It’s now been almost exactly a year since we announced (thanks to a Knight News Challenge grant) that programmer-developers could earn full scholarships to study journalism in the master’s program at the Medill School at Northwestern University. We’ve got plenty of scholarship money still available — but we have not been overwhelmed with applications.

Here’s where we stand: Two scholarship winners are now almost midway through their Medill studies. A third candidate will enroll next month. And we still have the equivalent of six full scholarships yet to award.

From the beginning, I’ve felt that this project’s biggest challenge would be finding the coders who would be intrigued by the idea of spending a year studying journalism. We’re not looking for career-switchers — programmers wanting to leave coding behind in favor of reporting. We’re looking for outstanding programmers who want to explore the theory and practice of journalism — and might, as a result, find novel ways of applying their technology skills and interests to improving journalism in the digital age.

Our best recruiting tools so far were several posts about the scholarship program to technology-oriented blogs, including BoingBoing and Adrian Holovaty’s site. We’ve also been getting the word out about the scholarships to undergraduate computer science programs and via banner advertisements on technology-oriented sites. We can tell from our Web site analytics that these efforts are getting some attention, but we need to do more if we’re going to make this scholarship program successful.

I’m hoping that readers of this blog might have some ideas about what we can do — either to improve the scholarship program or to market it more effectively. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Where should we look for coders who might be interested in these scholarships?
  • What’s the best way to get their attention?
  • Is there something wrong with our pitch?
  • Is the idea of practicing journalism (for instance, interviewing strangers and doing a lot of writing) intimidating to coders?
  • Or does journalism just not seem intellectually demanding?
  • Could we make this program more appealing by incorporating non-journalism classes — in computer science or other fields — in the scholarship winners’ curriculum? (Truth is, this is possible already — Medill allows any master’s-level courses at Northwestern to count toward our MSJ degree.)

Or could it be that the whole concept is flawed? Certainly, some people have observed that it might be more productive to teach journalists how to write code. And I actually think that’s a great idea. But that’s not what the foundation gave us money to do.

Please let me know what you think. Post your responses below, or email me at richgorATnorthwestern.edu

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