Announcing the Jim Bettinger Challenge Fund for Newsroom Innovation

Jim Bettinger

Creating innovative ideas from scratch to advance the field of journalism and make a difference in people’s lives isn’t easy.

Encouraging newsrooms to evolve and adopt fresh innovations can be even harder.

The John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships program at Stanford University aims to foster new ideas in journalism through innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership. Each year it brings up to 20 journalists and journalism innovators from the United States and around the world to spend the year at Stanford.

But sometimes fellows meet roadblocks to creating change and getting traction on new innovations when they go back to their news organizations or join new ones. 

That’s why we’re announcing a new initiative to support alumni of our fellowship program — the Jim Bettinger Challenge Fund for Newsroom Innovation. The fund will help fellows create disruptive and innovative journalism experiments in their newsrooms after they leave their 10-month program at Stanford.

It will provide support of $5,000 to $20,000 to U.S.-based alumni for innovative journalism experiments, digging into topics that are relevant to the current needs of newsrooms. Knight Foundation is providing $100,000 in seed funding to help launch the initiative.

The support is aimed specifically at those who are working in newsrooms. Using the funding, they can launch new storytelling formats, digital tools or other disruptive ideas that might not have been tried due to newsroom budget constraints. Projects will be chosen by fellowship program leadership and lessons will be shared widely. 

We are launching this new initiative on the 50th anniversary of journalism fellowships at Stanford. The program was founded in 1966 as the Stanford Professional Journalism Fellowships program; it was renamed for Knight Foundation co-founder John S. Knight in 1984, after the foundation made a major gift to endow the program.

It honors JSK Journalism Fellowships Director Jim Bettinger, who is retiring after 27 years at Stanford. During his tenure, Bettinger held leadership roles with the fellowship program and headed a major shift in 2009, which dramatically enhanced the program’s impact. With strategic planning support from Knight Foundation for that shift, we have worked to develop leaders who pursue transformative ideas and approaches that they can use throughout their journalism careers.

With some extra financial incentive from the Jim Bettinger Challenge Fund for Newsroom Innovation, we hope more news organizations will embrace experiments that change the way they approach problem-solving and encourage them to think in new ways.

We’ve seen some good outcomes when our fellows innovate in existing news organizations. Michelle Holmes, a 2012 fellow, has led the transformation of the Alabama Media Group from a scattered set of local newspapers and websites into a statewide, digital-first source of news. As vice president of content, she has brought to life a series of collaborative projects, working with organizations such as the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Center for Collaborative Journalism and Auburn University’s computer science department. We’d like to see other alumni have the same success in newsrooms, even if they’re not the boss.

We’ve been squarely focused on helping to reinvent the future of journalism by supporting our fellows as they tackle specific challenges and share solutions with the field. This initiative is one of a number of ways we are extending our commitment to journalism’s present and, most importantly, to innovation within newsrooms.

It is our hope that the lessons from these experiments will inspire other news organizations to be more open to disruptive innovation and our fellows will continue on their paths as journalism change agents for years to come.

This post also appears on the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Blog. View the press release.  JSK Managing Director Dawn Garcia will become the program’s director on Sept. 1.