Cortico will Advance “Local Voices Network” with $2 million from Knight Foundation

Cortico, a nonprofit organization with the mission of fostering constructive public conversation in communities and the media, today announced it had received an additional $2 million in funding from the The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as part of a new $300 million, five-year commitment that seeks to rebuild the future of local news. This is the second grant to Cortico from Knight Foundation, with the first announced in September, 2017 for $900,000.

Working in cooperation with the MIT Media Lab, Cortico builds listening systems designed to surface a communitys under-heard voices and channel their perspectives and stories into the public dialogue. Through its first initiative, the Local Voices Network (LVN), Cortico is building a network of recorded in-person conversations in select regions across the United States, offering community members, media and civic leaders a new window into important local issues and perspectives. LVN is explorable through web-based tools that will allow the community to tune into whats most relevant locally, and the media to tell stories that are more reflective of life on the ground.

With trust in the media near all-time lows, journalists need to understand the voices of people who have gone unheard, help tell their stories and develop a more sophisticated understanding of how digital technologies are shaping public debate. Cortico is poised to provide a new way for journalists and leaders to do just that through an innovative platform that will help them listen to the public and be more responsive to community concerns, said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism.

Nationally, the country is politically polarized and culturally fragmented. Locally, people share a lived community experience, but too many local voices go unheard as many newsrooms are losing the pulse of communities they can no longer afford to cover as deeply, said Deb Roy, Co-Founder and Chairman of Cortico. We are excited to receive this additional funding, as it will enable LVN to continue to create new local spaces for constructive public conversation that builds understanding among people across boundaries and trust between the public and the media.

Through LVN, conversations are organized and led by volunteer hosts from the community who have experience in group facilitation and who, as a group, reflect the diversity of the area. Each conversation takes place around a Digital Hearth that records the discussion and enables hosts to play speech highlights from other groups in order to cross-pollinate voices and perspectives across community boundaries. The recordings are transcribed to make them machine readable, then analyzed with AI-based tools that enable users to explore conversations.

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LVN is deploying in select communities over the course of the next year, with the long-term goal of rolling out into every state. Roll outs are currently underway in the following communities:

  1. Madison, Wisconsin: Through a partnership with the Madison Public Library, nearly 70 LVN-trained hosts are starting to organize and guide small-group conversations throughout Madison, with more conversations happening each week. Several Madison media outlets, including the Cap Times and the Capital City Hues, are expected to employ LVN conversation content in their local reporting.
  2. The Bronx, New York: The New York Public Library is partnering with Cortico to establish LVN hubs at three neighborhood library branches in the Bronx in Spring 2019.
  3. Birmingham, Alabama: In late Spring 2019 LVN will launch in Birmingham with Alabama Media Groups news organization AL.com. For AL.com, Cortico will combine LVN with local Twitter and talk radio conversation, with the goal of fueling stories that are more inclusive of local voices and reflective of life on the ground in Birmingham communities.

Cortico was founded by Chairman Deb Roy, Director of the Laboratory for Social Machines (LSM) at the MIT Media Lab, Cortico President Eugene Yi, Deployment Strategist at LSM, and Russell Stevens, Deployment Lead at LSM. Corticos development team brings experience in using machine learning to understand and map media, while its deployment team includes experts in data journalism, local news, and community organizing. Advisors and supporters include Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web; Reid Hoffman of Greylock Partners and founder of LinkedIn; Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab and a Knight Foundation board member; Ali Rowghani of YCombinator; and Craig Newmark of Craig Newmark Philanthropies and founder of Craigslist.

Since its launch in 2016, Cortico has raised approximately $10 million from foundations and individuals who seek to bring technology and human power together to improve civic life. To date, in addition to Knight Foundation, Cortico funding sources include Reid Hoffman, Craig Newmark Philanthropies and Ali Rowghani.

About Cortico

Cortico is a nonprofit organization with the mission of fostering constructive public conversation in communities and the media that improves our understanding of one another. Working in cooperation with the Laboratory for Social Machines at the MIT Media Lab, Cortico builds listening systems designed to surface a communitys under-heard voices and channel their perspectives and stories into the public dialogue.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

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