The Rita Allen Foundation Wants To Solve the Problem of "Reader Alienation." Here's How

If the old adage is true, then bad news may sell. But more often than not, it comes at a price. The constant avalanche of depressing news can make any reader throw up their arms in sheer hopelessness, accidentally knock over their grande latte, and audibly mutter, "What's the point?"

This problem is particularly acute among college kids, whose natural state, if we're to believe stodgy old sociologists, is one of inaction, alienation, and self-absorption (most notably evident in those "selfie-sticks"). Fortunately, this stereotype is inaccurate. Either way, the Rita Allen Foundation isn't taking any chances. The Princeton-based foundation recently awarded $515,000 to technology and media organizations to "support new work to build civic literacy and engagement."

The foundation's goal is three-fold. One, make meaningful information available to the public. Two, invest in people of exceptional talent and commitment. And three, support those who provide the tools and resources to develop "long-term solutions to some of society's' thorniest problems."

One recipient is the Solutions Journalism Network, which is committed to promoting "reporting that informs readers about solutions." Support from the Rita Allen Foundation is allowing the Solutions Journalism Network to investigate the impact of its approaches on reader engagement. The foundation’s grant will also fund a series of free, interactive webinars on so-called "solutions journalism" in collaboration with the Poynter Institute’s News University. The foundation is also supporting an undergraduate solutions-journalism curriculum.

Another recipient is the New York-based Harmony Institute, an interdisciplinary research center that studies the influence of media on individuals and society. Funding from the foundation will launch the institute’s media impact fellowship program. Fellows will collaborate to advance an evidence-based understanding of media’s social influence as well as prototype tools along the lines of Story Pilot, a web application the Institute created to help documentary filmmakers track the impact of their work.

Other recipients include Digital Democracy, a new online platform using technology to increase the transparency and accountability of state legislatures, and Code for America, whose fellowship program, now in its fifth year, connects talented individuals in technology and data science with local governments and citizens to create new approaches to address their communities’ challenges.