Knight Foundation

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Knight Foundation
FoundedDecember 1950; 73 years ago (1950-12)
FounderJohn S. Knight
James L. Knight
TypePrivate independent foundation
FocusMedia and arts
Area served
United States
Key people
Alberto Ibargüen
President & CEO
$254.8 million (2021)[1]
Endowment$3.0 billion (2021)[2]
Formerly called
Knight Memorial Education Fund

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, also known as the Knight Foundation, is an American non-profit foundation that provides grants for journalism, communities, and the arts.

The organization was founded as the Knight Memorial Education Fund in 1940. For its first decade, most of its contributions came from the Akron Beacon Journal and Miami Herald. The fund 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 given to the Inter American Press Association, a press advocacy group, in Miami.

After Creed Black assumed the presidency of the foundation in 1988, its national presence grew. In 1990, the board of trustees voted to relocate its headquarters from Akron, Ohio, to Miami, Florida, where it has been headquartered since.


20th century[edit]

From 1907 to 1933, Charles Landon Knight, publisher of the Akron Beacon Journal, provided tuition assistance to college students in need. 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 needy Akron college students pay for college. The Akron Beacon Journal also contributed some money to the education fund.

In December 1950, the Knight Foundation was created with a beginning balance of $9,047, transferred from the 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 gave grants for education, social services, cultural organizations and some journalism-related causes.

In its first decade, the foundation's financial resources came from contributions from the Akron Beacon Journal and Miami Herald, and from personal grants from 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 of Knight-owned newspapers.

Newspaper contributions to the foundation stopped five years later. At that time, the Knights' mother Clara, who died on November 12, 1965, left her inheritance of 180,000 shares of Knight stock to the foundation. The stock was valued at $5.2 million.

Two years later, in 1974, Knight Newspapers merged with Ridder Publications to create Knight-Ridder Inc., which created the largest newspaper company in the country at the time. 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, Ohio to Miami in 1990. At that time, the foundation's portfolio was valued at $522 million and staff had grown to 14 employees.

On February 5, 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.[3]

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. Each city has a Knight Community Advisory Committee, a group made up of local residents, which offer funding suggestions for their city.

21st century[edit]

In 2005, to address the Internet's increasingly disruptive impact on the traditional media industry, Knight began a number of systemic changes in its approach to making grants. As one of his first actions as CEO, Alberto Ibargüen suspended the further creation of endowments of journalism programs at colleges and universities. The premise was that traditional journalism education had to change to meet the unique challenges of the digital age. Knight also began experimenting with non-traditional approaches to connecting with new grantees, such as contests that limited grantees to 150 words to describe ideas and were open to anybody.

The first of these contests, the Knight News Challenge, sought ideas that used "digital technology to inform communities." In addition to Knight's pivot toward funding digital innovations, the foundation also doubled down on its support of the First Amendment, funding regular surveys that gauged high school students' awareness of it, and helping create organizations like the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University to "preserve and expand First Amendment rights in the digital age through research and education, and by supporting litigation in favor of protecting freedom of expression and the press." Under Ibargüen, Knight also expanded its support of the arts, through "Knight Arts Challenges" in a number of Knight Communities.


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

The Foundation's website describes grant-making programs in journalism, communities, and the arts.[4] 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" which are eligible for funding through the Foundation's community and arts programs.[citation needed]


Knight works in 26 communities in the United States. In eight communities, a local program director leads the work:

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

Education and training[edit]

The foundation endows Knight Chairs who are journalists in tenured positions at universities across the United States.[5][6][7] Journalism-technology labs in various universities are also funded by Knight Foundation.[8]

Knight Foundation funds multimedia training in newsrooms such as National Public Radio and through programs like Knight-Mozilla OpenNews.[9][10]


Alberto Ibargüen, president and chief executive of the Knight Foundation in 2013

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).

Notable people[edit]


Any individual or U.S.-based organization may apply for a grant. (Before 2010, an organization had to be 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,[12] the Knight Arts Challenge[13] and the Knight Community Information Challenge.[14] In 2011 the Foundation added a fourth contest, the Black Male Engagement Challenge.[15] In 2015 a grant agreement was reached with Wikimedia Foundation to build a search engine called Knowledge Engine.[16]

Assets and grant making[edit]

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 2,395,608,862 434 80,483,204 120,694,865
2014 2,443,818,246 531 148,564,966 130,284,911
2015 2,301,502,477 599 150,688,190 126,796,384
2016 2,256,756,854 482 93,859,603 127,865,430
2017 2,473,340,121 500 88,528,014 117,929,820
2018 2,271,386,220 399 157,028,547 105,335,420
2019 2,424,843,251 488 155,146,399 133,711,354
2020 2,674,252,731 381 71,731,889 123,809,334
2021 3,089,444,600 358 95,853,815 114,231,066



John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall in Miami in 2008


  1. ^ "Knight Foundation 2021 Form 990-PF" (PDF). 2022-11-11. Retrieved 2023-08-23.
  2. ^ "Knight Foundation 2021 Form 990-PF" (PDF). 2022-11-11. Retrieved 2023-08-23.
  3. ^ "Magic of Music Final Report: The Search for Shining Eyes". Archived from the original on 2015-10-13. Retrieved 2015-11-11.
  4. ^ "What We Fund". Knight Foundation. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  5. ^ "Knight Foundation". Retrieved 2016-09-28.
  6. ^ "Rosental Alves | School of Journalism". Retrieved 2016-09-28.
  7. ^ "Penny Abernathy | UNC School of Media and Journalism". Retrieved 2016-09-28.
  8. ^ "History of the Lab". 2013-03-23. Archived from the original on 2015-09-05. Retrieved 2016-09-28.
  9. ^ "Newsonomics: The new Knight-Lenfest initiative gives a kick in the pants to America's metro newspapers | NiemanLab". Retrieved 2017-08-03.
  10. ^ "Knight-Mozilla OpenNews wants to fund code at lengths longer than a quick jog, shorter than a marathon". Retrieved 2016-09-28.
  11. ^ "Women At The New York Times Feel Frustrated As Paper Stands By Reporter Accused Of Sexual Misconduct". Huffington Post India. 2017-12-22. Retrieved 2018-02-03.
  12. ^ "Knight News Challenge". Retrieved 2015-11-11.
  13. ^ "Knight Arts Challenge". Archived from the original on 2015-07-06. Retrieved 2015-11-11.
  14. ^ "Knight Community Information Challenge". Retrieved 2015-11-11.
  15. ^ "Black Male Engagement Challenge". Archived from the original on 2015-10-31. Retrieved 2015-11-11.
  16. ^ wmf:File:Knowledge engine grant agreement.pdf, 18 September 2015. Published 11 February 2016, retrieved 16 February 2016.
  17. ^ "Financial Information - Assets and Grantmaking". Knight Foundation. Retrieved 2022-12-15.

External links[edit]