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New Voices: New Funding for 10 Innovative Citizen Media Projects

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Environmental news in the Great Lakes, communities in rural Alaska and inner-city neighborhoods in Philadelphia will be covered in 10 innovative community news experiments to receive 2006 New Voices funding, J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism announced today.

This year’s award winners not only signaled a deep desire for better hyperlocal information, they also exhibited an appetite for using cutting-edge technologies, including wikis, datacasting and Skype Internet telephone service to cover their subjects.

“New Voices has found another batch of winners: scrappy, innovative, diverse citizen journalists who are inventing new ways to generate information and ideas for their communities,” said New Voices Advisory Board member Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE at the University of Maryland. “The techniques and models they are creating will help to renew American democracy.”

This year’s winners, selected from 185 applicants, will each receive up to $17,000 for their projects. Overall, New Voices has received 428 proposals from around the United States in the program’s first 15 months, said Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab, which administers the New Voices program.

New guidelines will be issued for next year. The 2007 deadline will be Feb. 12.

“I am most struck by the widespread feeling among these communities – whether they are geographic communities or interest communities – that they are being ignored by mainstream media,” said Thomas Kunkel, dean of UMD’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, where J-Lab is based. “I am equally struck by their determination to rectify that themselves, and the creative ways they are doing that. The great democratizing of media is under way, and there is no turning back.”

“We’re pleased to see people turning to journalism as a solution to their problems and a way to improve community ties,” said Gary Kebbel, journalism initiatives program officer for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which funds the New Voices program.

The grant recipients will receive $12,000 in the first year to start up their projects. They will be eligible for $5,000 follow-up grants next year if they successfully launch their projects and supply matching funding.

Of particular note this year, Schaffer said, was the number of journalism schools that applied. Forty-six expressed interest in launching community news ventures—not only as laboratories for their students but also as training grounds for citizens.

“It was gratifying to see proposals that brought mainstream and student journalists and local communities together,” said Advisory Board member Bruce Koon of Knight Ridder Digital.

The 2006 New Voices grant recipients are:

  • Western Breeze: Montana’s Rural News Network, from the University of Montana School of Journalism in Missoula. The network will recruit and train residents of three rural Montana towns to report on news and information for rural Web sites and plans to locate a computer kiosk in each community to ensure access and the ability to contribute to the news.
  • Great Lakes Wiki, from Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism in East Lansing. The center will create collaborative wiki entries that describe the problems, cleanup strategies, contaminants, industries, people, health impacts and other issues related to the 43 toxic hot spots in the Great Lakes region. Student reports and research will initially populate the wiki and then community members will be solicited to add input.
  • Monroe County Radio Project, from West Virginia University in Morgantown. The project will create a news operation at WHFI-FM, a radio station licensed to the Monroe County School Board. Journalism students and faculty will train student and adult volunteer reporters to report and produce local news stories for a 15-minute daily newscast, regular monthly public affairs programming and a Web site with news and streaming audio.
  • Route 7 Report, from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University in Athens. The school will recruit and train citizens in three rural villages in Southeastern Ohio to create a monthly newsletter and a Web site to be updated weekly on local government, schools, business and organizations.
  • Learning to Finish: Solution that Leads to Graduation, from the Pew Partnership for Civic Change in Charlottesville, Va. The partnership will launch and maintain a wiki dedicated to sharing information and ideas for countering the nationwide high school drop-out crisis. Currently one-third of U.S. high school seniors, or about 500,000 students, don’t graduate on time. Initial content will come from the Pew Partnership then from civic and religious groups, parents, teachers, citizens and policy makers solicited to join a dialogue about reversing the drop-out rate.
  • MURL Building Blocks, from Temple University in Philadelphia. To partner Temple journalism students with public broadcaster, WHYY-TV, to push hyperlocal newcasts to the city’s largely Hispanic 5th Street Corridor between Lehigh and Hunting Park Avenues via WHYY’s experimental datacasting technology. The datacasts will use a discrete portion of WHYY’s digital broadcast signal to transmit information to desktop computers using small rooftop antennas. Neighborhood residents will also receive disposable digital still and video cameras and low-end audio recorders to produce multimedia content and service news. All the content will also appear on the Web sites of Temple’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab (MURL) and WHYY.
  • Creating Community Conversations, from Columbia College Chicago. This project plans to recruit and train neighborhood journalists to cover five ZIP codes in central Chicago. Columbia journalism students and citizen journalists will cover the local police district, school council, neighborhood groups, church events and businesses. Content will be edited by staff at a new citizen media start-up, Chi-town Daily News, and published on
  • One Sky Radio South Central Magazine, from Alaska Educational Radio System in Girdwood, Alaska. The system plans to launch live regional call-in and news magazine programs with caller participation via phone and Voice Over Internet telephony (VOIP) using Skype software. The news magazine will be a one to two-hour weekly program with a round-up of key regional issues. Volunteers and paid stringers will be encouraged to produce news and feature segments for the show. The program will be distributed via streaming audio to other stations in the state.
  • Ethnic News Service, from the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism (CIIJ) of San Francisco State. The center plans to create a new student-run Ethnic News Service to help provide better coverage of public affairs for the state’s 700 ethnic media outlets. CIIJ will “embed” SFSU students within community organizations to develop a series of multimedia stories on the impact of policy decisions on ethnic communities. Stories will be posted on the CIIJ Web site, and CIIJ will work with New American Media to help distribute them.
  • Federation of Community Correspondents, from WMMT, the community radio station of Appalshop, a media arts and education center in Whitesburg, Ky. This project plans to train citizens from central Appalachia in radio news production and story gathering for broadcast on radio and the Web. Appalshop will develop the project with a basic curriculum and workshop model that will cover production technology and techniques and provide instruction in basic community journalism.

The winners demonstrated both the goal of doing fact-based journalism and a realistic plan to find a way to keep the operation going after its launch.

Participating in the selection process were the New Voices Advisory Board:

  • Charles B. Fancher, president, Fancher Associates Inc., Annapolis, MD.
  • Jane Brown, executive director, Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
  • Bruce Koon, executive news editor, Knight Ridder Digital.
  • Peggy Kuhr, Knight Chair on the Press, Leadership and Community, University of Kansas, Lawrence.
  • Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE. (Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement), University of Maryland, College Park.
  • Donna M. Reed, vice president of news, Media General.
  • Gary Kebbel, journalism initiatives program officer, Knight Foundation.
  • Thomas Kunkel, dean, Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
  • Jan Schaffer, executive director, J-Lab.

Project updates will be posted at For more information,subscribe to J-Lab’s newsletter online or by emailing

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers.

J-Lab helps news organizations and citizens use new media technologies to create fresh ways for people to participate in public life. It also administers the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism and the Web site.

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