Being a Knight-Mozilla Fellow is the best thing that can happen to you24 Jul 2013
[Versión en español: “Ser becario Knight-Mozilla OpenNews es lo mejor que te puede pasar“] It’s been five months since I became one of the eight fellows in the OpenNews program organized by the Knight Foundation and the Mozilla Foundation. I still have five months left, but I can say it has been the best year of my professional life. And I want to convince all of you to apply to become a fellow next year.
How did I get here? In 2012, I lived in the beautiful city of
Bariloche, in southern Argentina, where I worked as part of the team that designed, built, and successfully launched CUBEBUG-1 “Captain Beto”, the first Argentine cubesat. Besides space, I’ve been always interested in public information, open data, information visualization, the web and journalism. A tweet by @LNData convinced me to fill out the form. And after two agonizing months of interviews with the OpenNews team, I was selected as one of eight fellows for the 2013 OpenNews program. Almost without realizing it, I went from a clean room to a newsroom.
The Knight-Mozilla OpenNews fellowship is the best thing that can happen to you.
Being a programmer is a privilege. Our profession is one of the most sought after and nothing indicates that this will change in the near future. In particular, journalism needs us. Among other things, it needs us to:
- Design metrics for news application usage, as OpenNews fellow Brian Abelson did at The New York Times
- Teach journalists how to make maps, design databases, or scrap websites, just like fellow Noah Veltman has done at the BBC with his series of “Learning Lunches“
- Build tools to help media track the impact of their content on social media as Stijn Debrouwere does at The Guardian
- Investigate censorship in China as Sonya Song does in her fellowship at The BostonGlobe.
If that isn’t enough, as an OpenNews fellow, the result of your work will be free and open to the contributions of a great community. In my five months as an OpenNews fellow, I worked with journalists, data analysts, and designers of Argentina’s daily
- Proyecto Censo (Census Project), a site to display the Argentine census data for 2001 and 2010.
- An investigative work into the tragic flooding of La Plata city.
- Training on D3.js and information extraction for journalists, programmers, and designers from the daily.
Being part of a community
As an OpenNews fellow, you’ll be part of a large network of journalists and programmers interested in the media and eager to share experiences and collaborate on a diverse array of projects. That was the case of Tabula, an open source tool that was created out of the combination of a personal project and previous work by ProPublica one of the OpenNews media partners this and next year. Tabula is a tool that tries to solve one of the pervasive problems in data journalism: the extraction of information trapped in PDF files. Either by ignorance or a desire to block access to information, some agencies publish their information on this format that is incompatible for the exchange of structured data. I started the project earlier this year and soon after decided to join forces with ProPublica, who was working on a similar tool. After announcing it on Source (the official web site for the OpenNews program), Tabula was adopted by editors and activists around the world that need to use the data sets trapped within PDF files. Some instances:
- SchoolCuts.org – A tool for information on education budget cuts in Chicago
- A news story published in La Nación on the decline of tourism in Argentina, taking data from the Survey of Hotel Occupancy published as a PDF by Argentina’s National Institute of Statistics and Census (INDEC).
Still not convinced?
Apart from working with journalists and building open source tools, OpenNews fellows travel everywhere. During the first five months of my fellowship I was lucky to go to:
- The Mozilla Festival in London
- The amazing MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where all the fellows worked together for four days.
- Louisville, Kentucky, where the conference of the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR) took place.
- Barcelona, for Data Journalism Workshop organized by OKFN Spain
- Cambridge, Mass., again! This time we were there for the Center for Civic Mediaannual conference at the MIT Media Lab.
It is time to apply
This year, the media outlets participating in the program are The New York Times, La Nación, TheTexas Tribune, ProPublica and Ushahidi + Internews Kenya. Next year’s five fellows will spend 10 months working in these newsrooms. If you like journalism, data, information visualization, open source software, and want to spend 10 months working on all that, as you travel all over the place and connect with a generous community, do not hesitate. Take a deep breath and fill out the application. It’s the best that can happen to you.