Knight Journalism Award Stokes Denver Indie-Media Community

The Knight Foundation announced its News Challenge Award winners today at the Interactive Media Conference in Las Vegas. Sixteen projects will share various portions of this year's $5.5 million prize. With the News Challenge, Knight aims to fund new-media innovations that "transform community life." This year's winners include digital culture all-star Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, and ten "young creators" or applicants who are less than 25 years old.

Also among the winners was Denver Open Media, a two-year-old independent public access broadcast project. (disclosure: I am a recent addition to the DOM board.) The organization won a two-year $380,000 grant to help share its open-platform business model with stations nationwide, connecting public access stations across the country to create a new-style broadcast network. The small DOM staff trains people to film and edit their programs and upload them to the Web. The programs then play on three local TV stations and on the internet. Viewers can text in ratings and comments on each show. The rating and comments appear onscreen in realtime. Programs that garner the most votes move into the best time slots. Program quality, styles and purposes vary wildly.

News of the Knight award heightened buzz among the Denver independent media community, which has been ramping up in advance of the Democratic National Convention to be held here in August. IndyMedia Colorado reformed in the spring and national players such as Google, YouTube and Daily Kos have begun laying plans for Convention coverage, working together to set up a "Big Tent" space for bloggers to work at while the delegates convention in the city's Pepsi Center. According to a report at Kos, the space will be well-rigged with wifi and digital equipment.

Free Speech TV is hosting Democracy Now! and deploying their cameras and crew to report on convention protests. Denver is also hosting Dialog:City, a public art project that will feature ten digital media instillations in neighborhoods throughout the city.

I spoke briefly with DOM executive director Tony Shawcross yesterday.

How does the award money change what you can do at DOM?

The main thing [the money] enables us to do is replicate our model at other public-access stations and begin to realize the promise of networking in a way that lets the stations share content, share best-practices and cooperate the way other media networks do. As we hope to increase viewership, we want to collectively leverage the best community media across several stations and begin to offer programming of a different level of quality. Bringing multiple stations together will increase the amount of quality programming for all.

How will it influence public access TV? What's your goal?

Our plans are about getting a wider audience for citizen journalism and aimed at making it clear that the tools and skills required to get your work seen by a large audience are not reserved for the privileged few.

What's changing right now in your community of independent media makers in preparation for the convention?

I would say that the real story of the DNC this year will be the non-commercial perspective. Community perspectives from everyday people will be more accessible this year than at any convention before. The real story will not happen inside the Pepsi Center.