Meet The 2017-18 Fellows

This is the 2017-’18 class of journalists participating in the Perry and Alicia O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism:

Gary Harki,  The Virginian-Pilot

Gary Harki “Coal runs deep in my veins,” Gary Harki says.

The West Virginia native grew up in small towns just miles away from the two biggest coal mining disasters in U.S. history. His grandfathers were miners. His great-great grandfather died in the mines. Despite the dangers, coal dust was not seen as evil, but a sign of money coming into the community.

On Jan. 20, 2006, working at The Exponent-Telegram in mountainous north-central West Virginia, Harki covered the story of 12 miners trapped in the Sago mine after an explosion. All but one of the workers died.

It launched Harki on a career as an investigative reporter, a post he now holds with distinction at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia.

He has investigated corrupt housing agencies, fatal police shootings and child abuse deaths. His beats include criminal justice and mental health.

“It is stories like these -- investigating tragedies with an eye on keeping them from happening again -- that I’ve tried to pursue in the 11 years since Sago,” he says.

In 2009, while working at The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia, Harki was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for his investigation into police brutality and corruption.

He was named Virginia Press Association Outstanding Journalist of the Year in 2017.

Andy Soth, Wisconsin Public Television

Andy Soth Soth didn’t need the 2016 national elections to convince him to keep an ear to the ground and listen to the voices of everyday people.

As a longtime producer of public affairs coverage at Wisconsin Public Television, he’s made that a centerpiece of his award-winning work.

“I’ve been interested in citizens’ voices since the start of my public media career at Wisconsin Public Television,” he says.

“Back then, the 1990s, we were doing civic journalism documentary reporting as part of two national PBS election series. We told those stories from the ground up. Stories much more about those affected by policy than those making it.”

One episode of the PBS series, “The :30 Second Candidate,” earned a national Emmy award. For it, Soth researched and produced segments on the history of political commercials and a look inside the advertising strategies of the 1996 presidential race.

He also authored the program’s companion web site for That convinced him of the web’s potential for voter empowerment. He led the creation at Wisconsin Public Television of, a site that’s helped hundreds of thousands connect to election news and voter resources.

He went back to school, earning a master’s in life sciences communication in 2009 from the University of Wisconsin.

With sharpened analytical skills, he became Wisconsin Public Television’s correspondent for QUEST, the multi-media science reporting project run by KQED, San Francisco’s public station.

Now he’s mainly a producer for the “Wisconsin Life” program, a joint production of Wisconsin Public Television and Radio.

“I travel the state, meeting interesting people and telling their stories,” he says.

Soth grew up in Northfield, Minnesota and attended Oberlin College where he met his now wife, Ruth Flanagan, a former science writer and MIT-Knight fellow turned middle school teacher. The couple has two children, Amelia, a recent graduate of the University of Chicago, and Lucy, a high school senior.

For recreation, Soth enjoys tearing it up on the soccer pitch as one of the youngest players in the over-50 league.

Eben Pindyck, independent journalist

Eben Pindyck As a freelance writer, Eben Pindyck has published stories in both local and national outlets including: The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Vice, Milwaukee Magazine, Gray’s Sporting Journal, and The Oregonian, among others.

His interests are eclectic, his approach consistent in its depth.

“Eben has a deep commitment to learn everything he can about the most thorny issues of the day, where race and class and crime meet. He resists easy answers,” notes Dan Simmons, former managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine.

After attending high school in the Milwaukee area, Eben earned degrees in English and Journalism from Columbia University, as well as a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Portland State University.

Erin Richards, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Erin Richards As an education reporter, Richards has tilled the fertile ground of Milwaukee and Wisconsin, birthplace of the private-school voucher movement.

The St. Louis native sees education reporting as “a window into what was moving the state forward and simultaneously holding it back.”

As a Spencer Fellow in Education Reporting at Columbia University in 2015, she mined the wisdom of faculty while exploring the history and future of the nation's private-school choice movement. It capped a seven-year period in which she covered education and education policy for the Journal Sentinel, including the tumultuous aftermath of Gov. Scott Walker’s push to end most collective bargaining by teachers and other public workers.

Richards is an adventurer, traveling frequently in the US and abroad. She’s carried that natural sense of curiosity into her work, both as a reporter and part-time news editor, demonstrating a gift for coaxing great work from colleagues.

She earned a master’s in multimedia journalism at the University of Missouri, and has experience as an adjunct instructor in journalism at Carroll University.

Her passion for travel is matched by her love of horse sports. A lifelong equestrian, Richards and her family ran an equine training facility in Missouri for more than two decades. Today her hunter/jumper, Hobbes, resides at Seoul Creek Farm in West Bend.

"I used to be a wimpy, fearful kid," Richards said. "But working with horses makes you tougher."

Like her O’Brien colleague Gary Harki, Richards was a Livingston finalist in 2009. In 2010 she co-wrote a comprehensive series examining teacher training and effectiveness.

Learn about past O'Brien Fellows

Johnston Hall


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