You have 17 nights left to Challenge yourself.

I remember where I was the first time I read about the Knight News Challenge and was inspired enough to blog about it.

A tire shop.  This one:


(Photo yanked from Google Maps Street View.)

Seriously, it was late in September 2006 and I was sitting with my huge beast of a laptop in the waiting area at a tire shop on River Street in Santa Cruz, a few weeks after finishing an internship as a reporter for the ANG regional desk at the Oakland Tribune, and a few weeks into my last semester (of in-person classes, anyway) at San Jose State.

I needed a new tire because the 880 had not been kind to the Honda, which I had been driving back and forth to Oakland, 140 miles round-trip, four days a week for the duration of the internship.

There was no work in Oakland for me that fall, and to this day the Honda thanks Dean Singleton for that, but two weeks later I would find a job at the Santa Cruz Sentinel, which allowed me to *walk* to work for almost a year.


So that’s the story of where I was when I read about the Knight News Challenge and didn’t submit a proposal.  A year later I had an idea, sent it in, and joined a group of innovative thinkers who blow me away with their passion for building tools that enable those with less access, or fewer resources, or the odds stacked against them to communicate, participate, and inform each other.

You’re passionate about all those things, aren’t you?

But you’ve got to be in it to win it.

(Yeah, I said that, just now. Not out loud, but right here.)

The deadline is November 1.

It’s time for you to give that great idea of yours a chance to strut in the moonlight, to stretch its legs, to get some air, to get some life.  Bring out your brilliant plan to save Journalism — or better yet — to help improve the news, one town at a time.

Start at the Garage, where you can collect feedback and soak up some input from past winners and anyone else willing to help.

Refine your pitch by a few notches, then sit down and fill out the application form online. It won’t take long.

You’ll be glad you did it.

Keep this in mind: A real desire to improve the world is a prerequisite here.  But more practically speaking, there are four main parameters you’ll hear repeated a lot by the News Challenge folks*:

  1. Be innovative: Take it and turn it, don’t just build the same old thing in the same old places for the same old people.
  2. Be open-source: There’s not a whole lot of proprietary code kicking around here. You should plan to build something that can be repeated by others using free technology, whether it’s PHP or low-cost electronics to build hardware.
  3. Be local: This is crucial, and my project is a bit of a twist on this rule, but you should be proposing to save a town, not the whole world. Your testbed for this great innovative open-source idea of yours should be someone’s backyard. If you’re building a tool, plan to pick a geographic place to deploy your tool first.  It helps — greatly — if they need it.  Fill an unserved niche in an underserved place.
  4. Serve the public: You’re here to help. This idea of yours, it’s not for you; it’s for the greater good.

*(Note: These are my translations. For the official phrasing, check out the FAQ.)