, the site will investigate and illustrate the connections among people, companies and institutions, shedding light on any conflicts of interests. Crowdsourced information will be vetted by professional journalists before it is posted. Entries will include an editorial overview, a relationship map and links to the sources of information.

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Nextdrop
Award: $375,000
Winner: Anu Sridharan, NextDrop
Web URL: http://www.nextdrop.org
Twitter: @NextDrop
Location: Berkeley, Calif., and Hubli-Dharwad, India
Summary: To develop a new way of disseminating critical community information, NextDrop will launch a service, in conjunction with local utilities, that notifies residents of Hubli, Karnataka, India when water is available. NextDrop will work with water utility employees who operate the valves that control the infrequent flow of water. The service will notify neighborhood residents via text when the water is turned on. This system will be replicable in any community as a way to distribute all types of community information.

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Spending Stories
Award: $250,000
Winner: Martin Keegan, Open Knowledge Foundation
Web URL: http://okfn.org
Twitter: @okfn
Location: Cambridge, England
Summary: News stories about government finances are common, but readers often find it challenging to place the numbers in perspective. Spending Stories will contextualize such news pieces by tying them to the data on which they are based. For example, a story on City Hall spending could be annotated with details on budget trends and related stories from other news outlets. The effort will be driven by a combination of machine-automated analysis and verification by users interested in public spending.

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The Public Laboratory
Award: $500,000
Winner: Jeffrey Warren, The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science
Web URL: http://www.publiclaboratory.org
Twitter: @publiclaboratory
Location: Cambridge, Mass.
Summary: To make technology work for communities, The Public Laboratory will create a tool kit and online community for citizen-based, grassroots data gathering and research. The Lab is an expansion of Grassroots Mapping — a project originated at the Center for Future Civic Media at MIT. During the project, residents used helium-filled balloons and digital cameras to generate high-resolution “satellite” maps gauging the extent of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill — at a time when there was little public information on the subject. Expanding the tool kit beyond aerial mapping, Public Laboratory will work with communities, both online and offline, to produce information about their surroundings.

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ScraperWiki
Award: $280,000
Winner: Francis Irving, ScraperWiki
Web URL: http://scraperwiki.com/
Twitter: @scraperwiki
Location: Liverpool, England
Summary: ScraperWiki.com provides a way to make it easier to collect information from across the web from diverse sources. The site helps anyone freely create “scrapers” to collect, store and publish public data, and make it freely available for anyone to use. As such, the site provides journalists with updated, aggregated data that allows them to produce richer stories and data visualizations. This grant will add a “data on demand” feature where journalists can request data sets and be notified of changes in data that might be newsworthy, and data embargos that will keep information private until a story breaks. To accelerate the adoption of the platform, the U.K.-based site will host “journalism data camps” in 12 U.S. states.

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Tiziano 360
Award: $200,000
Winner: Jon Vidar, The Tiziano Project
Web URL: http://360.tizianoproject.org
Twitter: @tizianoproject
Location: Los Angeles
Summary: Using visually dynamic, multimedia storytelling, the Tiziano Project provides communities with the equipment, training and web platform needed to report on stories that affect their residents’ lives. Tiziano will build an improved platform based on the award-winning project 360 Kurdistan. Using HTML5, the platform will display the work of professional and community journalists and will enable news organizations, community groups and individuals to easily manage digital content for mobile and tablet devices. The project will also build an interactive map to serve as a hub for projects developing similar sites in their communities and enable direct communication between these communities and their audiences.

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Ryan Thornburg

OpenBlock Rural
Award: $275,000
Winner: Ryan Thornburg, University of North Carolina
Web URL: http://jomc.unc.edu
Twitter: @rtburg
Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.
Summary: Rural news organizations often struggle to move into the digital age because they lack the staff to make public data digestible. OpenBlock Rural will work with local governments and community newspapers in North Carolina to collect, aggregate and publish government data, including crime and real estate reports, restaurant inspections and school ratings. In addition, the project aims to improve small local papers’ technical expertise and provide a new way to generate revenue.

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SwiftRiver
Award: $250,000
Winner: Jon Gosier, Ushahidi
Web URL: http://ushahidi.com
Twitter: @ushahidi
Location: Orlando, Fla.
Summary: As news events unfold, mobile phones and the Internet are flooded with information. Through the SwiftRiver platform, Ushahidi will attempt to verify this information by parsing it and evaluating sources. Working across email, Twitter, web feeds and text messages, the platform will use a combination of techniques to identify trends and evaluate the information based on the creator’s reputation. 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.

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What do you think about this year’s winning projects? Share your thoughts in the comments section.


> MIT Lesson: Change Happens Everywhere; Activists Need to Think It Through by Dan Schultz

> At MIT Knight Confab, Public Activism Looms Large by Martin Moore

> The New News Paradigm: Pivot or Perish by Tom Grasty