Knight-Mozilla Open News

Tools, Bridges, and Five Years of Knight-Mozilla Fellows

by Dan Sinker

With today’s announcement of our 2016 Knight-Mozilla Fellows, we have added a fifth cohort to our growing fellowship ranks. Five years ago this very same week we were introducing the first five. With these seven new fellows—they are so great, go read about them now!—the Knight-Mozilla Fellowship community is now at 33. (That escalated quickly.)

The pitch we make when we run our yearly fellowship search is pretty straightforward: spend ten months doing open experimentation in some of the best newsrooms in the world. And, over the course of the last four years, our fellows have done just that, to great effect. But it’s a mistake to measure a fellowship by the outputs of that ten month period. Fellowships are an investment in people over the long term; you start to measure their real results in the years that follow. Watching former fellows grow into new roles, seeing many ways their time as fellows has affected their career trajectories—it’s been enlightening.

Seeing how the fellowships have grown and intertwined with the other work OpenNews does in the “news nerd” community has also been fascinating. Once our only program, the Knight-Mozilla Fellowships now sit alongside the publication Source, our yearly conference SRCCON, our code convenings that bring newsroom developers together to open-source projects, and our support of journalism-related hack days and events. Each one of these projects combines the same DNA of the fellowships–leadership, community, experimentation, and building–in different ways, and each builds off of the successes of the other.

Which is why a quote from a forthcoming whitepaper about the fellowships has resonated so much with us. In it, the fellow says the fellowship “helped me realize my role as a bridge builder is just as important as my role as a tool maker.”

The speed and rigor of the newsroom has proven that it’s an excellent testing ground for tools. Django, Backbone, Underscore, d3 have all gotten their start or been heavily incubated in newsrooms. These are tools that have helped to define how the modern, open web is built. Powerful open-source tools bringing open information out into the open web.

But the web today needs more than tools: it needs bridges, too. Bridges to allies who will help defend it, bridges to those who will help to fortify it, and bridges to people who will help keep it open. Every instant article, every platform-specific app, every proprietary solution to common problems starts to close the web down, little by little. And a closed web means that things like journalism–things society needs to understand itself–are less open, less accessible. A closed web means journalism has to answer to gatekeepers who control distribution and access in ways we haven’t seen before.

We’re not there yet, of course–thankfully. The web is a resource worth protecting, and bridges need to be built among the many of us that are working to keep the web open. For five years, we’ve been helping fellows to build those bridges, to strengthen where they see fit. We’re excited for the work they’ve done, and envigorated to keep building more.

posted November 05, 2015 | posted in fellowship