Mark Boas, Cole Gillespie, Nicola Hughes, Dan Schultz, and Laurian Gridinoc on the deck of the MIT Media Lab, June 2012
This week, each of the 2012 Knight-Mozilla Fellows told stories of what they’ve been up to during their time as Fellows. Each story captures both the unique experiences of each Fellow, but also captures their singular personality. And each story is a captivating reason for why you, with just a week to apply, should join their ranks as a 2013 Knight-Mozilla Fellow.
For Mark Boas, who has been working with Al Jazeera English, he writes that his time as a Knight-Mozilla Fellow has meant getting his work in front of new audiences and for leaning the discipline that comes with deadline-based development:
There is great opportunity to innovate and see your experiments incarnate on websites that get very many eye-balls and of course get all that lovely feedback. And when I say lovely I don’t mean complimentary I just mean that all feedback is lovely even when it is negative and the more you get – the better. In fact, I think one of the most important things you can do when publishing to a site like AlJazeera.com is measure the usage in as much detail as possible. Certainly for me it’s not often that I will be able to collect so many stats on things that I have had a hand in making.
The unpredictable and somewhat transient nature of current affairs also presents tremendous opportunities. One of the projects I’m working on is an interactive slide-show that displays a series of slowly zoomed images to a YouTube soundtrack. I had just got a rough proof of concept together when my colleague mentioned they had some fresh photos and an audio soundtrack from Syria and that they wanted to create an audio-slide show from it to go live the next day. Frantic hacking of code and content ensued but we got it out in time. I wrote in my last post that situations like these are an opportunity to hone your shipping skills and a good exercise in delivering the minimum viable product.
Nicola Hughes, who has been embedded with the Guardian’s Interactive News team, writes of the boundaries she’s pushed and the distance she’s come as a Knight-Mozilla Fellow:
So what have I got to say? A young woman of colour, trained in broadcast journalism, who had never used the command line until this year. From the very beginning I felt I had the least to offer the OpenNews programme. I never thought I would get it. I was enticed to participate by the various rounds in the competition. As a fledgling programmer, I loved hackdays. Being able to connect with those at the edge of digital journalism and those interested in the field was reward enough.
But I did win and here I am. So what have I done? I have advanced my skills beyond what I could have done on my own. I am more comfortable with the strategies of data digging and programming. I know what skills I want to add. But most of all I know I should be here and I deserve to be here. Not as Nicola Hughes or DataMinerUK but as an OpenNews fellow. And by ‘here’ I don’t mean The Guardian or the OpenNews programme. ‘Here’ is web-making, data-digging and story-building in the open.
A big part of this resolution to create, innovate and take news beyond the written word is my fellow fellows. I feel truly blessed to know such creative, talented and forward-thinking individuals. This has been a big benefit to me and one I will take beyond the fellowship.
Cole Gillespie, who moved to Berlin from North Carolina to be a fellow at Zeit Online, punctuates his reflection with photos from “the best year of my life,” as he writes:
A question we are all often asked when we meet new people is “What do you do?”. I used to find that question annoying unless I was talking to other technical people because it meant that I had explain to them the details of a highly technical field in order for them to get it. While I love telling people about hardware virtualization and all of the details of the work I did at IBM it seems that most people get lost in that conversation and immediately switch the topic. Now I revel in such opportunity to explain what exactly it is that I spend time doing on the day to day hack with Mozilla and Zeit Online. It gives me a chance to explain how exciting working in an open way for the news room can be. Of course it comes with a unique set of challenges just like any software situation these days but Zeit has done an great job at making it easy for a developer to get access to all of the proper tools necessary to get the job done.
For Laurian Gridinoc, who has been working with the BBC to break Flash’s stranglehold on their news interactives, it was working (and playing) with the other Fellows that he’ll remember the most:
Working with the other fellows was the most rewarding experience of this fellowship. While day-to-day work at BBC was challenging, it was limited in the aspect that it was serious work and not experimental bat-shit crazy stuff that may work only on one browser. With my fellow fellows, we played with arduino, scrapers, speech recognition and video transcripts, natural language processing, seriously.js, processing.js and all the other *.js cool toys at the hack days we attended together.
Finally, Dan Schultz, who has only been a Knight-Mozilla Fellow at the Boston Globe for two months, reflects on the unique position a Knight-Mozilla Fellow finds themselves in:
We are trying to publicly understand, question, observe, and create in the context of news. There are so many chances to do all four of those things. Not a day has gone by where I haven’t been exposed to something new — a new idea, a new problem, or a new opportunity.
You are being thrown into an organization that may have a vision for you to work with, or may expect you to invent a vision of your own from scratch. Either way your time is going to be your own and you will be expected to make great use of it. This kind of freedom is difficult to cope with, especially when people have high hopes for you. People will throw you questions to ponder, ideas to critique, and problems to solve and you will need to prove yourself.
In return you get to ask anyone anything. You will get to bend the rules and do things that other people around you might have to fight hard to accomplish. If you are interested in something, you will be able to work on it. If you have a question or concern you will be able to get an audience with the CTO or the chief editor. Nobody else at your organization has your title.
These five people had the extraordinary skills to become 2012 Knight-Mozilla Fellows. In 2013, we expand that opportunity to eight and expand our host news partners to include the New York Times, ProPublica, La Nacion in Argentina, and Spiegel Online in Germany.
This is an opportunity to see the world, to hack the news and to have the time of your life. but to become a 2013 Knight-Mozilla Fellow you need to apply: the application window closes on August 11th—just one week. Do not hesitate: Apply to become a 2013 Knight-Mozilla Fellow today.
By Dan Sinker, head of the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project for Mozilla