Meet Our 2016 American and Australian Google News Lab Fellows

Earlier this month, we were thrilled to welcome the American and Australian winners of our inaugural Google News Lab Fellowship class to Google HQ in Mountain View.

In the fall of 2015, we launched the Google News Lab Fellowship — in the United States, the United Kingdom, South Korea, and Australia — to offer students interested in journalism and technology the opportunity to work with some of the most prestigious media organizations in the world.

In the U.S. alone, more than 1800 candidates applied to the Fellowship. After a rigorous application process, 8 US fellows were hand-picked by their host organizations.

From Australia:

  • Matt Baker, University of New South Wales; Fairfax Media

The week in Mountain View was an opportunity for our Fellows to get to know the Google News Lab — and most importantly, each other — a little better. Fellows also got to hear from our data editor, Simon Rogers, renowned data visualization expert, Alberto Cairo, and a number of Google VR and storytelling experts. They also got a chance to hang out at YouTube headquarters, where they took this amazing motion still.

The Fellows show what they can do at the YouTube basketball court.

The program is a reflection of our values at the Google News Lab. For all the opportunities technology may enable, great journalists will always be at the heart of great journalism. We look forward to continue strengthening the program and helping develop the next generation of storytellers. (The application window for the 2017 News Lab Fellowship will open in Fall 2016.)

We are proud to introduce you to our Fellows — and wanted to give each of them an opportunity to describe the work they’ll be doing this summer and where their passion for journalism comes from.

Jieqian Zhang

University of California, Berkeley

Center for Investigative Reporting

Jieqian is a data and graphic reporter at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She’s also spent time as a freelance graphic designer with our Google Trends team, creating the widely used horserace graphic. Jieqian was previously a data / visual intern at ChinaFile, an associate news producer at RTL, and a news assistant at Le Figaro.

What she’ll be working on this summer:

I will be working with the data team at the Center for Investigative Reporting on data-crunching, data-reporting and building news applications.
I’ll begin my fellowship working on the Lost and the Found project, which matches missing person cases with unidentified bodies. I look forward to developing my data analysis skills this summer. Previously, my focus has always been on how to display data on a web platform. In order to become a better data reporter, I realized that knowing how to interpret data is just as important as knowing how to visualize it.

Why CIR is important:

Founded in 1977, the Center for Investigative Reporting is the nation’s oldest non-profit investigative journalism organization. Even as the platform for storytelling has continued to evolve, their commitment to rigorous investigative journalism has remained steadfast. I admire how the CIR created a new platform for investigative journalism and I think moving to radio/podcast is a great fit for their investigative stories. I think it responds to the needs of a mobile-friendly audience and provides an opportunity for listeners to really immerse themselves in a story.

What she hopes to learn this summer:

I hope to get better at handling big, messy datasets and always hold onto an investigative perspective when reporting stories.

Why journalism? Why is it important?

I want to share lesser known stories with more people. Before coming to the U.S., I interned at a state-owned media outlet in China and later worked as an associate news producer for foreign media. From my personal experience, I have seen stories about China either be misinterpreted or killed by self-censorship. That’s the reason why I chose to go to graduate school and study journalism — I believed I could do a better job.

Favorite piece of journalism:

AP’s “Seafood from Slaves”, Buzzfeed’s “Spies in the Skies”, Mother Jones’ “My four months as a private prison guard”, and many others.
I really admire the CIR’s “The Dark Side of the Strawberry” series and its efforts to send postcards to people who might be influenced by pesticide use. Also, I have to mention the Buzzfeed’s data editor Jeremy Singer-Vine’s newsletter“Data is Plural”, which has been an inspiration for me in terms of where to find data-related stories.

Brett Murphy

University of California, Berkeley

Investigative Reporters & Editors

Brett Murphy is a Bay Area journalist finishing up his master’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley this May. He’s a Mark Felt Scholar at the Investigative Reporting Program with a focus on data reporting and new media. A product of Boston, Brett was a magazine writer and editor in Pittsburgh before moving out west. He likes to write about the economy, science, crime and labor.

