Chris Sopher, Knight Foundation

TITLE: Journalism Program Associate

FUNDING AREAS: Journalism

CONTACT: sopher@knightfoundation.org, 703-801-8706

IP TAKE: Younger people know that they should be more civically engaged, but for a variety of reasons feel alienated or uncomfortable with the current venues available to them to do so. The media industry could go some distance toward fixing this disconnect if they could exercise more audience sensitivity. The changing needs of younger users "have to drive the kinds of things that we design," Sopher says.

PROFILE: Chris Sopher became a program associate at Knight Foundation's Journalism & Media Innovation program in March of 2012. He oversees grants focused on open government and open information, as well as managing the Knight News Challenge.  He previously worked on election grants and media policy issues for the foundation.

Sopher earned a bachelor's degree in public policy analysis and political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was a Morehead-Cain and Truman Scholar and focused on the way in which young people interact with media.

In his career, he started as a journalist himself, first winning $300 for work he did as editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper. In 2009, he interned at American Prospect, where he wrote several articles like this one and this one that mark the developmental stages of ideas he currently espouses at Knight. 

His first big project at Knight Foundation was Fantasy Election, "a game modeled on fantasy football but built around the 2012 presidential and congressional races." Knight collaborated with MTV, the Get Schooled Foundation, and a handful of media companies to promote and incentivize it with prizes. Over the remainder of inaugural 2012 year with Knight, Sopher's program invested in a series of other, clever politics- and media-oriented projects. Another example is the SuperPAC App, which allows iPhone users to point their phone at any presidential campaign ad, use sound identification technology to identify it, and find out information regarding who or what funded it. SuperPAC also provides an interactive discussion component, allowing users to post their thoughts about a particular ad.

As illustrated above, here is the running theme among the type of things Knight wants to fund: Novel digital projects that take into account the way in which "people remain informed citizens, connected with one another and in discussion about the issues around them."

In May 2014, within Sopher's new focus on open government and open information within journalism, Knight Foundation awarded the Wesleyan Media Project nearly $75,000 to track and analyze broadcast ads aired in the 2014 election campaigns as a means of enhancing transparency in elections.

Overall, Knight awarded $27.5 million in grants out of its Journalism and Media Innovation program in 2013. On the low end, journalism and media grants ranged from between $7,000 and $20,000. On the high end, they ranged from $1 million up to over $4 million. However, most grants stayed between these two extremes at around $100,000 to $500,000.

During a short talk he gave, Sopher offers a few more insights about what he is inclined to support as an officer at Knight. Many of the current attempts to get younger people more engaged in civic life, Sopher argues, "tend focus on the wrong problem, which is trying to convince young people that it's really important to read the news."

Sopher clearly values creative thinking.  He is also the Founder of WhereBy.Us, which launched in March 2013 and uses creative workshopping to help people build innovative ideas and tap the power of collaborative creativity.

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