Late last month it was announced that LA’s Tiziano Project was among the winners of this year’s prestigious Knight News Challenge. The organization was awarded $200,000 to help pursue its goal of “empowering communities to tell their stories.” We spoke with Tiziano’s co-founder and executive director Jon Vidar to get the scoop about what they have planned.
Did Tiziano apply for the grant to help extend its existing work, or did you apply with something new in mind? Basically, what are you guys up to?
We applied for the Knight News Challenge specifically to expand the storytelling platform that we developed in Iraqi Kurdistan during the summer of 2010. The 360 Kurdistan — http://360.tizianoproject.org — is unique in that it combines both community and professional reporting on an equal footing and allows viewers to explore the stories in a nonlinear, immersive fashion.
With the grant funding, we are going to scale this platform providing other organizations with the ability to create 360s in the regions in which they work. We will then curate those 360s on an interactive map and build a two-way communication layer on top that will allow viewers to communicate directly with our students in conflict and post-conflict countries.
What do you look for as the end result of one of your projects? Is your goal to foster greater cultural awareness around the world among the consumers of the media you produce?
We have multiple goals with each of our projects. One of our primary being job creation in the field of new media — be it journalism or wedding photography. Of our 12 students in Iraqi Kurdistan, four of them had jobs in new media within three months of our training.
A second, but equally important goal for us is changing common perceptions of the regions in which we work. We seek to show that places like Iraq are not all death tolls and suicide bombers. There are real people, real stories, and real culture in these regions.
The Tiziano Project has its organizational roots in Los Angeles. Yet most of your projects have been abroad. Can we expect to see any local projects originating from this grant?
This grant is for technology development only and will not actually be funding in-field trainings. That said, we did recently wrap up a two-week program at the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona and are looking to develop a program in the Gulf Coast.
How many people do you have working for you? Are you all media folks, or techie folks? Tell me a little about your staff.
We are currently an all volunteer organization made up primarily of working journalists and new media experts. One of our core values is that we send actual professional journalists to teach our programs to ensure that the fundamentals of journalism are infused into the trainings.
For the team in Iraq, we made sure that we had a wide variety of skill sets on the team. This included Victoria Fine (former Managing Editor for Huffington Post Impact and Education), Grant Slater (Videographer for KPCC), Chris Mendez (Director of Interactive for KUSC and formerly Channel One News), and myself as a photojournalist. So as you can see, we had all our bases covered including writing, photography, video, and web.
For our job-seeking readers out there, are you looking to expand your roster? Or are you staffed up enough to handle these new projects in-house?
We are still considering how we are going to do the technology build out of this project. We have a few interactive agencies we have worked with in the past, but are also considering bringing someone on to develop the backend technology in-house. So if any badass developers would like to learn more, let me know. But be warned, Chris built the original 360 in part while sleeping on a mat in Iraq, so it’s not always the best conditions!
We are also always keeping a revolving list of people interested in teaching at our workshops as they come up and would be happy to provide anyone with additional info.
Despite winning the Knight grant, Tiziano is still busy fundraising to put together a Washington DC exhibit of its work abroad. More info here.
Previously on FishbowlLA: LA’s Tiziano Project Among 2011 Knight News Challenge Winners