What he’ll be working on this summer:

I have a couple big data projects that I’ll be tackling. IRE cleans and analyzes federal data that it farms out to member reporters who might not have the resources to take on themselves. So, I’m excited to help newsrooms all over the country tell better stories. I’ll also be co-producing IRE’s podcast on investigative reporting, finding out how the sausage was made from those who make it.

Why IRE is important:

As I saw at the IRE conference in New Orleans, investigative journalism is a big global community. It’s a family. IRE’s mission is to help its members tell important stories by making data, training, and other expensive resources readily available to them. As a result, IRE plays a crucial role in local investigations, and, often, large, national ones.

What he hopes to learn this summer:

I hope to become more comfortable with big, ugly data sets. I think data literacy is a crucial part of the news gathering process. I hope to become fluent in different types of software and techniques so that I can continue incorporating data in my own reporting down the road.

Why journalism? Why is it important?

It’s such an exciting time in journalism today because of all the different forms a good story can take and all the different avenues through which it can reach people. More people are informed today — largely because of journalism and social media — than at any other point in history. There are brave, hard-working reporters and editors all over the world to thank for that. I got into journalism because I wanted to help tell those stories about people that otherwise wouldn’t have a voice.

Favorite piece of journalism:

Oh, boy. ProPublica and the Marshall Project’s “An Unbelievable Story of Rape”,AP’s “Seafood from Slaves”, and Mother Jones’ “My four months as a private prison guard” are my three recent favorites. The reporting behind each of those is absolutely remarkable. The Guardian and Washington Post’s police shooting databases are also great, especially given the lack of information they initially faced. I’m also a big fan of BuzzFeed’s work with H-2 visa workers from last year. It’s tough work to make such big-picture problems digestible and even relatable, but these pieces all do it masterfully.

Taylyn Washington-Harmon

Syracuse University

Nieman Journalism Lab

Taylyn Washington-Harmon is a senior magazine journalism student at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication, minoring in women’s and gender studies and concentrating in fashion and beauty communications. In 2013, Taylyn launched SWEETEST Media and its flagship website SWTST.co. In 2014, she received seed funding in Raymond Von Dran IDEA Competition and was one of the few startups selected to go on to the New York State Business Plan Competition. She enjoys reading and writing fiction, fashion illustration, and collecting art books.

What she’ll be working on this summer:

I will be studying and reporting on new innovations and business models in journalism. Nieman is the industry leader in reporting on the business dynamics of journalism and I have been a huge fan since I was in high school. I am excited to bring a younger voice to the organization and take a millennial’s perspective on how we consume media and create content. Also as a media entrepreneur, I find researching the business models of other media companies very rewarding.

Why Nieman is important:

Nieman does a great job of spotlighting what is next for journalism and how our industry will survive. Nieman wants to fight against the notion that journalism is dying and has no way to sustain itself. They want to prove that quality journalism can exist in the digital age.

What she hopes to learn this summer:

I will have gained the experience of working in a professional newsroom and creating content for millions across the globe. I will learn quality journalism skills that will enhance my reporting and storytelling.

Why journalism? Why is it important?

I am in journalism primarily because I consider myself a storyteller, first and foremost. I am always looking for the next interesting narrative, while also using my skills to provide insight on contemporary social issues.

Favorite piece of journalism:

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” from The Atlantic. I have never read such an in-depth argument for how America can address such a huge moral crisis. Coates is a beautiful writer that I seek to emulate.

Sophie Chou

MIT

Pew Research Journalism Project

Sophie Chou is a computer scientist and writer from the MIT Media Lab, a place where students research everything from building bionic limbs and robot farms to stopping gender discrimination on social media. Her Master’s thesis looks to understand why certain news stories are perceived as biased by different groups of people, and develop ways to computationally predict those behaviors. Before MIT, she attended Columbia University, studying computer science with a focus on machine learning and artificial intelligence.

What she’ll be working on this summer:

I’ll be doing research on the ways that national stories can have an impact on the concerns and questions of local communities and vice versa — and how long those effects last. I’m really excited to work on this because I believe that what’s most valuable about journalism: its ability to spur social change. I’m curious on how long those effects last once the buzz is over. Moreover, I really care whether news is making a positive impact in under-resourced communities.

