In Open Source software, projects are cooperatively developed by some or all of their users. Most of the time, the code produced is free to use and to adapt.
You don’t have to be a programmer to use open source software: the Firefox web browser, Signal (for secure messaging), and the WordPress Content Management System (CMS) are examples of open source projects that are well-polished and ready-to-use. Knight Lab’s popular storytelling tools are all open source. In the Summer of 2022, we benefitted greatly by outside contributions of code to improve TimelineJS’s Accessibility.
That said, most open source projects are tools, libraries, and frameworks that coders can use to build faster and better projects than if they had to start “from scratch.”
After you’ve been coding for a little while, you might find it interesting to look more closely at open source projects. You can learn a lot from just reading the code and tracing through to see how it functions. Sometimes you can learn good development practices, although some open source projects should not be considered role models.
In the Spring ‘22 Knight Lab Studio, we ran a project called Coding for Journalism. Students on the team identified an open source project and spent the quarter working to make one or more contributions to the project. We’re not sure if or when we’ll run the same project through the Studio, but if you’re interested in working at this on your own schedule, we’d love to help you choose a project and a contribution.
Learn more about how open source is used in journalism, or about some specific journalism-oriented open source projects.