It’s impossible to talk about the future of journalism without mentioning the Knight Foundation’s support of creative projects, with everything from a media startup accelerator to a mobile news challenge. The foundation’s Prototype Fund, announced in 2012, gives $50,000 each to media project ideas that are too early-stage to scale—the riskier projects, in other words, that still have some learning to do before they build out, if they do at all.
This week, the Knight Foundation announced eight new projects that will receive funding from the Prototype Fund (15 have been funded so far). It’s a diverse bunch. "We’re looking at new models to help communities become informed, we’re looking for new journalism tools but we’re also looking at other ways that people get information," says Chris Barr, who runs the Prototype Fund. "There’s a thread of the OpenGov movement happening within these grants, there’s a thread of journalism tools, and then there’s a sort of 'and beyond’ category where we’re trying really unique ideas in how we deal with information and data across the board."
The three ideas in the civic and government category are Hollaback, a mobile app that lets people report street harassment to cities; eCitizens, which lets users subscribe to get alerts when their local government is making changes that are important to them; and a community crime watch portal from the North Central Texas Council of Government that’s updated in real-time with law enforcement data. The latter project already has working software.
In the journalism tools category, the Knight Foundation is funding a tool from the Associated Press that combines data with geographic sets; the OpenGenderTracking Project by Bocoup, which evaluates the gender balance in news stories; and the Rashomon Project, which lets journalists put together video of breaking news in chronological order.
The final two projects are wildcards. The LAMP online video editor lets students remix copyrighted materials for a media literacy class, and Data Toys is "literally building toys that help us explore data sets of various types," says Barr. "The notion is that we’ve done a lot of fantastic work in the last few years around data visualization, and this is sort of data physicalization—figuring out whether there are types of games and 3-D ways that we can play with data and explore data in ways that a 2-D interface doesn’t allow us to do."
It’s possible—probable, even—that a decent number of these projects will never get off the ground. But failure is part of the point. "The idea here is to put more ideas in the pipeline, test them through a smaller amount of funding, and identify which ones have a lot of potential. The ones that fail also give us a really great learning opportunity," says Barr.