CMS and Media Lab Get Knight Grant to Start a Center for Future Civic Media

The John and James L. Knight Foundation announced today that the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and the Media Lab would receive a grant of $5 Million over the next four years to create and operate a Center for Future Civic Media (C4FCM). The money comes as part of a new initiative the foundation has launched to deploy new media technologies to foster greater civic engagement. Here are some excerpts from the press release announcing the award:

MIT, MTV, top young computer programmers and bloggers are among the 25 first-year winners of the Knight News Challenge, announced today at the Editor & Publisher/ Mediaweek Interactive Media Conference and Trade Show in Miami.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funded the contest with $25 million over five years to help lead journalism into its digital future.

The first-year winners all proposed innovative ideas for using digital news and information to build and bind community in specific geographic areas.

* The Media Lab and Comparative Media Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology receive $5 million to create a Center for Future Civic Media to develop, test and study new forms of high-tech community news.

* Journalist/web developer Adrian Holovaty, creator of, receives $1.1 million to create a series of city-specific web sites devoted to public records and hyperlocal information.

* VillageSoup in Maine receives $885,000 to build free software to allow others to replicate the citizen journalism and community participation site VillageSoup.

* MTV receives $700,000 to establish a Knight Mobile Youth Journalist (Knight "MyJos") in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia to report weekly - on cell phones, and other media - on key issues including the environment, 2008 presidential election and sexual health.

* Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism receives $639,000 for nine full journalism scholarships for students with undergraduate degrees in computer science.

* The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University receives $552,000 to create an incubator where students will learn how to create and launch digital media products.

18 more winners receive prizes between $25,000 and $340,000. Nine bloggers will receive grants of $15,000 each to blog about topics ranging from GPS tracking devices to out-of-the-box community publishing solutions. All winners will maintain blogs about their projects.

Says Alberto Ibarguen, Knight Foundation's President and CEO: "We want to spur discovery of how digital platforms can be used to disseminate news and information on a timely basis within a defined geographic space, and thereby build and bind community. That's what newspapers and local television stations used to do in the 20th century, and it's something that our communities still need today. The contest was open--and will stay open next year--to anyone anywhere in the world because 'community' is something we all can define."

Background on the winning entries:


With its $5 million Knight News Challenge award to the Media Lab and the Comparative Media Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Knight Foundation teams up with one of world's premier technological innovators. MIT will create a Center for Future Civic Media to test and investigate civic media in local communities. The center pairs the technological innovation of the Media Lab with the social and cultural expertise of the Comparative Media Studies Program.

"We are moving to a Fifth Estate where everyone is able to pool their knowledge, share experience and expertise, and speak truth to power," says Chris Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Cheek-sent-me-hi), MIT's director of the Computing Culture Research Group, who will lead the center as co-director, together with Henry Jenkins, co-director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program. Says Jenkins: "We now have more than a decade's worth of research into the kinds of online communities which emerge within networked cultures. With this project, we seek to draw on that research to strengthen people's ties to their own local communities." The Center will develop new theories, techniques, technologies and practices that support and foster community news and civic engagement. "All good journalists worry about what the digital revolution is doing to the news citizens need to run their communities and their lives. Now, the awesome array of science and technology at MIT will focus on this question. From their experiments we expect to see a new generation of useful community news technology and technique," says Eric Newton, Knight Foundation's vice president/journalism program.

...The Knight News Challenge is open to anyone. Applications for the 2007 Knight News Challenge round can be submitted at starting July 1. Application deadline will be Oct. 15.

I am personally looking forward to the partnership with the MIT Media Lab. I have joked through the years that I should have "outside reader, Media Lab" printed on my business cards because of all of the times I have served on thesis and dissertation committees within the Lab, starting within days of my arrival at MIT 16 years ago. I co-edited From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games with Justine Cassell when she was part of the Lab's faculty. But this will be the first formal research collaboration between the two groups.

It gives me a chance to work closely with Chris Csikszentmihalyi and Mitchell Resnick, two faculty members in the Lab, who I have known and respected for many years. Together, we are going to create a new research center which will host events designed to showcase the best practices among community leaders and educators working in the emerging field of civic media and transmit their perspectives via blogs and podcasts; we will be drawing on those insights to inform the design and deployment of a range of new technologies and practices which are designed to help people in communities learn more about their local governments, get to know their neighbors, and form new social relations; we will be taking those technologies and practices into the field to test them in communities across the country; and we will be running training programs to help spread these ideas even further.

By civic media, we don't simply mean citizen journalism, though clearly that is part of what Knight sees as our mandate. We mean all kinds of practices which bring community members together and give them a reason to interact with each other. We have ideas for projects that effect groups as diverse as high school journalists, senior citizens, and new immigrant populations.

We are very grateful for the support of the Knight Foundation which will give us a chance to put some of our ideas about civic media into action. We hope we can make a difference on the ground -- where people live -- and through these efforts, further realize the vision of "applied humanities" that has been a core ideal of the Comparative Media Studies Program since its inception.

There's a great deal more to tell about this new initiative and I will be sharing information here in the weeks and months ahead.