Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Five OpenNews fellows tell their stories

Aug. 3, 2012, 2:21 p.m., Posted by Mozilla Foundation



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 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 teamwrites 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:

Random Acts of Culture hits 1,000th performance

Aug. 3, 2012, 9:40 a.m., Posted by Marika Lynch

In coming weeks, hundreds of singers, dancers - even roller skaters in Viking helmets - will surprise crowds in four cities across the United States. The pop up performances are all part of celebrating the 1,000th (yep, 1,000th!) Random Act of Culture, where Knight Foundation brings classical performers out of the symphony halls and into the streets and our everyday lives.

Knight’s program will culminate in these four special events across the country, taking place now through mid-September.

We talked with Dennis Scholl, VP/Arts and creator of Knight Foundation’s Random Acts of Culture, about what’s in store.

KF: Tell us a little about these upcoming celebration performances.
DS: I can’t! Seriously, we want to surprise everybody. But here’s what I can say: If you’re in San Jose, Detroit, Philadelphia or Miami, be on the look out over the next six weeks for a special surprise. Each of these performances is very unique to the city where it will take place.  And we’re filming, so you’ll be able to see the performances at What’s so great about this program is that the experience lives on through the videos.

KF: Where did you come up with the ideas for the four performances?
DS: We’ve been working with cultural organizations in eight cities where Knight invests to produce the Random Acts over the past two years. Since they know their communities best, we asked them for their ideas for doing a blowout spectacle to celebrate the 1,000th Random Act. Ideas from these four cultural groups – Symphony Silicon Valley, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Sphinx in Detroit and the Opera Company of Philadelphia -  rose to the top.

KF: Why did Knight create this program?
DS: Knight Foundation’s mission is to create informed and engaged communities, and we do that in part by weaving the arts into people’s everyday lives, seeking to make art general in communities. Seeing the tango at the airport, or opera at the farmers market strikes a deep chord in people. It reminds them of the important role that the classics and culture play in our lives. The crowd takes pictures and videos, shares them, and for just a few minutes, they are part of an exciting, collective experience that makes their community a more vibrant place to live.


Journalism funders call for ‘Teaching Hospital’ model of education

Aug. 3, 2012, 8:26 a.m., Posted by Eric Newton


News21 fellow Joe Henke spends an afternoon reading through voting rights material. Photo by Lizzie Chen/News21.

Journalism and communications schools need to recreate themselves if they are to succeed in playing their vital role as news creators and innovators, a group of foundations said in an open letter to university presidents.

The foundations, all of which make grants to journalism education and innovation, urged more universities to adopt a model that blends practice with scholarship, with more top professionals in residence at universities and a focus on applied research.

“In this new digital age, we believe the ‘teaching hospital’ model offers great potential,” as scholars help practitioners invent viable forms of digital news that communities need, said the letter, signed by top representatives of Knight FoundationMcCormick FoundationEthics and Excellence in Journalism FoundationScripps-Howard FoundationBrett Family Foundation, and Wyncotte Foundation.

The model was described in the 2011 "Carnegie Knight Initiative for the Future of Journalism Education" and is practiced at the Arizona State University, where student-powered News21 has become a major national news source. But it is by no means widespread.