Celebrating and closing the Knight-Mozilla Fellowship
by Erika Owens
For the last two years, the Knight-Mozilla Fellowship has been on hiatus. After an incredible five-year run, during which 33 fellows were placed with news organizations around the world, we took some time to reflect on the program and plan for the future. We heard from over 300 people interested in participating in a next phase of the fellowship, and from numerous people and organizations eager to continue the wonderful experiences they had with fellows. We have much to celebrate and share from the fellowship. Unable to find continued funding for the program though, we’ve made the difficult decision to officially close the program. We would love to revive the program in the future, but for the moment it felt important to make a clear decision and end the hiatus.
Celebrating the fellowship
Each year of the fellowship, we were lucky enough to work with a group of brilliant, creative fellows and partners at newsrooms who were excited to work in the open and explore how technology can improve and support journalism. During their terms, fellows developed tools that became widely adopted, and worked on award-winning projects, graphics, and research—all the while writing and speaking and sharing about their work, ensuring that what they were learning could help other folks in their host newsrooms and beyond. The ten months of the fellowship often went by quickly, and many fellows continued their work, with 85% of alumni staying in journalism or journalism-adjacent fields.
As one fellow put it, “everything I have done since the fellowship is directly related to my fellowship experience. Training workshops for journalists, organising journalism related events, journalism related projects.” At the conclusion of the fellowship, the Knight Foundation commissioned a study of the impact of the fellowship, which demonstrated the importance of that growing network of supports and resources for people in the journalism-code community.
A network of influence and impact
Participants in the fellowship program—fellows, alumni, partner newsroom hosts, and applicants—have been absolutely critical to helping the journalism-code community take shape as a network. Fellows acted as “bridge spanners,” helping to bring in participants from journalism adjacent organizations. Newsroom partners helped create team cultures in their organizations and support the development of the next generation of leaders. Applicants to fellowship became active members in the community and went on to lead teams and organize community groups. One newsroom host noted the need for a networked approach: “to build the strength of the community we need to connect people …it can’t be reliant on 8 of us that know each other, it has to rely on hundreds of people who know know each other.“
Over the course of the fellowship, and since then, we have seen that network take shape. This approach to connection allows journalists to learn new skills and access resources, and embeds the network’s values of openness and inclusion into everything that participants do.
In addition to strengthening the work of technologists in journalism, the program also informed the development of fellowships throughout the Mozilla Foundation. Our organization has since left Mozilla, but what we learned during the fellowship about the power of cohorts continues to shape our work and how we organize events like SRCCON.
Continuing the work
The fellowship informs our work at OpenNews every day, from lessons on program management to network development to contending with organizational change. We learned a ton, and alumni continue to share the wisdom they gained with news organizations around the world. Given this wealth of experience, if it becomes possible for us to continue the fellowship in some form, we would love to do that. If you or a potential funding partner would like to talk about options, please reach out and let us know. We’ll continue to share similar opportunities that arise, including letting people know about all the upcoming deadlines for the many journalism fellowships that are active today.
In addition, we are available for consulting about running programs like this. We’re always happy to chat about our experience, or work together on program design for a new fellowship or similar program you might be creating. If you already have a program and want to bring in experienced administrators who know how to do everything from outreach for an amazing applicant pool to facilitation and alumni support, let us know.
A concluding appreciation
This fellowship itself had a finite term, but we know that fellowship programs are about the individuals involved, and not only their immediate influence, but the evolving arc of their entire careers. We’re so grateful to the hundreds of people who shaped this program through their ideas, participation, time spent on applications, and support, and who continue to influence our work—and most likely, yours too. I’m so grateful for:
- The 33 fellows here, who are still in the middle of doing incredible things—individually, together, and as members of teams throughout the industry. The photo atop this page is one of our favorite artifacts from getting to work with this amazing group.
- The inclusive, individualized, future-thinking program design developed by Dan Sinker and heavily influenced by his experience with the JSK Fellowship. That vision is now shaping the Annenberg Innovation Lab Civic Media Fellowship, too.
- The acknowledgement of the importance of community support work, by receiving the first OJA Community Award. So much of the success of programs like this, and the network this fellowship has helped to flourish, is due to a million small, often invisible, decisions. I appreciate the acknowledgement of that real work.
Setting out a program like this requires both a vision of what a better future can look like and the planning to actually get there. It requires noticing the tremendous capacity and brilliance of individuals, while also supporting them in working together as a group and within rigid systems. It requires persistence and that work is far from over: Journalism and tech continue to intersect with civic media and public service and personal experiences and the communities we live in and serve.
I am inspired every day by how the fellowship community continues to transform journalism and shape what our collective future can look like. Thank you so much to every fellow, partner, newsroom colleague, funder, applicant, and community member who made this program possible, and who continues to construct a network of support and celebration.
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