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Knight community information challenge

by: KDMC Staff |
                   Key learning
                   Journalism leadership & strategy
                   Learning partnerships
                   News entrepreneurship
                   Knight community information challenge

                   KDMC consultancy

Another group of new actors was getting involved in local news and information. Spurred by the multi-year Knight Community Information Challenge, community foundations and nonprofit partners were developing or supporting projects to boost civic information and engagement as traditional news sources faltered.

Starting in 2008, the Knight initiative provided matching grants to community and place-based foundations to demonstrate that they could further their community missions and inform and engage citizens by supporting local news and information projects.

After many in the first round of grantees struggled to focus and implement their projects quickly, the foundation asked Knight Digital Media Center to organize and program an annual boot camp for each of five subsequent groups of grantees between 2010 and 2013.

Led by Knight Circuit Riders Michele McLellan, Susan Mernit and Lisa Williams, the intensive multi-day programs were designed to help grantees move from an idea to an actual plan. Topics included a process for moving from idea to implementation, content strategy, project management tools, web development concepts, social media, mobile usage, and web metrics. 

As with the news entrepreneur boot camps, the mornings were devoted to presentations and discussions with digital expert while participants spent the afternoons in one-on-one sessions and independent research as they developed plans to be presented at the end of the boot camp.

Participants also had ample time to interact with one another, learn about projects their peers were developing, share learning and identify shared challenges.

Participants included leaders of nonprofit news sites that received funding, including The Lens in New Orleans, Vermont Digger, New Jersey Spotlight, Charlottesville Tomorrow in Virginia, and the Investigative Post in western New York. Other participants included foundation leaders, journalism academics, and nonprofit activists who were developing news and information projects with joint funding from Knight and a local foundation.

The projects were encouraged to send a team of two to the training and a few sent three.

Knight officials later credited the camps with achieving the desired impact  - accelerating implementation of projects and providing practical foundations for developing plans.

Participants noted the practical, actionable nature of the sessions.  For example: 

  • “Unlike most other conferences I’ve attended, I am walking away with several key learnings I can use right away,” one 2012 participant said.

  •   “Boot Camp was incredibly helpful for our team. We are transitioning from open data/open gov initiatives being a volunteer effort to part of our jobs, but had not had any time to really think about how that looked at ground level,” a 2013 participant said. “Even though we still have a lot of work to do on the front end, all three of us felt so great about the amount we got done, from hiring recommendations to structuring the project timeline. The access to experts was one of the most valuable program aspects for me, as I now have a better handle on the network of resources available to me.”

  •  “There were so many creative and supportive people among both the trainers and in the other projects, I didn’t want to leave and I’m excited to see and learn more from the group,” another 2013 participant said.

In 2012, based on the success of the boot camps, Knight Foundation asked the center to expand the scope of its work with community foundations and nonprofits in support of the goals of the Community Information Challenge. 

Between 2012 and 2016, KDMC staged nearly one dozen one- and two-day regional programs aimed at local foundations and their grantees, including two workshops at Knight’s annual Media Learning Seminar.

While many of the participating organizations had websites, a key goal was to expand their horizons about mobile and social platforms.

Participants later reported the workshops had improved their effectiveness with digital media, increased their strategic use of social media, and resulted in their paying more attention to mobile, including making their websites mobile responsive.

One participant, Shannon Ritchie, of AJ Fletcher Foundation, tracked her organization's social media activity for three months after a KDMC workshop, when she brought on an intern and put to work what she learned at the workshop:

  • 82 percent increase in Twitter and Facebook content
  • 36 more Twitter followers
  • 233 more interactions (responses, retweets, content sharing, etc.)
  • More than double the audience, from 321,000 to 692,000 impressions (the estimated total audience reached by original posts, retweets, comments, content sharing, etc.)

Ritchie shared news and information on policy, funding areas, grantee events and fundraisers, and community news. 

“The workshop was incredibly valuable. …I came back and decided I needed to really not hold back as much as I had been, becoming more thoughtful and strategic – and a lot more pushy, ” she said. “Our community has noticed” the ramp-up in social media activity. “The board has noticed. And we’ve gotten lots of compliments.”

In a follow up report on the 2013 and 2014 workshops, participants were nearly unanimous in saying the what they learned had made them more effective on digital media.

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