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

By on August 19, 2015

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.”

The 2015 MJ Bear Fellows are

Keron Bascombe, 27

Keron is a founder of Tech4agri, a blog that provides information about technologies and innovation in agriculture, including research, agribusiness, entrepreneurship and science, and has nearly 3,000 followers. His plans are to expand the blog into a webseries using mobile and drone journalism contributed by young people involved and interested in agriculture.

The Selection Committee said: “Keron uses the word agriyouth to describe young people who are supporting the world on global scale. His idea is to combine technology and information to help the agriculture and food system. Communication will be an important tool to reach and transform agribusiness in the Caribbean region. It is fantastic that the MJ Bear Fellowship can be a way to leverage this amazing social work.”

See Keron’s project.

Connect and learn more.

Nadia Tamez-Robledo, 27

An education reporter for the Caller-Times in Corpus Christi, Texas, Nadia built an interactive database of undocumented migrants who have died crossing the harsh terrain of Brooks County, Texas, on their journey north. The remains are being examined by a team of volunteers from Texas universities who are working pro bono to help return them and their belongings to their families.

The Selection Committee said: “Having grown up on the U.S.-Mexico border, Nadia calls this an ‘intensely personal’ project. But her work goes far beyond that. By painstakingly building a database of the dead, she is telling the larger story of hundreds of undocumented migrants who might have been lost to history. The combination of her limited resources and limitless tenacity pushed this project over the top.”

See Nadia’s project.

Connect and learn more.

Ariana Tobin, 26

Ariana is assistant producer at Note to Self at WNYC public radio in New York. Her project, which she led and managed, is “Bored and Brilliant,” an interactive multi-week WNYC podcast that monitored nearly 20,000 participants’ use of their smartphones. Each day for one week, participants received a challenge from the podcast to help them monitor and discover how much they used their smartphones and how the usage impacted their lives. Ariana is now working to turn this project into a model for other public issues, such as education and technology.

The Selection Committee said: “Her project was incredibly creative and unique. The sheer amount of data gathered, and Ariana’s interest and pursuit in applying this model to other topics and beats really impressed us. Kudos to the ‘Bored and Brilliant’ team, and particularly to Ariana for managing the user engagement and exploring where this concept can go.”

See Ariana’s project.

Connect and learn more.

Each fellow will participate in three online workshop sessions with a Personal Advisory Board, and also will receive 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 their work and ideas will be highlighted.

Honorable Mentions

The selection committee felt so strongly about the projects and potential of five other applicants that they were awarded honorable mention. They are:

  • Amanda Gutterman, Editorial Director for Slant;
  • Carolyn Thompson, reporter for The Windsor (Ont.) Star;
  • Emmanuel Gamor, Specialist and Curator for YouTube, Ghana;
  • Heather Bryant, Teaching Assistant, Hackbright Academy, San Francisco, and a former digital services editor for KTOO Alaska public radio, and
  • Jabril Faraj, reporter for Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.

Each will each receive a free one-year ONA membership.

MJ Bear, whose wide-ranging career took her to pivotal roles at Microsoft’s MSN Portals and MSN International, NPR and American University, was renowned for her kindness and digital know-how. She played a vital role in ONA’s history as a member of the original Board of Directors, helping to incorporate the organization in 1999 and serving on the Education, Fundraising, Conference and Legal Affairs committees until 2003.

You can donate to the MJ Bear Fellowship fund online.

The selection committee:

  • Amy Eisman, Chair, Director, Media Entrepreneurship, American University

  • Anne Saul, News/Video Consultant, former Gannett Systems Editor, MJ Bear Fellowship Coordinator

  • Jody Brannon, Digital Consultant, Bing News

  • Andrea Fornes, US Travel media Lead, Microsoft Network

  • Jake Carpenter, Network Photojournalist, CNN, and MJ Bear’s nephew

  • Sarah Hoye, Correspondent, Al Jazeera Media Network

  • Laura Amico
, News Editor/Data and Multimedia Projects, Boston Globe Media, 
2011 MJ Bear Fellow

  • Jonathan Hart, Chief Legal Officer, National Public Radio

  • Jane McDonnell, Executive Director, Online News Association

  • Irving Washington, Deputy Director, Online News Association, and MJ Bear Fellowship Manager

Jeremiah Patterson

Jeremiah Patterson

Jeremiah was ONA's Digital Manager from 2012 to the fall of 2016 and was responsible for ONA's collection of websites, including, conference websites, the membership center, awards platforms and more. Before joining ONA, he served as a web producer and content developer at The Wildlife Society, maintaining the organization’s website, email marketing and other online services. An Ohio native and media enthusiast, Jeremiah grew up with a deep interest in video production and graphic design. He now focuses in user experience and human-centered design.