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Cash in on $24-Million Knight Community Information Challenge

Got a great idea to improve how information is spread and exchanged in your local community? Then read on and see how to cash in on the five-year, $24-million Knight Community Information Challenge. In this email interview conducted by Leonard Witt, Mike Maidenberg, a former Knight Foundation VP and now project consultant, provides insider information.

Look at this interview as a benefit of reading the Why? Because the odds of having a smart proposal approved are very good. Read on.

Leonard Witt: Tell me a little about the Knight Community Information Challenge, why is Knight involved and for what end?

Mike Maidenberg: Knight Foundation is deeply interested in how information flows in physical communities. We know the power of the web in specialized fields. What we are trying to understand and experiment with is how the web can be used to tie local communities together, with the newspaper a model from the past.
Mike Maidenberg

Witt: How did newspapers do that in the past?
Mike Maidenberg: A newspaper was generally a broad-reaching media vehicle. It touched the entire geography of a region. It was wide, but often not deep. When I was a publisher, it was accurate to say the reach of the newspaper matched the community’s boundaries economically, culturally and in many other ways. Local television broadcasts also had broad distribution. I should emphasize that we see both newspapers and television still very much in the game, but their audiences are skewing older.

Witt: Sure, but the whole idea of public journalism grew because newspapers — and other mass media — were not very well connected with their communities. There were lots of people left out of the conversation, which mostly was between reporters and experts. Who wants to go back to that?
Maidenberg: There were lots of faults with the way newspapers and other mass media operated, including as you note people being left out of the conversation. But still the news columns made it possible for everyone in a community to get a sense of what is going on, what the problems and challenges are. A newspaper could report on educational attainment gaps, job losses, use of public monies for arenas, etc. If there is no general platform on which a conversation in the community can be held, that is a matter of concern.

We don’t see an online newspaper emerging that will replicate the print product. We do see lots of interesting ideas emerging. We don’t know the answers. We do want to encourage experimentation. One way is through the community foundation initiative.

Witt: You say, “One way is through the community foundation initiative.” There are now so many Knight challenges — news and information initiatives — it is hard to keep them straight. What’s that about, why so many? Why not just seek folks out with good idea and give them the money?
Maidenberg: Yes, there are several challenges, but each has a strategic focus. A few minutes on the web site will help. We are in fact seeking folks out, but we are doing it by asking for proposals and ideas from all parts of society.

Witt: Can you give us a hint of the kind of ideas that might hit the jackpot with this initiative?
Maidenberg: Does the idea show that a community foundation is experimenting with the information needs of its community? Does the community foundation accept information as a core community need? Does the proposal by the community foundation show that the community foundation is exercising community leadership?

These are the principles we will be looking at. The specifics will certainly vary community by community. Blogging, digital connectivity, digital mapping—these ideas and more have been suggested. But it will depend on how they fit within every community and community foundation.

In the community foundation initiative, requests for grant support will come from community foundations, who in turn will deal with new ideas, organizations, individuals, coalitions, etc.

Witt: Okay, let’s try this a little differently. Is there a community foundation that you or Knight now thinks is doing an exemplary job of fostering or facilitating the exchange of information across its community? Do you have some kind of ideal in mind?/em>
Maidenberg: We see many community foundations active in the area, but none that have reached far enough to be an ideal. That’s what we are trying to bring forth. I personally don’t know that there will be a single ideal or model. More than likely it will vary by community. The important thing is that a community foundation is engaged with information, considering it as important as housing, education, jobs, etc.

Witt: I want to get back to this: You said, “In the community foundation initiative, requests for grant support will come from community foundations, who in turn will deal with new ideas, organizations, individuals, coalitions, etc. ” So how do you see this working? Do you foresee community foundations coming up with great ideas and then seeking partners, or people and local institutions with great ideas banging on community foundation doors and trying to work a deal that begins with a proposal to this Knight challenge?
Maidenberg: We held a media seminar in February this year which attracted 70+ community foundations. They got a grounding in how the media is changing, and the speed of change. We see some of these community foundations, and others, proposing ideas. It will work all the better if people and local institutions bang on community foundation doors. So both ways are possible. But the proposals need to come from community foundations.

Witt: Hmmm, 70+ community foundations. Wow, I like those odds. So do you see elaborate proposals let’s say like an online information exchange built on complicated software or more simple stuff like teaching folks in the community how to use video cameras and make their own news?
Maidenberg: As always, there will be a range. We’ve heard of some community foundations thinking about elaborate digital public squares, but others are considering how to get more coverage of education, and would like to have an education reporter stationed somewhere to talk about issues. What we are most confident of is that Knight Foundation in Miami cannot figure out what will work best in a particular community. The best ideas, big or small, will come from the community itself.

Witt: Great information, so what did I forget to ask that will help community foundations, institutions or individuals understand this better?
Maidenberg: You covered all the key questions. I would only emphasize again the importance of going to the web site, looking at the information there, especially the FAQ.

One Response to “Cash in on $24-Million Knight Community Information Challenge”

  1. Knight Foundation Blog » Mike Maidenberg Interviewed By Leonard Witt On Knight Community Information Challenge Says:

    [...] Witt posted an interview today with Knight Foundation consultant Mike Maidenberg on the new Knight Community Information [...]