John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

"Knight Foundation" redirects here. For other uses, see Knight Foundation (disambiguation).
John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Founded December 1950 (1950-12)
Founder John S. Knight
James L. Knight
Type Private Independent Foundation
Area served
United States
Key people
Alberto Ibargüen
President & CEO
$140.2 million (2014)[1]
Endowment $2.4 billion (2014)
Slogan Informed & engaged communities
Mission "...promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts..."[2]
Formerly called
Knight Memorial Education Fund

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is an American non-profit foundation dedicated to supporting "transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts."[2]

It began as the Knight Memorial Education Fund in 1940. For its first decade, most contributions came from the Akron Beacon Journal and Miami Herald. It was incorporated as Knight Foundation in 1950 in Ohio, and reincorporated as the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Florida in 1993. Its first grant in the area of journalism was to the Inter American Press Association in Miami.

After Creed Black assumed its presidency in 1988, the foundation's national presence grew. In 1990 the board of trustees voted to relocate the foundation's headquarters from Akron, Ohio, to Miami, Florida.


Creed Black and W. Gerald Austen attending a board meeting of the Knight Foundation at the Douglass Theatre in downtown Macon, Georgia

Funding in 2011 was distributed according to four programs. They are the Journalism and Media Innovation Program, the Communities Program, the Arts Program and the National Program. Each of the programs uses a combination of funding priorities and geographic requirements to select grants, described on the foundation's web site.

Communities which had Knight-Ridder Newspapers in 1991, at the time of the last founder James L. Knight's death, are considered to be among the 26 "Knight Communities", a consideration for funding eligibility in the Communities and Arts Programs.

Eight communities in the U.S. have a resident program director who is primary point of contact for funding:

Another 18 communities have 'Knight Donor Advised Funds' guided by the Knight Foundation via local community foundations. In those communities, the local community foundation is the first point of contact for funding:

Education and training

The foundation endows Knight Chairs who are journalists in tenured positions at universities across the United States.[3][4][5] Journalism-technology labs in various universities are also funded by the Knight Foundation.[6]

The Knight Foundation funds multimedia training in newsrooms such as National Public Radio[7] and through programs like Knight-Mozilla OpenNews.[8][9]


Alberto Ibargüen, President and CEO of Knight Foundation (2011)

Knight Foundation presidents have been: John S. Knight, James L. Knight, Lee Hills, Creed C. Black, Hodding Carter III (1997–2005) and Alberto Ibargüen (2005–present).


Any individual or U.S.-based organization may apply for a grant. (Prior to 2010, an organization must have been a registered section 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.) The process of asking for a grant begins with a letter of inquiry describing the project concept. In addition to the foundation's regular granting program, there are three contests (calls for entries): The Knight News Challenge,[10] the Knight Arts Challenge[11] and the Knight Community Information Challenge.[12] In 2011 the Foundation added a fourth contest, the Black Male Engagement Challenge.[13] In 2015 a grant agreement was reached with Wikimedia Foundation to build a search engine called Knowledge Engine.[14]


From 1907 to 1933, Charles Landon Knight published the Akron Beacon Journal. One of his practices was helping out financially strapped college students with their tuition. Following their father’s death, John S. and James L. Knight created the Knight Memorial Education Fund in 1940 to continue the mission of helping poor Akron college students pay for college. The Akron Beacon Journal also contributed some money to the education fund.

In December 1950, Knight Foundation was created with $9,047 transferred from that education fund. Knight Foundation incorporated in the state of Ohio with the goal of carrying out the work of the education fund. At its start, the foundation funded education, social services, cultural organizations and some journalism related causes.

In its first decade, the foundation’s money came from contributions from the Akron Beacon Journal and the Miami Herald, as well as personal gifts by John and James Knight. Other Knight newspapers also contributed in the early 1960s, this led to a limited number of grants to those cities. Despite several family ties, the foundation was legally independent from Knight-owned newspapers.

Newspaper contributions to the foundation stopped five years later, when Clara I. Knight, the Knights’ mother, who died 12 November 1965, left her inheritance of 180,000 shares of Knight stock, then valued at $5.2 million, to the foundation.

