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Cronkite School announces inaugural winners of Alumni Innovation Grant

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November 07, 2014

Arizona State University graduates working at the National Journal and the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting (AZCIR) are the first recipients of the Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant, a special fund to support accelerating innovation in newsrooms across the country.

National Journal correspondent Weston Phippen and AZCIR executive director Brandon Quester, graduates of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, each received $15,000 grants established by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Knight-Cronkite Grant, created by president of the Knight Foundation 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.

Phippen, a 2012 Cronkite School graduate, will use the grant at the National Journal to implement an online program that simplifies the process of designing in-depth Web stories involving a variety of multimedia, including videos, images, text and audio. Phippen recently joined the National Journal, a political news outlet based in Washington, D.C., after working as a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times in Florida.

“I'm grateful for the grant and excited to start this project,” Phippen said. “We’ve all struggled to figure out the best way to incorporate video, photos, audio, data and words into an online story. By leveraging design, this technology hopes to take advantage of each medium’s strength so that our storytelling is as nuanced and rich as the characters we report on.”

Quester, who earned his bachelor’s degree in 2005 and master’s degree in 2012 from the Cronkite School, will use the grant to support the development of AZCIR’s The Background Machine, an online application that uses crowdfunding to conduct background checks on public officials. The Investigative News Network has signed on to support beta testing of The Background Machine. In 2012, Quester established AZCIR, a nonprofit media organization dedicated to statewide accountability journalism in Arizona.

“This grant is a tremendous opportunity for AZCIR to develop an innovative tool that will increase transparency and community engagement in our political process,” Quester said. “I’m honored to be one of the first recipients of this funding and look forward to implementing our technology here and in newsrooms across the U.S.”

Ibargüen announced the Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant during the Cronkite School’s May convocation ceremony. He pledged $250,000 from Knight Foundation, challenging Cronkite graduates to become innovative leaders in newsrooms across America.

Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan said the selection committee was impressed by Phippen and Quester’s grant proposals, noting both alumni presented outstanding solutions that can invigorate journalism.

“Brandon and Weston exemplify the extraordinary passion and enthusiasm our outstanding alumni bring to newsrooms around the world,” Callahan said. “I’m excited to see their proposals in action and encourage more of our alumni to apply for the Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant.”

To be eligible for the grant, applicants must be a Cronkite School graduate, working in a newsroom. They must also have support from their news organizations, showing a commitment to implement the proposal within six months of the development period’s conclusion. Those selected will have to report project outcomes to the Cronkite School.

Applications will be accepted on an ongoing basis with periodic deadlines – the next on Feb. 15, 2015. Cronkite graduates can apply at