Creating hacker journalists: Medill and WaPo announce partnership

Last week the Washington Post and Medill School of Journalism announced a partnership to offer programmers scholarships to study journalism at the school.

The hope, of course, is that those programmers will eventually bring their technical skills to news organizations around the country.

“We need to have more technologists who speak journalism and have hands on experience with it,” says Rich Gordon, a Knight Lab co-founder and the Medill professor who founded the scholarship program.

The Washington Post will assist the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation — which helped originally fund the program — in paying for the education of three scholars over a three-year period. After graduating, the scholars will work a paid internship with the Post’s tech team.

Mitch Rubin, the Post’s sports production editor and now the program’s fellow administrator, latched onto the idea of partnering with Medill when he noticed similar partnerships between universities and industries that require deep science educations.

At the same time, the Post’s tech department was looking for programmers, but losing out to Silicon Valley developers.

“We’re trying to get really qualified people to help build tools for both the journalists in house and for users to digitally present and enhance the journalism that reporters are creating,” Rubin says.

In a way, the scholarship faces the same challenge as the news industry does — attracting talent.

“Part of the future is to attract people into our field with a different profile than historically have been interested,” Gordon says. The question is how.

Kavya Sukumar was a software engineer at Microsoft before enrolling in the program last fall. She’s the 10th scholarship recipient to  go through the program — industry leaders Brian Boyer, Ryan Mark, and Nick Allen among them.

But just where to find more like Sukumar — and compete with startups and more lucrative jobs in other industries — remains an open question.

For now, the relationship between Medill and the Post is strengthened by shared philosophies of cooperation and learning among developers and journalists to improve the media.

“I think the model we’ve started to use is the embedded development model where the developers are in the process with the journalists. It allows it to happen more organically,” says Rubin.

This organic way of thinking begins in the classroom, says Sukumar. Participants often find themselves working on projects with students from a solely journalistic background. The result is a symbiotic relationship, where each party gleans knowledge from the other to further understanding between realms, she says.

The hope is that this new partnership will inspire more graduate-level programmers to apply, as well as attract other news industry partners to keep the program progressing. Partnering with the Post is a good start, and the respected reputation is sure to boost interest and foster positive correlations between programming and journalism.

“What was wonderful to discover was that this is an organization where people who run technology see the value in their technologists learning journalism,” says Gordon of the Post. “That’s not always there.”

About the author

Hilary Sharp

Undergraduate Fellow

Latest Posts

  • Introducing StorylineJS

    Today we're excited to release a new tool for storytellers.

    StorylineJS makes it easy to tell the story behind a dataset, without the need for programming or data visualization expertise. Just upload your data to Google Sheets, add two columns, and fill in the story on the rows you want to highlight. Set a few configuration options and you have an annotated chart, ready to embed on your website. (And did we mention, it looks great on phones?) As with all of our tools, simplicity...

    Continue Reading

  • Join us in October: NU hosts the Computation + Journalism 2017 symposium

    An exciting lineup of researchers, technologists and journalists will convene in October for Computation + Journalism Symposium 2017 at Northwestern University. Register now and book your hotel rooms for the event, which will take place on Friday, Oct. 13, and Saturday, Oct. 14 in Evanston, IL. Hotel room blocks near campus are filling up fast! Speakers will include: Ashwin Ram, who heads research and development for Amazon’s Alexa artificial intelligence (AI) agent, which powers the...

    Continue Reading

  • Bringing Historical Data to Census Reporter

    A Visualization and Research Review

    An Introduction Since Census Reporter’s launch in 2014, one of our most requested features has been the option to see historic census data. Journalists of all backgrounds have asked for a simplified way to get the long-term values they need from Census Reporter, whether it’s through our data section or directly from individual profile pages. Over the past few months I’ve been working to make that a reality. With invaluable feedback from many of you,......

    Continue Reading

  • How We Brought A Chatbot To Life

    Best Practice Guide

    A chatbot creates a unique user experience with many benefits. It gives the audience an opportunity to ask questions and get to know more about your organization. It allows you to collect valuable information from the audience. It can increase interaction time on your site. Bot prototype In the spring of 2017, our Knight Lab team examined the conversational user interface of Public Good Software’s chatbot, which is a chat-widget embedded within media partner sites.......

    Continue Reading

  • Stitching 360° Video

    For the time-being, footage filmed on most 360° cameras cannot be directly edited and uploaded for viewing immediately after capture. Different cameras have different methods of outputting footage, but usually each camera lens corresponds to a separate video file. These video files must be combined using “video stitching” software on a computer or phone before the video becomes one connected, viewable video. Garmin and other companies have recently demonstrated interest in creating cameras that stitch......

    Continue Reading

  • Publishing your 360° content

    Publishing can be confusing for aspiring 360° video storytellers. The lack of public information on platform viewership makes it nearly impossible to know where you can best reach your intended viewers, or even how much time and effort to devote to the creation of VR content. Numbers are hard to come by, but were more available in the beginning of 2016. At the time, most viewers encountered 360° video on Facebook. In February 2016, Facebook......

    Continue Reading

Storytelling Tools

We build easy-to-use tools that can help you tell better stories.

View More