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What I learned as a Knight News Challenge awards winner

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  • Andrius Kulikauskas
    David, Janet and all, Today I wrote my final report as a 2008 Knight News Challenge award winner. I received $15,000 to blog about my idea for an Includer, a
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 29, 2009
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      David, Janet and all,

      Today I wrote my final report as a 2008 Knight News Challenge award
      winner. I received $15,000 to blog about my idea for an Includer, a
      device for Africans and others with marginal Internet access to read and
      write emails on a USB flash drive so they could later upload and
      download them when they get online at an Internet cafe. I blogged at the
      PBS Idealab blog:
      and my 13th post was deleted
      and I was not allowed to blog again, but continued at my own blog
      http://www.includer.org I'm glad that I did receive my final payment.
      That also allowed me to reflect more freely as I wrote my final report.

      I share below my reflections because I think it's the kind of experience
      that we don't get to hear. I think it's helpful to appreciate the
      limitations of institutions like the Knight Foundation (the premier
      foundation for excellence in journalism) and the Public Broadcasting
      System (public television in the US). I think there's a fundamental need
      for a culture that links us more deeply, heart-to-heart, than can any
      such institutions. I'm keen to work with all who might create such a

      I'm experiencing a similar dynamic in the European Union:
      and I've experienced it in the Soviet Union, Lithuania, and various
      other circumstances. I think it's important to talk about it in the West
      because it's a worldwide dynamic, but it would be wrong to think that it
      doesn't happen in the US and Europe, where one may be treated as a
      "dissident", too. If we might communicate as people-to-people, then we
      can overcome the institutional constraints. I'm trying!

      Andrius Kulikauskas, Minciu Sodas, http://www.ms.lt, ms@...


      I received a $15,000 prize to blog about the Includer. I have about
      $100,000 in personal loans through my efforts since 1998 to make Minciu
      Sodas laboratory a viable business. The prize covered my loan payments,
      but I still needed to make a living. There was no interest by the Knight
      Foundation that we actually develop the Includer. There was noone to
      talk to about my lab's big picture. Therefore I needed to focus on the
      core capability of Minciu Sodas which is organizing global teams.

      I tried to work closely with the Knight Foundation and make the most of
      this award. I got permission from Jose Zamora to arrange my flights so
      that I could come early and stay longer in the US (and even save money
      for the Knight Foundation). This is how it worked: I asked the Knight
      Foundation travel agent, What was the cheapest round trip ticket that
      they could find for me from Lithuania to Las Vegas? They said $1,650. So
      it was agreed that I could buy one way tickets up to that amount. I made
      stops in Dublin, Chicago, San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles and Las Vegas
      all for about $650. I got invitations to go to the June meeting in
      Boston and the July meeting in Chicago. I wrote letters to ask if,
      instead of flying me back and forth to Lithuania, they might allow me to
      use part or all of that money to fly in the US, or better yet, to return
      by way of China (to visit manufacturers) and Africa (to visit the
      potential users of the Includer, as I have never been there).

      The organizers of the News Tools conference in Silicon Valley agreed to
      give me a free pass. (Jose Zamora was there, too.) There I spoke about
      our laboratory's work to to avert genocide in Kenya by organizing 100
      peacemakers on-the-ground and 100 peacemakers online.
      http://www.pyramidofpeace.net I was hoping that we might organize such a
      global team to stop genocide in the Black American neighborhoods of the
      South Side of Chicago where the murder rate is 1 per 1,000 per year and
      the population has shrunk by half over the years. Hundreds of
      journalists there and at the Knight News Challenge Awards heard our
      story, but nobody cared to learn more.

      Just before the Knight News Challenge Awards, after my inquiries
      regarding travel to the Boston meeting, I was informed by the Knight
      Foundation that I was not invited to the Boston meeting nor the Chicago
      meeting. I could not attend either meeting even at my own expense.
      Indeed, I needed to leave the US before the Chicago meeting. Also, even
      though I had saved the Knight Foundation money, I had to pay for my
      travel between San Jose and San Diego. I did not receive compensation
      for my meals at Las Vegas nor for the flight I had paid for myself from
      Lithuania to Dublin, nor for my travel from Las Vegas back to Chicago. I
      was forced to get a ticket with a date before the Chicago meeting, which
      fortunately I could pay to change to a later date (the travel agents
      were always helpful), but actually I didn't ever use because instead in
      October I got a job teaching algebra in Bosnia.

