The Knight Foundation, a sponsor of journalism-innovation projects, named Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and digital experts from Harvard and MIT to its board, where they’ll take a venture-capital-like approach to media.

In the Miami-based group’s first-ever digital-related appointments, it also named Joichi Ito, head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab and John Palfrey, who runs Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and is also an adviser at venture firm Highland Capital Partners.

The new board members join people with backgrounds in newspapers including Paul Steiger, former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal and currently editor-in-chief of ProPublica.

Newspapers have lost money as advertisers and readers flock to the Internet and people communicate via social media and mobile devices.

“We need to be approaching these questions and these problems with an attitude more akin to venture capital, than with the attitude of a foundation,” Hughes said in an interview.

Hughes, who co-founded Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg, led the online initiative in President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.
$100 Million Investment

The Knight Foundation is shifting its strategy from charity to “social investing” as news and information delivery becomes digital, foundation president Alberto Ibarguen said in an interview. Since 2007, the foundation has invested more than $100 million in new technology for news and information, in more than 200 experiments, according to its website.

“Traditionally in the nonprofit sector, because an idea is founded on fate so much of the time, or founded on hope, the typical thing would be for someone to continue and continue until they ran out of money,” Ibarguen said. “An entrepreneur would find a creative way to make it work.”

Hughes also founded Jumo, which helped people connect with nonprofits, and merged it with another company. Ito was an early investor in Twitter Inc., Flickr and Technorati Inc. Their addition to the board could mean more experiments like ProPublica, a nonprofit that produces investigative journalism as newsrooms cut back, Hughes said.

“It’s about investment both in core activities that relate to media and information needs, as well as invented ones that cross the boundaries of what journalism is and what media is,” said Palfrey, the author of “Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives.”

Events like the so-called Arab Spring, a wave of protests which the world followed on Twitter and YouTube, show traditional media professionals must be digitally savvy, Ito said. Programming and data analysis should be as integrated in journalism as photography or audio, he said, speaking in an interview.

“A lot of foundations look to the Knight Foundation to set an example for doing new things,” Ito said. “Bringing us guys on the board will hopefully send an interesting message.”

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