Shipping a Fellow

Pippin Lee
The Open Journalism Project
5 min readAug 26, 2015

Good news — today the Open Journalism Project is announcing the start of a Fellowship program.

A few months ago when Asad and I wrote about the experience and research we’d done in understanding problems that student newsrooms are facing — we got many thoughtful responses. We were able to talk to students quite literally scattered across the globe, from Pakistan and India, to small-town USA, and big cities in Europe. These were students that shared our frustration with the lack of opportunities at their universities to tinker at the intersection of code and journalism.

While we’ve written, talked, and advised students newsrooms — we’ve been lacking in our methodology. At best we’re able to recommend similar setups we’ve seen at professional newsrooms. We haven’t been able to clearly point to what has (and hasn’t) worked. We can’t share how we got a student newsroom curious about programming or obsessing over data. In part this is because nothing like this exists in Canada — we’re carving out a new and important path in journalism education. Today we’re announcing our fellowship program, something that is very much an experiment — but we believe if we do it in an open way, it will help show us and everyone what student newsrooms can be.

From our research:

We don’t know what we don’t know

We spent much of the rest of the school year asking “what should we be doing in the newsroom?”, which mainly led us to ask “how do we use digital platforms to tell stories?” It was a straightforward question that led to many more questions. Out in the real world, traditional journalists were struggling to keep their jobs in a dying print world. They wore the same design of shoes that we were supposed to fill. Being pushed to repeat old, failing strategies and blocked from trying something new scared us.


We’re kickstarting the process of getting Canadian student newsrooms thinking about the web. The Open Journalism Fellowships will seek students with strong computer science, web, data, or interactive skills by funding them as fellows to work at their campus student newsroom. We’re asking fellows to play a critical role as a colleague, mentor, and coder — but we know they’re up to the challenge. Our model is heavily inspired by our friends at the Knight Lab at Northwestern University, as well as the Knight Mozilla OpenNews Fellowship.

We’re focused on student newsrooms because that’s the part of the ecosystem we know best, and also the part where we can have the most influence. We believe student newsrooms are the perfect place to experiment because of how much flexibility and control over the process students have. That said, for this project to be successful we realized we’d also need to have the perspective of the professional newsroom, so we’ve brought on Julia Wolfe, news developer and designer for the Globe and Mail, and Tim Alamenciak, from TVO, to keep fellowships in line with what professional newsrooms are doing.

Who’s involved

For this first year we’ve partnered with the Queen’s Journal, at Queen’s University, which is being helmed by editors-in-chief Anisa Rawhani and Sebastian Leck. Our first Open Journalism fellow will be Max Bittker.

Max Bittker (photo: Megan Gamble)

Max is a developer interested in digital empowerment and delight, Twitter bots, generative worlds, roasted vegetables, and neural networks. He’s a fourth-year computer engineering student at Queen’s University hailing from Rochester, New York. He looks forward to being the first Open Journalism Fellow and building skills, bridges, and weird stuff with the Queen’s Journal. You can find him here:

In addition to The Journal, we’ve brought together UBC’s Ubyssey, the McGill Tribune, uOttawa’s The Fulcrum, and UofT’s The Varsity to help build a strong community of students experimenting with telling stories on the web.

Our decision to make our first year of the fellowship program small is with the understanding that if we can work towards a model that fits student newsrooms, we’d be happy to expand in future years to more Canadian campuses.


Aniqah Mair (photo: Khalil Mair)

We’re also fortunate to have Aniqah Mair and Jake Pittis, both second year Computer Science students who will be collaborators with the project at Queen’s.

Jake Pittis (photo: Hack Western)

Both Aniqah and Jake have backgrounds in creating friendly environments for learning and programming — key pieces to the workshops, events, and mentorship we’re planning for the Queen’s Journal for the upcoming school year.

Goals and requirements

We understand that as the Fellowships progress we’ll learn how to make the experience for both the student newsrooms and fellows better, so there may be adjustments to our requirements.

Requirements for the fellow:

  • 10 hours per week in the newsroom
  • Plan in collaboration with the newsroom + community for media week
  • Stipend + additional support around hardware, software, and mentoring
  • Running workshops locally to increase computer literacy
  • Helping us design and build curriculum as open-sourced manuals, which includes documenting process of “going-digital” in blog posts
  • Run for a full year with the last month budgeted for transition and reflection

What daily life looks like for fellows:

  • Treated as journalists
  • Have access to meetings involving story planning
  • Work with section heads/digital-editor to develop and showcase web-worthy stories
  • Commit/publish/document code to Github weekly

We’ll have frequent updates here at The Open Journalism Project publication to publicly discuss what works and doesn’t.

If you’d like to be part of the conversation, or talk, drop me a note at or ping us on Twitter @OpenJo



Pippin Lee
The Open Journalism Project

Building machine learning systems @dessa. Sometimes I build tools for space exploration. I don’t know much, so I better start here.