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Erica Hensley of Mississippi Today Wins $20,000 Media Fellowship 

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 offering a national $20,000 journalism fellowship designed to spotlight and take on the problem. The annual fellowship is made possible through a three-year grant from the Allegheny Foundation

Pictured is Erica Hensley. Submitted photo

Erica Hensley, health/data reporter and Knight Foundation Fellow at Mississippi Today, is the winner of the inaugural fellowship.

Hensley proposed a project that will examine how Mississippi handles the threat of lead poisoning by comparing data from state and nonprofit targeted high-risk areas and intervention strategies. Testing and data is sparse and uncoordinated. The project will take its resulting analysis and apply it to determining what interventions in communities will work to mitigate risk of lead exposure. These communities are under-covered by news outlets, and the people there are underinsured and not well-served by environmental protection agencies because of the unique nature of lead poisoning.

“Erica’s project fulfills the mission of the Doris O’Donnell Fellowship by focusing on a critical public health issue in areas of Mississippi that have little or no local news coverage,” said Andrew Conte, M.S., director of the Center for Media Innovation. “If Erica was not pursuing this line of reporting, it’s very likely that no one else would. That kind of journalism upholds the foundational principles of the craft by speaking up for those residents who do not have the means to be heard and by holding to account the powerful who have the ability to monitor and limit lead exposure.”

Point Park Features

Video: Hear from Hensley About Her Project 

Video Playlist: Meet the Finalists for National Media Fellowship 

A panel of five distinguished judges with credentials in innovative and investigative journalism evaluated applicants based on value, innovation, engagement, diversity and ability. Six fellowship finalists were named, including:  

Learn more about the finalists: Center for Media Innovation Announces Six Finalists for Media Fellowship

Meet the Judging Panel

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.

2020 Fellowship Applications

New applications for the fellowship will be solicited in the spring of 2020.

About Doris O’Donnell

Pictured is Doris O'Donnell. Submitted photo
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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.”