Breaking down isolation and bringing journalists together

At events like the Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires Media Party, participants become friends so quickly that they'll even stand in the rain together for photos. (photo/ramiro c.)

It sometimes seems that you could go to a journalism conference every day of the year. This is not a field that lacks for opportunities to attend panels, teach at workshops, and swap notes in hallway conversations. But funds to attend conferences remain a barrier to participation for many members of the journalism-tech community.

Today, the application opens for the OpenNews Ticket+Travel scholarship: Apply by June 26 for a stipend to attend upcoming journalism and tech events. This is the third application this year, and we’ve already sent 42 people to events from NICAR to OpenVis Conf. Recipients come from a range of news orgs, including The Deseret News, the Arizona Daily Star, The Seattle Times, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Oregonian, The South Side Weekly, INN, the Palm Beach Post, MetroWest Daily, and the Scoop from Macedonia.

One recipient said:

Thank you so much!! This was truly a defining moment in my visual/data journalism career. I am the only data person in our newsroom right now, and as I mentioned before it can feel isolating and I am often challenged and stretched thin. It was wonderful to meet and hear from people who are tackling the same issues I am in development, design, and storytelling. I am determined now to attend this conference again, and again as mentioned above I hope to one day be speaking at it.

That testimonial describes exactly why we offer this scholarship program: to help build skills, foster connections, fight isolation, and develop leadership. The program is imbued with the values that underly all of our work at OpenNews, where we seek to build from existing resources, learn and adjust as we go, and prioritize supporting under-represented community members.

Building from existing resources

We drew the structure and reasoning behind this scholarship program from looking at other models. I benefitted hugely from an event scholarship program provided by the Center for Public Interest Journalism in Philadelphia. It supported my attendance at ONA and other community events where I learned digital skills that immediately helped my work in a small news org and allowed me to build relationships both with Philly journalists and colleagues across the country. These events also turned into defining moments in my career as I met collaborators that eventually led me to OpenNews.

In addition to this personal experience, I also did a survey of similar scholarship programs in the tech community, especially seeking out ones that were not related to a particular event, but open for applicants to decide what they’d like to attend. I knew that OpenNews wasn’t the first to plan a scholarship program and that I could draw from the experience of other groups in developing our program.

Ana Diaz Hernandez had a blog post rounding up scholarship programs for tech events that were working in diversity. I used that and searching for particular communities to find examples from Google, Wikimedia, Python, and Linux.

These resources showed me a variety of application styles and grant or scholarship amounts and helped me narrow down a list of questions about constructing our own application and process.

Iterative approach

Being responsive to community members is important to us, so we have built systems to allow us to iterate. We provide time to reflect and make updates before launching a new application, to ensure we have space to listen to participants and improve our program. In addition, we learn across our programs, such as pulling from our SRCCON scholarship process or keeping an eye on conferences and topics of interest from coverage on Source.

We ask participants about their experience after the event and we feed their responses into updates for the next time. This feedback encourage us to test out things like a lunch for scholarship recipients at NICAR and sharing the contact information of recipients (with permission!).

Emphasizing diversity and inclusion

One of the reasons we created the scholarship program is to support people from under-represented backgrounds in attending journalism-tech events. Programs like the Ida B. Wells Society grew out of the fact that at many journalism conferences, a small number of journalists of color are there. The Ida B. Wells Socity works to fix that by creating new resources, including an investigative reporting boot camp series for journalists of color. We’re doing our part by helping journalists, in particular members of under-represented groups, attend existing events in the community. Our scholarship program helps people attend events like the Asian American Journalists Association’s Executive Leadership Program as well as the National Instiute for Computer Assisted Reporting annual conference.

Nearly 80% of OpenNews Ticket+Travel scholarship recipients identify as a person of color and/or woman. Many recipients come from smaller and less-resourced newsrooms that have particularly tight budgets and would benefit most from staff who bring back knowledge and connections from the wider field. As the recipient quoted above notes, attending events on a scholarship can be a step to speaking the next time and thereby building the leadership and visibility of recipients.

We know that events are an important place for learning and networking. We also know that access to these events is not equitably distributed. Through this scholarship we seek to mitigate barriers to entry to the exact journalism events that can be career defining, as they were for many of us.

The application for our current round of scholarship is open till June 26. Please apply and help us spread the word.

posted June 12, 2017 | posted in SRCCON