If the Knight Foundation didn't exist, someone would have to invent it.
This week the organization that is doing so much to advance the cause of innovation in journalism unveiled its list of a dozen winners of the Knight News Challenge, a contest that "funds ideas that use digital technology to inform specific geographic communities." Not all the winners are focused on geographic applications (one proposes to combine reports from journalists embedded in Afghanistan with Facebook updates from soldiers in the field), but there are some innovative ideas in the group that will get enough funding to at least get off the ground. The best part is that the winners of the $2.74 million in grant money must make their inventions freely available.
You can read all the details at the page linked to above or watch the short video below, which quickly covers each project. What we like about all these ideas is that they're doable with today's technology (several are live today) and they bring focus to the overused concept of "citizen journalism." Most are also oriented toward leveraging geographic communities, which is where newspaper publishers absolutely must focus. We particularly like these brainstorms:
Local Wiki Based on Davis, Calif.'s DavisWiki.org, this application of the free-form social software lets members create their own community Wikipedias. It's a tried-and-true concept, and the grant will help make the customized software available to news organizations and community publishers.
WindyCitizen's Real Time Ads - This new form of online advertising constantly changes, showing stuff like tweets and Facebook updates from the advertiser's site. Adding informational value to ads is a great way to enhance their appeal. Perhaps Google is right that banner ads are due for a comeback.
GoMap Riga Lets anyone create live, online maps of local news and activities. GoMap Riga pulls content from the Web and places it on a map. Residents can then add their own news media and comments. There's a mobile and social network integration dimension as well. Riga, Latvia will be the test bed. Lucky dogs.
Front Porch Forum This site is already active in 25 Vermont towns; the grant will help expand it to 250. The developer calls it "a virtual town hall space, helps residents share and discuss local news, build community and increase engagement." Not flashy, but eminently practical with today's technology.
CitySeed Kind of like FourSquare, only with a purpose. This idea was hatched by the team of a professor and a recent graduate of Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, CitySeed lets people plant and share geographically based ideas. So if you think the city should tear down this eyesore of an abandoned building on the corner of Elm and Main, you can geotag the spot and debate the idea.
Tilemapping Another geo-application, Tilemapping enables publishers to create data-filled maps for websites and blogs. We're not exactly clear what this will look like, but map-based mashups will be critical to hyper-local journalism.