Why Pew is important:

The Pew Research Center does a great job of making sure that data is broken down in ways that anyone can understand it. It also pays great attention to making sure data and methods are sound so that people can trust it.

What she hopes to learn this summer:

I’m really interested in learning how to convey my research results to a general audience in a clear, concise way. I’m also on a never-ending personal quest to improve my statistical methods.

Why journalism? Why is it important?

I’m in journalism because I’m both a romantic and an engineer. On the romantic front, I read way too much Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson growing up to not be seduced by the idea of being a reporter. I just love telling stories and stringing words together. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 16 (so it makes a lot of sense that I went to engineering school ). On the pragmatic front, after spending some time in computer science and academia, I began to realize the research with the greatest impact was the research that was able to tell the best story — about how the world worked, or how it could work in the future. Data journalism is exciting to me because it makes this a priority while still rooted in computational and statistical methods.

Favorite piece of journalism:

That’s a tough question because I’m constantly reading stories that inspire me. (Journalism is not dead!) Recently, Buzzfeed’s piece about a Yale ethics professor’s allegations of sexual harassment was really powerful. Academia has a serious problem that isn’t just isolated to a single man. I also have a soft spot for profiles and interviews, which are my favorite pieces to write.

Sonali Prasad

Columbia University

Poynter

Sonali Prasad is interested in technology, science, and storytelling. A Masters student at the Columbia Graduate School Of Journalism, she is a data and drone junkie and loves to explore multimedia projects on sports, climate change, environment and energy. She is a passionate marathon runner and has covered two editions of the Olympic Games — the London Olympics and the Sochi Winter Olympics.

What she’ll be working on this summer:

During my fellowship, I will be working on a number of data and digital projects for Poynter — everything from visualizing trends to setting up databases for future pipelines. I also am looking to pursue projects related to the Olympics outside of Poynter. I’ve worked closely with the Olympic movement as a reporter since 2010 and will be reporting on data and analytics from Rio at the Paralympics in September. Also, I’m looking to collaborate on an ambitious group project comprising of some very talented Stanford engineers and Columbia journalists to report on coral reef health data in a visual and holistic way using Google Earth.

Why Poynter is important:

Poynter is a legacy media organization that reports extensively on the media beat: upcoming trends, the news behind breaking news, changing demography of newsrooms, diversity issues, and journalism ethics commentaries. As a student, Poynter was a must-read everyday, just to know the pulse of a rapidly changing industry. That habit stays till date.
At the moment, Poynter is going through an exciting phase. It is on the cusp of a transition as it rethinks its strategies and goals to remain relevant and concurrent to its readers worldwide.

What she hopes to learn this summer:

I hope to become a better reporter- both in the newsroom and in the field. There are some very seasoned journalists and mentors here at Poynter, who can help shape views and opinions on a variety of issues — from the often overlooked ethics of journalism to the importance of fact-checking in real-time social media reporting to the relevance of good, evergreen feature writing. By the end of summer, I hope to leave with a polished arsenal of journalism skills, a sense of accomplishment, some really fond memories, and a whole lot of pizza with wine. (There’s a fantastic Italian cook in the team.)

Why journalism? Why is it important?

Journalism is my way of channeling what I think is my gift to this world- a burning passion for good and impactful storytelling. Call me a dreamer, but I do believe in changing the world, one word at a time. I love meeting people, telling their stories, and being a part of their lives for a moment in time. It makes me a better person, knowing that I’m putting my craft to good use. My work gives me immense joy and I want to keep going, bring innovation and wonder to the world of journalism and to newsrooms.

Favorite piece of journalism:

Oh, I have a long, long list of favorites. But one of my go-tos for inspiration has to be this very simple Bloomberg visualization on global warming.
It is simple, yet very effective in telling in a compelling story solely through graphs. This piece breaks down the effect of each and every factor contributing to temperature rises such as the earth’s orbit, volcanic eruptions and the use of greenhouse gases. Each factor was simulated five times, with different initial conditions; based on NASA data. You’ll have to see for yourself what the end result is.
The piece is a perfect example of why design doesn’t have to be complex to be attractive, it can be implemented with simplicity and a good narrative arc.

