Marquette College of Communication announces 2017-18 class of journalists for O'Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism

March 30, 2017

MILWAUKEE — The J. William and Mary Diederich College of Communication announced today that five journalists will join the Perry and Alicia O'Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism in August.

Gary Harki and Anita Hassan, investigative reporters, The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk and Houston Chronicle, respectively; Erin Richards, an education reporter, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Andy Soth, senior producer and reporter, Wisconsin Public Television in Madison, will be based at the college as residential O'Brien Fellows during the 2017-18 academic year. The fellowship will also support Eben Pindyck, an independent journalist from Greater Milwaukee, as a nonresidential fellow.

Resulting from an $8.3 million gift announced in 2013, the O'Brien Fellowship program remains the only one of its kind in the nation. It has enabled 14 journalists to produce in-depth public service journalism projects ready for publication by their home or other news organizations. Many of the prior works by O'Brien Fellows have earned significant national awards and or changed public policies.

While at Marquette, the residential fellows integrate graduate and undergraduate students into their projects as reporting interns and research assistants. This gives them first-hand experience alongside a veteran journalist, and the potential of a university-sponsored summer internship at one of the newsrooms.

"We are pleased to welcome more high-caliber journalists to Johnston Hall — and our faculty and students look forward to helping them to pursue what may become the best work of their career," said Kimo Ah Yun, dean of the College of Communication. "I'm especially excited that the program will have its first fellow with a broadcast background. We have many journalism and digital media students who want a career either in front of or behind the camera. This is a great opportunity for them as well."

The current class of O'Brien Fellows includes Jackie Crosby, a business reporter at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis; Maria Perez, a minority affairs reporter at the Naples Daily News in Florida, and Journal Sentinel health and science reporter Mark Johnson, whose fellowship work has begun to be published.

Past O'Brien Fellows have hailed from the Journal Sentinel (Meg Kissinger, Dan Egan and Dave Umhoefer), The Arizona Republic (Brandon Loomis), The Baltimore Sun (Justin George), Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Lillian Thomas and Liz Navratil) and The Seattle Times (Hal Bernton). Independent journalist Miranda Spivack had her nonresidential fellowship outcomes published by The Center for Public Integrity and Columbia Journalism Review.

Kissinger and Egan's work captured prestigious journalism honors, namely the George A. Polk and Alfred I. DuPont awards in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Other O'Brien Fellows have received recognition from places such as the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW); Hunter College of the City University of New York; and recently, for George's work published last fall, from both the Association of Health Care Journalists and John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

As part of the fellowship, the fellows regularly visit classes to share perspectives and expertise about journalism and his or her chosen topic. They also present their outcomes at a conference the next fall.

Nearly 60 students have spent at least a semester helping an O'Brien Fellow, with a few either earning project-related bylines or producing associated videos. Several have traveled on reporting and research trips with fellows across Milwaukee and Wisconsin; to states such as California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Texas; and to Belgium, China, Peru and soon Brazil. A few have reported on fellowship work from elsewhere on their own, including Devi Shastri from Flint, Michigan.

Residential O'Brien Fellows typically return to their newsrooms with a summer intern from Marquette. Shastri, a senior from Illinois, will join Johnson at the Journal Sentinel, while junior Patrick Thomas of Nebraska and senior Brittany Carloni of Greater Milwaukee will follow Crosby and Perez back to the Star Tribune and Naples Daily News, respectively.

O'Brien Fellowship director Herbert Lowe said the program continues to help to raise the bar for students.

"Many times, I have watched a journalism major or a graduate student, whether she wants a newsroom career or he enjoys researching an important topic, blossom under an O'Brien Fellow's tutelage," said Lowe, who is also the Diederich College's journalism professional in residence. "What begins as an opportunity for experiential learning becomes a wonderful and inspiring mentoring experience."

Thomas, executive director of Marquette Wire, the campus' independent and unified student media outlet, said: "The fellowship offers students the unique experience of learning what it is like to spend a year doing journalism that matters, and I'm excited to see what future opportunities this could open for me."