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Announcing the MIT Technology Review Covid Inequality Fellowships

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Announcing the MIT Technology Review Covid Inequality Fellowships


Early in the pandemic, some headlines argued that covid-19 was the great equalizer—because anyone, no matter their circumstance, could catch it. In reality, it was clear that the virus was affecting some groups of Americans in disproportionate, devastating ways. 

Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, Indigenous communities, and other people of color have been affected the most, and are dying at much higher rates. Incarcerated people have been left unprotected, and those in poverty have been among the hardest hit. Schoolchildren from poorer backgrounds are suffering the biggest educational setbacks, with lifelong repercussions. 

We know many of the reasons, including frontline jobs that expose workers to the virus, economic stresses, unstable housing and unequal health care that leads to worse outcomes. But there’s much more to learn, and much more to do about it.

To help explore these issues and help people’s stories get told, we’ve joined with the Heising Simons Foundation to create five MIT Technology Review Covid Inequality Fellowships.

Each fellowship provides up to $7,500 of financial support to help journalists report and produce stories about covid inequality—and how it’s being tackled—in under-covered communities in the US. Applicants will be judged by a panel of experts that includes some of the most incisive journalists and informed experts working today. Fellows will receive editorial oversight and assistance from our award-winning team; and the end results will be published in MIT Technology Review.

Applying for a Fellowship is straightforward: just take a look through our description of what we’re looking for, and then start submitting your application.

Who should apply

We’re offering two kinds of fellowship.

Freelancer fellowships: Apply for this if you’re an independent journalist who is not already attached to a specific publication. You may come from one of the affected communities you plan to report on, or you may know of an important story about a group you have gotten to know well.

Newsroom fellows: Apply for this if you’re a staff journalist working with a specific outlet, who is looking for extra support to follow up on a story that is important to you and the readers you serve.

If you have journalistic experience, and you want to tell stories about the way covid is affecting people—and what’s being done about it—we encourage you to apply.

What we’re looking for

Your story—or series of stories—will focus on a specific group of people and show how they have been affected by covid-19. It will show the human impacts and explore what kind of disparities exist in exposure, safety, treatment, or outcomes. It may look at how communities are using technologies, developing systems, or building alliances to overcome the problems they face.

MIT Technology Review is a publication about emerging technologies and the ways in which they are used, so we are particularly interested in:

  • The impact of vaccines and how they are distributed
  • Contact tracing, exposure notification, and/or the use of health data
  • How the pandemic is affecting the digital divide
  • Workplace virus protocols and surveillance
  • The impact of long covid on communities

Above all, these are human stories, with people at their center and a search for solutions at their core.

To get there, we’re looking for people who are committed to telling stories with care and dedication while applying rigorous standards and maintaining journalistic integrity. You don’t have to have a long track record in healthcare or science reporting, but you do have to be determined, prepared to challenge preconceptions, and be comfortable asking for help and taking guidance.

What we’re not looking for

These fellowships will not produce simplistic disaster narratives that underscore pre-existing tropes, and we don’t want parachute journalism from reporters who have no history with or insight into the communities they’re writing about. That doesn’t mean you have to identify as part of the community you’re proposing to cover, but it does mean you do have to show that you can report sensitively and thoroughly—and without further endangering them during the pandemic.

How we’ll support your work

Successful applicants will receive up to $7,500 to report and publish their stories. Work will be produced in conjunction with MIT Technology Review and published on our website—or co-published, in the case of Newsroom Fellowships. This money can be used to cover any or all costs related to the story, including your own time, reporting expenses, and travel (where it is safe.)  

We’ll provide editorial support to all fellows, with regular check-ins with our editors and advice from our team. For newsroom fellows, we’ll coordinate with your publication’s team to help you get the most out of the project.

Our panel of judges

Entries will be examined by a panel of some of the leading journalists and voices on the subjects we’re looking at. 

Alexis Madrigal is a staff writer at The Atlantic and co-founder of the Covid Tracking Project, which compiles, annotates, and publishes high-quality data about the outbreak. 

Mark J. Rochester is the editor in chief of Type Media Center, and was previously senior news director for investigations at the Detroit Free Press. He has served on the national board of directors of Investigative Reporters & Editors.

Krystal Tsosie is a Navajo bioethicist and geneticist at Vanderbilt University. She is an advocate for ethical genomic research that respects the rights of Indigenous people.

Seema Yasmin is an Emmy Award-winning journalist, poet, medical doctor and author. She is currently director of the Stanford Health Communication Initiative at Stanford University, and a regular contributor on the covid pandemic for CNN.

Gideon Lichfield is the editor in chief of MIT Technology Review. He joined the publication in 2017 after being a founding editor at Quartz and reporting from Moscow, Jerusalem, and Mexico City for The Economist.

Applications for the Fellowships are now open. The final deadline for applications is Sunday March 21, 2021. Selected fellows will be announced in early April 2021.

The fine print

These fellowships are US-only; Fellows must be legally able to work in the United States. Stories must be designed for text: although video and audio can be part of the output, your story will need to center around written journalism, which can include news reporting, narratives, or data. Projects do not have a minimum timescale, but drafts must be completed by the end of 2021. All stories will be subject to editing, fact-checking, and legal review.

Here are some of the key things we’ll require in the first stage of the application process.

