How to Think About Projects During Your Fellowship
by Ryan Pitts
With just two days left to apply to become a Knight-Mozilla Fellow, we are spending this week answering some large questions about the fellowship experience. On Monday, we talked about how you structure your time. Yesterday, we talked about the application itself. Today, Ryan Pitts talks about how to think about the things you’ll build during your fellowship.
One of the most exciting parts of the Knight-Mozilla fellowship is the freedom to explore ideas you’re passionate about. You’ll have 10 months to spend on work that’s meaningful to not just you, but the wider world.
That opportunity’s so big it can seem a little scary, though. When everything is open, how do you choose where to begin?
It might feel like you need to have a mindblowing idea just to apply for a fellowship, but here’s the truth: You don’t have to know what you want to do yet, not at all. We believe strongly that the best ideas emerge from collaboration, and the first step is an easy one. If you’re willing to bring your experience and creativity into journalism, we’ve already built a support system to work with you from the very start.
At every step, you’ll find people ready to teach you something new and shape raw ideas into real projects. This fellowship isn’t something you do alone.
Your fellowship host
When you join your fellowship host, you’ll be joining a newsroom that knows how to maximize each person’s skills to cover their communities every day. There’s a place just for you on that team, alongside other smart and curious people who got into journalism because they believe in its purpose. Each newsroom we’re partnering with in 2016 has already spent a lot of time thinking about how you can contribute to the ways they work. They’ve identified projects that are just waiting for your touch, and you’ll start making a difference as soon as you walk in the door.
The OpenNews team
Over the past four years, we’ve learned a lot about what goes into a successful fellowship. One part is making sure you have the support you need to do the work you want to do, whether that’s finding an introduction to the right collaborator or mentor, refining a talk you’re giving for the first time, or digging into GitHub to get your code out into the world. The OpenNews team will be there to help you think through projects and work through problems.
We’ll get together with you in person on a regular basis, starting with the very first week of your fellowship. Conferences like NICAR, SRCCON, and MozFest have become key moments in the fellowship, and we’ll build in time at those events to reflect on what you’ve learned and what you’re looking forward to. Between face-to-face meetings, we’ll check in with you and the rest of the fellows each month to hear about what you’ve worked on recently and what’s coming next. And each week, each member of the OpenNews staff has time set aside to talk with you about ideas you’re starting to get excited about.
Your fellow fellows
Beyond the OpenNews team, your built-in family of other fellows will become some of your closest colleagues throughout your fellowship. You’ll start by spending a week getting to know everyone else, and discovering that you bring a unique combination of skills and background to the group. By the time you land in your newsroom, you’ll have a network of friends navigating the same new experiences as you. You’ll collaborate on projects, teaching, and speaking, all with the confidence that comes from having a support system of amazing people who really get the work you’re doing.
The fellowship family extends beyond these immediate colleagues – our alumni are invested in you, too. You’ll meet them at events, work with them on projects or at hack days, and find plenty of opportunities to ask exactly how they made the most of their time as a fellow.
The journalism-code community
You might not know it yet, but the wider community you’ll be joining is also full of people generous in both time and spirit. Sure, newsrooms compete on stories, but the open-source ethic has embedded itself deeply among journalists who work through code. You might hit a roadblock in anything from design to devops to data in a brand-new domain, but you’ll also find people who become friends, colleagues, and mentors who help you push through. It’s remarkable the amount of teaching that takes place every time data journalists get together, and you’ll be inspired to contribute back as much as you take away.
It’s easy to focus on the fellowship as an opportunity to do great work, and equally easy to get caught up in the thought that you need to walk in the door with a big idea, fully formed. But the not-so-secret strength of the Knight-Mozilla fellowship program is in all the people you’ll meet, who’ll work alongside you on problems and projects you’ve only started to imagine. You don’t need have answers, you just have to be ready to ask questions and willing to apply.