      I met briefly with Jose Zamora about this at Las Vegas. He explained
      that this was a problem regarding the IRS. He told me a story how in
      Guatemala as a journalist he had been threatened with guns, but was not
      afraid to stand up for his principles. But here at the Knight Foundation
      he could lose his job because of this, and he and his wife were having a
      baby, and that would be very bad for him. I tell this now because I've
      received my final payment and because it illustrates for me how
      dreadfully wrong the Knight Foundation is, that I should have to be
      concerned whether people there lose their jobs or not. I emphasize that
      Jose Zamora was ever empathetic and creative in salvaging my dignity and
      assuring that I might be paid.

      In Las Vegas, I asked Gary Kebbel if I could meet with other prize
      winners who came that first day (for videos) and he said it was not

      Meanwhile, Chris Czikszentmihalyi, an organizer of the Boston meeting,
      encouraged me personally to go there, unaware that I had been disinvited
      by the Knight Foundation.

      I spoke to Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibarguen about these
      problems and he had Gary Kebbel sit with me. I asked Gary about his
      values and whether he thought that the US democracy was able to solve
      problems like the gross, persisting dysfunctions in Chicago (where I was
      jailed on election day by the Chicago machine as I waited at my polling
      place to report violations there). He thought, yes, US democracy solves
      all these problems. And he spoke with the person on his left and was not
      available to talk with me about anything.

      I asked the Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibarguen at the dinner
      if he could introduce me to media businesses for whom we might organize
      global teams, but he told me there weren't any such there. The next day
      I sat through the award ceremony for many projects like CNN's iReport -
      exactly the kind of project we could work for - but with no way to speak
      to them, and no introductions made.

      David Sasaki of Rising Voices, a 2007 Knight News Challenge Award
      Winner, and a fan of our work, greeted me at the awards ceremony, which
      was very kind, but despite my efforts, he was never free to speak to me,
      which was very strange. Rising Voices is part of Global Voices,
      co-founded by Ethan Zuckerman. In 2003, I was at the island of Vis,
      Croatia at a Summer Source summer camp for open source software for
      NGOs, preparing a proposal to submit to the Open Society Initiative. The
      organizers ordered me to leave the camp because I had made Ethan feel
      uncomfortable when I told him at his talk that he hadn't answered my
      question (which the African participants had been hesitant to ask).
      Afterwards, I learned that I was on an Open Society Initiative black
      list. I have since then spoken briefly twice with Ethan to clarify the
      situation, but he's never embraced me or reached out to me. I have no
      way to know if any of these obstacles are related, but probably on some
      level they are, because this world is quite small and opaque.

      I then traveled to Silicon Valley where I spent six weeks trying to make
      contacts for the Includer. I went to many events and had lunches with
      acquaintances from Google and Yahoo. But Mark Glaser was unavailable and
      nobody at the Knight Foundation would help in any way that I make
      contacts there.

      That summer I received a contract from the Knight Foundation which was
      confidential, yet included restrictions on what I could blog about,
      which is all counter to the ethics of blogging and my lab's (and the
      Includer's) culture of working openly. Jose agreed that I might write,
      in the Public Domain, my own understanding of the agreement, which I
      did. I then wrote a series of questions for clarification which were not
      answered. A month went by. Jose explained that they were too busy to
      write answers, and that I was free to decline the award. I am grateful
      that he did agree to answer my questions verbally, and I wrote down his
      answers, as I understood them. I then signed the contract, sent it out
      and received the first payment.

      I wrote three reports asking for help to make contacts, and made calls
      to Gary Kebbel, but never received any help, nor did he reach out to me.

      I wrote a new proposal "Help Room" for the Knight News Challenge, but
      received no advice and was not asked to write a full proposal.

      After my failure in Silicon Valley, and lack of support or interest from
      the Knight Foundation, I felt very awkward writing about the Includer,
      as there didn't seem much point. I therefore focused on writing on
      behalf of the disincluded, what they might write if they had an Includer
      and were included. My posts led to my removal. Yet I never received any
      specific comment about any specific post, what was good or bad. I never
      received any positive guidance, what to write about.

      This summer, before my third report, I called Mark Glaser, the editor of
      the PBS Idealab blog, if it was his decision to lock me out, and if it
      was all right by him if I blogged there again. He said that he had not
      made that decision and it was OK by him, and then I contacted Jose
      Zamora. But then Jose spoke with Mark and Mark changed his mind to say
      that it had been his decision and that he looked back over his reasons
      and that he wouldn't let me blog.

