Expansion of ‘Curious City’ among five prototype projects backed by Knight

By Erica Sánchez-Vázquez

The Knight Foundation’s Prototype Fund awarded grants to five media projects that will develop new technology tools for journalists.

Four of the five grantees are rooted in public media and the fifth is a local nonprofit news organization. Each winner will receive up to $50,000 to support the creation of experimental tools that help improve storytelling and reporting. The fund, created last year, “helps innovators take their project from idea to demo,” according to the Knight’s announcement.

Grantees include Atlantic Public Media’s Transom.org; PBS.org’s MediaShift; Curious City, a participatory journalism project headquartered at Chicago’s WBEZ; American Public Media and Raleigh Public Record, an online news organization covering Raleigh, N.C..

Curious City, which launched as a co-production between WBEZ and the CPB-backed Localore, will receive $50,000 to improve its online platform and create an open source code so that other stations can incorporate it into their own newsrooms. The Curious City website allows users to suggest and vote on local news topics that they want journalists to investigate. Since the site’s launch in May 2012, the team has received hundreds of questions from the Chicago community.

About 15 stations from around the country have expressed interest in implementing this model of content creation, according to Jennifer Brandel, project leader. Curious City will partner with software designers ThoughtWorks to make the platform more intuitive for editors and producers, as well as more adaptable to different uses, Brandel explained.

“We’re really excited about the idea of homegrown projects in stations and sharing them in the public media landscape,” she commented.

Two other grantees will create tools to facilitate research and analysis. American Public Media will receive $50,000 to investigate the possibilities for developing an open-source software application that can perform full-text search of audio files. Raleigh Public Record aims to create software that converts PDF image files of electronic forms into structured data that can be used in spreadsheets. This will permit journalists and other interested parties to analyze and sort data from documents such as financial reports.

Fellow grantee Transom.org, the online community and resource for public radio producers, will explore new models for creating online courseware for journalists with its $47,700 grant. The website currently offers tools, lessons, discussions and workshops for journalists to further build their reporting and production skills.

Finally, PBS Media Shift’s prototype, CollabMatch, will create an online platform connecting media professionals who share similar interests, with the purpose of fostering collaborations. “For example, an investigative journalist covering immigration in Texas might find another journalist covering immigration in Arizona,” reads the press release. The organization received $49,000 to develop this project.

The Prototype Fund is in its second year of grants. Including these new projects, the Foundation has funded 20 media prototypes, which can be viewed on the organization’s website.

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