Grants Offered for New Voices

If you are operating or plan to launch a local news site, and can get your plans together by February 8, consider applying for a New Voices grant worth up to $17,000 over the next two years. The grant competition is being run by the University of Maryland’s foundation-supported J-Lab. This is the second year these grants have been offered. J-Lab jjudges culled through 243 applications to pick 10 winners last year.

The guidelines are simple. A “how-to” page will step you through the application process. The competition is designed to encourage the creation of web sites aimed at “geographic or special interest communities” that “foster an open exchange of journalistically sound ideas” and can serve as a prototype for other home-grown journalism startups. Think ahead to how the site would sustain itself after the two year grant expires, because the judges will also consider that.

Looking over the 2005 winners seems like the first step in figuring out what the judges wanted — at least last year. All 10 winners began with a local emphasis (as opposed to a special interest focus, like model train hobbyists). Four of the 10 winning sites added an ethnic slant, such as Losaida Speaks, a project designed to reach young Latinas on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The name of the site appears to have changed to Girls On Air, but the emphasis seems still to be training girls in the target group to podcast.

Most of the 10 grantees from last year had some local affiliation. In the case of Losaida it was a girl’s club. There were a couple of projects with a university association. Others were affiliated with local radio stations. One grew out of a library.

It’s not immediately apparent to me how last year’s winners fulfilled the requirement to be a template for other groups, nor even how well they have done on their basic mission.

In any event the New Voices competition seems like a good and accessible opportunity for a small-scale, low-budget, local startup. Look over the grant winners and consider whipping your plans into shape by Feb. 8.

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media