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New Voices Invests in Eight Hyperlocal News Sites

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Eight hyperlocal community media projects from across the United States have been selected as this year’s New Voices grant winners. Each will receive up to $25,000 in start-up funding over the next two years.

The winners were selected from 304 applicants, J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism announced today. With this year’s projects, a total of 48 community news start-ups have been funded from 1,249 entries since 2005.

The 2009 winners proposed frequently updated and robust sites generated by a diverse mix of content contributors. All the projects focus on geographic communities. Most will operate under the auspices of journalism professionals.

“Particularly notable among this year’s winners is a deep understanding of what it will take to launch a hyperlocal site and regularly refresh content. They also had great familiarity with digital media tools,” said Jan Schaffer, director of J-Lab, which administers the New Voices program at American University’s School of Communication.

The awards were increased this year so that grant winners will receive $17,000 in the first year to launch their projects and $8,000 in matching support in the second year. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funds the New Voices program.

“What we can learn from the 48 New Voices community news experiments is all the more important in light of newspaper closings across the country,” said Gary Kebbel, Knight’s journalism program officer.

Added Bruce Koon, News Director of KQED radio and a New Voices Advisory Board member: “With all the anxiety about the future of journalism and news outlets, these projects are a breath of fresh air because of their creativity and commitment to serving communities. They’re providing valuable lessons for the future.”

The 2009 New Voices grantees are:

  • – Wayne State University’s journalism program has recruited more than 20 displaced, retired and otherwise available professional journalists to write and edit content from citizen contributors and online journalism students at WSU and the University of Michigan-Dearborn for a full-service news and information site about Detroit’s five Grosse Pointes. Professionals have pledged $20,000 in seed money to support the first year of the program. The site will receive a 30 percent commission on all advertising sold by a 35-year-old, highly successful community directory called “The Little Blue Book.”
  • Oakland Local – A daily-updated Web site and mobile service will be created to cover Oakland, Calif., with a focus on environment, climate, transportation, housing, local government and community activism in Downtown, Uptown, North Oakland, West Oakland, Fruitvale, Lake Merritt, and the Dimond District. An editor, publisher and three paid part-time reporters will produce content, as will citizen contributors. The site will geotag content to an XML data map, encourage users to interact via cell phones and employ a range of social networking tools.
  • Backyard News – A former newspaper reporter and founder of the Linglestown (Pa.) Gazette will expand his model to develop a network of four to six independently operated hyperlocal Web sites, to be updated daily, for communities in suburban Harrisburg, Pa. Backyard News will seek joint ventures to provide local content for the region’s daily newspaper and radio and TV stations. The project will also work to deliver content to cell phones.
  • Maryland School Information Mapping (M-SIM) – Towson University’s Center for Geographic Information Sciences will partner with the online public policy site to create a Web tool that will combine Maryland Department of Education data with user-friendly geomapping. M-SIM will give parents, educators, policymakers and journalists data and news about K-12 schools at the local, county and state level, and M-SIM maps will complement news and commentary written by Commons staff and citizen journalists.
  • Intersections: The South Los Angeles Reporting Project – The Annenberg School at the University of Southern California will spearhead the creation of a community news Web site for a region that is home to African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and immigrants. The project will use multimedia reporting by journalism students, community residents and community leaders and will focus on education, economic development, housing and immigration. Project leaders will target print and broadcast outlets that might also use Intersection stories. They will also work with student-run Annenberg Radio and Television News and will partner with Mobile Voices, a USC Annenberg storytelling platform designed to help low-wage immigrants develop mobile media skills.
  • The Austin Bulldog – A longtime Austin journalist, founder of a monthly magazine and political newsletter, will create a daily-updated Web site for public-interest and investigative reporting, using both professional journalists and input from citizens. The site will also synthesize outside news stories in addition to posting original reporting and commentary. Readers will be encouraged to submit tips and their own commentary.
  • New Era Media – A Boulder, Colo., foundation will start a blog site covering Colorado news and politics aimed at young people. Initial content will come from 10 citizen contributors (ages 17-30), who will research, develop and post stories. Community contributions will also be invited. In addition, the site will develop feeds that can be posted to Facebook profiles and other social networking applications.
  • The Villager, News and Notes from Coconut Grove West – A University of Miami visual journalism professor will launch a community news site for one of Florida’s oldest, but newly gentrifying, communities. News stories and visual documentaries will be generated by partners, which include journalism students, the Coconut Grove Collaborative (, the CG Homeowners Association (HOATA), a local health clinic and local residents.

Participating in this year’s selection were New Voices Advisory Board members:

  • Charles B. Fancher, president, Fancher Associates Inc.
  • Jane Brown, executive director, Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
  • Bill Gannon, director of online production and programming, Lucasfilm Ltd.
  • Bruce Koon, news director, KQED public radio, San Francisco.
  • Peggy Kuhr, dean, University of Montana School of Journalism.
  • Michele McLellan, associate, Knight Digital Media Center.
  • Ju-Don Roberts, managing editor,
  • Rose Ann Robertson, associate dean, student and academic affairs, American University School of Communication.
  • Jan Schaffer, executive director, J-Lab.

Track the progress of New Voices grantees online at, where quarterly updates, news and features are posted. Follow other citizen media developments at the Knight Citizen News Network (

About Knight Foundation  The John S. and James L. Knight Foundationpromotes journalism excellence worldwide and invests in the vitality of the U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950 the foundation has granted more than $400 million to advance journalism quality and freedom of expression. Knight Foundation focuses on ideas and projects that create transformational change. To learn more, visit

About J-Lab  J-Lab helps news organizations and citizens use digital technologies to develop new ways for people to participate in public life. It also administers the Knight Citizen News Network (, the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism,, and the McCormick New Media Women Entrepreneurs initiative (

About American University’s School of Communication  American University’s School of Communication is a laboratory for professional education, communication research and innovative production in the fields of journalism, film and media arts and public communication, working across media platforms and with a focus on public affairs and public service.

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