Skip to main content

Center for Media Innovation Announces National $20,000 Media Fellowship to Combat News Deserts

With the number of underserved markets – known as news deserts – growing throughout the United States, the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University is announcing a national $20,000 journalism fellowship designed to spotlight and take on the problem.

The annual Doris O’Donnell Innovations in Investigative Reporting Fellowship is made possible through a three-year grant from the Allegheny Foundation.

“For many communities throughout the country, newspapers are the best – and sometimes only – source for critical local news. The death of a newspaper in one of these places leaves an informational black hole that can be devastating,” said Andrew Conte, M.S., director of the Center for Media Innovation. “These gaps are expanding across America and right here in Western Pennsylvania as media outlets are closing, shrinking coverage areas and laying off or buying out experienced journalists. This fellowship offers an opportunity to shine a light on one of those communities.”

Doris O’Donnell Innovations in Investigative Reporting Fellowship Details

The fellowship winner will have six months to produce and publish or broadcast the final story or series of stories. In addition, the honoree will be required to come to the Point Park University's Downtown Pittsburgh campus three times, which includes an event to celebrate their work.

Learn more about the Fellowship criteria

Distinguished Panel to Select Fellowship Recipient

A panel of five distinguished judges with credentials in innovative and investigative journalism will evaluate applicants based on value, innovation, engagement, diversity and ability. The judging panel includes:

Judges are identified in alphabetical order

  • Penny Abernathy, a former executive at The Wall Street Journal and New York Times who is now the Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina. She is the author of “The Expanding News Deserts,” a major 2018 report that documents the decline and loss of local news organizations in the U.S.
  • David Folkenflik, a media correspondent for NPR News, and host and editor of On Point from NPR and WBUR, Boston’s NPR station. His stories and analyses are broadcast throughout NPR’s newsmagazines, including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Here & Now.
  • Amber Hunt, an investigative reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer. She is part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team at the Enquirer, where she works as reporter and host of the podcast “Accused,” an award-winning true crime serial that reached No. 1 on iTunes and has 20 million downloads to date. She’s written six books, including the New York Times bestseller “The Kennedy Wives.”
  • Brentin Mock, a Pittsburgh-based staff writer for CityLab, a standalone website from The Atlantic that explores trends shaping our country’s urban future, and captures the creativity and vibrancy of our increasingly urbanized world. Prior to CityLab, he was the justice editor at Grist, which focuses on climate, sustainability and social justice.
  • Carl Prine, editor of the Navy Times, a military veteran who covered the invasion of Iraq for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and was later deployed as an Army guardsman to the Anbar Province for a year during the height of the counterinsurgency. Prior to the Navy Times, he covered the military beat and breaking national news at the San Diego Union-Tribune. In 2012, Prine won an Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for “Rules of Engagement,” a report on a 2007 incident in which U.S. soldiers shot three unarmed deaf Iraqi boys.

“The Trustees of the Allegheny Foundation are delighted to partner with the Center for Media Innovation on what we consider a uniquely conceived fellowship,” said Matt Groll, the foundation’s chairman. “It combines impactful investigative reporting with innovative methods of disseminating the resulting product to a multitude of audiences, especially to those in underserved neighborhoods.”

Fellowship Applications Now Closed

The application process has closed for 2019. Finalists will be named in August and new applications for the fellowship will be solicited in the spring of 2020.

About Doris O’Donnell

Pictured is Doris O'Donnell. Submitted photo
Photo provided by

Doris O'Donnell, the namesake of the award, was a pioneering journalist who began her 50-year career during World War II for the Cleveland News.

She joined the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1959, covering the Sam Sheppard murder trial that inspired “The Fugitive,” and traveling to Dallas for the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination and the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. O’Donnell was hired by Richard Scaife in 1973 to write for the Greensburg Tribune-Review. She worked there for 15 years before returning to Cleveland.

“Doris was a trailblazer for the generations of women in this business who came after her,” said Sue McFarland, Greensburg editor for the Tribune-Review, who edited O’Donnell’s work. “She fought long and hard to cover some of the biggest stories of her time, and erase the notion that some assignments were off-limits to many talented journalists based purely on their gender.”