San Diego State University has won a $35,000 grant to test air quality as part of a collaborative journalism project, the Online News Association announced Friday.
 
SDSU’s winning experiment — one of a dozen schools to get such grants — is called “What’s in the Air?”

San Diego State University journalism project. Image from journalists.org

It pairs journalism and geology students with inewsource, the nonprofit news organization, to experiment with the concept that using electronic sensors to test air quality in San Diego can help the public be more informed about pollution and its impact on the city.

“Preliminary research tells us that the EPA data on air quality in San Diego is inconsistent so it will require a lot of time drilling down into the data,” SDSU wrote about its project. “The EPA and the County of San Diego have 14 air monitoring stations that gather data from a larger area. Our intention is to provide information on a much more granular (neighborhood) level and to use this as a teaching tool.”
 
Amy Schmitz Weiss, associate professor in SDSU’s School of Journalism & Media Studies, said: “We are looking forward to kicking off this project and collaborating with our partners and the greater San Diego community to tell an important story for San Diegans using innovative sensor technology and solid shoe-leather reporting.”
 
Announced at the 2014 Journalism Interactive Conference, funding the for the winners comes from the competitive Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education, created to encourage universities to experiment with new ways of providing news and information.

The only other California school to win this grant was San Francisco State University.
 
The fund is the brainchild of a collaborative that includes the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Democracy Fund, and is managed by the Online News Association, the world’s largest membership group of digital journalists.

The 125 entries for the 2014-15 academic year were judged on their ability to create collaborative, student-produced local news coverage, bridge the professor-professional gap, use innovative techniques and technologies and learn from digital-age news experiments. Winning teams included some combination of students, researchers, media professionals, educators, developers and designers.
 
“We zeroed in on ideas and teams that we hope inspire innovation, collaboration and real world impact in academia and media,” said Irving Washington, ONA operations director, who administered the selection process.

“The potential for true community engagement in the winning projects was every bit as important as the tools and technology used to achieve it.”
 
Other winning schools were Arizona State University, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Florida International University, Georgia Collaborative, S Texas State University, University of Illinois, University of Missouri, University of New Mexico, University of Oklahoma, and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Thirteen schools received honorable mention for their projects.
 
The winners, chosen in consultation with academic advisers, ONA leaders and funders, will be featured at upcoming ONA conferences and other news media education events.
 
The competition will culminate in at least one grand prize for the project most likely to change either local newsgathering, journalism education or both. A second overall prize will be given for the best project evaluation, regardless of the experiment’s outcome.
 
The fund plans to support between 20 to 25 projects over the next two years. The founding funders have committed $920,000 to launch the project, and additional funders are expected to join this year, to bring the total to well over $1 million.

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