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On the minds of the O’Brien Fellows

Water, health care and greenhouse gases

Hal Bernton thinks that with the proliferation of blogs and social media, journalists need more time to rise above the noise, dig deep and produce reporting that tackles the tough issues of the day.

“At their best, that’s what journalists have done over the decades,” says Bernton, a reporter at The Seattle Times who is on campus for the academic year.

Bernton is one of three award-winning journalists comprising the inaugural class of O’Brien Fellows. The new program allows journalists to spend nine months on campus researching, reporting and writing stories they consider important. Each fellow will mentor Marquette students — including those who aspire to careers in newsrooms — who will assist them by interviewing sources, shooting and editing videos, mining data and contributing to other reporting tasks. The fellows will return next fall to present work published as part of the O’Brien Fellowship.

For his project, Bernton is exploring the struggle to curb carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases; the politics, economics and science of energy; the progress — and roadblocks ahead — for further expansion of solar energy and wind; and the politics of carbon regulation that will help determine coal’s future in the United States.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Dan Egan is examining how and why ships carrying ballast water contaminated with exotic life from foreign ports have made an ecological mess of the Great Lakes, despite the federal government’s efforts to force the shipping industry to protect these fresh waters.

Lillian Thomas, an assistant managing editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is focusing on nonprofit health care in America, including how many nonprofit hospitals become large operations that behave like for-profits, and health care systems that close hospitals in poorer communities and open facilities in more affluent communities.

Thomas says many of the most meaningful stories she’s been involved with have been public service pieces that offered detailed information about vital matters.

“I believe leaders in journalism and young reporters alike recognize that with so much routine and unexamined information available, strong news organizations need to move toward compelling, accessible stories that shed light on complex issues,” she says.

The J. William and Mary Diederich College of Communication and the Journal Sentinel teamed to create the Perry and Alicia O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism. It is funded with a gift from Peter and Patricia Frechette. — HL

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