John Bracken, Knight Foundation

TITLE: Director of Journalism and Media Innovation

FUNDING AREAS: Journalism, media

CONTACT:, 305-979-8689

IP TAKE: Bracken one of the most innovative leaders in the modern philanthropy scene, and he just happens to have an interest in start-up companies. As long as your journalism or media program is forward-thinking, you don't necessarily need to have a full resume under your belt to catch his attention.

PROFILE: There aren't many foundations in the Bay Area that are dedicated to journalism and media causes. However, the Knight Foundation is exactly that, and it makes a lot of sense considering that the founding donors were in the newspaper industry. Although the Knight Foundation operates both nationally and internationally, it focuses on cities like San Francisco, where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Across these cities, journalism and media innovation are the top priority, and John Bracken is the man in charge.

In addition to serving as Knight's director for the journalism and media innovation program, he also oversees the Knight News Challenge and Knight's prototype fund, as well as the foundation's other journalism and technology investments. Bracken focuses his department's grantmaking on three principles: media innovation, journalistic excellence, and freedom of expression. He's led the foundation to invest in digital literacy, broadband access, and investigative reporting. Bracken's role carries a lot of weight, since Knight is one of the largest journalism funder in the United States. This is also one of the few philanthropies that continues to put money into journalists' rights, freedom of information, and open government initiatives.

Although much work is being done in the Bay Area, Bracken is a resident of Chicago and works in Miami. He's no stranger to the philanthropy scene, having previous worked at the Ford Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation. Always active on the news and tech scene, Bracken is a regular presenter at technology and media conferences around the country and works as an advisor for start-up companies in the Chicago area. Before he got started in the industry, Bracken received his bachelor's from Pitzer College in Claremont, California, a master's degree from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and completed a fellowship at Leadership Greater Chicago.

It's easy to get to know Bracken on a virtual level because he writes for the Knight Foundation blog and publishes his own personal blog. On the foundation blog, Bracken comes across concerned about government interaction, community collaboration, new innovations in media sharing. On his personal blog, he lays out his thoughts about everything from movies he's watched to bike sharing programs and travel tips. He appreciates bipartisan efforts and organizations that can work with diverse political groups. He also appreciates transparency in both government and philanthropy, commenting that, "I think we're seeing a trend moving beyond transparency for transparency's sake."

In an interview with Martin Belam of Hacks/Hackers London, Bracken shared a bit about the venture capital approach that his foundation takes to help grantees out with necessities like branding, accounting, and human resources. He stated that the foundation likes to work with early stage projects, but realizes that while many of these projects in the “venture zone” will fail, the learning process is what's important.

Given Knight's dedication to early-stage media companies and Bracken's continued interest start-ups, new media organizations have some great opportunities for funding. Since 1950, Knight has funded more than a thousand journalism and media grants, totaling over $454 million. There are actually six distinct categories within this program area that cover broad topics like journalism education, media access, and freedom of expression. The foundation has reached out to top universities around the country and found leading journalists who are now tenured professors to be chairmen and chairwomen. For more information about Knight's journalism grants, browse through the list of past grantees and scope out the grant application instructions.


Knight News Challenge 2011: A Q and A with John Bracken from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.