Knight News Challenge: 10 Tips for Submitting Your Grant Application

UPDATE 10/31: It’s come to my attention that some applicants have already been rejected from the Knight News Challenge — which may seem odd, because the Nov. 1 midnight application deadline has not yet passed.  The Knight News Challenge just clarified, “Applications that were submitted instead of saved for later editing have been reviewed and either declined or accepted.”

So I’ve amended this post to reflect that information. My earlier advice to submit even if you still wanted to tweak your application was wrong, and I’m sorry for any confusion I caused.


This year I’ve been mentoring several people who are applying for Knight News Challenge grants. The deadline for applications is midnight on Saturday, Nov. 1 — so this is your last chance to toss your hat in the ring for this year’s round of funding.

I’ve noticed a few idiosyncrasies of the submission process that may confuse some applicants, so here are 10 tips to help you get your application in order…

1. Be patient! Site may be slow. Understandably, right now the News Challenge site is receiving peak traffic — so site performance is suffering at times. Sometimes it may take anywhere from several seconds to a minute or more for a page to load. I know this can be frustrating. However, if you’re submitting, commenting on, or rating an application, remember how important this process is and stick with it. Go get a cup of tea, take a deep breath, and be Zen about it.

2. Don’t wait until the last minute. If you have your application mostly ready, post it in their system and save it. However, DO NOT HIT “SUBMIT” until your feel it’s ready enough to be judged. Knight has already started judging (and in some cases rejecting) proposals submitted thus far. You apparently can continue to edit your proposal even after it’s been submitted — but you won’t necessarily know when the screeners have started to review it. Still, don’t run the risk that site performance problems in the hours or minutes before the deadline might interfere with your submission. Also, you want to have at least a little time to encourage people to rate and comment on your application. (See 8 below.)

3. To do anything, first register at the site. Whether you want to submit an application, or comment on/rate a submitted application, you need to first register with the site (free, fast, easy). You can’t do that on the home page, so go here and click the “sign up now” button (top right).

If you’re already registered on the site, you must of course sign in before you can do anything there.

4. The Garage is NOT the application. Many people took advantage of the News Challenge Garage to get community input on their ideas, in order to refine their proposals. However, if you have a project in the Garage, that does NOT mean you have officially applied for your grant. ASAP , you must submit a formal application here before the application deadline.

5. Editing required! Garage and application forms are NOT completely identical. When I was helping Tom Vilot submit his application for the Skyguy project a few days ago, we realized that some of the fields in the application form give you less space than the corresponding fields in the Garage.

Therefore, don’t assume that you can simply copy over your Garage project info into the application form. If you have more text in a Garage field than the application form allows, the application will truncate your info. So you may have to edit what you’ve already written — which can be difficult (even painful), but it is necessary.

Here are the character-count limits for key application form fields. Before you copy your Garage info into these fields, use the character count function in your word processor to edit your responses down to size. That’s much easier, faster, and safer than trying to edit text via Knight’s web-based form:

  • Project title: 100 char.
  • Describe your project: 1800 char.
  • How will your project improve the way news and information are delivered to geographic communities? 750 char.
  • How is your idea innovative? (new or different from what already exists): 750 char.
  • What experience do you or your organization have to successfully develop this project? 1600 char.

Also, be aware that (unlike in the Garage) the News Challenge application system appears to delete paragraph breaks. So, for instance, if your project description is 1799 characters long, but broken up into 4 paragraphs for easier reading, expect that after you submit it the site will display that text in one long paragraph. Yes, this is frustrating — probably as much for the screeners as for the applicants — but it’s the current reality of this system.

Therefore, when editing the text for your application, I recommend hat you enter it all as one big paragraph in your word processor. This will help you make it as readable as possible within that constraint.

6. Upload an icon. If your project has a graphic icon, make that your first of your five permitted file uploads associated with your application. Anything you can do to draw attention to your project helps.

7. Save as you go! The application form allows you to save your work as you go. Again, I recommend that you edit your text offline in a word processor for safety. However, once you copy edited text into the form, save it! And as soon as you feel it’s ready to be judged, submit it. You can continue to edit submitted applications, but you may not know when it’s being reviewed.

At this point, it’s unclear to me whether your proposal will be assigned a permalink (that you can direct people to) when it’s saved but not submitted — or whether people can rate/comment on saved-but-not-yet-submitted proposals. Try saving it and see if those features work for you.

8. Ask people to rate or comment on your application — NOW! I honestly don’t know how important ratings or comments are to Knight’s selection process, but since Knight does ask for these — and highlights the top rated entries, it’s logical to assume that they do factor into this process.

So after you submit your application, e-mail all your friends and colleagues. Give them the direct link to the proposal (the actual application, not in the Garage) and ask them to rate it and leave a comment. Let them know they must first register on the News Challenge site if they haven’t done so already. And ask them to be patient with the site if pages are slow to load.

If you used the Garage and received comments there, know that Garage comments are NOT automatically transferred to your application. It’s likely that the News Challenge screeners will review input on your project from the Garage, but I’m not 100% sure about that.

Therefore, I recommend that you contact the people who commented on your project in the Garage. Send them a copy of their comment, and ask them to repost it on your application — and again, give them a direct link to your application, and warn them the site may be slow-loading. Yes, I know this is a hassle, but it can’t hurt to ask…

9. Upload supporting materials. You can upload up to 5 files as supporting materials for your application. Each file can be no larger than 20 MB — but there are no restrictions on what kinds of files you can include. So, for instance, you might want to upload letters of recommendation or intent from organizations in your project’s target community to demonstrate that you have alliances in place to make your project work. Or a short video or audio recording (compressed to a suitable file size). Or you could compress several files into a zip archive to upload as a single file — such as for a collection of photos.

Of course, don’t go overboard with your file uploads. The News Challenge screeners have a LOT of applications to process. Expect that they’ll only check out your file attachments if they decide your project is worth a closer look.

10. DO THIS NOW!!! Again, waiting until the last minute may be risky, given the News Challenge site performance issues already manifesting. Take a little time today — right now — to edit your application and submit it through the News Challenge site. Waiting can only work against you.
…OK, that should get you going. Once again, do NOT wait until the last minute! Get your application online NOW!!!!!

And good luck!

4 thoughts on Knight News Challenge: 10 Tips for Submitting Your Grant Application

  1. I hope they’re not going on ratings at the site much, because they’ve done very little to make it a secure mechanism free from voting fraud. And then there’s that entry currently at the top — it’s rated on a 10 point scale while everything else is rated on a 5. Odd.

  2. Justin, I agree, the News Challenge site has several issues. And I agree that particular rating you mentioned is very odd.

    That said, I see no reason to not try to get ratings, since it may help, and it can’t hurt.

    – Amy Gahran

  3. Pingback: Bookmarks for November 2nd through November 3rd | Jared Silfies

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