Knight News Challenge: $5 Million for Your Tech Ideas

Got a big tech idea? You can win up to $5 million to fund your project, thanks to the Knight News Challenge if your idea uses open source digital technology to give people in your community access to news or information. The neat things about it are that anyone can apply and even a far out idea can win!

But first, some background:

The People Behind the Knight News Challenge

The Knight News Challenge is a contest run by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (yes, the Knight half of the Knight Ridder media company, one of the largest newspaper publishers in the United States). The Foundation realizes that there is a significant shift going on: people used to rely on newspapers to get information, especially about their communities. Now, they are increasingly using the Web and cell phones to connect to the world (for example, virtual communities spring up every day) - but something is lacking: that connection to their local communities where they live and work.

By having this contest, the Knight Foundation wants to help you, dear budding inventor, use digital technology to improve the lives of people living in physical communities. And they have the greenbacks to take your invention from the drawing board to reality (Heck, their motto is "You Invent It. We Fund It!")

The Challenge in a Nutshell

So what kinds of ideas are eligible? In their website, The Knight News Challenge outlines the criteria:

» Your big idea has to use open source, digital technology
» It has to be innovative - no copying what has been done before (and blogging about your local school board won't cut it!)
» The idea is to give people access to news and information in a timely manner
» ... and thus help build communities or create a sense of community among people
» Lastly, it should work in a specific geographical area, which can be as small as your city block or as large as a state.

That said, the rest is open-wide: you* can submit any ideas, ranging from online journalism games to cell phone documentaries to a new operating system for news junkies. And according to people behind the contest – and I quote - "Nothing is too far out to qualify."

(* and by "you," the Foundation really means anyone: tech professionals, students, nonprofits, and even for-profit companies - basically individuals of any age and anywhere in the world. If you're 25 years of age or younger, you are eligible for the Young Creators Award, with potentially better odds of winning.)

The first step of the Challenge is easy: submit the essence of your ideas online at If the Foundation thinks it shows promise, then you'll be asked to write a full proposal.

Support for Open Source

Another neat thing about the Knight News Challenge is their support for the open source movement: the "inner working" of what you create will be transparent and visible to the world, so others can improve upon it.

The Foundation even takes advantage of the open source principle for the Challenge's submission process: you can mark your submission as "Open" which allows Internet users to read and give feedback on your proposal.

Past Winners

If you need inspiration (and some convincing that they're serious about the contest), check out some of the past winners of the 2006 Knight News Challenge:

Adrian Holovaty
Project: EveryBlock
Award: $1,100,000

Journalist and web developer Adrian Holovaty submitted his idea to create an open-source software that links databases to allow city dwellers learn about, and hopefully act on, local news and information in their neighborhood.

Adrian said that the goal was "to create an easy way to answer the question: 'What is happening around me?'"

Gail Robinson of Gotham Gazette
Project: NY News Games
Award: $250,000

Gail Robinson wanted to entice New Yorkers to learn about and solve their city's problems by developing games about them. Gotham Gazette would track what solutions the players develop and relay those ideas to city officials.

Gail's goal for the games was that "[they] will let New Yorkers solve problems, not just read about them."

Lisa Williams of Placeblogger
Project: Placeblogger
Award: $222,000

Lisa William's project, Placeblogger, connects blogs that focus on local news (called placeblogs) under one "web" roof. Right now, Internet users can search for information and blogs that focus on the town they live in on the website.

With the Knight Foundation's help, Lisa wanted to make it easier for people to find blogs and information about their cities and neighborhoods, by promoting "universal geotagging" in blogs.

Paul Grabowicz
Project: Oakland Jazz Scene Game
Award: $60,000

Paul Grabowicz of UC Berkeley, wanted to recreate the once vibrant jazz and blues club scene in Oakland, California, as an online game and virtual world. Paul envisioned the game to allow players to experience the club scene in its heyday in the 1940s and 1950s, before redevelopment and urban decay took hold.

Besides fun and good music, Paul's goal was to "reconnect residents of a community to their history and cultural heritage through video game technology and storytelling."

Check out the Knight News Challenge

So, if you have a million-dollar tech idea, or if you have a local project that fits the bill and needs resources to be developed, check out the Knight News Challenge. Who knows? You may just be the next winner! (But hurry up, contest deadline is October 15, 2007!)

Note: This review is sponsored by Public Interest. Although I am compensated for this review, the words and opinion are all mine. There was no editorial pressure to write only positive reviews. Indeed, I have submitted my own big idea (crossing my fingers here!) and wholeheartedly suggest you do the same.

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