Knight Foundation Scholarship

Knight Foundation scholar working at a computer

Are you a skilled programmer or Web developer? Are you interested in applying your talents to the challenge of creating a better-informed society? Do you think technology can improve journalism? Or do you believe journalism is behind the curve technologically?

Consider applying to Medill to earn a master's degree in journalism. Thanks to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Medill offers scholarships to people with computer programming backgrounds. Our program takes one year to complete, so you don't have to take a long career detour. 

Medill believes that journalism is a key foundation for democracy and that programmer/developers are enormously important to the future of journalism. So we have partnered with the Knight Foundation to create this scholarship program for people with strong technology skills who are interested in pursuing a master's degree in journalism at Medill.

Medill has offered these scholarships since 2007, when Prof. Rich Gordon won one of the first Knight News Challenge grants to create the scholarship program. Since then, nine scholarship winners have graduated from Medill and taken jobs in journalism and media organizations.

Brian Boyer and Ryan Mark, awarded Medill's first two Knight Scholarships, led the Chicago Tribune news applications team, which earned a worldwide reputation for developing and deploying new technologies that help inform and engage online users. Under the motto "Share Your Work," the Tribune team has also released a large amount of open-source code that is widely used by journalists and media organizations. In 2010, the team won the first Gannett Foundation Award for Digital Innovation in Watchdog Journalism, administered by the Associated Press Managing Editors.

Knight Scholarship FAQs

Can I find a job in a news organization without a journalism degree?

News organizations employ many programmer/developers. But our experience has been that they look particularly favorably on developers who understand journalism and how news organizations work. The Medill's master's program is rooted in the practical realities of journalism, and your work her will prepare you for the real-world news environment. You will be better able to collaborate with journalists and media professionals than before your studies at Medill.

Making software is easy, but making the 'right' software is hard. To do it right, you need a deep sense of your users' needs and of the mission of your work. That's what I got out of journalism school.

-Brian Boyer (MSJ09), NPR news applications editor

What will my curriculum be at Medill?

Knight Scholars take the same courses as other students pursuing a master of science in journalism (MSJ), with a few additional options. In your first academic quarter, you will be enrolled in Journalism Methods, our orientation to news reporting, writing and storytelling. In your second quarter, you will cover a news beat in our Chicago newsroom. And in your final quarter, you will enroll in one of our Innovation Project classes, in which you and a team of students will develop a new digital media product. What else you take will depend on the concentration you choose. You can take elective graduate courses in Medill's journalism or integrated marketing communications programs, or in other Northwestern graduate programs. You may be particularly interested in taking advanced courses in computer science.

More information about the Medill MSJ program can be found here.

What advanced courses in computer science does Northwestern offer?

Northwestern's full course offerings in computer science are listed here.

Here are some of the courses we think might be of particular interest to developers looking to apply their skills in media and journalism:

EECS 325 Artificial Intelligence Programming
EECS 330 Human-Computer Interaction
EECS 337 Natural Language Processing
EECS 338 Practicum in Intelligent Information Systems
EECS 339 Databases
EECS 348 Artificial Intelligence
EECS 349 Machine Learning
EECS 394 Software Project Management

I have written some computer programs but I do not consider myself a programmer. Do I have a chance at the Knight scholarship?

The scholarships are intended for people who have skills and experience in software development -- ideally, having an undergraduate computer science degree or having worked full-time as a software developer.

I am not a computer programmer, but I would like to learn these skills. Can I learn programming at Medill?

Our MSJ curriculum includes courses in Web design and development, and you can get exposure to tools such as JavaScript, ActionScript, PHP and Application Programming Interfaces. If you pursue our Interactive Publishing concentration, you will have the chance to develop some proficiency in programming techniques that are relevant to media and journalism. This will also give you a foundation to develop additional programming skills. But if learning computer programming is your primary goal, you might want to consider other kinds of courses or degrees.

How much of the cost of attending Medill is covered by the scholarships?

We aim to meet every Knight Scholar's need for financial aid. The typical Knight scholarship award will be equivalent to half the cost of tuition for Medill's one-year master's degree program. If an applicant requires additional financial aid, he or she may fill out the standard federal financial aid application materials in order to be considered for other scholarships, merit awards, need-based grants and federal student loans. In addition to educational financial aid, scholarship winners have the opportunity work parttime (or full time during a leave of absence from Medill) for the Knight News Innovation Laboratory and the Medill Watchdog/Accountability Initiative. Medill has also partnered with The Washington Post to provide a paid, post-graduation internship and scholarship aid covering half the cost of tuition. 

 Medill is seeking additional media industry partners interested in offering additional scholarship support and job or internship opportunities to the Knight scholarship winners. If your company is interested in such a program, please contact Rich Gordon.

Are international students eligible for Knight Scholarships?

Yes. International students are eligible for the Knight Scholarship. We welcome students from around the globe who have a passion for digital journalism.

How can I apply for the Knight Scholarship?

Scholarship applicants must meet all of Medill's standard admission requirements. If you are interested in applying for this scholarship program, here are the steps to follow:

  1. Fill out an online application for admission to Medill, including all required materials.
  2. Please upload your resume with the application. In the resume, please include details about (and links to) your programming work.

  3. In addition to answering the essay questions on the standard application, please upload your answer of up to 750 words to the following question: "How do journalism and technology relate to each another in the digital age?"

What are the applications deadlines?

Information about application deadlines can be found here.

Questions?If you have questions about the Knight Scholarship program, please contact Rich Gordon. For questions about the application process, contact Julie Collins, associate director of graduate admissions and financial aid, or call Medill's Office of Graduate Admissions at 847-491-2052.

It might be a very uncertain time to be going into journalism, but as a programmer with an entrepreneurial background, I see the current upheaval as a huge opportunity. Old rules are going out the window, — and new, unprecedented things are being made. It's a great opportunity to be creative and inventive as a programmer and participate in rewiring journalism.”

- Ryan Mark (MSJ09), Chicago Tribune news application developer