Got truth? Knight offers $1 million for ideas to promote 'real' news

It’s literally a $1 million question.

At a time when honest, factual journalism is under attack and the internet is flooded with fake news, the Knight Foundation and two partners have issued an open call for ideas on how to improve the flow of accurate information to the public.

The drive for solutions will provide up to 20 people with $50,000 grants to create prototypes of their proposals.

“It’s a response to the spread of misinformation online, the impact of social-media echo chambers, our distrust of the media,” said Jennifer Preston, the Knight Foundation's vice president for journalism. “What’s happened is, we’ve lost our ability to share a common set of facts. You need that to foster a constructive civic debate.”

The Knight Foundation, the Washington-based Democracy Fund, and the Rita Allen Foundation in Princeton are seeking new ideas from technologists, journalists, designers, teachers and researchers, from those working in nonprofits, for-profits, and startups — from all who think they know a way to build trust in journalism.

Knight will run the call through its Prototype Fund, which specializes in the quick development of early-stage ideas.

Tom Glaisyer, director of the Public Square program at the Democracy Fund, said the spread of false information erodes trust in public institutions and encourages hyper-partisanship. The fund wants to help look for ideas that sort fact from fiction and promote civil dialogue, he said.

“There’s no ‘silver bullet’ solution,” Glaisyer said. “We need good journalism, and we need the public to trust it.... We want to strengthen the public square, so our political system can deliver on its promise to the American people.”

The call comes at a critical time, as President Trump has dismissed the reporting of top American news organizations as “fake news,” and the internet offers a unending reel of imagined stories and claims.

Meanwhile, mainstream U.S. newspapers and TV news programs have suffered from an erosion of advertising revenue and the migration of readers to free news sites online. The Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com, like others, have been battered by cutbacks, layoffs and shrinking revenues.

The new call seeks ideas simple or complicated — whatever looks promising. Topics can include the role of algorithms in readership, efforts to build bridges across ideological divides, and strategies to ensure that news organizations faithfully serve their communities.

It encourages responses from people who might not normally engage with foundations.

“Instead of just saying, 'We’re looking for early stage ideas to battle fake news' — that’s part of it,” Preston said. “The flip side is, 'What can we do to improve the flow of accurate information?' ... One of the problems we have in our industry is, we produce a lot of great, factual information, but we don’t always do a great job of getting it into the hands of people who need it.”

The Democracy Fund invests in change-making organizations that seek to strengthen the American democratic system, and the Rita Allen Foundation seeks breakthrough solutions to significant societal problems.

“We look forward to accelerating the diverse, collaborative new approaches that will emerge from this initiative,” said foundation president Elizabeth Good Christopherson.

Applications will be accepted until 5 p.m. April 3. Winners will be named in June. More information is available at knightfoundation.org/informed.

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