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Knight Foundation, Investigative News Network Supports Nonprofit News with Micro-grants

If not for enterprising and investigative-minded journalists, the recent George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal in New Jersey might never have been brought to light.

INN picSame goes for that stubborn NY1 reporter, whose recent relentless questioning of Staten Island Congressman Michael Grimm about campaign finance irregularities led to an on-air blowup that revealed the congressman as something of a bully.

In short, we need even more and better investigative reporting to keep government, organizations and businesses honest.

That’s why it’s heartening to report that the Knight Foundation, this time in partnership with the Investigative News Network, is stepping up once again by way of its INNovation Fund to provide $1 million to support about 30 projects during the next two years with micro-grants of up to $35,000.

The basic mission of the fund is to encourage innovation and experimentation in nonprofit news and public media organizations. Founded in 2009, the INN is a nonprofit collaborative organization comprised of more than 90 nonprofit investigative journalism outlets. The INN will select fund recipients as well as handle the management of the overall program.

“What we want to encourage are experiments to grow and diversify revenues and increase audience engagement, which in turn can be monetized,” says Marie Gilot, a media innovation associate for the Knight Foundation.

“Perhaps one organization will want to try to organize events to generate sponsorship, while another will tinker with membership models. Those are all good projects as long as the goal is sustainability,” Gilot adds.

INNovation Fund applications are open to nonprofit online news outlets and public media across the United States. The fund is part of a $5 million Knight Local Media Initiative that aims to help nonprofit news organizations establish long-term sustainability.

Kevin Davis, the CEO of INN, says that aside from established investigative nonprofits such as ProPublica and the Center for Investigative Reporting, today there are many organizations doing strong work with limited resources.

“…we are seeing a tremendous variety of business model diversification and innovation in some of the less well-funded and staffed organizations,” Davis says.

In particular, Davis notes that outlets including Voice of San Diego, Chalkbeat and Investigative Newsource in San Diego are helping to pave the way for further innovation in nonprofit investigative news reporting.

Moreover, last year Knight released a study on nonprofit news sustainability that showed that while the sector is growing with less help from foundation funding, it also showed that sustainability is still an issue for many organizations that lack the technology, business and audience engagement factors necessary for long-term success.

The first round of awards will be announced April 15, 2014 and the second round of applications will be due Sept. 1, 2014. Projects selected will be based on ideas that show the greatest promise for developing entrepreneurial, and sustainable business practices, understanding audience needs, using innovative technologies and practical learning from digital-age news experiments.

The online application for the INNovation Fund is available at InvestigativeNewsNetwork.org/INNovation.

What do you think about the current state of investigative reporting? Do we need more? Tell us in the comments or tweet to us @10000words.

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