Each of these grants is exciting in its own way: two of the larger grants are cutting edge projects in the world of citizen journalism – one to Jay Rosen’s NewAssignment.Net and the other to Dan Gillmor’s Center for Citizen Media.
I feel like Jay’s project is on the cusp of making some very big waves. As I said to him, if this works (and I think it will), the Washington game will never be the same again. The oh-so-cozy relationship between lawmakers and the old media will be replaced by something that is much more powerful – fearless citizens. I am certain that the establishment media will be challenged – and that’s a very good thing – by this experiment’s anticipated successes and perhaps they will recall that their mission to "afflict the comfortable." And one further thought: what Rosen is trying to do with NewAssignment.Net is something that media reform activists should start paying attention to since it can offer a way around the mainstream media’s failure.
Dan Gillmor’s work that we are supporting is a beta test of how future congressional elections might be covered by a combination of citizen and professional journalists. His Center for Citizen Media will oversee the creation of a website that hopes to glean everything that can possibly be reported on a Congressional election, with an emphasis on drawing on the talents and ideas of local citizen reporters. Imagine citizens taking video cameras to fundraising events, or house meetings, or conversations with senior citizens and then posting them all on a single website. Imagine combining that with first-person reports, links to articles, data bases on campaign financing, video archives of past statements, etc. etc. It’s going to be a rush to get this going in one district this fall (it will happen in CA-11) but Dan has marshaled students in a class he’s teaching and some other terrific talent too that will pump it up fast.
Equally exciting – though in a different arena — is the work of the Institute on Money in State Politics. We gave them a small grant a few months ago to begin the development and implementation of their initial Web Service Application Program Interfaces (APIs) and we are so impressed with their initial work that this grant is being made to allow them to continue apace. This grant will also allow them to conduct extensive outreach to be able to test their APIs in the real world this year, and it will mean that they are able to develop several custom APIs for journalists and/or academics. IMSP is really leading the way for all the data crunching groups in enthusiastically endorsing this Web 2.0 way of distributing information.
And finally, we are announcing our final three grants under our mini-grant program. Zephyr came up with the notion of creating a pool of $20,000 and offering grants, not to exceed $5,000, to innovative programs that are focused on transparency for members of Congress. And it was a terrific idea because it surfaced people and projects well beyond what we knew was happening out there. We couldn’t be happier with the results of our request for proposals. All of submissions we received were certainly worthy projects and the total of six that were selected for funding show the power and creativity of what people are doing to inform citizens about Congress using technology and the Internet. I suspect we will decide to do more of these mini-grant programs in the future.