CMI premieres new O’Donnell fellowship

Fellowship allotted $20,000

Written By Carley Bonk, Editor-in-Chief

The Center for Media Innovation (CMI) has established a partnership with the Allegheny Foundation to fund the $20,000 Doris O’Donnell Innovators in Investigative Reporting Fellowship for a journalist to utilize creative storytelling in underserved markets or “news deserts.”

“It puts the CMI at the center of this emerging national problem as news outlets close and shrink their coverage areas – something that I’m personally passionate about and it’s something that the CMI really got involved in with research and community outreach over the past year and a half,” Director of the CMI Andy Conte said. “The fellowship allows us to take that to another level and have us really at the center of the national conversation on what’s happening with news deserts.”

Conte has been researching news deserts since 2016. Recently, he’s been working with students in the McKeesport area in developing reporting techniques at a community level.

“There was a daily newspaper – McKeesport Daily News – and it closed at the end of 2015,” Conte said. “Now it’s a city of 20,000 residents, and they don’t have a local newspaper. There are some things happening there now. A new startup called the Mon Valley Independent is trying to do some reporting in McKeesport and as an online group – Tube City Online. But it’s still not the same as having your own daily newspaper.”

Part of the requirements for this fellowship is a commitment to academia as well.

“The person has to be on campus, at least once in the fall, winter and spring, and then come back to campus at the end of the academic year to show off their work,” Conte said. “We’re going to do a celebration of innovative media at that point. We’re hoping that we can have an event where we celebrate the award winner and the fellowship winner and I’d like to have them present their work in detail and be able to see questions from students and from the public.”

Doris O’Donnell was a reporter from Cleveland with a career that spanned over six decades. She worked for the Cleveland News, the Plain Dealer, the mayor of Cleveland and then moved to Greensburg for the Tribune Review. She’s covered landmark events throughout her career.

“She’s turning out to be a really interesting character,” Conte said. “We’re all reading up on her and keep finding these really great photos of her. There was one of her on a tank, her talking to the baseball player Ted Williams from the Red Sox, her with all these dignitaries and one with Eisenhower.”

The Allegheny Foundation, founded by Trib publisher Richard Scaife, felt O’Donnell was an appropriate namesake for the fellowship award, according to Lou Corsaro, Managing Director of University Marketing and Public Relations.

“Richard Scaife became friends with Doris O’Donnell through her working at the Trib,” Corsaro said. “She’s fascinating, and she was doing it at a time when a lot of women had to fight to be able to do those kinds of jobs and have that kind of access.”

Trustees are looking forward to a unique partnership with the CMI according to Matt Groll, chairman of the Allegheny Foundation said.

“It combines impactful investigative reporting with innovative methods of disseminating the resulting product to a multitude of audiences, especially to those in underserved neighborhoods,” Groll said.

The CMI will begin accepting applications in May. As acceptance closes, a five judge panel will evaluate the applications based on value, innovation, engagement, diversity and ability. The judges include NPR journalist David Folkenflick, Amber Hunt of the Detroit Free Press, Brentin Mock of Citylab, News Desert Researcher Penny Abernathy from the University of North and Carl Prine, editor of the Navy Times.

“There’s still a lot of journalists hungering to bring muscular and important accountability journalism and innovative reporting to readers, viewers and listeners,” Folkenflick said. “I think there’s probably an even greater hunger among these Americans in areas where local news is on the decline for that kind of coverage. This was a terrific way of trying to provide a bit of a mark and inspiration for that. It’s important efforts with a terrific approach.”

The $20,000 award will be split into eight monthly installments of $2,000 and a $4,000 bonus one the project is completed. The CMI is planning to announce the award winner in September. The Allegheny Foundation is funding the project through a three-year period.

A page with the application is to be launched soon through Point Park’s website.

“We’re really hoping that it’s something innovative, and fresh and different,” Conte said.