The Knight Foundation, which was created in 1950 out of the newspaper fortune of the brothers John S. and James L. Knight, invests in journalism, the arts, and communities, particularly ones where Knight newspapers were once published. Technology, which spills across the three focus areas, is a fourth priority.
The foundation is known for creative and experimental grant-making in innovation, much of which is tech-related.
The Knight Foundation defines journalism “as the full, accurate, contextual search for truth, through both reporting and commentary. The sustainability of news organizations depends on the relevance of their journalism and the viability of their business model; we focus primarily on the former.”
The foundation’s goal is to foster informed and engaged communities — essential for a healthy democracy, its website says.
U.S. domestic programs receive the bulk of the foundation’s funding. International funding has receded in recent years, although some foundation support to U.S. organizations has an international component.
In the CIMA survey, each donor was asked to rate from high to low in terms of priority the types of media interventions it supports.
In its journalism programs, the Knight Foundation “supports free expression and excellence in journalism to promote informed communities that may better determine their own interests. We support ideas, leaders and initiatives that are helping advance the practice of journalism, including the use of new technology,” the foundation states on its website.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press, among other rights, is a particular area in which it seeks to make an impact. “We champion a broad interpretation of the First Amendment in the digital age,” the website states. “We fund research, training and litigation in support of the people’s right of expression, public access to information and journalists’ right to practice their craft.”
Another priority is journalism. The Knight Foundation supports “the transformation of news organizations and institutions committed to meeting the demands of the digital age. We support innovative approaches to the use of technology to advance the practice of journalism and inform community.”
The journalism program also funds Knight Chairs, which are endowed chairs in journalism at top universities nationwide.
The Knight Foundation wants to see impact from its project support, such as in research, training, and litigation in support of freedom of expression, public access to information, and journalists’ “right to practice their craft.”
The foundation also funds innovative experiments in the use of digital media and technology to inform. It then often reinvests in promising projects.
In 2016, the Knight Foundation expended $25 million on journalism programs primarily occurring in the U.S.
Programs that take place internationally are almost entirely supported through U.S. organizations, such as the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
In the last year, the foundation has given more emphasis to programs focused on the First Amendment and in 2017, the topic of trust, media and democracy in the US also became a priority, a staff member told CIMA.
“Technology innovation has become a matrixed program working across journalism, arts and communities.”
Knight’s projects occurring in regions broke down in 2016 as:
Funding for Journalism Programs in 2016
The Knight Foundation and Columbia University each contributed $5 million in operating funds and $25 million in endowment funds to create the institute, an independent nonprofit organization. Knight’s $30 million is the foundation’s largest journalism grant ever and brings to $100 million, the amount it has invested in organizations supporting free press rights both inside and outside the US.
The institution will be affiliated with Columbia University and benefit from its law and journalism schools, among others. Its main activities will be in litigation, research, and education. In litigation, the institution will look for cases that offer an opportunity to define First Amendment law in the digital age. In research, publications, and other events, it will seek to help the legal community understand the principles underlying the First Amendment and how they apply in the digital age.
The Knight Foundation awarded $3.46 million to ICFJ to operate the Knight International Journalism Fellowships from 2016 through 2019. The program goal is to promote journalism excellence and digital innovation through support of journalist fellows, who are then encouraged to disseminate their expertise in the U.S.
In each project, fellows work to enhance a culture of news innovation and experimentation, seed new ideas and services to deepen coverage, expand news delivery, and engage citizens in the editorial process.
The fellowship program has changed since its inception in the early 1990s when the Knight Foundation first supported ICFJ to implement the program. Initially, American media experts provided training and other support to journalists mainly in emerging democracies. Today the fellows are primarily native to the regions of their fellowships and fluent in the local language.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supports Knight fellowships in sub-Saharan Africa targeting the use of digital tools to tell health and development stories.
The Knight Foundation awarded a three-year $458,000 grant to the Committee to Protect Journalist to implement an interactive database to help journalists, activists, and policymakers confront threats to free expression with evidence-based research and advocacy.
In March 2016, the Knight Foundation awarded ICFJ $110,000 to pilot a fellowship program in the US for Cuban journalists from 147medio, an independent online news organization in Cuba.
Five Cuban journalists and bloggers have been embedded in Miami newsrooms in an effort to build a peer-to-peer network.