Top Journalism Fellowships: Mark Boas on the Knight-Mozilla Open News Fellowship

Aug 01, 2012
Mark Boas, a 2011-12 Knight Mozilla Open News Fellow outside his newsroom at AlJazeera

The Knight-Mozilla Fellowships, the centerpiece of the OpenNews initiative, provides a one year opportunity for developers and technologists to work in international newsrooms and write code in collaboration with reporters, designers, and newsroom developers. These Fellows are making their mark across the globe, building innovative new tools for newsrooms at the Boston Globe, the BBC, the Guardian, Zeit Online, and Al Jazeera English. Fellows not only build technology, they also share their work with others by blogging and pushing code to open repositories. Mark Boas, a 2011-12 Fellow is working to meet the OpenNews initiative’s mission to strengthen the ties between journalists and developers internationally. The Knight-Mozilla Fellowship application deadline is August 11, 2012, so we caught up with Mark to ask him more about his experience and tips for applying for this unique opportunity.

1. Why did you decide to apply for the Knight-Mozilla Open News Fellowship? 

As a developer with an interest in current affairs, the idea of working at the intersection of news and technology appealed to me. To have the opportunity to work with news organisations I respected and followed was another big hook. I also wanted a chance to try out some ideas I had about web-based media with the support and input of people who worked with it day-to-day.  I like the idea of fellowships – being able to be part of a group on similar journeys.

I’ve been interested in open source software for many years and a few years ago my colleague and I created an open source media library. Part of the rationale behind the OpenNews initiative is to apply open source methodologies to journalism, so in that respect the fellowship seemed like a good fit.

Also I blog a bit and I’m trying to improve my writing and so I thought this would be a great opportunity to get tips and feedback.

2. What was the most eye-opening moment during your fellowship? 

Travelling to Qatar to see Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha was definitely an eye-opening experience. To be immersed in a culture that is completely different to my own is exciting enough, but to get to see how a newsroom operated was fascinating. I had to catch myself when I walked directly into the main Al Jazeera English studio and saw that they were live on air. I expected to walk into a fairly typical office but the people who work on are positioned around the studio and there’s a great continuity between the TV studio and the website. I’d have to say that the single most eye-opening event was the tour around the Al Jazeera museum. It brought home the tough conditions that reporters and journalists endure to get the facts out.  The exhibit displays the belongings and the distinctive orange overalls of a journalist detained in Guantanamo bay.

3. What tips would you give others applying Knight-Mozilla Open News Fellowship?

The application process has changed a bit since last year but I think you just need to let your passion and enthusiasm for the role to show through. It might be worth reading the various blog posts of the current fellows and it’s worth checking out the code that people are contributing to the new OpenNews source site and the GitHub account. Also you can start contributing at any time. There are community calls and even an IRC channel  (on that can help you get a feel for what OpenNews is all about.

4. What are you planning to do after your fellowship comes to an end?

I’m only half-way through and I’ve already started to think about this. I’m hoping to stay in touch with all of this year’s fellows and the folks from Al Jazeera and continue to work in the news and media industry. I want to use the experience I’ve gained to make tools that could benefit newsrooms. I have a few ideas but I’m especially excited by a technology I’ve been looking at called Hyperaudio and the creation of accurately timed transcripts and tools to use those transcripts to manipulate the corresponding media. I really want to make tools that facilitate citizen journalism and I’m hoping that newsrooms will pick up on that content and include it as part of their output.

Mark makes, writes about and promotes new and open web technologies. Co-founder of Happyworm, a small web agency and makers of the  jPlayer media framework, he enjoys pushing the limits of the browser using HTML5 and JavaScript. Mark spends much of his time playing with web based media and real-time communications and is actively involved in helping news organisations world-wide as part of the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews initiative. A lover of all things audio, his passion often drives his work and is currently enjoying the challenge of taking audio ‘somewhere new’ with his Hyperaudio experiments.  Mark is a graduate of Teesside University and Heriot-Watt University. You can  follow Mark on Twitter.

© Victoria Johnson 2012, all rights reserved.