Tyler Fisher on being a Knight Lab student fellow

In my sophomore year of college, I prototyped a product for a class final project. Thanks to the help and support of the Knight Lab, that modest prototype became a fully realized product in my junior year, and now, it has been used by The Washington Post and WBEZ.

Tyler Fisher

The full weight of that still hasn't hit me, really. I still find it hard to believe that I have made something of value to journalists through programming, an ability I began developing by sporadically going to Sunday meetings about Flash. Undoubtedly, SoundCite would not exist without the support and assistance of the Knight Lab, where I have been a student fellow for a year and where I will remain for one more glorious, way-too-short academic year.

I owe my ascendance as a hacker-journalist to a lot of people, groups and opportunities, including Jeremy Gilbert, the Chicago Tribune News Apps Team, North by Northwestern and the gracious, anonymous community of Stack Overflow. But I truly found my home base, a place I could call my "coding home", once I joined the Knight Lab. I came to the Lab in the summer of 2012 with my hacked-up demo of SoundCite. Even in its rudimentary, not-even-functional state, they had the foresight and confidence to give me as much time as I needed to put together a product we could present to the world.

But my time at the Knight Lab has been about so much more than developing SoundCite. It has been about becoming part of the news development community. With the Lab, I attended Computation + Journalism and NICAR for the price of a blog post, engaging in discussions with people I only dreamed of meeting and making connections that will maybe, one day, help get me gainful employment.

It has been about the events we host that encourage discussion on the future of delivering the news, about design thinking, about innovating in journalism. From hosting hack days to bringing in speakers from across the country, being a part of the Knight Lab has let me engage with the Chicago hacking community at large.

But most importantly, it has been about the community we have developed at Northwestern itself. Though the Knight Lab was founded in December of 2010, its existence came across my radar and other undergraduates like me in the 2012-13 academc year. In addition to the events we hold and the Medill/McCormick classes we sponsor, the Lab hired many student fellows to help with development, design, social media, research and reporting. They have all become close friends of mine, and the horizontal loyalty we have established makes me optimistic about the future of our community and the future of journalism.

Many of those close friends graduated with the class of 2013. They're off doing exciting things at Medium, Amazon, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal and even starting their own publications. That means we have openings at the Knight Lab. Current Northwestern students, I'm talking to you now.

They started just like me, just like all the current fellows, not having a clue what they were doing in front of a text editor. They all wandered through tutorials, trying to make their boxes turn blue and their circles turn red. They -- we -- started to succeed when we came together and supported each other. We learned from each other's successes and failures. We built projects together, much of the building happening in the Knight Lab's new open space in Fisk Hall. We're not wizards. We took a few small steps forward and eventually kept rolling down the hill.

Do you have an interest in the future of journalism? Do you want to impact how the turmoil in the news industry plays out? Join me at the Knight Lab. We are going to play a part. And that "we" needs to grow to include a larger and more diverse set of people. That "we" needs to include you, editor at campus publication trying to find your niche. It needs to include you, mobile programmer looking for the right startup to make your first million. And you, statistician trying to find the right dataset. And you,                              .

Knight Lab has positions available for the right students with all levels of interest in the technology side of journalism. You don’t need to be an expert-level programmer to join. I certainly wasn’t. We hire reporters, community organizers and producers, too. Most importantly, we need people passionate about the future of journalism and technology’s role, whatever your skill set may be.

Even if we can’t find the right position for you, our events and our training sessions can keep you involved. Feel free to join our Meetup group or send us an email: knightlab@northwestern.edu!

In my junior year of college, I launched a product that has been used by The Washington Post and WBEZ. How will you make an impact?


About the author

Tyler Fisher

Undergraduate Fellow

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