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Cronkite student project wins Knight News Challenge

June 17, 2009

An innovative digital news project, developed by two students at the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, is among nine winners of the 2009 Knight Foundation News Challenge.

The project, which centers around Phoenix's new light rail system, was developed by ASU graduates Adam Klawonn and Aleksandra Chojnacka while they were students in the KnightCenter at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The two were awarded $95,000 by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to further develop and launch their Web-based and mobile service, The Daily Phoenix. The goal of the project is to help serve the new community that is aggregating around the Valley's light rail corridor. The Daily Phoenix will offer news and information, games, social networking features and promotions on a stop-by-stop basis for light rail commuters.

Klawonn and Chojnacka teamed up to create the light rail project last fall as part of an advanced digital media entrepreneurship class offered through the Knight Center under the direction of Knight Center Director Dan Gillmor, the school's Kauffman professor of digital media entrepreneurship, and CJ Cornell, the center's entrepreneur-in-residence. The students created a prototype and a business model that were the basis for the grant application.

Eric Newton, vice president for journalism programs at the Knight Foundation, said the light rail project stood out. "A lot of projects that have to do with digital media don't relate well to the places where people live, work and commute," he said. "We were very interested in the intersection of cyberspace and physical space."

Their project was among only nine funded by theKnight Center in a competition that drew thousands of entries. Awards ranged from $719,500 to $10,000.

The projects use crowd sourcing, mobile technology and digital investigative journalism to bring news and information to communities in new ways.

"The future of news is being tested, strengthened and advanced everyday by News Challenge experiments and the innovators behind them," said Alberto Ibarg├╝en, Knight Foundation president and CEO, in announcing the awards.

The Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at the Cronkite School was established in 2007 through one of the first Knight News Challenge grants. The center is devoted to the development of new media entrepreneurship and the creation of innovative digital media products.

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation matched the three-year, $552,000 Knight gift.

Chojnacka has a master's of business administration degree specializing in strategic marketing from ASU's W. P. Carey School of Business. Prior to obtaining her MBA, Choinacka worked as an account manager for a digital marketing firm, Acxiom Digital, where she managed e-mail marketing campaigns, online customer acquisitions and various online marketing efforts.

Klawonn, managing editor at Phoenix magazine, is a Cronkite graduate and former reporter for The Arizona Republic and the San Diego Union-Tribune. He started in 2006 to cover statewide issues in Arizona and has taught as an adjunct faculty member at the Cronkite School.