Political news from Michigan’s WKAR goes mobile with new app

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WKAR's mobile app will feature the roundtable discussions from WKAR's Off the Record. (Photo: Anthony Cepak/WKAR-Michigan State University)

WKAR’s mobile app will feature roundtable discussions from its weekly TV show, Off the Record. (Photo: Anthony Cepak/WKAR-Michigan State University)

WKAR-TV in East Lansing, Mich., will make content from a weekly state politics and public affairs show available via a mobile app funded by a grant from the Investigative News Network.

The scope of WKAR’s proposed app helped it stand out among a pool of 48 applicants, said Kevin Davis, c.e.o. and executive director of INN. “What made it unique was that the app was focused more on a program rather than on general content,” Davis said. “It was quite niche.” (Disclosure: Current is contracting with INN for web development services.)

The weekly show, Off the Record, has provided coverage of Michigan affairs for 43 years, aided in part by WKAR’s location near the state capital. The half-hour broadcast is supplemented by OTR Extra, a live webcast featuring additional discussions among the show’s guests.

Gary Reid, director of broadcasting for WKAR, had heard that young legislative staffers were watching the online show. That suggested to him that WKAR needed to make more content from the show available in a different format.

“Traditionally, putting it up on a half-hour television program made sense for the local area,” Reid said. “Progressively, as the Internet connects us all, that value gets extended well beyond the area of our broadcast signal.”

Reid also wanted to make content accessible for a younger demographic, especially new voters. With its $30,116 grant, WKAR will work with developer Jacapps to create an app that offers breaking news, links to reports and legislation, and editions of OTR Extra.

It will be the station’s first mobile app. Development could start early next year, after a contract for distribution via Apple’s App Store is finalized.

Along with other recipients of INN grants, WKAR will update the funder on the progress and success of its app. The Michigan station is one of eight finalists to receive grants from the INNovation Fund’s second round. Over two years, INN will distribute $1 million from the Knight Foundation with a cap of about $35,000 for each accepted proposal.

The idea for the grant program came from research by the Knight Foundation that found that many nonprofit news organizations lacked resources for experimenting with increasing revenue and engaging audiences, according to Davis. The Knight Foundation turned to INN to administer the grants because the organization promotes nonprofit news models.

Applicants are interested because “unlike traditional grants, these are very business-oriented,” Davis said. “This is really focused on moving the needle around the ability to monetize, not just to produce work.”

The INNovation fund is open to all nonprofit news organizations. INN received a significant number of applications from public broadcasters when the fund launched in the spring. Grants went to WXXI in Rochester, N.Y., and KPCC in Pasadena, Calif., but WKAR is the first pubcaster to receive a grant for a project originating from public TV.

“If we’re going to get more and more people to understand why what we do is important and essential, we have to reach them in ways that are beyond the typical pledge drive or the typical ‘Donate Now’ button,” Davis said.

INN will begin accepting applications for the next round of grants early next year.

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