Facebook and DMZ’s Digital News Innovation Challenge is Underway

The Digital News Innovation Challenge has officially launched.

The challenge has opened up for applications and is looking for up to five Canadian ideas rooted in digital media and news to award prize and marketing money to. The initiative is a joint project from the Facebook Journalism Project, the Ryerson School of Journalism and the DMZ. The competition was first unveiled in November. 

The event launched at a symposium called Digital News Innovation: Framing the Challenge, held at the DMZ. The event featured a panel of speakers discussing the project itself, along with a host of well-known Canadian journalists and media personalities including Jesse Wente, James Baxter and Shauna Rempel. The discussions revolved around the state of media in Canada and abroad, and how to innovate in a traditional space.

Potential applicants to the challenge can come from a wide-ranging background. They can be individuals, small groups, existing startups, and almost everything in between. The only stipulation is that applicants pitching an existing business must not have prior annual revenues in excess of $100,000.

“This is an attempt to help the broader news ecosystem,” Kevin Chan said at the launch event. Chan is Facebook Canada’s head of public policy. “We’re trying to figure out what the potential business models are that arise from this. We will help with distribution and the ability to provide good quality news to as many different people as possible, and then ask if there are ways for people to monetize their media ideas.”

The applications must be in by March 9 and a shortlist will be selected by March 16. From there, the shortlisted applicants will pitch to a selection committee by the end of the month, then those who made it will be notified and begin the five-month incubator period on April 23. September 28 will be the demo day for the finalists to show their projects off.

The total amount a finalist can earn is $100,000 in funding and $50,000 worth of Facebook marketing. The money is all provided by Facebook and is awarded in gates. The five finalists will receive $20,000 as soon as they are selected, then $20,000 twice more throughout the five-month incubator period. After the demo day, they will be able to receive the final $40,000. The marketing money will be awarded in similar gates determined by Facebook, and there will be different panels of judges along the way making the decisions.

“What we’re talking about here is not just money. It’s not just about ideas. What we’re focused on here is an incubation program focused on mentorship,” said Richard Lachman, the director of zone learning and an associate professor at Ryerson while speaking at the event. “We want you to not just have an invention, but identify a real issue or problem and an approach to solving it.”

At least one person who is part of an application has to be fully committed to the project throughout the incubation period, working full-time hours and attending the weekly meetings. They will also have access to mentors, coaches and experts in the field to guide them along the project.

The challenge is part of the Facebook Journalism Project and emblematic of the social media giant’s attempts to address digital media literacy. Facebook recently introduced their Canadian Election Integrity Campaign in the fight against fake sources and unobjective outlets, and this latest endeavour looks to give back to a few small media outlets looking to solve problems while also operating a successful business.

“Millions of Canadians get some or part of their news from Facebook,” explained Chan. “That’s why we created the Facebook Journalism Project. It’s designed for three things: build better projects for publishers, reach out to develop partnerships, and develop tools and resources to let people think critically about news they may encounter online.”

Though the project is supported by one of the largest tech companies in the world and populated by experts from the DMZ and Canada’s tech industry, it is not all about ways to utilize new innovations and creating a cutting-edge platform or breakthrough.

“We believe this can’t just be a tech-based approach,” said Abdullah Snobar, the executive director of the DMZ, who also spoke at the launch event. “There is a big involvement from industry-based approaches, which is why we brought together all these partners. By bringing all these groups together, it will allow for the three pillars to be met: research, product development, and access to industry.”

Applicants who are not selected to receive funding will be encouraged to still take part in various workshops and mentoring sessions that will be on offer at the DMZ throughout the five-month incubation period.