Two years later, in 1974, Knight Newspapers merged with Ridder Publications to create Knight-Ridder Inc., at the time the largest newspaper company in the country. Lee Hills, former president of Knight Newspapers, became Knight-Ridder chairman and CEO. Hills, a foundation trustee since 1960, was the first person outside the family to head Knight Newspapers.

In April 1975, John Knight signed his final will, leaving the bulk of his Knight-Ridder shares to Knight Foundation. The foundation opened its first office in Akron with two full-time employees: President Ben Maidenburg, former Akron Beacon Journal executive editor and his secretary, Shirley Follo. More than a year after taking the reins, Maidenburg fell ill.

The foundation’s headquarters moved from Akron to Miami in 1990. At that time, the foundation’s portfolio was valued at $522 million and staff had grown to 14 employees.

On 5 February 1991, James Knight died, leaving a bulk of his estate, $200 million, to the foundation. Hills succeeded as chairman of the board.

With the foundation besieged by requests in the early 1990s for emergency funding to “save our symphony,” Penelope McPhee, director of the Arts Program, designed the Magic of Music initiative.[15]

In 1992, Knight launched the five-year initiative with $5.4 million in grants to build the connection between orchestras and their audiences. In 1999, the foundation approved a second phase, expanding the program to a total of $13 million over 12 years.

Knight-Ridder newspapers and the foundation held ties to 26 U.S. cities and in 1998, the foundation’s board of trustees voted to permanently fund these 26 cities, independent from where Knight-Ridder bought or sold their newspaper business in the future.

Across the 26 cities, the foundation deployed program directors to oversee funding initiatives. Also, each city has a Knight Community Advisory Committee, a group made up of local residents, which offer funding suggestions for their city.

Assets and grant making

Year Assets (US$) New Grants Approved (US$) Paid (US$)
1999 1,888,543,168 311 69,541,641 53,142,772
2000 2,198,985,122 356 93,365,465 69,983,125
2001 1,900,829,942 319 86,433,075 84,970,064
2002 1,718,236,238 459 80,949,242 85,617,981
2003 1,845,869,048 349 128,719,470 90,400,477
2004 1,939,340,905 329 99,905,480 90,358,608
2005 2,071,507,291 286 78,224,147 92,577,162
2006 2,261,797,097 191 73,799,294 104,310,919
2007 2,618,700,006 290 165,310,078 121,267,122
2008 1,974,780,135 263 138,670,778 116,206,414
2009 2,189,663,052 276 141,813,088 105,887,097
2010 2,305,269,825 318 80,045,442 104,920,549
2011 2,192,836,756 380 79,284,121 112,604,594
2012 2,179,634,480 414 92,352,685 112,063,584
2013 2,395,608,862 80,483,204 120,694,865
2014 2,443,818,246 130,284,911

Source: John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Annual Reports[16]


John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall, Miami, Florida, 2008


  1. "Knight Foundation 2014 Audited Financial Statement" (PDF). 2015-06-15. Retrieved 2015-11-11.
  2. 1 2 "What We Fund". Retrieved 2015-11-11.
  3. "Knight Foundation". Retrieved 2016-09-28.
  4. "Rosental Alves | School of Journalism". Retrieved 2016-09-28.
  5. "Penny Abernathy | UNC School of Media and Journalism". Retrieved 2016-09-28.
  6. "History of the Lab". 2013-03-23. Retrieved 2016-09-28.
  7. "NPR's Multimedia Transformation Boosted By New, System-wide Training Effort". Retrieved 2016-09-28.
  8. "Knight-Mozilla OpenNews -- Building an ecosystem for open web development in journalism | Knight-Mozilla OpenNews". Retrieved 2016-09-28.
  9. "Knight-Mozilla OpenNews wants to fund code at lengths longer than a quick jog, shorter than a marathon". Retrieved 2016-09-28.
  10. "Knight News Challenge". Retrieved 2015-11-11.
  11. "Knight Arts Challenge". Retrieved 2015-11-11.
  12. "Knight Community Information Challenge". Retrieved 2015-11-11.
  13. "Black Male Engagement Challenge". Retrieved 2015-11-11.
  14. wmf:File:Knowledge engine grant agreement.pdf, 18 September 2015. Published 11 February 2016, retrieved 16 February 2016.
  15. "Magic of Music Final Report: The Search for Shining Eyes". Retrieved 2015-11-11.
  16. "Financial Information". Knight Foundation. Retrieved 2015-11-11.
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