Knight Foundation Expands Neighborhood News Project OpenPlans, Columbia Daily Tribune, Boston Globe Launch the $450,000 OpenBlock Initiative

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John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announces three interrelated projects to make it much easier for news organizations to present local data and news content on a neighborhood basis using sophisticated web-based technology.

Today, at the Future of News and Civic Media Conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced three interrelated projects to make it much easier for news organizations to present local data and news content on a neighborhood basis using sophisticated web-based technology.

The major goal of the projects is to simplify and accelerate adoption of the open source code from a previous Knight-funded project,, a $1 million experiment in online journalism that offers geographically relevant news feeds on public records, news articles and other web content for every block in 16 cities. These field tests proved that "hyper-local" civic data can be successfully aggregated by attracting hundreds of thousands of citizens wanting to better understand their neighborhoods by seeing everything from crime reports to restaurant inspections on easy to read maps.

The new open source software, called OpenBlock, will be developed by the non-profit OpenPlans and installed at different-sized newspapers, The Columbia Daily Tribune and the Boston Globe. The Tribune, in Missouri, will use OpenBlock as a stand-alone website. The Boston Globe will test widget integration with their broader digital product suite. OpenPlans is a New York-based non-profit which helps build civic infrastructure through open source software. Founded in 1999, OpenPlans partners with forward-thinking organizations and public agencies to develop software initiatives and technology strategies that make cities work better.

“As city governments make more data publicly available, it creates a need for tools and strategies that citizens can use to derive value from these data sets and improve their communities. Making block-by-block data available on an open source platform improves the accessibility and usability of this information and encourages people to collaborate, communicate and develop applications that enhance their daily lives,” said Nick Grossman, OpenPlans’ director of civic works.

Here are the project awards, for a total of $458,625:

  • OpenPlans: a $235,000 grant over two years to streamline and extend the code base and build a community of open source software developers and newspapers who can use and improve the software.
  • The Columbia Daily Tribune: a $90,500 contract to install and test at The Columbia Tribune and to add new features in the context of a smaller newspaper.
  • The Boston Globe: a $133,125 contract to install and test at The Boston Globe, and to add new features in the context of a larger newspaper.

“Our digital audience increasingly expects more precise and very local news and information from us,” said Bob Kempf, vice president, digital at the Boston Globe. “Our participation in the OpenBlock project supports our mission to provide essential local news and information to our users in a sustainable way.”

Said Andy Waters, vice president for interactive media at the Columbia Daily Tribune: “The data and news feeds we’ll be able to present on the web with OpenBlock will be of enormous benefit to our readers. This is something we’ve wanted to do for a long time. Now we’ll have the tools available to follow through. OpenBlock will help us fulfill our mission to make local information accessible and relevant."
Knight Foundation’s media innovation projects have so far resulted in new tools being used by hundreds of news organizations and more than 200 community news experiments in the United States and abroad. A series of contests, including the Knight News Challenge and the Knight Community Information Challenge, are providing many of the new ideas driving this work. They are informed by the Knight Commission for the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, which called information a “core community need,” an issue as important as good schools, safe streets and clean air.

“The digital age is turning journalism upside down and inside out. Definitions of news are changing. What was once the 'police blotter' is now a clickable map. What were once listings of civic data in small, hard-to-read type are now easy to see graphics sorted by neighborhood,” said Eric Newton, vice president of journalism for Knight Foundation. “This kind of civic data is the clay from which the bricks of news are made, and software that media organizations everywhere can use to display it is the goal of the OpenBlock Initiative.”

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed and engaged communities and lead to transformational change. For more, visit

About OpenPlans
OpenPlans is building the new civic infrastructure. We develop open source software to help cities work better and produce journalism to hold them accountable. Our successes include Streetsblog, Streetfilms, GothamSchools, and OpenGeo. In New York, our work has broken the policy gridlock and lit up the city grid with plazas, bike lanes, and better transit. The effects have rippled outward: the software and media tools we built to transform New York have caught on with people elsewhere and changed policies in dozens of cities. For more, visit and

About the Columbia Daily TribuneThe Columbia Daily Tribune, founded in 1901, is a family-owned regional newspaper and digital media company based in Columbia, Mo. The company is a division of Tribune Publishing Co., which also includes a nationally recognized commercial printing operation. The Tribune's core mission is to engage the community with locally relevant news and information without compromise to the newspaper's integrity.

About The Boston Globe
The Boston Globe is wholly owned by The New York Times Company, a leading media company with 2009 revenues of $2.4 billion, which includes The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, The Boston Globe, 15 other daily newspapers and more than 50 Web sites, including, and The Company’s core purpose is to enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news, information and entertainment.

For further information, or interviews, please contact:

Steph Johnson/Tom Cowle
Aspectus PR for OpenPlans
(646) 274-1348/011 44 207 182 4081

Marc Fest
Vice President for Communications, Knight Foundation
(305) 908-2677


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