Knight Foundation invests $60 million to protect digital free speech

The newly-minted '1st Amendment Institute' will call Columbia University home.

It's getting tough to be a journalist these days with the First Amendment seemingly encroached from all sides. That's why the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is granting Columbia University $60 million to create the Knight First Amendment Institute (FAI). The FAI will be tasked with preserving and expanding 1st Amendment protections. It will act as "a primary, durable and influential advocate of free expression in the digital age", according to a release from the Knight Foundation.

"The First Amendment is not self-executing; only people can make it what it has become, through our attitudes, actions and, more pointedly, through the courts," Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University, said in the statement. "In the past, news organizations pursued and won key court cases defining free expression. But such cases can be enormously expensive and many media – both established and new – are increasingly hard-pressed in the current economic environment to support First Amendment legal action."

The FAI will provide material support for newsrooms in three ways: research and education, such as the Knight Foundation's annual Sunshine Week; acting as a network for other like-minded advocacy groups such as the EFF or the Society of Professional Journalists; and a litigation fund to help legal advocates like the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

"As the internet becomes even more integral to our lives, we face significant questions about the evolution of our rights," Knight Foundation president Alberto Ibargüen concurred. "Threats to free speech are on the rise, and our hope is that the Institute will not just protect but help reinvigorate First Amendment principles for future generations."