Posted in multimedia journalist, Social Media

NABJ Member Retha Hill Among Winners of Knight News Challenge Grant

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

Retha Hill

The Knight News Challenge presented $2.74 million to 12 grantees to fund ideas that use digital technology to inform specific geographic communities.  Among the winners were NABJ member Retha Hill and her partner Cody Shotwell, who received $90,000 to fund the CitySeed application.

Hill is currently director of the New Media Innovation Lab and professor of practice at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. When I met her back in 2006, she was vice president for content development for BET Interactive. She also worked for The Washington Post Company in a variety of capacities, including as a reporter and a founding editor of

CitySeed will be a mobile application that allows users to plant the “seed” of an idea and share it with others. For example, a person might come across a great spot for a community garden. At that moment, the person can use the CitySeed app to “geotag” the idea, which links it to an exact location. Others can look at the place-based ideas, debate and hopefully act on them. The project aims to increase the number of people informed about and engaged with their communities by breaking down community issues into bite-size settings.

The idea for CitySeed was a collaborative effort, said Hill.  “It started out as an idea to solve problems in the community.  You may see a pothole or a tree that has fallen down, you take a picture, and post it to a website to put pressure on local institutions to do something,” she said.  Hill cited concepts including Fix My Street out of London and U.S.-based SeeClickFix.

“After moving to Phoenix, I would see things like an abandoned lot that would be a perfect place for a community garden,” said Hill.  “I asked how can you document that, plant the seed and maybe find someone else that likes the idea and collaborate with them.”

There needed to be a news component for CitySeed, said Hill. “News outlets do stories on community needs, so here’s an opportunity to partner with news organizations to highlight ideas and add a widget to their websites,” she said. “For example, media outlets could show five great ideas, highlight them and have people continue to collaborate on the ideas.”

Hill and Shotwell sent out an RFP with a June 14 deadline to choose a technology partner to develop the CitySeed app.  “Students in the New Media Innovation Lab will also do some of the work,” said Hill.  The plan is to create a mobile and regular website, she added.

As for the future, Hill said she hopes that CitySeed will expand to cities like Seattle, Portland or Denver.  “We also hope that news partners will want to brand CitySeed for a small fee,” she said.  “Politicians running for office may want to use CitySeed to have people send me ideas on improving the community. We can charge campaigns for that.”

If a platform like CitySeed is built correctly, it can change and develop many different ways, said Hill.  “No one knew how Twitter would develop when it started.  Then developers came in and built on the platform,” she said. “I really hope it will be a free tool people can use in their community.”

Hill offered advice for those interested in applying for the next Knight News Challenge.  “Look at the grants that have won before.  Pay attention to what’s happening in innovation all over the world,” she advised. “Look at some of the other contests that offer awards, such as J-Lab, the McCormick Foundation New Media Women Entrepreneurs grant and Pepsi Refresh.”

Hill also cited the Online News Association’s prizes on the best media collaborations.  “Look and see what’s being pitched, then look at your own community. Sit with potential users and see what applications they want.  You never know if you don’t ask,” she stated.

For a complete list of the Knight News Challenge, click HERE.  And for more on the winners, including a video, go to the Mashable blog, HERE.