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New Voices Invests In Nine Community News Projects

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Nine promising community news projects from across the U.S. have been selected as this year’s New Voices grant winners. Each can receive up to $25,000 to launch a news initiative and work to sustain it over the next two years, J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism announced today.

The projects plan to engage their communities in diverse ways – from producing stories in Baltimore neighborhoods, to creating a crowdsourcing platform to report stories in Vermont and covering Maine’s troubled fishing communities. Funding will launch news sites to cover an endangered river district in Charlotte, immigrant communities in Lincoln, Neb., urban communities in Newark, Princeton and San Jose, and government and politics in the State of Washington.

“This year’s winners presented striking analyses of the information needs in their communities.  All had plans to meet those needs with digital toolkits that involve mobile devices, social media and the Web,” said Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab, which administers the New Voices program at American University’s School of Communication. “Notable this year is the growing presence of independent professional journalists seeking to fill the information gaps in their communities in new ways.”

Grant winners are eligible to receive $17,000 in the first year to launch their projects and $8,000 in matching support in the second year. The goal is to experiment with new models for sustainability. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funds the New Voices program.

“In the digital age, you don’t need a lot of money to provide useful, helpful news and information,” said Eric Newton, vice president of the journalism program at Knight Foundation. “Some of these websites will be sustained by universities. Others by volunteers. Still others by local donors or advertisers. These new efforts are an important part of the evolution of local media ecosystems. The Knight Commission for the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy spoke to this issue. There are 30,000 villages, burgs, towns, districts, counties and cities in America. There are not 30,000 newspapers in America. Never were, never will be. But there could be 30,000 websites.”

This year’s winners were selected from a competitive field of 284 applicants. Including the new grantees, a total of 55 community start-ups have been funded from 1,533 entries since 2005. Of the 46 projects that have already launched over the last five years, 30, or 65 percent, are still going strong, five are working to launch or re-launch, and 11 did not continue after the two-year grant cycle.

The 2010 New Voices grantees are:


  • Essex County Community Media – In the first New Voices project at a community college, Essex County College in Newark, NJ, will operate a year-round news operation to report on issues in the state’s largest city. Journalism students will develop a website, using mobile and social media tools, and the college will conduct, for a fee, training workshops to help community residents contribute. Local advertising and grants will be sought. Content will be aired on local radio stations and the school’s educational access channel and offered to other local media.
  • Landings: Celebrating Fishing Heritage, Informing on Fishing Changes – The Maine Lobstermen’s Association will hire freelance writers and work with students, bloggers, state officials and readers to cover Maine’s hard-hit fishing communities. The site will provide updates for the state’s six coastal regions on such issues as conservation efforts, new regulations, lobster prices and bait and fuel costs. The project will seek to sustain itself from donors, business members and advertisers.
  • Morgan MoJo Lab – Students at Baltimore’s historically black Morgan State University will serve as mobile digital journalists, using video and audio podcasts to focus on community issues in Northeast Baltimore. The university will also conduct, for a fee, training workshops to help community residents contribute. Content will be offered to local newspaper and television stations.
  • NeighborWeb – A former Mercury News journalist will build a San Jose community news site on the framework of the 10-year-old Strong Neighborhoods Initiative. She will train residents in each of the 19 improvement areas to contribute stories, videos and photos. She will also offer breaking news about projects and City Hall decisions that affect neighborhoods. Future support will be sought from foundations, advertising and the local university.
  • River District News – A former Charlotte Observer journalist will spearhead a news and information website about a community-driven environmental makeover of the endangered Catawba River District near Charlotte, N.C. Content will come from volunteers, freelancers, and involved groups such as the local parks and recreation department, agricultural extension service and the energy company. Future support is expected from federal environmental sustainability grants, and a fee-based certification program to acknowledge energy-efficient construction and environmentally protective landscaping.
  • Lincoln’s New Voices – Lincoln, Neb., has witnessed 24 percent growth in ethnic minorities and immigrants in recent years. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Journalism College will explore the information needs of these new ethnic communities and work with mobile technology and web design teams to develop a news initiative to reach them. Content will come from students, community members and high school students from immigrant families.  Future support is expected from the university and foundation grants.
  • Tipster at –  This news start-up covering Vermont plans to build a crowdsourcing platform called Tipster to help develop stories. Using Tipster, readers and reporters will collaborate and exchange information to build in-depth reports. Future support is expected from business and college sponsorships.
  • AllPrinceton – Plans for a news hub for Princeton Borough and Township will first focus on public meetings, schools and development issues and then expand to include social, cultural and commercial areas. Donna Liu, a former CNN producer who founded an online news channel at Princeton University will lead the project, based at Princeton Community TV. Future support will be sought from community-based sponsors and advertising.
  • Olympia Newswire – In a matter of weeks from concept to launch, this site emerged earlier this year as an interim news source covering an emergency legislative session in Washington state. The site now will re-launch as an ongoing source of in-depth state capitol reporting by freelancers, with original opinion pieces. Future support is expected from private donors and foundations.

This year’s grantees were selected by an Advisory Board. It included Jane Brown, executive director, Robert W. Deutsch Foundation; Charles B. Fancher, president, Fancher Associates Inc.; 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; Mary Lou Fulton, program manager, The California Endowment; Larry Kirkman, dean, and Lynne Perri, journalist in residence, American University School of Communication; Gary Kebbel, former journalism program director, and Jose Zamora, journalism associate, Knight Foundation; Jan Schaffer, executive director, J-Lab.

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

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950, the foundation has granted more than $400 million to advance quality journalism and freedom of expression. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed, engaged communities and lead to transformational change. For more, visit

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.

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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