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Six news innovation experiments to kick off the Jim Bettinger Fund

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Jeremy Hay

The John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford today announced the first round of winners of the Jim Bettinger News Innovation Fund grants. More than $70,000 will be distributed among six innovative journalism experiments being launched by JSK alumni. The projects tackle audience engagement, watchdog journalism, media credibility and other current challenges faced by newsrooms.

The Jim Bettinger News Innovation Fund was created in late 2016, on the 50th anniversary of the JSK Fellowships and in honor of longtime Director James Bettinger, who retired from the fellowship after 27 years. He led the program through a major transformation in 2009 to improve the program’s impact by focusing the fellowship on innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership.

“I’m thrilled by the first cohort of the News Innovation Fund recipients,” Bettinger said. “I know them all well and can’t wait to see them put their ideas into action.”

The JSK Fellowships support up to 20 journalists each year from the U.S. and around the world who spend 10 months at Stanford exploring and testing innovative ideas for addressing the biggest challenges facing journalism. With grants of $5,000 to $20,000, the News Innovation Fund aims to support JSK alumni working with or within newsrooms to create disruptive and innovative experiments in storytelling, digital tools or other ideas. The initiative was launched with $100,000 in seed funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and $40,000 in individual donations from JSK alumni and friends of the program.

Winners will come to Stanford for a project-planning workshop to launch their innovative initiatives and get individualized coaching. The workshop is funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation to increase the impact of JSK Fellows’ work after their year at Stanford.

The first round of projects funded by the Jim Bettinger News Innovation Fund are:

  • Public media and driverless cars. An experiment to explore what public media might look like when commuters are no longer at the wheel. Umbreen Bhatti, a 2014 JSK Fellow and KQED Lab manager, with Kristen Muller, a 2016 JSK Fellow and director of Content Innovation & Programming at KPCC, Southern California Public Radio.
  • A California immigration conversation. Engaging audiences with diverse viewpoints from around sanctuary cities in California, in a journalism‐supported conversation about immigration. Jeremy Hay, a 2015 JSK Fellow and co-founder of Spaceship Media, in partnership with the Bay Area News Group.
  • Investigative Editing Corps pilot. Connecting experienced editors and producers with small news organizations to produce local investigative stories. Rose Ciotta, a 1991 JSK Fellow and associate editor at EdSource.
  • A social-first brand for local accountability. Prototyping social-first strategies and products for local accountability stories in Alabama that allow the audience to be part of the conversation. Michelle Holmes, a 2012 JSK Fellow and vice president of content at the Alabama Media Group.
  • Detroit home sales registry. Through data journalism and text messages from low‐income residents, this project will document information about homes sold through land contract deals. Sarah Alvarez, a 2016 JSK Fellow and founder of Outlier Media, in partnership with Reveal of the Center for Investigative Reporting.
  • GoatTalks. A prototype enabling people to discover and discuss news stories with other participants via one-on-one video conversations. Yvonne Leow, a 2015 JSK Fellow and president of the Asian-American Journalism Association, in partnership with AJ+.

The winners were selected by a review committee comprised of JSK alumni, program directors and experts in newsroom innovation. After the first round of grant awards to U.S.-based alumni, the JSK Fellowships will solicit applications from both international and U.S. alumni in future rounds. The learning from these innovative newsroom experiments will be documented and shared by the grant winners and the JSK Fellowships program.

About the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford

The John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships program fosters journalistic innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership. Our fellows come from all over the world and from all types of journalism, including digital, print, broadcast, news startups, and ethnic media. They partner with allies in the Fellowship, at Stanford and in Silicon Valley as they prototype, refine and retest their ideas. It 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. For more, visit

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit