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ASU alumni to transform journalism with innovation grant

Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant

ASU alumni (clockwise top left) Shannon Green, Ilan Brat, Matt Dempsey, Stephen Harding and Stephanie Snyder are the winners of the Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant.

September 15, 2015

Arizona State University graduates working at The Wall Street Journal and USA Today are among five recipients of the Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant, a special journalism innovation fund for alumni of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Cronkite School alumni Ilan Brat of The Wall Street Journal’s Chicago office, Matt Dempsey of the Houston Chronicle, Shannon Green of USA Today, Stephen Harding of and Stephanie Snyder of Chalkbeat in New York each received up to $15,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to drive change in journalism.

The Knight-Cronkite Grant, created by Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen specifically for Cronkite alumni working in newsrooms, aims to disrupt the status quo in journalism and stimulate new cutting-edge technologies, practices and ideas.

“The Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant empowers our tremendous alumni to take their ideas from the drawing board and make a significant impact in newsrooms across the country,” said Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan. “We are incredibly proud of the creativity and initiative demonstrated by these five outstanding graduates.”

Brat, a 2006 graduate who serves as a senior staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, will use the grant to bring virtual storytelling to the publication. Using 360-degree video and audio technology, he is producing a series of projects focused on transporting readers to locations around the world to experience new situations and environments.

“I believe that storytelling brings people together, and the Knight-Cronkite grant is a fantastic opportunity to develop new skills and experiment with new ways to tell stories,” he said. “The Wall Street Journal is planning to develop 360-degree videos that take readers places few get to see. Ultimately, we hope these kinds of immersive experiences will make the world feel a little smaller.”

Dempsey is a 2005 graduate and a data reporter at the Houston Chronicle. He will use the grant to fund an easy-to-transport video booth that can be transported to news events, such as storms or protests, as well as locations such as baseball games and rodeos. The video testimonial booth will help expand the publication’s online video presence and allow people to tell their stories firsthand.

Snyder is a 2012 graduate and the community editor for Chalkbeat New York, a nonprofit news organization covering educational change. Snyder will use the grant to drive community engagement in Chalkbeat’s reporting efforts through an online platform that allows readers to share their questions on local education issues. Chalkbeat and readers will then select top issues to cover.

Green, a 2009 graduate who is a senior multimedia producer at USA Today, will use the grant to launch a mobile-first interactive digital audio player, native to USA Today’s mobile apps. It will present a playlist of all USA Today audio, allowing users to share on social media as well as skip ahead to chapters within longer pieces. It also will allow users to record their own audio, which USA Today can share.

“People are consuming audio content like crazy — in their cars, public transportation, while exercising, cooking dinner,” Green said. “The project aims to innovate audio journalism while simultaneously giving users a better listening experience and unique stories.”

Harding, a 2008 graduate, is a digital producer at, the news website of The Arizona Republic. He will use the grant to develop a mobile-optimized site where citizens can find the resources needed to request public records. aims to educate citizens on public records law and increase government transparency and civic engagement.

Ibargüen unveiled the Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant during the Cronkite School’s May 2014 convocation ceremony, pledging $250,000 for Cronkite graduates with the drive and imagination to lead in the digital era. To date, 11 graduates have received the grant to fund projects ranging from multimedia stories examining air quality near shale gas operations in Pennsylvania to a next-generation newspaper rack that sends news alerts and video to mobile devices.

Applications for the Knight-Cronkite Grant are accepted on an ongoing basis with periodic deadlines — the next on Oct. 30. Cronkite graduates can apply here.

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