Archive — MJ Bear Fellows


Meet ONA’s 2015 MJ Bear Fellows, under-30 digital journalism stand-outs

The Online News Association, the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists, today announced its fifth class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under age 30 whose innovative work in independent, community and corporate news represents the best of new media.

The selection committee combed through 59 applications from 23 countries to choose these up-and-coming digital journalists — two in the United States or Canada and one international, in partnership with MSN International — who are making their voices heard in the industry.

“Once again, applicants were leading, not following, in their newsrooms,” said Amy Eisman, MJ Bear Fellowship Committee Chair. “The breadth of their entries was stunning — from deep data work and creative crowdsourcing to building tools to help news organizations in the future. In the end, we are struck by their deep devotion to news and information, to including diverse voices, and to serving their readers, listeners and viewers.”

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Solving a problem: Designing usable interactives for mobile

This is one of a series of blog posts from the fourth ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Fellow Aaron Williams is data visualization editor at the San Francisco ChronicleYou can watch for our forthcoming announcement about the next round of fellows here.


Photo by Flickr user Japanexperterna.se

Designing interactive graphics for desktop and mobile is tough work. A designer can sometimes change the graphic’s scale to fit on mobile. Other times, it’s better to create a separate graphic for mobile viewing. What’s the best path?

A group of us tried to answer this question at the SRCCON (Source-con) conference last month.

I co-facilitated Data Viz for All: Help Us Make Interactives More Usable for Mobile with Youyou Zhou and Julia Smith. In the session, we tackled accessibility and usability of interactive graphics on mobile.

Here’s a quick rundown of what we found.

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Reporting on the Nepali earthquake, as journalist and survivor

This is one of a series of blog posts from the fourth ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Fellow Rajneesh Bhandari is an independent multimedia journalist in Nepal. He regularly contributes to various regional and international media, including The New York Times, Asia Calling, IPSTV, CCTV and others. Apply for the 2015 fellowship here.


Earthquake damage in Barpak, Western Region, Nepal

It was Saturday, April 25. At exactly 11:56 a.m., a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook Nepal for 50 seconds. In that short span of time, houses collapsed. People were injured. Some were trapped under rubble and died. Hospitals were filled with rescued or injured persons and dead bodies.

I was at Shivapuri National Park when the jolt was at its peak, and thankfully was not injured. Soon after, I started reporting, and it was not an easy assignment. I had challenges in finding transportation, lodging, electricity, Internet and a workstation. Life was extremely uncertain, because we weren’t sure if the earthquake was over or more aftershocks would follow.

An old house completely collapsed and other buildings were damaged near my rented apartment in Anamnagar in Kathmandu. We slept in tents in an open space with 20 other people for many days, fearing that a big aftershock could come any time. My mum would quickly cook something in the fourth-floor kitchen and bring it down, and we ate together on the ground floor. This continued for many days as the aftershocks were ongoing. I had made a temporary workstation on the ground floor where I started filing stories.

Fulfilling the role of a journalist was difficult. Two major aftershocks occurred. The first was a 6.8 magnitude on April 26, as I was filming in Basantapur, and the second reached a magnitude of 7.2 on May 12 as I was filming in Swayambhunath. Many other smaller aftershocks came in between. Reporting the story was sometimes more important than just sitting in open space for safety. Roads were blocked, some by landslides and others due to cracks. It wasn’t easy to move from place to place. Walking for hours was the only way out in most of the rural areas.

Rajneesh's workstation, Kathmandu, Nepal

With no electricity and no good Internet for a couple of days, sending files back to the bureaus was difficult. I ran to all the Internet Service Providers asking to use their service during the initial days after the earthquake, but most were closed as they feared staying inside the building long enough to fix the problem.

The people I interviewed had unique stories. One man wasn’t able to do the final rites for his beloved because he didn’t have money. In another village, the lama, or head spiritual leader, was killed and nobody was left to perform last rites. Monks were looking for relics in the ruble.

Many are still unsure what the monsoon season will bring, and how many aftershocks may still occur.


Fellow Rajneesh Bhandari is an independent multimedia journalist in Nepal. He’s done research on the convergence of media and the mobile revolution in Nepal, and he published an iPad book on autism. He regularly contributes to various regional and international media, including The New York Times, Asia Calling, IPSTV, CCTV and others. He previously coordinated Media Gufa, which requires journalists to be isolated in a room for 72 hours to report news stories using only social media and another group of journalists to report stories from a rural area without using the internet. He also is working as data editor on an investigative project launched by Transparency International, teaches journalism at WLC College, Nepal, runs multimedia workshops for national and international organizations, and is working to improve digital literacy in Nepal by training young people in rural areas how to use digital tools.

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Engagement Strategies for the Tiny News Desk

This is one in a series of blog posts from the 2014 class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Apply for the 2015 fellowship here.


Illustration by Flickr user Andy Bright

The hardest task for a small news startup — probably for most news organizations — is prioritizing. We can’t do everything well, so what can we do for the highest return on investment?

