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$250K Knight Foundation grant will help grow this tool for journalists everywhere

DocumentCloud, cofounded by Philly-based journalist Aron Pilhofer, will be finding its path to sustainability from Temple University's Klein College.

No more of this. (Photo by Flickr user Isaac Bowen, used under a Creative Commons license)

Born of a Knight Foundation News Challenge in 2009, you may have bumped into DocumentCloud without knowing it.

The digital tool, which lets journalists share and annotate documents, has been used in several first-rate newsrooms: the New York Times, the Guardian and the Washington Post journos have used it to feed docs to the masses, all the while adding context and helping readers better sift through info.

And now, backed by a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, the tool will aim to find its path to sustainability from Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication, where cofounder Aron Pilhofer — an NYT and Guardian alum now based in Philly — is posted up as the James B. Steele Chair in Journalism Innovation.

Just to give you an idea of DocumentCloud’s current size: the platform now hosts 3.6 million documents, which have collectively been viewed over 824 million times. Some 8,400 journalists in 1,619 news outlets have already put it to use, including the reporters behind groundbreaking reporting projects like Wikileaks and the storied Panama Papers.

Also cofounded by ProPublica’s Eric Umansky and Scott Klein, DocumentCloud will move to be an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit and operate “in collaboration” with Klein College. Pilhofer spoke with to share more context on what that means.

“I’ll be leading the project day-to-day, which is a big job and a not insubstantial commitment,” Pilhofer said. “We will be hiring students to work with me on the project, which is both a learning opportunity for them and a job. These won’t be internships where they sit in a corner making photocopies. They will be helping me run the platform, which means everything from approving new accounts to helping redesign the user interface to helping me with the business model.”

The tool will also be brought into the Klein curriculum.


Though a lot is still to-be-determined, the move to sustainability will begin by asking the more heavy users of the tool to support the platform financially, as well as adding some usage limits.

Institutional users will also get tapped for cash. It may be a tough ask of media outlets, many of which are either laying off staff in the triple-digits (NYT) or turning to crowdfunding (Guardian). But there’s just no way around it: the cost of keeping the free tool alive has grown alongside its popularity.

“We’ve had orgs out of the blue upload 40,000 docs in rapid succession,” Pilhofer said. “We think it’s completely fair to ask people to help, because we’re not looking for profit but sustainability.”

A more limited free account is still slated to be available for journos, Pilhofer said.

The veteran reporter, who moved to Philadelphia in November and began his Temple gig in January, said the tool’s functions become even more important in today’s media landscape. He’s bullish about DocumentCloud’s potential, but also about Philly.

“It’s a growing tech hub and there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening, particularly in media, with the Lenfest Institute and the Inquirer.” Pilhofer said. ” It’s an exciting time to be in media and tech, and the combo of those things is why I think it’s a great time to move DocumentCloud here.”

Companies: Knight Foundation / Temple University

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