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Journalism student, professor win $90K grant for mobile app

June 18, 2010

A student and a professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication won a $90,000 Knight News Challenge grant to develop a mobile application that enables citizens to propose and collaborate on ways to better their communities.

The application, CitySeed, was conceived by Retha Hill, director of the New Media Innovation Lab at Arizona State University, and Cody Shotwell, a former lab student who graduated in December.

CitySeed was one of 12 winners receiving a total of $2.74 million in this year’s challenge, which funds projects that use digital technologies to pioneer new methods of informing communities.

The winners were announced this week by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation of Miami at the Future of News and Civic Media conference at MIT in Cambridge, Mass.

“The free flow of shared information is essential for communities to function in a democracy. More each day, that information flows through and because of digital technology,” said Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen. "Until someone figures out the next big thing – the next killer app that might provide blockbuster connectivity and information sharing to masses of people – we can use the Knight News Challenge to experiment with ways to learn how to think in different ways about information sharing so we might discover the future of news.”

Over the four years of the Knight News Challenge, the foundation has reviewed 10,000 grant applications and funded 50 projects for $23 million. Three of the winning projects have been associated with the Cronkite School.

Last year, Cronkite graduate Adam Klawonn and Aleksandra Chojnacka, a student in the W.P. Carey School of Business, won a $95,000 grant to launch CityCircles, a venture they developed in the Cronkite School’s Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship. Their Web and mobile platform aggregates information and conversations around each stop of the Phoenix light rail.

In 2007, the first year of the program, the Cronkite School won a $552,000 Knight News Challenge grant to launch the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship.

CitySeed centers on the idea of connecting communities around specific locations. The app will use a combination of geolocation and social networking to channel suggestions from citizens on how to improve their community. For instance, a resident walking down her block might see unsightly weeds overtaking a median. She decides something should be done about it, so she proposes a beautification project on CitySeed.

Other citizens can build on the idea by debating, rating and voting on suggestions; media can tap into local concerns; and municipal leaders can join the dialogue and implement solutions.

“CitySeed will bring civic engagement into the 21st century by providing modern tools for citizens to make suggestions to improve their community and for our news partners, community groups and government agencies to hear suggestions from the community for improving their communities,” said Hill, former vice president for content development for BET Interactive and a founding editor at “We hope CitySeed will be the catalyst for positive change, first in Phoenix, then in other cities across the country.”

Community groups or others interested in testing the application are invited to contact Hill and Shotwell at