Micro-Grants Aim to Transform How Journalism Is Taught

Beginning with its "Carnegie Knight Initiative for the Future of Journalism Education" in 2011, the John S. and James Knight Foundation has been dragging the "legacy" journalism world into the 21st century by promoting the "teaching hospital" model for journalism education. Rather than stick a professor in front of a hundred students, this model embraces a collaborative, incubator-like approach where small groups embrace social media, new technologies, and "hacker-journalism."

The foundation recently announced a $4 million grant to Knight-Mozilla OpenNews to promote this approach, and now, just a few weeks later, it's in the news again. The foundation, along with the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, and the Democracy Fund have pledged a $1 million challenge encouraging universities to further the development of teaching hospital models in journalism education. University journalism departments and students alike should pay close attention.

Whereas the previous gift to Knight-Mozilla OpenNews strictly funded collaborative meetings and workshops, this new endeavor, dubbed the "Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education," will allocate micro-grants of as much as $35,000 each to produce 15 to 25 student-created projects during the next two years. In other words, the teaching hospital method will yield multiple outputs. The founding funders (that has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?) have committed $850,000 to launch the project, and additional funders are expected to join next year, to bring the total to at least $1 million.

Teams of students will be selected based on the strength of their ideas for bridging the "professor-professional gap." They'll then go off with faculty and, under the teaching hospital model, come back with their findings. Bear in mind, these findings will not, for example, expose corruption in Washington or Wall Street insider trading. Rather, the projects aim to fundamentally improve the actual craft of conducting journalism. The competition will culminate in at least one grand prize for the project "most likely to change either local news gathering, journalism education or both." A second overall prize will be given for the best project evaluation, regardless of the experiment's outcome.

Full contest rules and application forms will be unveiled in November for projects to be completed either in the summer of 2014 or the 2014-2015 academic year.

Ultimately, the Knight Foundation is putting its money where its mouth is. (See IP's Knight Foundation fundraising guide.) For years, it has embraced the teaching hospital model for journalism education and funded workshops that promote this approach. Now it's taking its support a step further, funding teams of journalism students who, under this model, will create projects that can revolutionize the journalism industry itself.