ProPublica, NY Times, Others Explain the Benefits of Becoming a Knight-Mozilla Fellow

    by Dan Sinker
    August 3, 2012

    i-d3452efce1fd62eca07129a93390ac45-ONlogo_justO.pngFour news partners that will host 2013 Knight-Mozilla Fellows recently made their pitch for why they’re involved with the Knight-Mozilla Fellowship program, what they’re hoping to do with their fellows, and why applying to become one may be the best thing you do this week.

    Aron Pilhofer outlines an ambitious vision for the New York Times’ Knight-Mozilla Fellow. He hopes the fellow will help to devise new methods for measuring the impact a news story has. As he puts it:

    We are awash in metrics, and we have the ability to engage with readers at scale in ways that would have been impossible (or impossibly expensive) in an analog world.

    The problem now is figuring out which data to pay attention to and which to ignore. It is about setting up frameworks for testing, analysis and interpretation that are both scalable and replicable.

    It’s about finding that clear signal among the white noise that tells us whether our journalism is resonating or not, whether it is having the impact we believe it should. Helping us clear away the noise is the goal of our proposal to host a Knight-Mozilla fellow.

    Now, we are under no illusion that in 10 short months we will emerge with a single granite tablet on which all the answers will be found. This is an incredibly complex question, starting with what we even mean by the word impact.

    What should emerge from this fellowship is something far more enduring and impactful: A framework, methodology and tool set for newsrooms to study and answer these questions for themselves.

    The ideal outcome would be a suite of open-source tools, techniques and best practices that, in aggregate, help all of us understand readers better and enhance the impact of our journalism. At a bare minimum, we hope to start asking the right questions.

    “the coolest job”

    Chris Marstall gives a first-hand impression of the Boston Globe’s current Knight-Mozilla Fellow, Dan Schultz, who he says has “the coolest job” at the Globe. And in describing it, it’s clear that he’s not wrong:


    Independence. Dan says he feels “loosely coupled” with the newspaper he works for. That means he can have conversations that need to be had, but that might not fit into anyone else’s official job descriptions. For example, he just got off the phone with the CIO and CTO of our parent, the New York Times Company. He was asking them how code is shared between the Globe and the Times, and how technologists collaborate with the newsroom.

    Deep embedding. Dan’s got his feet in many different parts of our organization. In his time here he’ll pull rotations on our CMS team, our R&D team and our interactive newsgraphics team. He’ll walk out the door next summer knowing more about how this place runs than people who’ve been here a decade.

    Awesome field trips. Dan just got back from 3 weeks in Europe on the Foundation’s dime. He spent 2 days in Florence hacking TOR, a week in London hacking on a team in the Guardian’s Discovery Week, and a week in between kicking around Europe’s news innovation scene with the rest of the fellows. “Travel was awesome,” he tells me, “but the community that was both built from and connected to that travel was amazing.” He likes “the fact that you have fellows, you hang out and you will immediately make X new friends, and it’s not just random people, it’s people in the space you’re passionate about.”

    the adventure ahead

    At ProPublica, Scott Klein describes the Knight-Mozilla Fellowship as an “adventure,” and explains that at ProPublica they use their development chops to “vanquish” bad guys:

    ProPublica was founded to do great journalism that has impact. In our department, we make “news applications.” Those are large interactive databases that help people understand how big national phenomena matter to them — like our Opportunity Gap project and Dollars for Docs. Just like the reporters with whom we work side by side, the work we do is journalism. We develop sources, we call for comment before we deploy, and we answer to editors. And our work needs to tell a story.

    We like a beautiful algorithm and clean code as much as the next nerd, but we have deadlines, and lots of bad guys to vanquish. So if you code in news you won’t find a long slow march to ship a feature release, or endless code reviews, or high-ceremony process, or lots of meetings. We tend not to have time for that stuff.

    But what you will find is an enormously rewarding work atmosphere where you make a real difference in the world. You’ll be part of a group of the best journalist-coders and computer-assisted reporters on the planet, and an organization that really believes in its mission — doing journalism with moral force that has real-world impact.

    looking to change the world

    Finally, down in Buenos Aires, the team at La Nacion made their pitch en Español explaining that by bringing a developer into their data-savvy newsroom, they are looking to do no less than “change the world”:

    ¿Qué hacen juntos un programador web y un periodista? Intentar cambiar el mundo.

    En LA NACION elegimos experimentar con esa sociedad para enriquecer las historias que contamos a diario. La Redacción Multimedia con sus perfiles tradicionales (cronistas, redactores, editores y jefes) interactúa con nuevas especialidades: realizadores, diseñadores interactivos y, ahora, también programadores web. Es un proceso de trabajo diferente, desafiante y con una alta dosis de adrenalina. Son dos saberes que se complementan y si los cuales nos perderíamos muchos datos relevantes.

    That’s just four of our eight incredible news partners for 2013. We’ll be hearing from the other four — and from our current Knight-Mozilla Fellows — in the next two weeks.


    Just less than two weeks is all the time that’s left before the application to join us as a 2013 Knight-Mozilla fellow closes on August 11.

    Don’t delay: Apply now.

    A version of this post first appeared here.

    Dan Sinker heads up the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project for Mozilla. From 2008-2011 he taught in the journalism department at Columbia College Chicago where he focused on entrepreneurial journalism and the mobile web. He is the author of the popular @MayorEmanuel twitter account and is the creator of the election tracker the Chicago Mayoral Scorecard, the mobile storytelling project CellStories, and was the founding editor of the influential underground culture magazine Punk Planet until its closure in 2007. He is the editor of We Owe You Nothing: Punk Planet, the collected interviews and was a 2007-08 Knight Fellow at Stanford University. He occasionally blogs about media for the Huffington Post.

    Tagged: fellows knight-mozilla la nacion new york times news partners opennews propublica the globe

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