OpenNews: Fellowships Five Ways

Our 2014 Knight-Mozilla Fellowship search is in full swing—August 17 is the last day to apply. Being a Knight-Mozilla Fellow is a unique experience—you travel the world writing code that matters, collaborate with some of the best news organizations on the planet, and build lasting friendships with your fellow fellows. We invite our Knight-Mozilla Fellows to choose their own adventure—to create an experience that is singular to them, and that helps move journalism forward in ways that they truly want to engage. As a result, everyone’s fellowship experience is different and capturing them in a simple pitch can be hard, so last week and this week we’ve asked our current and former fellows to write about their experience.

For Noah Veltman, who is spending his fellowship year at the BBC, having moved from the Bay Area to London, he hits on the moment “when the awesome craziness of my OpenNews fellowship sank in”:

I was on my way home after my first day at BBC headquarters, looking around the subway car, and I realized that fully half of the passengers were reading BBC News on their phones. Whoa. Since then, I’ve been in the newsroom when Pope Benedict resigned, when Margaret Thatcher died, and when the bombs went off in Boston. I learn so much every day that my head is spinning by lunchtime. My seven co-fellows routinely blow my mind with their work. I’ve met so many brilliant people around the world who are not just redefining how we do the news, but doing it as a team, one big journalism Justice League. I love this job.

Sonya Song, who joined the Boston Globe as a Fellow while pursuing her PhD in Media Studies from the University of Michigan, writes about the opportunities “that you may not easily find in academia”—including the “freedom and flexibility to follow where your curisosity leads.”

Although Fellows often offer a helping hand to our hosts, we are not obliged to commit to any task in the newsrooms, because all our funding is from OpenNews. This independence lets us pursue our own interests without being bound by routine work that regular employees have to undertake. Meanwhile, we are encouraged to work with other Fellows and organizations. Right now, I am working with two other Fellows, Stijn Debrouwere and Brian Abelson, on measuring news impact and contributing my knowledge to ProPublica on a project related to Internet policy. We don’t only collaborate remotely and virtually, but we also reunite in person on different continents, to put our heads together and hack on something.

Down in Buenos Aires, Manuel Aristaran, writes about his move from a team building Argentina’s first cubesat satellite to the offices of La Nacion. The ability to collaborate across newsrooms and borders was appealing to Manuel. "As an OpenNews fellow, you’ll be part of a large network of journalists and programmers interested in the media and eager to share experiences and collaborate on a diverse array of projects," he writes. For Manuel, that meant the tool he created, Tabula, saw almost instant adoption:

That was the case of Tabula, an open source tool that was created out of the combination of a personal project and previous work by ProPublica one of the OpenNews media partners this and next year.

I started the project earlier this year and soon after decided to join forces with ProPublica, who was working on a similar tool. After announcing it on Source (the official web site for the OpenNews program), Tabula was adopted by editors and activists around the world that need to use the data sets trapped within PDF files.

Brian Abelson, who has been spending his Fellowship year doing a deep dive analyzing news metrics at the New York Times, writes about his Fellowship experience after applying at “literally the last second.”

Since then, I’ve undergone a transformation that is no less than miraculous. In my five-plus months as a fellow I’ve dove deep into the technical and intellectual challenges of impact measurement, reading as much as I could find on the topic, experimenting with the creation of metrics for News Apps, speaking at conferences, and conversing with the brightest minds in the field. I have been continually humbled at the many people working on this problem for no other reason than they think it’s the right thing to do. I’ve also found support in the many innovators and brainiacs I work with at the New York Times and the seven incredible people I’ve shared this journey with.

In this time, I’ve gone from a novice coder with some knowledge of stats to someone who regularly writes map-reduce jobs over terabytes of data (trust me, if you’re a data nerd, the New York Times is your perverse playground). The freedom of the fellowship has also allowed me to pursue more whimsical projects like building haikubots, experimenting with data sonification, and writing oh-so-many twitter trolls. I’ve also had the privilege of working with my friends in csv soundsystem to build - a daily data feed for the U.S. Treasury.

Finally, 2012 Fellowship Alum Mark Boas, who has leveraged one of his fellowship projects into the startup Hyperaudio (which is part of Mozilla’s WebFWD accelerator class this summer), looks back on his year and writes:

It’s hard to imagine the adrenalin rush you get when your interactive goes live in front of the world, a world that is actually watching, but it makes you want to do it over and over again.

There you have it: Five different paths along a Fellowship year. The freedom to experiment, to try new things, to collaborate; they are all baked into the design of the Knight-Mozilla Fellowships. Do you love to code? Do you want to find out why Manuel Aristaran writes that “Being a Knight-Mozilla Fellow is the best thing that can happen to you”? Then apply today. The days to apply are running out: Get your application in before August 17.