Software developers offered new round of scholarships to study journalism
November 10, 2011
EVANSTON, Ill. – A pioneering program to bring software developers into journalism will be expanded under a new grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to Northwestern University.
The three-year, $250,000 grant will enable Medill to provide scholarships to at least six people with computer science backgrounds to earn a master’s degree in journalism. The grant supplements a $639,000 grant that has allowed nine computer programmers to earn Medill master’s degrees since 2008.
“More and more, journalism is code-based. As a result, media organizations are eager to hire people who can build software,” said John S. Bracken, director of media innovation at Knight Foundation. “Medill has helped fill that need producing journalism-trained engineers who will help tell the stories that will inform and engage us in the future.”
Under the new grant, scholarship winners will be encouraged to develop a curriculum tailored to their interests, meeting the requirements of Medill’s MSJ degree while also incorporating advanced course work in computer science.
“We want the Knight Scholars to experience the same training in the craft of reporting and storytelling that all of our MSJ students receive, while also having the option of delving deeper into advanced computer science courses that would be relevant to digital journalism and media product development,” said Prof. Rich Gordon, who won the original scholarship grant in 2007 as part of the Knight News Challenge competition.
Scholarship winners will also have the opportunity to work in the Knight News Innovation Laboratory and Medill’s new Watchdog/Accountability Initiative. The Knight Lab, a joint project of Northwestern’s journalism and engineering schools, is developing innovative technologies to be used by journalists and publishers in Chicago and beyond. The Watchdog/Accountability Initiative specializes in investigative reporting on systemic flaws in government and public institutions.
Under the new grant, Medill will build partnerships with media companies who are interested in hiring journalists with computer programming expertise. Media partners will be asked to provide financial aid to supplement Knight’s scholarship funding, and also offer paid internships for the scholarship winners.
“Many of the first scholarship winners have had a transformative impact at the companies they work for,” Gordon said. “The new scholarship program will enlist media companies in helping develop the next generation of programmer-journalists.”
Brian Boyer and Ryan Mark, the first two scholarship winners, lead the Chicago Tribune’s news applications team, which has earned a worldwide reputation for developing and deploying new technologies that help inform and engage online users. Under the motto of “Share Your Work,” the Tribune team has also released a large amount of open-source code being 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.
Scholarship recipients must meet Medill’s normal admissions requirements. They will complete the same academic program as other MSJ students. The first academic quarter is spent learning reporting and storytelling skills in multiple media. At least one other quarter is spent in Medill’s Chicago newsroom, covering a beat and creating multimedia stories.
As part of the program, scholarship recipients will have an opportunity to apply their technology skills to journalism in an “innovation project” course in media management, new media publishing or magazine publishing. In these classes, teams of students create new products or work to solve a problem facing a media company.
“The first grant not only brought new kinds of students to Medill, but it enabled us to meet a key industry need – graduating journalists with strong technology backgrounds,” Medill Dean John Lavine said. “We’ve also heard from students with more traditional journalism interests that the Knight scholars enriched their experience by exposing them to different ways of thinking about news, information and technology.”
Information for prospective applicants is available at http://www.medill.northwestern.edu/admissions/programmers.html.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.