Today is one of my favorite days of the year. It’s selection day, that wondrous day each spring that brings to a grand finale all the months required to screen hundreds of fellowship applications and interview dozens of top candidates. Today we made our final offers and announced the next class of John S. Knight Journalism Fellows at Stanford.
It’s a thrill to share the gift of this fellowship with journalists who are as passionate and persistent as I am about inventing and building new futures for journalism.
I am especially proud because the 18 journalists and journalism innovators we named today as JSK Fellows are the first ones selected since I became director of the fellowship last September. They are the first who applied under a new “Teams and Themes” framework intended to focus JSK Fellows in collaborating on the biggest challenges facing journalism. During their fellowship, the “Teams and Themes” framework will guide how the fellows conduct their explorations and experiments in journalism innovation.
Collaboration is not new to our program; in recent years, fellows have frequently teamed up in a variety of ways, both during and after their fellowship year. As I wrote last fall, we want to build on those experiences and develop deeper collaborations that go beyond our fellows. We want to involve others at Stanford and in Silicon Valley who are concerned about, and fascinated by, the future of journalism.
Over the past five months, we tapped into the talents and generosity of our JSK alumni and other colleagues and friends of our program to help us review a record 585 applications from 104 countries. Over and over, throughout the multi-stage review process, I was struck by applicants’ deep commitment to journalism that can make a difference; not just to focus on their careers, but also on the greater social good. That’s not new, but I saw expressed in many applications a greater sense of urgency and an eagerness to collaborate with others to practice and support journalism that matters.
While our application totals were not dramatically higher than last year (we’ve received more than 500 applications in each of the past 4 years), we definitely had our own “Trump bump.” Many applicants submitted proposals to help credible news organizations better connect with and understand the needs of their audiences, to combat “fake news,” and to work on ways to rebuild and sustain high-quality reporting in local communities.
This new group of JSK Fellows includes a rich mix of journalists and journalism innovators who want to explore solutions to a range of issues facing our profession. To mention just a few of their important areas of focus, their questions center on new business models and free speech (how to create independent and sustainable investigative media in emerging democracies); on data journalism and emerging technology (how to use natural language processing tools to help data-driven storytelling) and on audience engagement (how to build audience-first newsrooms that inspire watchdog journalism).
The group also includes our first Cuban journalist practicing her profession from Cuba, a country now starting to open its arms and its borders to the world. And while we have U.S. fellows from both coasts, as we usually do, this year we also have fellows from big and small places in other regions of our nation, including Macon, Georgia; Des Moines, Iowa; Boise, Idaho and Birmingham, Alabama.
All of this takes place at a time when changes — political, economic, social and technical — are happening at a breakneck pace. It seems nearly impossible to say what our global or national media landscapes will look like just three years from now. What I do know is that JSK Fellows will be tackling the challenges and seizing opportunities to invent and build new futures for journalism.