Will Glass, a graduate student researching mass communication technology design, has been helping with the Social Media News Challenge. He wrote this guest post, advising students on how to apply for grants under the program.
I’ve been in contact with the head of the Knight Foundation, Alberto Ibarguen — the guy who gave the Manship School this grant money — since I met him in 2013.
Presenting my research ideas to him helped to secure that grant, and because he thought my ideas showed promise, he sent me to MIT to attend the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference The Open Internet . . . and Everything After. And just last week, Alberto— again, the guy who gave us this money— asked me to send him my research when it’s finished so he could read it.
I’m not disclosing these facts as a boast. I’m telling you that I know what the Knight Foundation wants to see. I can tell you how to get one of these grants.
First, do not look to the first round of winners as templates. Every one of those ideas has now already been done. In 2005, when Alberto started at the Knight Foundation, he famously trashed the rules of the Knight News Challenge— without reading them — saying, “I don’t want any rules. Because if we make rules, we’ll get all the people … with ideas that match our idea of what the future of news should be. The whole point of the News Challenge is to bring in all those people and ideas out there that we don’t know anything about.”
Alberto is the kind of person who wants trailblazers and innovators. He wants to change the world for the better using the brainpower of all of our brightest young minds. That’s you.
But if you do need a source of inspiration other than your own noggin, look to the research that the foundation is pumping millions of dollars into. At MIT I watched Alberto give out almost $3.5 million dollars to 19 projects to find ways to strengthen the open Internet. In 2013, he gave out almost $2.5 million to projects that “harness mobile technology to inform and engage communities.”
None of these previous projects can be templates — they’ve now already been done. But they can be inspiration. Look at the kinds of problems they solve, and more than that, look at how they solve them. This is what will get you that money. Make yourself and your idea into something that solves a problem in a way that no one has ever thought of before.
Take your boxes and unfold them. Alberto and the Knight foundation are not afraid of failure — they are afraid of stasis. If you come up with a new idea, an outlandish idea, a truly creative idea, the Social Media News Challenge will fund your work. The Knight Foundation and the Manship School are willing to invest in ideas that might fail as long as they are innovative — really innovative. Tell them you’ve got an idea to use Snapchat to crowdsource a cure for cancer — but mean it, and have a plan to execute it.
Come up with an idea no one but you could come up with. It is important to be passionate. It is important to use technology. It is important to make something that impacts the community positively. Most of the submissions will have those three qualities.
The ones that get picked will have a fourth quality: Alberto and the Knight Foundation couldn’t have thought of it without you. Recall that quote: “I don’t want any rules. Because if we make rules, we’ll get all the people … with ideas that match our idea of what the future of news should be. The whole point of the News Challenge is to bring in all those people and ideas out there that we don’t know anything about.” Read that article.
You want some money to pursue a creative idea? It’s as simple as opening your mind and getting a little weird. Don’t be afraid of failure. Someone is throwing cash into the air — reach for it.
I am friendly, and I am more than available to talk with you about your ideas. I’d be happy to answer questions or tell you what I think about your idea via email or in person. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next Social Media News Challenge grants will be awarded in early September. Manship School of Mass Communication students who are returning in the fall are encouraged to talk before leaving for the summer to Will and/or me (email@example.com, 704-474-0382, Journalism Building 117B) to discuss your ideas.