By Erica Evans
Stanford’s John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship recently received a $1.8 million grant from the Knight Foundation — the largest grant given to the program since it became fully endowed in 1984.
Each year, Stanford’s fellowship program invites 20 professional journalists from around the world to step out of the newsroom and come to Stanford for one year to study, collaborate and innovate in an attempt to solve journalism’s greatest challenges.
The new grant will fund a technology resource curriculum as well as programs to support JSK alumni in the initiatives they began during their fellowships.
In addition, the grant will finance educational conferences for news organization leaders that will emphasize action and organizational change.
“We think it’s a great endorsement of what we’re doing,” said Jim Bettinger, director of Stanford’s fellowship program. “And one that we really, really, really appreciate.”
Stanford’s John S. Knight Fellowship was originally founded almost 50 years ago under a different name. In 1984 it received a large endowment of about $4 million from the Knight Foundation, warranting the name change, according to Bettinger.
“I think that Knight Foundation considers us to be doing good work and wanted to help us do more good work,” Bettinger said.
Each fellow comes to Stanford with a specific problem they wish to solve. For example, Anne Kornblut, editor at The Washington Post and current fellow, is asking “What new tools and skills do newsroom leaders need to grow digital audiences?”
Cordelia Hebblethwaite, lead writer for BBC Trending, London will answer the question, “How can journalists exploit the full potential of social media?” to name just two of the 20 fellows’ questions.
During their fellowship, these journalists have access to all the resources of Stanford and Silicon Valley. The expectation is that by the end of the year, they will have come up with something new.
Marie Catherine Beuth, writer for the French newspaper Le Figaro, was moved to apply for the fellowship when she saw tech companies, not media companies, producing the majority of media related innovations. She began on her own to think of ideas that she wanted to pursue and saw Stanford as her chance.
“It was the perfect playground to follow this idea, this wish to do things that were innovative in the media space,” Beuth said.
She wanted to solve the dilemma that people face between so much information and so little time. Through her fellowship at Stanford, Beuth created an app called News on Demand that gives users daily news in the form of three major headlines. If the user happens to have more than 10 seconds to spare, he or she can chose to read more.
“It is not a minimalist approach, it is an essentialist approach,” Beuth said.
The development of this product was made possible by the resources Stanford provided, said Beuth, noting that the d.school and the benefit of having 19 other brilliant fellows to work with were especially instrumental in her project’s development.
Zena Barakat, senior producer of video at The New York Times and a current fellow, is taking a Stanford Graduate School of Business class, two design classes and is even exploring toy design to explore what kind of playful elements can be applied to film-making.
Barakat, who has lived most of her life in New York, described the innovative atmosphere at Stanford as a “culture shift.”
“New Yorkers and journalists are a skeptical bunch,” Barakat said. “People out here are more open to exploration and asking questions before making judgments.”
“[Stanford] very much feels like the land of opportunity,” she added.
The hope for Stanford’s fellowship program is to have a real impact on the world of news, which is one of the reasons new funding will be used to provide advising and support to fellowship alumni.
“We measure our effectiveness in what people do after their year at Stanford,” Bettinger said.
According to Barakat, it’s easy for journalists to get stuck inside their own little newsroom worlds and feel very isolated, and these fellowships are the only way for them to step back and really look at the bigger picture and think creatively.
However, she explained that there is a stigma that people who do these fellowships are just “taking time off.”
“People don’t understand that it is very project-oriented and very action-oriented,” Barakat said. “It is essentially intense career training.”
Bettinger urges students and faculty to utilize these brilliant fellows while they are here at Stanford, by inviting them to speak in classes and residences.
“They are an amazing resource,” Bettinger said.
Bettinger encourages students, including undergrads, to look at the questions the fellows are working on, and to get involved.
“We want to work with anyone that wants to work with us,” he added.
Contact Erica Evans at elevans ‘at’ stanford.edu.