That’s the question I’m thinking about every day at Chalkbeat, a news startup that covers K-12 public schools in four states. A few months into my job, I was tasked with devising an engagement strategy. Everyone was doing cool stuff; I salivated over ProPublica’s “Get Involved” page and praised the Center for Investigative Reporting’s coloring books about earthquake safety. These were valuable examples to learn from, but I had to be realistic about our capacity and what we could achieve. We expect highly contextualized, nuanced enterprise reporting and breaking news to be published every day, and yet we only have an editor and two to three reporters in each of our locations.

Two years and many experiments later, the foundation of our engagement strategy is based on what we know works and what we think is promising. We love when our staff experiments beyond these strategies, but a clear prioritization plan helps keep things focused when we’re asking our reporters to do so much.

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Understanding your audience … then growing it, part 2/2

This is one in a series of blog posts from the 2014 class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Apply for the 2015 fellowship here.


Note: This blog is the second in a two-part series by Fellow Anika Anand, Director of Product at Chalkbeat, an education news network based in New York City. Her first post, published June 2, chronicled ChalkBeat’s need to develop a robust audience research project with a small team. That discussion is continued here.

As we planned for our project, I couldn’t find many good resources on how small newsrooms can do quick, effective audience research.

Below, we share a few of our research methods and takeaways in hopes that other newsrooms will chime in with their own suggestions. It is important to note we did not hire a professional researcher for this project, and these tools were not meant to be as detailed as a proper scientific survey. That said, we received useful feedback for better understanding our audience.

Illustration by Flickr user Giovana Milanezi

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ONA opens 2015 MJ Bear Fellowships for under-30 digital journalism stars

WASHINGTON, DC — The Online News Association, the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists, today opened applications for the 2015 MJ Bear Fellowships for early-career digital journalists, in honor of founding member MJ Bear.

For the fifth year, the search committee will again select three promising, up-and-coming digital journalists — two in the United States or Canada and one internationally, in partnership with MSN International — who are just beginning to make their voices heard in the industry.

Each selected Fellow will receive virtual coaching sessions with a Personal Advisory Board; a free three-year ONA membership and an expense-paid trip to the Online News Association Conference & Awards Banquet, Sept. 24-26, in Los Angeles, where they’ll have a chance to share their fresh perspectives.

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The three profiles of a digital news team

This is one of a series of blog posts from the fourth ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Fellow Aaron Williams is data visualization editor at the San Francisco ChronicleApply for the 2015 fellowship here.


Photo by Flickr user Graham Holliday.

Over the last decade, as newsrooms across the world have embraced a shift to a digital-first focus, many organizations have experimented with the structure of their digital teams. It seems for every success there is another tech challenge on the horizon to consider, such as the Apple Watch and at-a-glance journalism.

In this ever-changing world, it’s smart to think strategically about the roles digital teams take on across newsrooms. I’ve settled on three profiles that the best digital teams often have: research and development (R&D), news apps and tech. My hope is to provide a smart framework for thinking about how your newsrooms can create the most focused and compelling digital content and products.

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Understanding your audience … then growing it Pt. 1/2

This is one in a series of blog posts from the fourth ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Fellow Anika Anand is Director of Product at Chalkbeat, an education news network based in New York City. Apply for the 2015 fellowship here.

Note: This blog is the first in a two-part series. The second post was published on Thursday, June 11.


Photo by Flickr user Robin Hutton

In the premier season of the new podcast “StartUp,” host Alex Blumberg briefly discussed the success of “Serial,” the other extremely successful podcast startup launched at the same time. “If you’re listening to the sound of my voice right now and you have not heard of ‘Serial,’” Blumberg said, “you occupy a very strange niche in culture, and I’d like to hear more about you, frankly.”

As a journalist, it was incredible for me to think that anyone listening to “StartUp” hadn’t followed “Serial.” But assumptions about our audience often turn out not to be true. Blumberg learned this lesson after he received a stream of tweets from people who said they had never heard about “Serial” until it was mentioned on his podcast.

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Using open-source tools to expedite news graphics

This is one of a series of blog posts from the fourth ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are expanding the boundaries of digital news. Fellow Aaron Williams is data visualization editor at the San Francisco ChronicleApply for the 2015 fellowship here.


Since the Online News Association’s 2014 Conference & Awards Banquet, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to better integrate newsroom workflows into creating and publishing digital graphics. Many newsroom developers juggle copy from reporters, editors and the copydesk, often forgetting key text, while also working on design and code. In other words, collaborating on interactive graphics is a challenge. Here’s a quick look at solutions from other newsrooms, as well as a technique I’ve developed in my former role at The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR).

Google Drive as the CMS

Google Sheets is a common tool for powering digital news graphics. While a spreadsheet can’t fully replace a database, it can mimic some of its key characteristics: columns, rows and headers. This provides an easy way for web producers and reporters to add content to a graphic while newsroom developers can focus on the code.

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An example interactive map built with Mother Jones’ Story Tools. Source: https://github.com/motherjones/us-color-coded-map

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Meet ONA’s MJ Bear Fellows, under-30 journalism stand-outs

The Online News Association, the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists, today announced its fourth class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under age 30 whose innovative work in independent, community and corporate news represents the best of new media.

The selection committee combed through applications from six countries to choose these up-and-coming digital journalists — two in the United States or Canada and one international, in partnership with MSN International — who are making their voices heard in the industry.

Learn more