ONA Announces 12 Winners of $35,000 Challenge Grants
Ed Kelley, Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation, presents awards.
April 5, 2014

AJR is the publishing partner for the Journalism Interactive 2014 conference, being held April 4 and 5 in College Park, Md.

Twelve universities won $35,000 grants Friday in the inaugural year of the $1 million Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education.

The program, administered by the Online News Association,  was set up by a consortium of foundations to foster a “teaching hospital model” of journalism through live news experiments. Organizers  announced the winners during the first day of the Journalism Interactive 2014 conference at the College Park, Md., Marriott Hotel & Conference Center.

The Knight Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Ethics & Excellence Journalism Foundation and the Democracy Fund contributed to the challenge fund.

After sorting through 125 applications, ONA operations director Irving Washington said the organizers had such difficulty choosing just 10 winners that they expanded the pool to 12. They expected about 40 applications.

“It tripled our expectations,” Washington said. “We were really amazed by the type of projects that people proposed and submitted.”

From the fundraising to announcing the winners Friday, Washington said, the process was “a collaboration from top to bottom.”

Two things have happened to make now the right time for this fund, ONA Executive Director Jane McDonnell said.

“Journalists are much more open to collaborating with those outside their news outlet and their community,” McDonnell said. “And I also think that educators are, to a certain extent, frustrated by the challenges they face on a daily basis.”

With bureaucracy and outdated theories bogging down journalism education, ONA’s directors wanted to intervene to help today’s “digital natives” learn the journalism skills to wield that technology correctly, she said.

For the funders, helping these universities develop programs that have never been tried before was fundamental.

“Experimentation in journalism is essential to our mission,” said Michael Bolden, Knight Foundation editorial director. “There’s absolutely no reason for things to be static.”

The Knight Foundation seeks to help send young journalists into the world to cover news in what it calls the “teaching hospital model,” inspired by a digital book from Knight’s Eric Newton.  That model helps students and professors learn and grow by treating student journalists like resident nurses who work directly in the field instead of simply learning about it, Bolden said, and Knight supports such efforts through awards like these. 

“Otherwise, you come out of J-school and you’re not prepared for what the world is,” he said.

The funders also named 13 honorable mentions because they were so impressed with the field and wanted to encourage even those who didn’t receive grants to continue their digital efforts, organizers said.

“Everybody can’t win the first time around,” Bolden said. “It’s intended that this will go on for a while.”

Challenge Fund awards ceremony at JiConf 2014.

Funders of the Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education at the awards ceremony at Journalism Interactive 2014. Left to right: Tom Glaisyer, Democracy Fund; Clark Bell, McCormick Foundation; Ed Kelley, Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation; Jesse Garnier, San Francisco State University; Michael Bolden, Knight Foundation; Irving Washington, Online News Association. By Joanna Nurmis/AJR.

Below, the full list of winners,  provided by ONA.

Arizona State University

“Finding the Middle Ground”

Will early engagement with advocacy groups on opposing sides of a controversial issue, gun control improve dialogue and reshape media coverage?

CUNY Graduate School of Journalism

“Hack the Mold”

Will providing in-person and online engagement allow residents in New York City public housing to report on mold and improve cleanup efforts? 

Florida International University

“Sea Level Rise South Florida”

Can data feeds, “crowd hydrology,” student-led journalism and support from public TV increase community engagement on rising sea levels?

Georgia Collaborative

“Georgia News Lab”

Can an ambitious collaborative of schools and major local news outlets increase newsroom diversity by training digitally savvy investigative reporters?

San Diego State University

“What’s in the Air”

Will using electronic sensors to monitor air quality in San Diego better inform the public on pollution and its impact?

San Francisco State University


Can a mobile- and web-based organizing tool improve reporting and get student journalists into the field more quickly?

Texas State University


Can music journalism break out of routine story forms, uncover unheard voices and untold tales and be more useful in new forms to the community?

University of Illinois


Can openly mapping a city’s often invisible social media conversations change the nature of journalism in that community?

University of Missouri

“The Town Square”

Can television public affairs programming be reinvented by basing it on social media conversations?

University of New Mexico

“New Mexico News Port”

Can a student-powered lab and publishing platform that curates content from a collaborative hub increase news in New Mexico?

University of Oklahoma

“Talk With Us”

Can mobile video and GIS data create conversations in Oklahoma City between low-income residents and area leaders to put poverty on the agenda?

University of Wisconsin-Madison

“The Confluence”

Can a statewide investigative collaborative use digital tools and volunteer monitoring to increase the impact of journalism on improving water quality?

And honorable mentions:

American University

Columbia College

DePaul University

El Paso Community College

Emerson College

Howard University

Mercer University

Middle Tennessee State University

University of Kansas

University of Minnesota


Virginia Commonwealth University

West Virginia University 


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