      Recently, there was a meeting for "all of the award winners", but I
      never learned about it. I do not receive any communications as an award

      I learned (or think I learned) that:
      * the Includer idea won funding because, being hardware, it was "real
      enough" for funders to grasp, whereas solving the same problem with
      software, as I had proposed four years earlier, was too abstract to be
      * the Includer idea was helpful as a catalyst for other projects
      * the Includer idea didn't have a genuine champion among potential users
      in Africa and therefore wouldn't ever happen; if it did, then it would
      * the world is moving closer in the direction of the Includer
      * I did get paid, so it was worthwhile to stick it through
      * I did the right thing, and it's understandable that I suffered for it
      * I am an American dissident, silenced by PBS, the Knight Foundation and
      Silicon Valley
      * there's something about me that gets me kicked out, fired, abused,
      shortchanged, penalized, silenced, ignored, but it seems to be a good
      quality and it expands my empathy for others and my understanding of the
      systems we live in
      * there are people who don't want me around, but if I'm not around, they
      will let me be
      * there are people like Jose Zamora in the system who will help me
      survive, even if they won't or can't side with me on every point
      * I need to focus more and more on individuals (in business and
      institutions) who believe in our culture of "independent thinking" and
      will champion us, especially if we can build a network of them
      * I need to avoid institutions, including awards like the Knight News
      Challenge, where you can win but nobody actually cares that you and your
      project succeed

      14. Please describe your plans in detail to sustain the project long term.

      My focus now is on organizing an online help room, training a global
      team to staff it and related online venues, building relationships with
      people like Leon Benjamin for whom we worked on behalf of Mornflake
      cereal, creating an "economy of dreams" where we support each other's
      dreams directly as much as possible, and cultivating a culture of
      independent thinkers, a "kingdom of heaven" that God might support, too.

      15. Did you collaborate with other organizations, particularly Knight
      Foundation grantees, during the course of this project? How?

      Minciu Sodas has a strong network and we overlap with many groups
      including those on-the-ground in Africa (like UYOGA in Tanzania, Actwid
      Kongadzem in Cameroon, Nafsi Afrika Acrobats in Kenya and Rising Voices
      grantee Repacted in Kenya) and online groups (like Act Alive, One
      Village, Dadamac). Janet Feldman leads our Holistic Helping working
      group. She wrote a handbook on “blogging positively” for Rising Voices.
      Several of our participants have written proposals for Rising Voices
      grants. Also, during the post-election turmoil in Kenya, we posted news
      through Ushahidi.org who won a Knight News Challenge award this year and
      have kindly invited us to share news.

      16. Please describe your interaction with Knight Foundation staff. What
      was most useful and what changes would you suggest?

      I described my interactions above. Mostly they have been one-sided: I
      have tried repeatedly to reach out to the Knight Foundation and make the
      most of the opportunity. Nobody reached out to me, neither Gary nor Mark
      ever left a comment at my blog, nor did they write me or call me, and
      rarely did they reply to me. Nobody responded to my three reports where
      I ask for such help and contact.

      I suggest that you dismiss Gary Kebbel and Mark Glaser. I don't think
      Gary Kebbel has the love of truth, the breadth of empathy, the concern
      for others or the regard for critical thinking that are fundamental for
      fostering excellence in journalism. I don't think that Mark Glaser has
      the moral fortitude. I think neither has the relevant social skills or
      social impulse.

      Make a commitment to support an award winner rather than their idea; and
      know why you care about their idea, don't simply oblige them to do
      something pointless. Have editors who are willing to edit (or censor)
      rather than shut writers down and lock them out. Don't ask them to
      censor themselves, I think that's immoral. Don't work secretly - work

      Don't sponsor a "clique" of winners. Sponsor open events like Bar Camps

      I think it's a mistake to organize such awards, to pick winners and
      losers, and to focus on "ideas" instead of people. I think it would be
      much more effective to encourage everybody to work for free on their
      projects, in the Public Domain, encourage collaboration in every way,
      and then have money available for those who have indeed worked for free,
      so that they might further help each other and make their projects come
      to life.

      17. Did you ever need Knight Foundation to help you facilitate contacts
      with experts in the field, professional peers and similar organizations?
      If so, was Knight Staff helpful?

      Nobody contacted me. Nobody responded to my previous reports. I have not
      found anybody at the Knight Foundation who wants to help me. I am
      certainly open to help from the Knight Foundation. Please do help!

      Thank you for this award. It has been a great help. Thank you for
      considering my reports.
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