Knight Foundation Expands Neighborhood News Project

By: E&P Staff

At the June 17 Future of News and Civic Media Conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced three interrelated projects to facilitate news organizations’ presentation of local data and news content on a neighborhood basis by using sophisticated Web-based technology.

The projects aim to simplify and speed adoption of open-source code from a previous Knight-funded project, That $1 million online journalism experiment offers geographically relevant news feeds on public records, news articles and other content for every block in 16 cities. Field tests, the foundation said, proved that hyper-local civic data can be aggregated by hundreds of thousands of citizens wanting to better understand their neighborhoods by seeing everything from crime reports to restaurant inspections on easy-to-read maps.

The new OpenBlock software will be developed by the New York-based non-profit OpenPlans and installed at The Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune and the Boston Globe. The Tribune will use OpenBlock as a stand-alone website, while the Globe will test widget integration.

OpenPlans received a $235,000 grant over two years to streamline and extend code and build a community of developers and newspapers. The Daily Tribune was awarded $90,500 to install, test and add features for a smaller newspaper. The Globe’s $133,125 contract calls for the same work in the context of a larger paper.

Knight Foundation projects have resulted in new tools used by hundreds of news organizations and 200-plus community news experiments. Many ideas driving the work result from the Knight News Challenge and the Knight Community Information Challenge – contests informed by the Knight Commission for the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.

“The digital age is turning journalism upside down and inside out. Definitions of news are changing. What was once the “police blotter” is now a clickable map. What were once listings of civic data in small, hard-to-read type are now easy to see graphics sorted by neighborhood,” said Eric Newton, vice president of journalism for Knight Foundation. “This kind of civic data is the clay from which the bricks of news are made, and software that media organizations everywhere can use to display it is the goal of the OpenBlock Initiative.”

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