BenitoLink was awarded a $150,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation this week to support San Benito County’s online news and information site.

“It’s our privilege and honor to support what you are doing, we’re thrilled to support this work,” said Judith Kleinberg, Program Director, San José and Silicon Valley for the Knight Foundation. The Miami-based foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. “We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged.” They have funded media projects across the country, including websites, literacy programs and applications for mobile devices that help citizens stay informed and engaged in their communities.

BenitoLink.com is an outcome of the Community Foundation for San Benito County’s Vision San Benito County project and was launched in BETA form in December 2012. The site focuses on issues of importance to San Benito County and is largely made up of content provided by the community.

“These funds will be awarded to the Community Foundation for San Benito County (CFFSBC)and will be used to continue the work of Vision San Benito County:  to encourage & facilitate participation of all residents in decisions that improve our community’s quality of life,” said Julie Morris, Director of the Vision San Benito County project.  “The Foundation has shown great leadership in supporting BenitoLink and sets an example for other foundations around the country undertaking similar projects.”

As daily newspapers close across the country many cities and small towns have been met with a void of information. In response, so-called “hyperlocal” websites – focusing on a specific geographical region – have replaced the daily newspaper. During the CFFSBC’s 18-month visioning project more than 800 San Benito County residents were asked to describe their vision of the county’s future. In Listening Sessions all over the county, people mentioned the lack of a reliable and independent source of local news and information. As a result, the Vision San Benito County project sought funding to develop and launch an independent website addressing community issues. The Knight Foundation gave the project $20,000 in seed money in December 2011. A small, volunteer Advisory Committee has been meeting weekly for the past year to design a site that is both user friendly and informative.

“The exciting thing about this, for me, is that an outcome of the vision process is going to be on-going.  I was so afraid that it would end up on a shelf, but  the BenitoLink Team and Vision are going to keep the community involved with what happens here,” said Dan Dungy, a member of the Vision San Benito County Advisory Committee.

Although the site is still in a testing or “BETA” phase, there has been a positive response from the community. To date, there are more than 220 registered users and Google Analytics tracking shows the site has had more than 4,000 unique visitors and 37,000+ page views. The statistics are consistent with the Knight Foundation’s  research that says people want to feel engaged in their communities and choose to live in a place based not just on jobs, but on the region’s social activities and natural beauty. In a report The Soul of the Community,  researchers found that attachment is most closely related to how accepting a community is of diversity, its wealth of social offerings, and its aesthetics. BenitoLink hopes to promote these aspects by encouraging dialog and diversity of views in the community.

“We plan to use the Knight funding to improve the site’s functionality, provide quality, original content, and leverage other funding sources through sponsorships and marketing,” Morris said. “We’re very excited and appreciative of the vote of confidence from such a well-respected media organization.”