Sunday, August 18

Technology grants opportunity

Balancing life as a student journalist isn't easy, but proposing new ideas can be rewarding

For many people, “What’s your major?” is a fairly simple question.

I, however, am a Design | Media Arts student with a (nonexistent) double major in journalism and a perpetual lack of free time.

“What’s your major?” is a straightforward question because the answer is supposed to relay your interests or imply what you are going to be when you “grow up.” I am interested in technology but also interested in being a journalist. I am invested in the future of journalism, and this future, to me, negates the separability of “the media” and technology.

Over the course of the year, I developed a newfound expertise in grant writing, as news editor Anthony Pesce and I developed a grant, bringing $275,000 back to the Bruin.

We entered the Knight News Challenge in the category of “Young Creators” humbly and unsuspecting of the other 3,000 applicants to the competition as a whole. Out of 19 winners, the six of us who are under 25 qualify as “young creators.”

So what’s it like being a senior in college and a grant writer?

It is, of course, time consuming.

Angela Antony and Sandra Ekong are seniors at Harvard and are also Knight grant recipients. They spend their time writing grants and running the Beanstockd Project, a Web site geared at orientating pop-culture readers toward environmentalism. As their cofounded project continues, they will be extending their green ideas into an online reality game, social network and competitive atmosphere.

“Angela and I pulled more than one all-nighter trying to put these grants together,” Ekong said.

Alexander Zolotarev came as a Fulbright Scholar to New York, at City University New York, from Moscow and is currently writing his dissertation on citizen journalism. His work is the Sochi Olympics Project, an online place for the Sochi community to collaborate, plan and discuss the 2014 Winter Olympics, an event that will change many things about the city’s infrastructure.

And then there’s Anthony and I, the tired but happy journalists, returning with our Knight News Challenge grant plaques with new tenacity to the mundaneness of the newsroom world.

At school we are immersed in the world of our actual majors and our journalism “majors.”

“It’s kind of good applying for grants while were still in school and still in a very academic environment. We’re in paper-writing mode all the time, so we’re ready to write,” Antony said.

The Harvard duo spent their days in class, their evenings working on the current Beanstockd Web site and their nights writing grant proposals. The dining hall and computer labs have been ideal places for them to work.

David Cohn’s experience as a graduate of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism led him to propose ideas to the Knight Foundation. He applied for funding for three different projects and received funding for the most ambitious of the three:, a new way for local news to get covered through community input.

“Each step of the way the idea evolves while writing the grant itself,” Cohn said.

The Community News Network, the Daily Bruin’s grant proposal, hopes to inspire the world of student journalists and small-town papers to engage online with their communities and collaborate online themselves. The online framework will replace the whiteboards that clutter our space and consume time unnecessarily. I see the supposed distinction between online and off, rather than separate, as growing together.

For all of us grantees, the initial idea in the grant stayed strong throughout the many monthlong writing process, while the ideas became more refined with each step of the application itself.

For Zolotarev, who has only been in the U.S. for the past nine months, the application process corresponded with his dissertation at CUNY.

He said winning was a great achievement but the most important part ““ implementing the project ““ is yet to come.

Cohn, who has started other online, news-oriented sites, had supportive peers around him while writing his grant but was still told not to quit his day job.

Entering into the world of “grown-ups” is strange: I still can’t answer the question “What did you study?” simply, but I have learned a few things along the way.

I used to think of grant writing as an elusive art reserved only for professors, scholars and entrepreneurs. I realize now that half the battle is having good ideas.

And the other half? I guess that’s the elusive good-writing part.

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