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CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR WINNERS & FINALISTS!

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Sunnie Clahchischiligi of Searchlight New Mexico wins $20,000 media fellowship from Center for Media Innovation 

Laura Corley from The Current in Coastal Georgia and Rich Lord from Pittsburgh’s PublicSource
win second and third place awards

Sunnie Clahchischiligi of Searchlight New Mexico is the winner of this year’s $20,000 Doris O’Donnell Innovations in Investigative Journalism Fellowship from the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University.

Clahchischiligi, a contributing writer for Searchlight New Mexico, proposed a project which will investigate how potentially thousands of students on the Navajo Nation went missing during the pandemic and expose a myriad of educational failures, which run far deeper than the public knows. Clahchischiligi will gather exclusive, unearthed data to document the negligence of schools across the Navajo Nation and beyond, reported via a series of stories, enriched by photos, data-visuals, graphics and videos. Clahchischiligi grew up on a remote homestead on the Navajo Nation near Teec Nos Pos, Arizona, and has worked in journalism for 15 years.

Laura Corley, a freelance reporter from Coastal Georgia’s The Current, is the winner of the second fellowship award of $5,000. Corley’s project will investigate the toxicity of the waterways near Brunswick, Georgia, where tons of toxic waste was dumped by factories for decades. The Gullah Geechee people, descendants of enslaved Africans, are among the most affected. Across the causeway live some of Georgia’s most affluent communities. Local officials, worried about the image of these wealthy retreats, refuse to acknowledge this crisis. Corley’s work will provide clarity about the public health threat of the toxins, reveal the political lobbying that has kept them unregulated, and ideally inspire legal changes to hold companies and officials to account.

Rich Lord, economic development reporter/editor for PublicSource in Pittsburgh, is the winner of the third fellowship award of $2,500. Lord’s project will probe into “milking” by landlords in the Mon Valley, whereby landlords obtain properties as cheaply as possible, spend little on upkeep, dodge enforcement efforts, and churn through tenants using eviction to maximize profits.

Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation received a record number of applications this year. More than 40 pitches were submitted by a diverse and exceptionally talented group of writers, filmmakers and multimedia journalists across the nation.

Over the course of the coming months, Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation will be working closely with each of the fellowship winners on the development of their stories. As part of this process, students in Point Park’s journalism program will have the chance to engage with the fellows throughout the upcoming academic year.

The fellowship is made possible by a three-year grant from the Allegheny Foundation.


Point Park's Center for Media Innovation Announces
Top 10 Fellowship Finalists

Judges for the Doris O’Donnell Innovations in Investigative Journalism Fellowship have identified ten finalists for this year’s competition (listed below in alphabetical order). Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation received more than 40 applications from across the United States focused on diverse topics. The CMI will announce the winners of the three prizes - $20,000, $5,000 and $2,500 – on Wednesday, April 14. 

Sam Baumel
New York City, NY
Creative Producer

Follow the attendance officers, employed by Detroit schools, who are tasked with looking for clues as to where they will find thousands of missing students via a stereoscopic virtual reality video, putting the audience in the center of the scene, face to face with the characters. The intent is to shed light on the gross inequalities pervasive throughout the United States, especially within urban communities like Detroit, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Sunnie Clahchischiligi
Albuquerque, NM
Searchlightnm.org

Investigate how potentially thousands of students on the Navajo Nation went missing during the pandemic and expose a myriad of educational failures, which run far deeper than imagined. This project will gather exclusive, unearthed data to document the negligence of schools across the Navajo Nation and beyond, reported via a series of stories, enriched by photos, data-visuals, graphics and videos to break new ground, engage readers, spark outrage and trigger reforms.

Laura Corley
Forsyth, Georgia
The Current

Investigate the toxicity of the waterways near Brunswick, Georgia, where tons of toxic waste was dumped by factories for decades. The Gullah Geechee people, descendents of enslaved Africans, are among the most affected. Across the causeway live some of Georgia’s most affluent communities. Local officials, worried about the image of these wealthy retreats, refuse to acknowledge this crisis. The project will provide clarity about the public health threat of the toxins, reveal the political lobbying that has kept them unregulated and ideally inspire legal changes to hold companies and officials to account.

