Seeking developers interested in journalism: New options at Northwestern

Through a unique scholarship program, the Medill School at Northwestern University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation have brought a dozen talented developers into journalism over the last several years.

Successful as these scholarships have been, the program could benefit only those technologists who were able to take a year out of their lives to study journalism in Medill's full-time master's degree program.

Now that's changed: Money from the Knight Scholarships is now available to technologists who want to study and innovate at Northwestern without the need to enroll for a full year as a full-time student.

We are looking for technologists interested in journalism who'd be interested in any of the following:

  • A master's degree in journalism -- earn an MSJ in our one-year full-time program.
  • One or two academic terms (3-6 months) of journalism study -- starting with the first quarter of our master's program, which provides foundational skills in reporting, storytelling and undersanding today's media landscape
  • Enrollment in specific courses of the student's choosing (presuming space is available and the student can demonstrate they have met any course prerequisites)
  • A paid 3-month or 6-month Knight Lab fellowship allowing the technologist to research, learn or build an application relevant to journalism.


The goals of the Knight/Medill program remain the same as they always have been: first, to get talented developers involved in journalism and motivate them to help solve the problems confronting journalists, publishers and media consumers; and second, to spark innovation in media and journalism.

Medill has offered these scholarships since 2007, when Knight awarded us one of the first Knight News Challenge grants to create the scholarship program. Since then, 12 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, created 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 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.

Boyer now leads the visuals team at NPR. Mark is editorial engineering director at Vox Media. Other graduates of the program are working at news and technology companies like Vox, Narrative Science, the Chicago Tribune and the Huffington Post.

If you're interested in the Knight scholarships and fellowships, here's what to do:

  • If you want to earn a master's degree in journalism (a year of full-time study), you'll apply through the normal application process and complete one supplemental essay. More information about the Medill MSJ program can be found here. Specifics on curriculum and courses are here.
  • If you're interested in taking courses at Medill, but not a full master's degree, we recommend that you enroll full-time in the first quarter (11 weeks) of our master's program, which we call Journalism Methods. The quarter includes ''Frameworks of Modern Journalism,'' an overview of the social, audience and technology trends shaping the media industry; classes in news reporting and editing; and training in multimedia storytelling skills. Depending on your background and course prerequisites, we can also let you take individual courses that you are interested in. If you think you might be interested, contact Prof. Rich Gordon, who won the grant that established the Knight scholarship program.
  • If you're interested in a Knight Lab fellowship, think of ways you could apply your skills and interests to the development of software useful to journalists, publishers or media consumers. Your fellowship could include time to conduct user research, build a prototype, collaborate with Lab developers and students, or otherwise contribute to the Lab's mission. To discuss your interest, contact Joe Germuska, director of the Lab.


More details are available on the Medill website.

About the author

Rich Gordon

Professor and Director of Digital Innovation

Journalism/tech intersection, my passion for 25 years, data journalism, Miami Herald web director, now hacker journalism.

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