Fan Fei

University of California, Berkeley

ProPublica

Fan Fei is currently attending the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She graduated from Fudan University with a bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in Economics and is a recipient of the 2015 Asian American Journalism Scholarship. Previously, she interned at the Economist and the New York Times Shanghai Bureau. Fan sees herself as a right-brained oil-painter, a left-brained developer, and, most importantly, as a data journalist who uncovers the truth.

What she’ll be working on this summer:

I will be working closely with ProPublica’s News Apps team on several stories, including the ongoing Dollars for Docs project. I’m also planning to investigate and pitch a news application project of my own. I’m excited about it because there is so much I can learn from other developers on the team, and I’m able to watch people experiment with new technologies.
The News Apps team gathers a group of people with different specialties — design, coding, research and reporting. I think I’ll be able to “customize” my fellowship and learn from each of them according to my needs. Besides learning from the News Apps team, I will also be able to get help and guidance from some of the best investigative journalists in the world.

Why ProPublica is important:

Many publishers do not want to dedicate time and resources to the time-consuming process of investigative journalism. The founders of ProPublica started this independent, nonprofit news outlet to fill the vacuum. ProPublica is committed to covering underreported stories that have impact in the world.
ProPublica’s News Apps team builds interactive web pages that use software instead of words to do journalism. It’s valuable because the team does not simply build interactives around raw data, they help readers analyze the data; find trends; make comparisons; and, most importantly, find stories that are relevant to ProPublica’s readers.

What she hopes to learn this summer:

I hope I will become a better journalist, coder, data analyst, or designer — and if possible, all four.
Besides learning new technologies — like finding trends and patterns out of large datasets and building interactive visualizations/apps — , I hope to become more statistics-oriented and build news applications that are better designed for human brains.

Why journalism? Why is it important?

I have been studying sketching and oil painting since the age of five. I published a book in China when I was very young. So, people told me I should go to a journalism school, even though I didn’t even know if I wanted to be a journalist. I’ve realized that being a journalist is the safest way to devote myself to existing social problems and provide reliable information for the public. I came to the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism to study data reporting, and now I finally live the awesome life I imagined — combining the three things I love: drawing, math and journalism. I’m able to produce incisive and artful rendering of social events, making a positive influence on people’s lives.

Favorite piece of journalism:

ProPublica’s “Surgeon Scoreboard” and “Hell and High Water”, the New York Times’ “The Displaced”. These pieces represent how fast journalism industry is evolving. There is one piece in particular that had a huge influence on me. It is This American Life’s “Is that a Tape Recorder in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Unhappy to See Me?” I listened to this story back in 2010, when I first came to the journalism world. This piece tells the story of an NYPD officer who spends months carrying a tape recorder in his front pocket and documents how one precinct really works, capturing numerous illegal acts by police. I didn’t realize how beautiful and powerful a simple piece of radio non-fiction could be.

Jorge Caraballo Cordovez

Northeastern University

Matter

Jorge is a Colombian journalist interested in how digital media transforms societies. He received a Fulbright scholarship to explore how digital media can contribute to the reconstruction of social cohesiveness in Colombia, a country that has suffered an armed conflict for more that sixty years. He is currently enrolled in the Media Innovation program at Northeastern University. In his spare time, he loves street photography, reading myths, eating ice cream, listening to his wife’s music, and doing yoga.

What he’ll be working on this summer:

I will be part of the storytelling team at Matter Ventures, an independent media startup accelerator. Matter was founded in San Francisco three years ago, but it just opened a new office in New York where I will be working. I’ll be responsible for making the communications between both offices as seamless as possible, reporting with photos and videos the advances of the entrepreneurs during their training, interviewing the mentors and sharing their experience in media with the public. I’m excited because Matter is an unique place to learn about how media is experiencing a radical transformation, and it’s the best environment to understand the skills that I need as a journalist to succeed and, possibly, create my own venture.