Tasmiha Khan
Bridgeview, IL
Freelance Writer

Investigate the discrimination Muslim students face in institutions of higher education and what efforts are made to improve racial equity to help address structural barriers and identify educational opportunity gaps—especially for those who are first generation immigrants and Muslims.

Rich Lord
Pittsburgh, PA
PublicSource

Deep probe into “milking” by landlords in the Mon Valley, whereby landlords obtain properties as cheaply as possible, spend little on upkeep, dodge enforcement efforts, and churn through tenants using eviction to maximize profits. The outcome would be to create an open interface to review a landlord’s eviction history, and possibly improvements in code enforcement, to protect tenants.

Kate Martin
Carrboro, North Carolina
Carolina Public Press

Using a combination of court data, foster care data and deeply-sourced interviews with foster parents, advocates, law enforcement, court personnel, parents and children (with parental oversight), Carolina Public Press (CPP) will investigate the frequency and causes of failures in county-run foster care programs, which are in a well-documented crisis, but one for which the political will to repair is lacking. 

Ciara McCarthy
Victoria, TX
The Victoria Advocate

Take abroad look at the social safety net that exists in the "Crossroads" of Texas, specifically focusing on DeTar Healthcare System, the for-profit hospital system that regularly sues patients for outstanding medical debt. DeTar is owned by the fourth largest for-profit operator of hospitals in the U.S. The project would look specifically at this hospital system's practices, but also at how a region with so many uninsured and underinsured adults grapples with paying for medical and mental health care more broadly.

Anya Slepyan
Philadelphia, PA
The Daily Yonder

Report on the ways prison expansion has affected the disproportionately poor and rural communities that host them, particularly by changing the career opportunities, and therefore educational priorities, of young people in those communities as they go from under-resourced rural students to prison guards, a less-studied element of mass incarceration.

Jason Strother
Seoul, New York City
Independent Multimedia Journalist

Investigate how New Jersey’s pandemic response excluded people with disabilities by speaking with people from diverse backgrounds as well as their families and caregivers to learn how they adapted to challenges brought on by COVID-19 while exploring how a more inclusive disaster protocol, increased disability representation in healthcare governance and the use of assistive technology could improve access to equal disease prevention, treatment and care.

Vanessa Swales
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Wisconsin Watch

Support News414, a collaboration between Wisconsin Watch and Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service that delivers information to Milwaukee residents via text, social media and the websites of each nonprofit news partner. News414 has cultivated a network of about 2,300 text subscribers who can connect directly with reporters. Texting conversations between reporters and residents are inspiring more traditional stories that seek solutions to problems ranging from racial disparities in policing to Milwaukee’s housing crisis.


Meet the Judging Panel

A panel of seven distinguished judges with credentials in innovative and investigative journalism will evaluate applicants based on value, innovation, engagement, diversity and ability. That panel includes (in alphabetical order):

Penny Abernathy

A former executive at The Wall Street Journal and New York Times who is now a visiting professor at Northwestern University, collaborating with colleagues at the Medill School on the Local News Initiative. She is the author of “The Expanding News Deserts,” a major 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.

Andrew Fraser

A senior publishing editor at The Wall Street Journal. He spent time as editor of the Valley News Dispatch newspaper in suburban Pittsburgh and as business editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Fraser also worked nearly two decades at The Associated Press in newsroom management roles and as a reporter and editor.

Amber Hunt

An investigative reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer, she is part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team at the Enquirer, where she also hosts 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 Bloomberg Media that explores trends shaping our country’s urban future, and captures the creativity and vibrancy of our increasingly urbanized world.

Carl Prine

A former editor of the Navy Times, who covered the invasion of Iraq for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and was later deployed to Iraq as an Army guardsman. 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.

Salena Zito

A contributor to The Wall Street Journal and RealClearPolitics, Washington Examiner reporter and New York Post columnist, as well as coauthor of “The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics.”

 

 

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

About Doris O’Donnell

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.”