Meet the 2013 Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Fellows

Knight supports the OpenNews project to accelerate media innovation by embedding technologists in news organizations. Below, Dan Sinker introduces us to the newest group of fellows. The following is crossposted from

This week, I’ve been blogging about what we’ve accomplished with the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project, and where we’re going in 2013. But that 2013 plan left a big chunk out. So let’s fill in the blank:

When talking about the OpenNews project, I describe it as an ecosystem. All of our programs are interdependent: Hack Days and Code Sprints and Source–they all work together to build, implement, and document new experiments at the intersection of journalism and code. But the living, breathing heart at the center of it all is our Fellowship program. Related 

When Knight Foundation and Mozilla decided to form a partnership around journalism and the open web, the Fellowship program was conceived as a way of bringing the open-source development ethos right into the center of the newsroom. As the OpenNews project evolved, I saw the Fellowship as serving a different aim as well: To bring new talent into the journalism-code community, in the hopes of growing the number of technologists interested in building anew in journalism.

In 2012, we had five incredible talents who brought their unique ideas and perspectives to some of the world’s best newsrooms. They built next-generation multimedia tools, real-time social sharing analysisstreaming transcription systems, and even picked up bylines along the way in some of the most influential news sites in the world. They traveled the globe attending hack days, sharing their tools, and collaborating on new ideas both big and small.

2012 was our pilot year for the Fellowship program. In 2013, we go big: We increase our fellows from five to eight, and expanded our partner newsrooms to the New York Times and ProPublicain New York, the BBC and the Guardian in the UK, Zeit Online and Spiegel Online in Germany, the Boston Globe (guess where), and La Nacion in Buenos Aires, Argentina. These are incredible news organizations and we’re thrilled to be able to build new things with them.

We ran our 2013 Fellowship search differently than last year: It was a straight call, honed to developers, technologists, data scientists, math geeks, and others. We promoted it massively over the summer, and ended up with twice as many applicants as we were expecting–more than 20x the slots we had to fill. To narrow that huge number down, we submitted a list of the most qualified 56 to our news partners, who then identified a total of 40 semifinalists. Erika Owens, OpenNews’s community manager, and I conducted short, standardized interviews with all 40 semifinalists to build out a more complete candidate profile. About 20 hours of calls later, we submitted all of our notes back to our news partners. They then selected three candidates a piece for hour-long conversations.

Getting to 56 was hard, getting to 40 even harder, and getting to that final list of 24 was nearly impossible (there were surprisngly few overlaps throughout the process). But, after another 24 hours of calls spread across a minimum of three timezones (often four), we arrived at final picks in mid-October.

And today, we get to introduce them to you. I seriously can not wait:

Brian Abelson | New York Times  Brian Abelson is a statistician, journalist, and hacker. He lives in New York and works as a data scientist at the Harmony Institute. He recently graduated with a MA in Applied Statistics from Columbia University where he focused on quantitative and computational approaches to social science. On the side, he edited a book for a prominent political scientist, won a hackathon, and worked on investigative news stories. In previous lives, Brian managed development projects in sub-Saharan Africa, reached number one on Hype Machine, and shared a stage with Spoon and Bob Dylan.

Manuel Aristarán | La Nacion  Manuel Aristarán is a coder-slash-musician. He’s worked on big websites, recommendation engines, logistics and provisioning systems, public data tools and satellite ground station software…all while still trying to play bass and get good music gigs. In 2010, he independently developed, a tool to browse, visualize, and open the expenditure data published by the municipality of Bahía Blanca, Argentina, his hometown.

Annabel Church | Zeit Online  Annabel Church is a web developer who has worked in a variety of digital media agencies around London, before falling in love with news organisations from the inside out. She is currently working at the Guardian developing tools to aid and abet journalism through live blogging. Particularly, she is passionate about how information and news is represented and presented and what tools can be created to aid journalism. Originating from far away in New Zealand, she enjoys traveling and spends many weekends experiencing the good and the bad of European cuisine.

Stijn Debrouwere | the Guardian  Stijn Debrouwere is a technologist trying to figure out how we can innovate our way out of the news industry’s crisis. In his work as a freelancer and media consultant, he thinks about how information gets created and stored, how it travels around, and how to meaningfully present all that information to users. His work fits somewhere in between UX design, software architecture, taxonomy, and process management. He writes a blog about the future of news at

Friedrich Lindenberg | Spiegel Online  Friedrich Lindenberg is a media scientist turned coder working on open government and transparency initiatives. As a developer and evangelist for the Open Knowledge Foundation, he works on OpenSpending, a platform that aims to make government finance more accessible to citizens around the world. He has also been involved in training journalists to use data and advocating for open government data. Before joining the OKF, Friedrich worked on Adhocracy, a collaborative policy drafting software, now used by a commission of the German parliament and several political organizations.

Sonya Song | Boston Globe  Sonya Song is a doctoral student in Media and Information Studies at Michigan State University. She has worked in both media and IT, taking various roles in newsrooms and Internet start-ups, including reporter, graphic designer, programmer, and product manager. Currently she concentrates on studying social sciences using computational approaches. Particularly, she is curious about Internet censorship and her research on China’s censorship of online news was awarded a Google Policy Fellowship in 2012. Sonya possesses a bachelor’s and master’s degree in computer science from Tsinghua University in Beijing and master of philosophy in journalism from The University of Hong Kong. Sonya is also an avid photographer and devotee of literature and films.

Mike Tigas | ProPublica  Mike Tigas is a web developer who currently works at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, WA. His work runs the gamut of everything web-related, from CMS features to interactive data visualizations to assisting with computer-assisted reporting. On the side, he works on Onion Browser, an open source, privacy-enhancing iOS web browser which uses the Tor onion router network. He passes what little spare time he has dabbling in photography, following baseball and college football, and drinking good beer.

Noah Veltman | BBC  Noah Veltman created his first website when he was 12 years old; it had an animated background, a MIDI soundtrack, and lots of tags. He’s been creating visualizations, tools, and games for the web ever since, with a focus on making sense out of complex data. He has worked as a web developer, UI designer, and product manager for a variety of Silicon Valley startups, and previously worked with leading tech policy organizations on issues such as online privacy, free speech, and net neutrality.

These are eight of the most talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure of interacting with, and I can’t wait to be able to collaborate with them throughout 2013. What’s past is prologue; in 2013 we do amazing new things together. Join us.