Why Matter is important:

The work of Matter Ventures is essential to the future of new media enterprises. Thanks to the Internet and other digital technologies more people have the chance to create ventures in media, but it’s hard to do so without capital and without the benefit of the experience of other entrepreneurs. That’s exactly what Matter offers to media entrepreneurs: an environment to test the ideas, fail fast, and develop a great product that will ultimately “change media for good.”

What do he hopes to get out of the summer:

My main goal is to have a better understanding of the mindset of a media entrepreneur: I want to learn by being a close witness of the fun (and hard) process of creating a new company in this ecosystem.

Why journalism? Why is it important?

I’m a journalist because I believe that good stories and reliable information are essential elements to create strong communities. The identity of a society depends on rich, creative and diverse narratives, and that’s the craft that we try to develop as journalists: I love to be part of that group.

Favorite piece of journalism:

As a Colombian journalist I’m always inspired by Gabriel García Márquez (Nobel Prize 1982) who was not only a novelist but also an amazing journalist. I recommend all of his journalism work: the short articles, the interviews, the long form pieces and books. He was engaging, rigorous, creative and had this joyful and fresh style. He’s also an inspiration of mine because he was also a media entrepreneur: In the fifties he founded “the smallest newspaper in the world”, and after that he founded other magazines that were very relevant in Colombia. His legacy is wonderfully preserved by the FNPI, the foundation he created to train and inspire journalists all around Latin America.

Niko Efstathiou

Columbia University

Witness

Niko is currently a student at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Niko graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in Political Science, where his academic interest in the disillusion of the Ottoman Empire led him to pursue the self-directed Fox Fellowship in Istanbul. Niko was also the communications director of The NO Project, an award winning, global education campaign that targets youth awareness of human trafficking and modern day slavery though multi-platform storytelling and art. Niko has also served as the Executive Director of the Yale International Relations Association, a co-coach for the national debate team of Greece, and a reporting intern for Kathimerini in Athens.​

What he’ll be working on this summer:

Four years ago, while I was still a sophomore in college trying to figure out how to combine my seemingly unrelated interests in policy, journalism and video, a professor introduced my class to the work of WITNESS, an organization that specializes in the use of eyewitness video as a tool for justice and human rights worldwide. It was one of those rare moments where I instantly felt inspired. In a surprising twist of fate, this year WITNESS was listed as one of the partner institutions for the 2016 Google News Lab fellowship and selected me as their fellow. Naturally, I couldn’t be more humbled and excited to be working with them this summer.
As part of my fellowship, I will be assisting the organization’s Media Lab with a number of their projects, which aim to highlight various human rights struggles through the lens of eyewitness videos. My first project is the design of an online interactive platform of videos documenting human rights abuses in Western Sahara — one of the world’s last remaining colonies. Beyond video archiving and curation, I am also responsible for the project’s data visualization, mapping, as well as integrating various interactive tools for dynamic usage by researchers, activists and the public at large. In 2016, technology has drastically expanded the potential of storytelling and advocacy, and I couldn’t be more elated to be working at the frontier of this field through my Google News Lab fellowship.

Why Witness is important:

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a moving image truly has the power to change the world. Eyewitness videos throughout the world have the potential to document police brutality, hold regimes accountable for human rights violations or pave the way to justice for a wrongly accused perpetrator. WITNESS is leading the efforts of integrating eyewitness video into the human rights realm, not only by showcasing relevant videos from all over the globe, but also by developing trends and methodology for activists, advocacy groups or victims of human rights violations. For 25 years, their work has been phenomenally impactful. But it is through realizing how important video documentation has become that one understands how visionary WITNESS truly is as an organization.

What he hopes to get out of the summer:

It is a rather common millennial concern that our scope of interests is far too broad and often irreconcilable. I, for example, struggled for years trying to combine my passion for international relations, public policy and multi-platform storytelling. This summer opportunity, for the first time, exposes me to a unique intersection of policy, media and technology and I am fascinated to experience the incredible work and impact in this field as well as start building my own career path.
I am specifically hoping to delve more deeply in interactive multi-platform tools for advocacy and storytelling — things such as customizable maps or visual timelines — as well as to develop a methodology for their usage in collaborative human rights projects, a field that remains rather unexplored up to this date.

