Mission & History

We support passionate journalists, innovators, and entrepreneurs as they create the new models, tools and approaches that are redefining  journalism. Through the years, one core mission of the Knight Fellowships remains the same: To improve the quality of news and information reaching the public.

Journalism fellowships at Stanford started in 1966 with a powerful idea: giving reporters and editors free run of the classrooms and libraries of a great university, which would pay off in superb journalism. We grew and evolved during the 1960s and ’70s, with widening support from journalism and journalists. A $4 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation put us on a permanently endowed basis in 1984, and the program was renamed for John S. Knight.

The original model worked well for a long time — and then the huge disruptions to journalism spurred us to make big changes. We now work to serve the needs of journalism and journalists by focusing on innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership. Here’s how we define those terms: 

Innovation means applying new solutions to unmet needs: creativity plus implementation. It is not wild ideas that lead nowhere, and it is not limited to digital technology.

Entrepreneurship means taking a risk to create something new — inside an existing organization or outside of one — by seeing and responding to an opportunity. It is not the same as starting a business.

Leadership means inspiring and enlisting others to reach a shared goal. It is not the same as being the boss or a CEO.

Journalism informs and engages the public with reliable news and information in myriad forms of media: stories, photos, videos, charts, analysis and commentary. Its tools and techniques change while its core principles of accuracy, verification, independence, fairness and relevance remain sacred.

We select journalists with great ideas they will pursue while in our program and beyond. Recent fellows have launched journalism startups, created cross-border investigative reporting partnerships, crafted tools to enhance reporting on immigrant communities, to cite a few examples. Others have been sought out  to lead innovation in established news organizations. 

Our fellows come from all over the world and from all types of journalism, including daily newspapers, radio and television, non-profit news startups, blogs and ethnic media. They explore and use Stanford, in addition to working on their innovation proposals. They take their cues from our partners and allies in Silicon Valley, as they prototype, refine and retest their ideas. And they don’t do it alone. Knight Fellows work closely with each other — and us — to develop their proposals and explore alternatives. That’s how we are transforming journalism.