  • A well-written outline of your story or project of no more than 750 words. We are looking for a compelling pitch that gives an overview of the people, places, information, and issues that you will be bringing into the spotlight.
  • A reporting plan that includes (a) a proposed timeline and (b) an explanation of how you plan to report in a covid-safe manner on the communities you are focused on. Speed is not a factor in our decision, but it’s good to know how you plan to carry out the task of researching, reporting, and producing your story.
  • A written personal statement (maximum 500 words) telling us about your prior work, relevant experiences and your connection to the community you’re proposing to cover.
  • Three samples of original work. If this is not freely available online (for example, it is behind a paywall, or only available in print) please provide PDF files.
  • Newsroom fellowship applicants will be required to submit a letterhead statement confirming that you have the support of your publication.

Shortlisted applicants will be asked to provide more information, including a breakdown of how they’d spend the fellowship award, answer a questionnaire about the risks their project faces, and supply two letters of recommendation.

If you have any questions about this application process, you can contact senior editor Bobbie Johnson by email.

Click here to apply now

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The Download: Introducing our TR35 list, and the death of the smart city

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JA22 cover


Spoiler alert: our annual Innovators Under 35 list isn’t actually about what a small group of smart young people have been up to (although that’s certainly part of it.) It’s really about where the world of technology is headed next.

As you read about the problems this year’s winners have set out to solve, you’ll also glimpse the near future of AI, biotech, materials, computing, and the fight against climate change.

To connect the dots, we asked five experts—all judges or former winners—to write short essays about where they see the most promise, and the biggest potential roadblocks, in their respective fields. We hope the list inspires you and gives you a sense of what to expect in the years ahead.

Read the full list here.

The Urbanism issue

The modern city is a surveillance device. It can track your movements via your license plate, your cell phone, and your face. But go to any city or suburb in the United States and there’s a different type of monitoring happening, one powered by networks of privately owned doorbell cameras, wildlife cameras, and even garden-variety security cameras. 

The latest print issue of MIT Technology Review examines why, independently of local governments, we have built our neighborhoods into panopticons: everyone watching everything, all the time. Here is a selection of some of the new stories in the edition, guaranteed to make you wonder whether smart cities really are so smart after all:

– How groups of online neighborhood watchmen are taking the law into their own hands.

– Why Toronto wants you to forget everything you know about smart cities.

– Bike theft is a huge problem. Specialized parking pods could be the answer.

– Public transport wants to kill off cash—but it won’t be as disruptive as you think.

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Toronto wants to kill the smart city forever

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Toronto wants to kill the smart city forever


Most Quayside watchers have a hard time believing that covid was the real reason for ending the project. Sidewalk Labs never really painted a compelling picture of the place it hoped to build. 

Quayside 2.0

The new Waterfront Toronto project has clearly learned from the past. Renderings of the new plans for Quayside—call it Quayside 2.0—released earlier this year show trees and greenery sprouting from every possible balcony and outcropping, with nary an autonomous vehicle or drone in site. The project’s highly accomplished design team—led by Alison Brooks, a Canadian architect based in London; the renowned Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye; Matthew Hickey, a Mohawk architect from the Six Nations First Nation; and the Danish firm Henning Larsen—all speak of this new corner of Canada’s largest city not as a techno-utopia but as a bucolic retreat. 

In every way, Quayside 2.0 promotes the notion that an urban neighborhood can be a hybrid of the natural and the manmade. The project boldly suggests that we now want our cities to be green, both metaphorically and literally—the renderings are so loaded with trees that they suggest foliage is a new form of architectural ornament. In the promotional video for the project, Adjaye, known for his design of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History, cites the “importance of human life, plant life, and the natural world.” The pendulum has swung back toward Howard’s garden city: Quayside 2022 is a conspicuous disavowal not only of the 2017 proposal but of the smart city concept itself.

To some extent, this retreat to nature reflects the changing times, as society has gone from a place of techno-optimism (think: Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone) to a place of skepticism, scarred by data collection scandals, misinformation, online harassment, and outright techno-fraud. Sure, the tech industry has made life more productive over the past two decades, but has it made it better? Sidewalk never had an answer to this. 

 “To me it’s a wonderful ending because we didn’t end up with a big mistake,” says Jennifer Keesmaat, former chief planner for Toronto, who advised the Ministry of Infrastructure on how to set this next iteration up for success. She’s enthusiastic about the rethought plan for the area: “If you look at what we’re doing now on that site, it’s classic city building with a 21st-century twist, which means it’s a carbon-neutral community. It’s a totally electrified community. It’s a community that prioritizes affordable housing, because we have an affordable-housing crisis in our city. It’s a community that has a strong emphasis on green space and urban agriculture and urban farming. Are those things that are derived from Sidewalk’s proposal? Not really.”

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Rewriting what we thought was possible in biotech

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Rewriting what we thought was possible in biotech


What ML and AI in biotech broadly need to engage with are the holes that are unique to the study of health. Success stories like neural nets that learned to identify dogs in images were built with the help of high-quality image labeling that people were in a good position to provide. Even attempts to generate or translate human language are easily verified and audited by experts who speak a particular language. 

Instead, much of biology, health, and medicine is very much in the stage of fundamental discovery. How do neurodegenerative diseases work? What environmental factors really matter? What role does nutrition play in overall human health? We don’t know yet. In health and biotech, machine learning is taking on a different, more challenging, task—one that will require less engineering and more science.

Marzyeh Ghassemi is an assistant professor at MIT and a faculty member at the Vector Institute (and a 35 Innovators honoree in 2018).

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