The Many Reasons to Become A Knight-Mozilla Fellow
by Dan Sinker
Just two weeks remain in our search for our 2016 Knight-Mozilla Fellows. Becoming a fellow means spending 10 months in some of the best newsrooms in the world working on open-source tools that strengthen the web and support reporting that changes people’s lives. Becoming a fellow means traveling the world hacking on code, speaking at conferences, and sharing your work. Becoming a fellow means joining a community of fellow-fellows, both the cohort that you will experience your fellowship year with, but also the ever-growing community of Knight-Mozilla alumni. You–you right there–you should become a part of this.
As Livia Labate, our current fellow at NPR says so nicely: “There are many reasons to become a fellow and one is unlike the other.” Over the last two weeks, we’ve asked our current fellows to write about why they became fellows, how they’ve structured their years, and why you should think about applying.
For Livia, “the fellowship was the right thing at the right time.” After 15 years in UX design, “I wanted to have a more hands-on technical experience: programming, shipping code. Having accumulated more and more responsibility over the years, I both missed the satisfaction of shipping code myself and the depth of knowledge I like to have in order to manage developers.” Her fellowship at NPR has deeply immersed her in the deadline-driven development cycle of the newsroom and has resulted in a bunch of code released even in just the first few months.
Kavya Sukumar, who is spending her fellowship year working with the Vox Product team, finds “the possibilities of journalism technology are limitless.” For Kavya, an engineer at Microsoft before moving to journalism, the reasons to make the jump into the newsroom are many. “For starters,” she explains, “you work with a lot of different people. Not just engineers. You get to work on big impactful projects with truly inspiring people.” And, she discovered that “media companies have been the breeding grounds of some of the amazing libraries and technologies that run the web today. D3, Backbone.Js, Underscore.JS and Django have all had their beginnings in a newsroom.” Her fellowship year, which includes open-sourcing Vox’s excellent Autotune templating engine, has been about contributing to that wealth of technologies.
Juan Elosua moved from his home in Spain to Buenos Aires Argentina for his fellowship at La Nacion. He was “not sure what to expect and how would I feel working in a newsroom,” but he made the leap because he was “looking for a field that would help me have an impact on society.” It turns out, he had nothing to worry about. “Even if you are not working on breaking news, as it’s my case, the atmosphere that you live has that special rhythm. Not many industries have to deliver a product each day, so the cycle of life is short, thrilling and sometimes stressful, but always exciting.” That excitement has carried Juan through the 2015 Argentinian elections and far beyond.
For Francis Tseng, his fellowship has been about exploring questions of community and the internet. It’s a topic that has long fascinated him, but previous his “inquiries had to be relegated to off-hours skunkworks.” By joining the Coral Project as a Knight-Mozilla Fellow, however, he has “the rare privilege of autonomy, both financial and temporal, and the resources, especially of the human kind, with which I can actually explore these questions as my job.”
Tara Adiseshan works alongside Francis as a fellow on the Coral Project. While spending their fellowship year engaging in questions of online community, Tara has also been struck by the actual community of newsroom developers that they’ve intersected with. “My experiences outside the code I write aren’t just tangentially related, they’re essential to what I contribute as we move through the initial stages of the project. The people I’ve met in the journalism tech community often reflect that. They’re nerdy in all the best ways, but not just about code. And many of them came to their current roles from other fields, which means they remember what it’s like to be a newcomer and make sure to create welcoming spaces.
Engaging with the journalism-tech community has also been a highlight of Julia Smith’s fellowship year. Julia moved from Omaha Nebraska to the San Francisco Bay Area to spend her year at the Center for Investigative Reporting. The fellowship offered her an opportunity to engage in a community and in problemsets that she’d only “danced around the edge of” previously. “Although I was designing things, working with data, and writing code every day for work, I had never contributed to a real open source project. I had participated in a single civic hackathon, and it had been years since I had freelanced as a print designer for the local newspaper. I was dancing around the edge of news nerdery, but hadn’t had the full introduction or the right opportunity to dive in.
The Knight-Mozilla Fellowship was Julia’s opportunity to dive in and it can be yours. Whatever motivation you may have–and it will be a singular one, it always is–you can spend ten months exploring it. But you need to apply soon. At midnight Eastern, August 21, the opportunity to become a Knight-Mozilla Fellow will end. Don’t hesitate: apply now.