Why journalism? Why is it important?

People often refer to the 21st century as the age when journalism died; they couldn’t be further from the truth. The capacity of every individual in the world to share their stories through new technologies gives the potential for untold stories to surface and impact the world in unprecedented ways. Already, in my first week with WITNESS, I explored a number of human rights issues in Western Sahara, documented through eyewitness videos. This eye-opening experience would be virtually impossible a decade ago, when we were simply relying on traditional reporting and storytelling.
However, there are also challenges in this new era of “new media meets public policy”. How do we avoid over-saturation of content? Do we care more about content that is viral, rather than impactful? Are users engaging with our stories or simply being “slacktivists?”
We can’t expect to have answers to these questions in 2016, but we can’t ignore the fact that developments in storytelling tools and technologies are shifting the tectonic plates of the world and the role citizens play in shaping it. As someone primarily interested in international relations and public policy, I think it is imperative to specialize in journalism and explore the ways through which these new capacities for storytelling and outreach impact politics, public policy and human rights throughout the world.

Favorite piece of journalism:

John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” piece for the New Yorker’s 1946 issue, for its tremendous writing and timeless relevance.

FROM AUSTRALIA

Matt Baker

University of New South Wales

Fairfax Media

Matt Baker studied Statistical Physics in the Australian National University, where he spent a year at UC Berkeley. He was awarded a John Monash Scholarship,and used it to complete a D Phil in Biological Physics at the University of Oxford studying bacterial flagellar motor — the tiny rotary machine that rotates the propellor that makes nearly all bacteria swim. When he returned to Australia, he became involved with community radio. In 2015, he was awarded a top 5 under 40 residency at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), which gave him the opportunity to produce radio. He loves interviewing, live conversations, and working with small teams.

What he’ll be working on this summer:

I will be working on two projects. The first tries to predict what readers might want to read next. The second is to do an analysis to quantify what impact recent changes to Sydney’s licensing laws (the ‘lockout laws’) have had on violence and the nighttime economy. I’m excited about this project as it’s an opportunity to compare different cities’ approaches to reducing violence while maintaining nightlife, and to determine what is most effective.

Why the Sydney Morning Herald is important:

The Sydney Morning Herald is the oldest continuously published newspaper in Australia. Fairfax Media, in its role producing this and other flagship print media, has maintained an investigative journalism presence in Australia since 1841. I’m excited to learn from the talented journalists and analysts at Fairfax, and to contribute with content that can help inform political and public policy that affects all the residents of Sydney.

What he hopes to get out of the summer?

I want to see if there’s an avenue that combines my love of a story with my analytical mind, and if data journalism is something that I can do while continuing to do research (or if it is something that can tempt me away from science!). I have been thinking more and more about this, and I feel lucky to have an opportunity to invest some focus to see how it fits.

Why journalism? Why is it important?

My worry about going ‘full-time’ into journalism has always been that I’d miss the analytical parts of my day as a scientist. (That and the fact that it is really, really hard these days!) I love the pressure of the media, that the news is only ‘new’ for so long, and the fact that the story kind of comes to you, as opposed to science where you get to push the frontiers of discovery, but do so very, very slowly. We need people that can get into a complex issue quickly, clarify it, and present that content to the public to keep politicians and policy accountable.

Favorite piece of journalism:

Guardian’s 6x9. It combined really beautiful audio with the ability for the audience to see and live inside the space. I was formerly involved with penal reform and prison charities, and we always used to tell people to imagine prison by spending an entire day in your kitchen. That piece really captured the oppressiveness of solitary confinement, with the voices of people who have lived through it. It opened my eyes to how you could still keep the beautiful simplicity of radio, but add just a little bit of visual aid to enhance the piece.

A huge congratulations to our News Lab Fellows! We’ll be sure to check in on the amazing work they’ll be doing throughout the summer.

A friendly reminder to follow the Google News Lab Publication to get our latest stories.