2023 RJI Student Innovation Competition

The Challenge

Come up with a utility journalism idea to test out in partnership with a local news source.

Utility journalism, also known as service journalism, works to help communities solve problems, answer questions, and make big decisions in their lives.

Ask yourself: what information or service does my local community need that local news sources could provide? Then help a local news source address this need by working with them to equitably implement your idea in your community. 

Part 1

Teams can create anything — low tech or high tech — a game, an app, an event, a series, a widget — anything! Think creatively and figure out what works for your community.

Create a plan for how you will implement your idea over a three month period. You will need to detail the necessary steps, milestones and how you plan to measure success at the end of your implementation. Enter your idea by Oct. 15, 2022.

Our selection committee will pick finalists from the submissions based on the strength of the planning, potential for success and creative out of the box thinking. Those ideas will then move to the next phase!

Part 2

If selected as a finalist, your team will have until March 2023 to implement and test your idea before presenting a presentation detailing your pitch, implementation and the results for the judges.

This presentation will be recorded by the RJI production team (remotely) in March 2023. These presentations will be watched by the judges prior to their Q&A with each team. These presentations will also be watchable by the public who will vote for their Fan Favorite team. The Fan Favorite team wins a special prize! (Last year’s fan favorite winner got an all expenses paid trip to ONA in Los Angeles.)

Our judges will join us at the Reynolds Journalism Institute for the competition judging to watch each presentation, have a Q&A session with each team and be a part of our live awards ceremony from the RJI Studio where we announce the winners.


First place: $10,000

Second place: $2,500

Third place: $1,000

Eligibility requirements

  • A team can be an individual student or up to 4 students.
  • Teams cannot apply for additional funding from their school or other organizations for their idea until after the competition is complete. All teams will be given up to $500 by RJI for approved reimbursement of project materials during the implementation phase.
  • At least one person on each team must be a journalism or communication student.
  • Faculty from the student’s school can advise but cannot be involved in the implementation of the idea — students must do all of the actual work.
  • Final presentations must be in English and recorded by RJI. Each team will have their presentation recorded by RJI remotely, with a time limit of 10 minutes. If student teams go over their time limit on their first recorded presentation – they will be given two additional tries to record within the 10 min limit. If they go over the allotted 10 min on all 3 recordings, only 10 minutes of the final recording will be shown to the judges and public.
  • All team members must be a part of the presentation and the Q&A with the judges to qualify for the top 3 prizes.
  • The competition is open to all college students attending school in the U.S. All team members have to verify their US college enrollment status upon application.
  • If you are here on a student visa, please note that your winnings will probably have to be distributed as a scholarship through your university. We will require you to plan ahead and make the necessary arrangements with your university for us to transfer your potential winnings.
  • All money and prizes will go to the students who participate in the competition – not to any faculty, news partners or collaborators.
  • The competition will not assert any IP or ownership over the projects or outcomes.

Judging criteria

Projects will be judged on five main criteria:

  1. Idea: How did the team come up with the idea? Was it based on research, data and other factors to decide the community need and the feasibility? 
  2. Implementation: Did the project get implemented, meet the planned milestones and overcome the hurdles it encountered?
  3. Measuring success: Was the project implementation successful? How did the team measure impact and success?
  4. Reach: Was the idea created with attention to diversity, equity and accessibility for the community? Could the idea be replicable and applicable in more communities and newsrooms across the country?
  5. Sustainability: Is the idea sustainable after the competition? Was it built and implemented in a manner that supports continued management, revenue and/or growth?

Awards Ceremony

April 6th at 11am CT: Join us to see the top 3 teams learn who won the First Place $10,000 prize. It will be live streamed on the RJI Fb page.

Questions? Director of Innovation, Kat Duncan Duncank@rjionline.org