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Google chooses Cronkite School project in North American Innovation Challenge

Journalists sit at a table in a TV broadcast studio

A project at the Cronkite School is receiving funding from Google News Initiative to create an Interactive Story Wall, which will allow journalists to tell complex stories through data-driven visualizations. Photo by Ethan Gilchrist

October 27, 2019

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is a recipient of Google News Initiative’s first North America Innovation Challenge, a program that funds innovative projects that focus on increasing audience engagement in local newsrooms.

The Cronkite School is among 34 projects in 17 states receiving funding through the first round of applicants in Google’s GNI Innovation Challenge. Cronkite will develop an Interactive Story Wall that will be used by Cronkite News broadcasters as a tool to tell data-driven stories through visualizations.

The project, which is led by Frank Mungeam, Cronkite’s Knight Professor of Practice in TV News Innovation, aims to inspire innovation and interactive storytelling in local newsrooms across the United States.

Through the Interactive Story Wall and other innovative approaches, local stations can create more engaging experiences for existing and new audiences by changing the way people consume news.

“The Cronkite School is developing an Interactive Story Wall for local broadcasters to tell complex, important stories in an engaging and impactful way,” Mungeam said. “We are excited that Google recognized ASU’s strong tradition of innovation. This funding will enable us to continue that outstanding work.”

The North America challenge launched in May and received 269 applications from 44 states and provinces, according to Google’s the Keyword. The program selected projects from organizations in both rural and urban communities that show a market for local news.

This is the first year Google has expanded funding to news organizations in North America. Winning initiatives receive up to $300,000, funding up to 70% of the project’s total cost. In all, Google is funding $5.8 million for the 34 projects.

Other U.S. recipients include The Dallas Morning News, The Salt Lake Tribune, Northwestern University, ABC television stations and Michigan Radio.

Interactive media screens have been used by major media companies for special events, such as covering a natural disaster or showing an interactive electoral map on Election Night. But the Cronkite effort, Mungeam said, would look at ways to use the approach for innovating local TV news, creating lessons learned that can change the industry on the local level.

“If you increase engagement with viewers, they will watch longer and they will be better informed,” he said.

The Cronkite effort will explore best practices for the Interactive Story Wall, from the technology and training needed to the types of stories that work best with the approach.

The project is just the latest for the Cronkite School and ASU, which continually push for innovation with technology, audience engagement and industry practices.

“Innovation is part of our DNA. We will always keep pushing to find and perfect ‘the next.’ That mindset is important in any industry, but it is critical in the new world of journalism today,” Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan said.

In September, ASU was named the most innovative school in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. This is the fifth year in a row ASU earned the honor based on a survey of peers — meaning, college presidents, provosts and admissions deans nominated up to 10 colleges or universities that they believe are making the most innovative developments.

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