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Claudia Núñez: Break routine, take the first step, lose fear

Claudia Núñez assists participants at Mexico Migrahack in April 2014. Claudia Núñez assists participants at Mexico Migrahack in April 2014.

Claudia Núñez was a reporter for La Opinión in Los Angeles when she became a 2012 John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford University. During her fellowship, she developed what eventually became the Migrahack project, trainings and hackathons about immigration data. Now, she runs Migrahack, which is part of the Institute for Justice & Journalism, and works as Spanish web editor for Human Rights Watch.

Applications are currently open for the JSK fellowship and are due on Dec. 1. In an interview, Claudia offers advice for potential fellowship candidates and how her life has been changed by the experience:

1. Why did you decide to apply for the JSK fellowship?

Routines are a journalist’s worst enemy. They can slowly invade the editorial newsrooms, like a spider web that traps ideas and devours passion. Perhaps those were not the precise words I was thinking, but that sensation invaded my being when I decided to apply for the JSK fellowship.

During that time, I was inspired by two great journalists. When I saw the multimedia and data journalism piece, “Not Just a Number,” a project on homicides in Oakland by Katy Newton (Knight Fellow ‘12), I thought about the possibility of creating an organization that would assist ethnic media journalists in realizing projects of that quality. The big push came after I met Phuong Ly (Knight Fellow ’11) during a conference at UC Berkeley. She gave a presentation about her project, which was similar in idea to mine – it was related to immigration. The energy with which Phuong presented her project gave me the confidence that I needed, to present my proposals.

2. How did you spend your year at Stanford?

I would be lying if I said that I only spent my time there expanding my vision of journalism in technology. The year at Stanford was a mixture of renewing my ties with my family, an opportunity to make new friends, ponder my health, and gain the understanding of the importance of collaboration – something that ultimately was my greatest lesson.

3. How did your project evolve during the year?

The first phase of my project involved my complete immersion into classes of statistics, data journalism, and visualization techniques. At the same time, I took the opportunity to meet and chat with a number of experts regarding my idea. Each and every one of them provided valuable insight and advice that further developed the Migrahack project, training and hackathons on immigration data.

4. What have you done since the fellowship, and what are your future plans?

The fellowship has been a total game changer. Thanks to the relationships that I developed as a result of the fellowship, my project was able to launch. I set a goal to hold a Migrahack in Los Angeles as a pilot.

We had little money, but a lot of volunteers, including several of my fellow Knight Fellows as well as a professor at Stanford and open-data advocates from Los Angeles. Afterward, I continued to collaborate with Phuong Ly, another Knight fellow, who was executive director of the Institute for Justice & Journalism. Migrahack became part of IJJ, and Phuong and I collaborated to improve the project. IJJ was able to bring fundraising resources to make Migrahack a bigger and more effective event. We organized two multi-day hackathons in Chicago and Mexico City and two smaller training events.

Migrahack became a symbol of collaboration journalism, a new way to generate stories based on the power of the diversity of backgrounds. With the help of many of my Knight Fellows (Wilson Liévano, Nuno Vargas, Martyn Williams, Carlos Martinez de la Serna, Cindy Royal, Teresa Bouza) as well as the people who believe in a better journalism (Periodistas de a Pie, Margarita Torres, Patricia Carbajales, David Eads, and many more) we have trained dozens of journalists and nonprofit staffers on the importance of using data and technology.

Through Migrahack, more than 20 interactive projects have been developed and widely distributed on social media as well as in traditional media outlets in the U.S., Mexico and Central America.

In parallel with my Migrahack work, the fellowship has opened the door to participating in numerous conferences throughout the U.S., Mexico, and Europe.

This has all been made possible due to this fabulous year spent at Stanford. New opportunities have presented themselves to me, including becoming part of the leading human rights organization in the world, Human Rights Watch, where I am now the Spanish web editor.

5. What advice do you have for journalists who want to apply for the fellowship?

I would tell them to take that first step. One of the best lessons that Stanford ingrained in my mind was to lose the fear of failure. Previously, the fear of failure and a lack of confidence in my ideas paralyzed me to the point that I couldn’t take the first step. I invite all of my Hispanic colleagues to overcome that first barrier and submit your ideas. It will be an unforgettable experience.

My second piece of advice is to embrace your diverse background. The fellowship certainly does. During my time as a fellow, I felt the support that the fellowship directors provided to journalists from minority groups. They value the array of experiences and perspectives that journalists of color bring to the program. We ethnic media journalists provide a unique vision not just to the program but to other international and national fellows. Our participation is important!

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