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Sept. 2, 2015, 11:44 a.m.

It’s time to apply for a visiting Nieman Fellowship

The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard wants to hear your idea for making journalism better. Come spend a few weeks working on it in Cambridge. Deadline: October 31.

Do you have an idea to advance journalism? Can Harvard help?

If yes and yes, we’d like to hear from you. We’re opening applications for our Knight Visiting Nieman Fellowships, a chance to join us here at Harvard for up to 12 weeks of work on a special project. Nieman has nearly eight decades of experience with yearlong fellowships for journalists, but added these shorter stays to reflect the changing needs of the industry and the evolving cast of journalism influencers.

This is our fourth year welcoming visiting fellows, and our first in partnership with the Knight Foundation. In that time, we’ve had developers, editors, journalism professors, and others bring their research projects to Nieman. We’ve helped a foreign correspondent plan his epic seven-year walk across the globe and a Google editorial director develop a method for mapping future news events. Some of our fellows’ projects have won funding for further development. Many have been covered in Nieman Lab or Nieman Reports and reached large international audiences. This week, Nieman published an ebook documenting visiting fellow Amy Webb’s ambitious work on rewriting the future for journalism schools.

I asked Melody Kramer, who recently finished a terrific project with us on public media, if she would talk about her fellowship as a way of helping others who are considering applying. She recorded a short video describing her proposal, her application, her interview with us, and how she spent her two months at Nieman.

Ready to apply now? You can do that online. The deadline is October 31.

Our experience with visiting fellows has taught us a lot, but here are two ingredients we’ve learned are key to success:

  • A focused inquiry is better than a broad one. An applicant’s proposal can be part of a larger project, but should be a well-defined part of the whole. When visiting fellow Hong Qu came to Nieman, he wanted to build a tool to help journalists judge the reliability of Twitter during breaking news. The result was Keepr, which he tested during the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. While Reddit and other forums were important forces during that complex story, his focus on one made it possible to create a tool that could have immediate impact on our use of a growing medium.
  • Plan ahead. Best not to wait to land at Harvard to start researching the people and resources here that could inform your project. Some fellowships and assignments lend themselves to a more meandering pace, but not this one. You have no more than 12 weeks. I think of the time as structured exploration — setting out with clear objectives while staying open to serendipitous discovery. The question “why Harvard?” is one we often ask of candidates and we like to hear that you’ve thought that through. That includes how you might use Nieman Foundation resources — the Lab, Nieman Reports, Storyboard, and our academic-year fellows — to inform your work.

Be certain when you apply that the longer Nieman Fellowship is not a better fit. After arriving here, one or two of our visiting fellows felt a broader inquiry would have been preferable to their tailored projects. Nearly 1,500 journalists have been awarded that fellowship since our founding in 1937 and it remains a remarkably transformative experience. Applications for that fellowship will not be due until December 1 for international journalists and January 31 for U.S. applicants.

But if you have an idea for what someone called the “new Nieman,” do let us know by October 31. I look forward to reading about it.

POSTED     Sept. 2, 2015, 11:44 a.m.
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