Change From Within: The Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant For Journalism

"Creative disruption."

It's a buzzword we often hear bandied about Silicon Valley boardrooms. But the thirst for shaking up the "old guard" certainly isn't relegated to the upstarts at Uber and the like.

Take the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and its work in the field of journalism. It's supported everything from funding hacker/journalists to studying the minds of video game developers in the hopes of making better journalism leaders. Yet the foundation's overarching approach is far from nihilistic. It works within the confines of existing journalistic structures to foment—as clichéd as it may sound—change from within.

Just look at the foundation's Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation grant. Created by Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen specifically for Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication alumni working in newsrooms, the grant aims to "disrupt the status quo in journalism and stimulate new cutting-edge technologies, practices and ideas."

The four winners, who we'll look at in just one second, received grants up to $15,000. The alumni are the second group to receive this grant in the past year, with applications for the third round opening March 23.

Here are the winners, and more importantly, a brief description about how each is working to drag journalism into the 21st century:

  • Natasha Khan, a 2012 graduate who covers the environment and energy for PublicSource, will use the grant to equip families living near shale gas operations in Pennsylvania with cameras and air quality monitors to document how fracking affects quality of life.
  • Lauren Gilger, a 2011 graduate, plans to use the grant to establish a digital source database that would streamline and archive news tip submissions, making it easy for reporters to locate and manage contacts and story ideas.
  • Kerry Oslund, a 1983 graduate, will use the funding for RedPost iBeacon applications. RedPost is a "new kind of newspaper rack that is a digital display affixed atop shelves at stores."
  • Nora Avery-Page, a 2010 graduate who serves as a reporter at the Herald and News in Oregon, will use the grant to implement an augmented reality technology that merges traditional print content with new digital features.

Bottom line? Don't whip out your (metaphorical) sledgehammers just yet. This creative disruption takes place within the very traditional confines of the American university system. What's more, the winners aren't on the periphery of the journalism world, they're firmly entrenched in existing newsrooms.

Knight ultimately realizes that the best way to affect real and creatively disruptive change is to modify what's already there rather than create new systems and structures out of whole cloth. In fact, it's an approach that reminds me of Mick Jagger's half-hearted musings on revolution, circa 1968:

Hey, think the time is right for a palace revolution
Where I live the game to play is just to compromise my solution

The Knight Foundation and Mick Jagger: together at last!