Solutions Journalism Network Wins Knight Foundation’s News Challenge Grant

SJNThe Knight Foundation announced the winners of their News Challenge this week at the Clinton Health Matters conference in La Quinta, California.

Seven projects won a total of $2.2 million dollars to carry their project through and also receive “human centered design training” at the Luma Institute this month. Each News Challenge has focused on a different theme, and this year it was health.

Michael Maness, VP of Journalism and Media Innovation, says the theme of health came about after analyzing the results of previous challenges and projects:

…data applications and actual programs around health had a higher participation rate than other topics like environmental issues or malfeasance in local government. We saw that with health information people were more wiling to engage with it rather than something more esoteric… one of our goals was to get people aware of how powerful data can be as a tool and how applications can benefit them. You can think about it as the first step of many steps in getting people to get used to this and see how important the data is. It can be a real entry way to understand the impact of digital data on their lives.

Among the winners that you can read about here, is the Solutions Journalism Network for a project called “Positive Deviance Journalism,” which will focus in coaching newsrooms, in collaboration with the Institute of Health and Metrics at the University of Washington, to read data sets and find stories focusing on positive results.

Knight News Challenge: Health winners from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

The Solutions Journalism Network, founded by Tina Rosenberg, David Bornstein, and Courtney Martin just over a year ago, is about helping journalists and newsrooms to change the way they report on solutions. Rosenberg says journalists tend to “only look for the bad actor, and we coach newsrooms to look for the positive outlier and then see if there’s a story there…there are models for solving problems and it’s important to cover this with the same degree of seriousness and rigor as we cover the problems.”

For the Positive Deviance project, this means using the Knight Foundation money to partner with newsrooms and teach them how to scan data sets to answer these questions, as well as money for travel to cover the stories. The California Healthcare Foundation has also awarded them a grant to focus on California-based solutions. The Institute for Health and Metrics will act as the “data concierge” for reporters, in getting them the “exact piece of data” needed for a story, says Rosenberg.

The SJN project is the only News Challenge winner that’s, technically at least, directly related to journalism, by teaching a new mindset and method. But Maness says all the winners will eventually affect the industry:

Our goal at the end of the day is for you to be able to be in a community and get the information to determine who to vote for, where you’re living, all of that. And if the data exists, journalists can do stories about it. And as we see the decline of newsrooms and the number of people working in the newsrooms in particular — it used to be someone pulling pages of paper for a story, now we can say, here’s the database you can use for the story and explore those things. All of the projects enable a citizen or a journalist to engage with information and hopefully create a narrative about it.

You can read more about SOJO here and check out some examples. The line between fluff “positive” features and solutions journalism isn’t as thin as you might think. Do you have any good ledes for the partnering newsrooms as they start looking for Positive Deviance?




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