Technically Philly vies for Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism


Update: We lost.

Grant money in journalism is flowing freely in a tightened economy and a historic juncture in print media.

Seems like an opportunity.

So, my two partners and I, who founded Technically Philly, applied for the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism, a $10,000 grant to support new ideas in news. See our submission here.

We thought bringing together two niches — the geography of Philadelphia and the industry of technology and innovation — and diversifying revenue streams — going beyond advertising — was a new enough model that it might catch the eye of a judge or two.

We walked into a meaningful business, social and startup community in a major metro region’s creative economies and began reporting, relying on our interests in social media, community reporting and professional and ethical journalism.

We recently introduced advertising — a small first step in monetization –and feel that a grant for $10,000 could afford the three of us an opportunity to work full time for perhaps as much two months or more. Considering how pleased we are with our traffic growth and the response from the community, we’re thrilled by even the chance at the opportunity to give full time to a project none of us have been able to offer even part time thus far.

Unfortunately and entirely unsurprisingly, there is some stiff competition from the nearly 100 submissions that were entered.  Below I share some of the more interesting submissions I saw and my thoughts on our viability.

Big names

  • CNN/Facebook Inauguration Collaboration — collaborated with Facebook to create an interactive online experience where viewers shared their experiences of Obama’s inauguration from 8 a.m. till the last inaugural ball. Four anchors provided coverage from the Capitol grounds in DC, while a special report was given from the CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta. Online users could update their Facebook status directly from Live video player in real time. On Facebook friends could click the CNN tag and join the live chat on There were 26 million live video streams on, 1.3 million concurrent streams, 2 million Facebook status updates, and 1.2 million RSVPs on Facebook before the event. I was confused by another Facebook-related submission that already took place — where is the money meant to go?
  • This American Life Live! — This American Life took advantage of HD satellite technology to broadcast a live performance to movie theaters across the U.S. More than 50,000 people gathered in their communities to watch this broadcast. This American Life utilized podcasts and social networking sites to promote the event and survey fans before the event to get feedback. An encore presentation was held due to massive interest.
  • Ledger Live — Breaking down the barriers between the newsroom and the community, “LedgerLive” committed to video in the summer of 2008. Using different types of social media, the Star-Ledger’s webcast showcases the newspapers videos, brings viewers into the newsroom, and includes them in some content decisions. Columnists and reporters are guests on the show.
  • The AP Economic Stress Index — It combines unemployment, foreclosure, and bankruptcy data down to the county level to create an index of the overall health of the economy. The data are displayed on a clickable map and the data can be mashed up in several ways to dig deep into the numbers.

Social Media

  • Tagging Names in Facebook — This facebook application would allow users to tag names in news stories. As tagging photos on Facebook is so popular, the hope is that tagging names will bring a new audience to news articles. This application was developed by ASU engineering and journalism students who are very familiar with facebook. This is set to premiere during varsity sports season, when athletes, coaches and parents are likely to tag.
  • Twitter integration — The Des Moines Register used Twitter to help report on Iowa’s gay marriage decision by creating a hashtag, aggregating Twitter users’ tweets using that hashtag on their Web site, and getting live tweets from reporters after the decision. Their hashtag was listed on Twitter’s top trending topics, and they are planning more Twitter reporting projects for the future.
  • Video Your Vote — “Video Your Vote” records voters experiences of the 2008 election by providing over 1,000 flip video cameras, using voters cameras, and teaching citizens laws regarding recording and voting. 2,500 videos were received from 50 states and several foreign countries to depict the election moments from different points of view. PBS, the NewsHour and YouTube collaborated to create this project in efforts to share the realities from the day, which gained 300,000 views on YouTube.
  • What Is Barack Doing? — What Is Barack Doing? aggregates presidential news from many different sources, from the major networks to social networks. It uses good Web design practices to increase usability and accessibility.


  • Street Level Philadelphia — After working as a photographer for 10 years for the Philadelphia Daily News, Jim MacMillan taught himself how to shoot, edit, and produce video for the Web and created 1-2 minute video reports. He reported, filmed, voiced, edited, and produced the videos alone, and tried to tell the stories of Philadelphia on a personal level.
  • PlanPhilly — An organization that reports on and seeks to bring transparency and openness to Philadelphia’s design, development, and planning as an experiment in project-based journalism. It has developed partnerships with some of Philadelphia’s mainstream media outlets, and seen their unique visitors double in the last year.
  • Philadelphia Neighborhoods from the Temple University School of Communications Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab class — Temple U. project covered 20 predominantly minority Philadelphia neighborhoods by sending student reporters to do multimedia reporting. The program also trained community residents to use programs like Final Cut Pro, Flash, videography and blogging so residents could tell their own stories. One story about a racist police officer generated enough mainstream media coverage that the officer was fired. (A story written by Shannon McDonald certainly seems to have put the program’s recent incarnation on the map)


  • — A student-run online magazine, a project of the Journalism program at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. The site offers a wide array of content, including various beats localizing current events, a video blog that tracks the pulse of campus opinion, and the Global Beat Blog written by students studying abroad. The main section of the site includes periodic, in-depth feature packages that tackle major issues from multiple angles using non-traditional storytelling techniques. Over the course of three semesters, a small group of full-time students were able to produce a high quality, professional news Web site that attracted a worldwide audience with a budget of well under $1,000.
  • American Indian online journalism — To interact with readers and to attract a younger audience, The Circle (the sole source of print journalism for the American Indian community in the upper Midwest) has created an enhanced web edition. This allows readers with limited access to transportation to interact with other communities and lets users share their stories on the site. As of June 1, 2009, there are over 350 registered, and 7 bloggers getting ready to go online with Native-specific topics.
  • Newspaper Tycoon from Eastern Illinois University — An idea for a video game wherein the gamer is a newspaper mogul responsible for all the aspects (both business and journalistic) of the newspapers he/she controls. The game has not yet been developed so it does not exist. At this point it is just an idea.

I’m personally unsure of proposals dominated by only-citizen contributors — concerns about their stability and where advertising money is going. There are some innovative ideas, but I am happy with our submission. If not the best, I feel like ours is a model that could offer important coverage for other communities and, as I wrote above, I think that $10,000 grand prize could have a far greater impact on our project than many of the others. I also am proud that we are moving ahead with our own monetization, so that money will only help us surge forward toward a truly sustainable product.

Do we have any chance? What are some other submissions you like?

The AP Economic Stress Index combines unemployment, foreclosure, and bankruptcy data down to the county level to create an index of the overall health of the economy. The data are displayed on a clickable map and the data can be mashed up in several ways to dig deep into the numbers.

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