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updated 11:01 PM BST, Apr 20, 2015
Technology and life sciences news from the Cambridge cluster

Cambridge not-for-profits scoop $500k in media innovation competition

  • Written by Ben Fountain
  • Published in The Cluster

Photo credit: Ken Banks, kiwanja.netTwo Cambridge social enterprises have picked up funding of $250k each at a global media innovation competition backed by Google.

FrontlineSMS and Open Knowledge Foundation were among the 16 winners of the Knight News Challenge, announced at the 2011 MIT - Knight Civic Media Conference yesterday.

FrontlineSMS, based in Willingham will be developing tools to help give remote communities around the world a voice in the global media, while Open Knowledge Foundation will develop a platform that gives context and clarity to news reporting about public finances.

The funding pool for the competition was $4.7m with $1m of it coming from Google. It is the last year the five year old contest - organised and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation - will run, at least in its current format.

FrontlineSMS says it will use the cash to develop two products for news organisations and broadcasters, “one to facilitate participatory journalism, interaction and collaboration from community members and audiences, and one to enable journalists to use their simple mobile phones as powerful reporting tools.”

FrontlineSMS has developed a free, open source text messaging platform that enables mass communication in areas where the internet is not available. Launched in 2008, the system is used by NGOs around the world to communicate with isolated communities, including fieldwork and surveys.

In a blog post, Ken Banks, the creator of FrontlineSMS said: “Working with our user community, we’ve seen the challenges that last-mile populations face in sending and receiving critical information.  

“Thanks to an incredible group of innovative journalists and other partners, we’ve also seen the potential of mobile technologies to improve the quality and quantity of news all over the world. With the generous support of Knight Foundation, FrontlineSMS will build tools that bridge the gap between challenge and opportunity, engaging previously under-served communities in the news and conversations that affect their lives.”

Open Knowledge Foundation’s winning Spending Stories project will be closely related to its existing Where Does My Money Go? platform, which seeks to make government finances easier to understand and explore.

According to a post on the Open Knowledge Foundation blog: “Spending Stories will be driven by a powerful combination of machine-automated analysis and human verification from a large base of users interested in public spending.

“The core technology will be initially developed using data and news stories from the UK, but it will be gradually deployed in a number of other countries. The software will be open source and freely available, and we will work with a range of international partners to start versions of the project in different geographical areas.”