Re-engineering Journalism 2014: How JSK Fellows’ visions get real

The John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships program fosters journalism innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership. Our 2014 Re-engineering Journalism presentations, posted here, show what we mean by that.

We ask our fellows to come to Stanford with an innovation proposal — a journalistic challenge they want to meet. As our fellows have toiled on these challenges the last few years, several patterns have emerged.

One very strong pattern is collaboration. Knight Fellows collaborate with others, with Knight Fellows from other years, with students, professors, techies, and business types. One notable result has been Migrahack. Migrahack uses hackathons to help Spanish-language media transform the confusing welter of immigration data into stories and graphics.

It’s the brainchild of JSK Fellow Claudia Nuñez, with the institutional support of the Institute for Justice and Journalism, a journalism nonprofit headed by another Fellow, Phuong Ly. It relies heavily on the contributions and work of Knight Fellows past, present and, in some cases, future.

Another theme is experimentation and its trendy cousin, prototyping. Knight Fellows have a bias for action, for creating a prototype to test their idea to see if it will work — and if it doesn’t, to tweak it until it does, or to throw it out altogether.

JSK Fellow Michelle Holmes has been stirring things up in Alabama, where she is the vice president of content of the Alabama Media Group. Among the blizzard of things she has tried and created is the Alabama Investigative Journalism Lab, a partnership with the Center for Investigative Reporting that is trying to figure out how to involve the audience in the most serious and important investigative work, while maintaining transparency. She and her team have also created an audience innovation desk, which works to understand news consumption habits in real time.

A third pattern is a focus on the messy real world of opportunities and unmet needs, instead of dreaming up elegant theoretical solutions in search of a problem. Here we have FOIA Machine, by JSK Fellow Djordje Padjeski. FOIA Machine automates and tracks Freedom of Information Act requests — a notoriously tedious and daunting process. After Djordje’s fellowship at Stanford, his project was incubated at the Center for Investigative Reporting, and it has found a permanent home at IRE, the organization of Investigative Reporters and Editors.

These patterns don’t always come together neatly. That’s just real life. But when they do it is sooo sweet. This past winter, a group of Knight Fellows was trying to make sense of the torrent of social media — tweets mostly — coming out of Venezuela, as civil unrest there grew, and the government cracked down. The group included a Venezuelan publishing house editor, her journalist husband, a digital sports editor from L.A., a Bolivian-born software systems architect and a Venezuelan Knight Fellow from the prior year.

Rather than wallow in their frustration, they did something. They brainstormed, they prototyped, and they created — built, really — a solution to their problems: Venezuela Decoded. It’s gotten worldwide attention and you can learn more about it on our Re-engineering Journalism page — and more about what each of these amazing Knight Fellows has accomplished.

We believe in journalism. We believe in journalism’s infinite capacity to inform, incite, to amuse, to crusade, to protect, to right wrongs, to bring people together. We believe in journalism’s infinite capacity to be a force for good. We believe that journalism is too important to be left to fend for itself amid the economic, political and cultural forces that have disrupted it so. And we believe that John S. Knight Journalism Fellows hold in their hands the power to create a future for journalism that is brighter and more vibrant than its past. We believe in journalism.

Come take a close look at what we mean by that.