Photo by Diana Henderson for the Online News Association

How the 2022 MJ Bear Fellows are advancing their digital projects

Updates on inclusive and accessible style guides, voter engagement and more

By on October 25, 2022

The MJ Bear fellows — six standout journalists under 30 who are pushing digital innovation — recently traveled to Los Angeles for ONA22. Their conference experience kicked off a year of support from ONA as they work on a digital project. Fellows spent the week learning from industry leaders and were featured as speakers for a panel sharing tips for early career journalists.

Data journalist Tazeen Pathan found the experience to be a boost for her project. “I was so much inspired at the conference to learn more about audience engagement that I have been attending webinars and reading more on the same,” she said.

Learn more about each fellow’s project from their latest updates:

Alex Castro – Senior Social Media Producer, GMA Network

Project: #eLeksyonSerye campaign | Connect with Alex

“The ability to transform complex information into engaging formats can create a ripple effect to drive social change like raising awareness on climate change, empowering different gender identities, and championing human rights. I want to further innovate on various storytelling formats and pursue the project to tackle mental health, and help break the stigma attached to it. An elevated discussion on mental health is crucial as Filipinos are reluctant to seek help from professionals despite high rates of psychological distress — largely because of the perceived or internalized stigma The Philippines has the highest number of depressed people in Southeast Asia.”

Caitlin Hernandez – Reporter, Southern California Public Radio

Project: Dialogue style guide | Connect with Caitlin

“We’re in the process of updating our alt text guidance to include: skin tone in about all cases (if race or ethnicity is not known), wider mentions of color, and how to write about a person when their gender isn’t confirmed. These updates come from a newsroom-wide talk I convened with people in disability and blind communities. Most places tend to not mention these points because they feel it’s irrelevant in alt text, but what we heard is that it’s still valuable information to people with low or no vision. It’s the first time we’ve approached the style guide this way (holding a listening session), so I’m excited to see the results launch soon.”

 

Jessica Lee – Senior Assignments Editor, Snopes

Project: Fact-Checkers Toolbox | Connect with Jessica

“These days, we’re really focusing on resources to help people understand election-related misinformation, considering the Nov. 8 midterms. For example, I put together this list of trends that we often see after elections and may reemerge in the coming weeks. The goal is that, with a little preparation, people won’t be as vulnerable to believing false claims about results, the ballot certification process, voting procedures, etc.”

 

Myrka Moreno – Audience Engagement Producer, The 19th

Project: The 19th Explains | Connect with Myrka

“The most important part of this project is that we are building a more nimble and audience-informed cross-team strategy. By better understanding each team’s work, we’ve been able to create social templates that better serve our readers. In three months since debuting the new templates, our Instagram has gained 5.3% more followers, 68.6% more impressions and 18.5% more engagements than the previous period, plus I’ve helped lead a 133% increase in post volume. Internally, we have been able to build a strategy that allows us to integrate the audience from beginning to end.”

 

Tazeen Pathan – Freelance Data Journalist, BBC World Service

Project: Uttar Pradesh election project | Connect with Tazeen

“We are using the same project for the upcoming Gujarat Assembly Election in December 2022, in which we will update the current data with that of Gujarat. We are doing a couple of visual stories on this upcoming state election including the election results day live page and a curtain raiser piece on ‘How Gujarat Votes’. The live bespoke page will show live data of candidates and parties leading and votes secured. It will also have historical data in the form of maps from previous election. This is again going to be a collaborative effort of the BBC Visual and Data Journalism Team of Journalists, Designers, Developers, etc. I also talked about a project on China during our virtual meeting; that work will start shortly.”

 

Claire Thompson – Associate Editor, Grist

Project: Looking Forward | Connect with Claire

“Looking Forward is celebrating its birthday this week. It’s been exactly one year since we launched, and in that time we’ve more than doubled our readership — and also started a book club, which is set to become a quarterly event. Our first (virtual) gathering in September was lovely, and we’re planning our next one for mid-January.”

 

What’s next

The MJ Bear fellows will partake in a series of trainings tailored to their projects’ needs. ONA works with industry leaders to design sessions that provide the specific skills and insights they are eager to build now.

Recent years’ workshops have covered areas such as lessons in piloting a community advisory board from Kyndell Harkness, Assistant Managing Editor of Diversity and Community at the Star Tribune; how to manage metrics with Liz Worthington, Director of Metrics for News at American Press Institute; tactics to build healthy online communities from journalist and product leader Ankita Gupta; and getting leadership and team buy-in for new ideas with ONA’s own Chief Knowledge Officer Trevor Knoblich.


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Diana Lopez

Diana is responsible for coordinating programs, resources, volunteers and community initiatives at the Online News Association.