Mandy Jenkins speaks at the 2018 Online Journalism Awards on Sept. 15, 2018, in Austin, Texas.
Mandy Jenkins speaks at the 2018 Online Journalism Awards on Sept. 15, 2018, in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Anya Semenoff for the Online News Association)

Remembering Mandy Jenkins

Former ONA Board President was beloved mentor and leader, trailblazer in digital journalism

By on February 27, 2023

Mandy Jenkins, a beloved former Online News Association Board President, died Feb. 26, following several years of cancer treatment. She was 42.

We are deeply saddened by the loss of Mandy, an integral member of the ONA community who was a cherished mentor, friend and digital journalist. She served during her eight-year tenure on the ONA Board as Secretary from 2013-16, Vice President from 2016-18 and President from 2018-19.

In her more than two decades working in the news space, Mandy embodied ONA’s mission. She most recently worked as Head of Product at Factal, a breaking news technology company, and previously served as General Manager at The Compass Experiment, a partnership between Google and McClatchy to explore sustainable business models for local news.

Mandy was a 2019 John S. Knight journalism fellow at Stanford University. She also served in leadership roles at Storyful, a company that verifies breaking news content, and Digital First Media.

Mandy Jenkins speaks at ONA18 on Sept. 13, 2018, in Austin, Texas.

Mandy Jenkins speaks at ONA18 on Sept. 13, 2018, in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Anya Semenoff for the Online News Association)

During her time at ONA, she was a frequent speaker and key to the development of one of ONA’s marquee programs, the Women’s Leadership Accelerator, which welcomed its first cohort in 2015. As Board President, she helped plan the celebration of ONA’s 20th anniversary in 2019. She also led the board during a strategic planning process that led to the development of ONA’s five focus areas.

Colleagues remembered Mandy as empathetic, kind, funny and innovative. She championed journalism, digital news, product and women’s leadership while inspiring countless journalists with her work ethic and talent.

As Mandy noted in a letter to the ONA community in 2018, “When I first joined ONA in 2010, I felt as if I had finally found a home in the journalism community.” She then went on to make sure that was true for countless others by being a mentor, leader and friend to so many.

Mandy’s family has asked that memorial donations be made to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation via GoFundMe.

Tributes and memories

“Mandy was a wildly impressive person — a force in digital journalism who shaped our industry. More importantly, she made an indelible mark on the lives of those who knew her. She was a leader who advocated for and mentored countless people, lifting them up. She was a friend who rooted for you, who was quick with a smile and a supportive word. Her life is evidence that the relationships we have are more important than the work we do.” – Rubina Madan Fillion, ONA board member and Director of Strategy, Opinion, The New York Times

Nadine Ajaka, Mandy Jenkins, Kim Bui, Meena Ganesan and Rubina Madan Fillion gathered at ONA18 on Sept. 15, 2018, in Austin, Texas.

Nadine Ajaka, Mandy Jenkins, Kim Bui, Meena Ganesan and Rubina Madan Fillion gathered at ONA18 on Sept. 15, 2018, in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Anya Semenoff for the Online News Association)

“I so appreciated every interaction we had. She was kind, funny, empathetic, and somebody whose leadership shone through no matter the setting. Through her work with ONA, she embodied community. She held space for others and leveraged her influence to make more folks feel welcomed, informed, and ready to face the world. That was true for people in and out of journalism, and we’re all better for it.” – Ashley Alvarado, ONA board member and Vice President, Community Engagement + Strategic Initiatives at LAist

“I know I encouraged [Mandy] to run for the ONA board when she asked. I knew she’d win and likely would end up being president, because she only signed up for things she felt like she could give her all to. And that’s what was so impressive: She gave her all to so many people, places and things despite being limited – like all of us – to 24 hours in a day. Her smarts, enthusiasm, humor and passion for journalism made for a wonderful colleague who people flocked to work with. She also recognized – before most – that getting stereotyped as a social media specialist would limit her career options, and her foresight allowed her to shine in so many other areas of journalism before her tragic passing.” – Jim Brady, VP of Journalism at the Knight Foundation and former ONA Board President (2012-13)

“The outpouring of beautiful tributes to Mandy is a testament to her impactful and meaningful life. I was fortunate to have a unique relationship with her during her time as ONA President. The relationship between a nonprofit board chair and CEO is one of the most unique relationships one can have. One person leads volunteers, while the other leads staff. One person does this work in addition to another full-time job, while the other does it as their FT job. Despite the thousands of best practice advice on how this working relationship should go, the reality is that many organizations struggle to make it work. Ironically, you end up working so closely together that you end up talking to each other as much as you do your closest friends and family. Because of how intimately we worked together, I was among the first people she shared her cancer diagnosis with when she first found out. Despite the sadness of the news, we found humor in the irony of how high I fell on the notification list. But Mandy always found ways to find humor in the darkness. Together, we led ONA during a time of growth and change. Mandy made the job easy and was the best partner I could have asked for. She was thoughtful, appreciative, and always focused on improving ONA for our members and the industry. She would go on to fiercely advocate for how we all could be better coworkers, employers, funders and friends if we change how we judge the value of work and alter our images of who sick people really are, what they need and what good they can bring our field.’ In her own words, sick people – we get the job done.’ Mandy certainly did get the job done, but not just at work; she got the job done in life. The hundreds of tributes pouring in are a testament to a life short but well-lived. I am deeply grateful that our life journeys brought us together. In the end, Mandy made one of the most complex relationships in the nonprofit world simple – she became my friend.” – Former ONA CEO and Executive Director Irving Washington (in a Twitter thread)

“When Mandy ran for Board President, and it came time for her to make her two-minute pitch, she kept it probably to no more than 30 seconds or so, and started out by saying, “You know me, guys. I’m ONA ride or die.” And that was pretty much all she needed to say! She was right – no one in the room had any doubts that Mandy was 100 percent committed to ONA and that she embodied so much of what the organization wanted to be. Such quotes were vintage Mandy: succinct, authentic, funny, and zero BS. I’ll always remember that about her, and will be forever grateful that our paths crossed.” – David Smydra, ONA Board President (2022-23)

“The minute you met Mandy, you knew who she was. No filters, no pretense, always glass-half-full, always in motion. I officially had the honor of seeing who Mandy was at her first ONA board meeting dinner. She tumbled out of a taxi at the restaurant early, on crutches, having just had some major surgery after, I think, a skiing accident – but it could have been sky-diving or marathon running or mountain climbing. I would have been home nursing a cocktail, but Mandy not only showed up, she was one of the last folks to leave. As we became colleagues and friends, I saw that wasn’t the exception: She showed up – with a smile – and she didn’t give up. Lots of the people who love Mandy will tell you about her passion for ONA, for journalism and journalists, her generosity with her time and talent, her ability to bring teams together. I just want to add this: Mandy loved [her husband] Ben. And man, does Ben love Mandy. Their partnership, mutual support and transparency through every stage of Mandy’s cancer are an inspiration, and a lesson in love, respect and care. Even in her departure, Mandy keeps teaching us how it’s done.” – Jane McDonnell, former CEO and Executive Director of ONA

Mandy Jenkins hugs Jane McDonnell on on Sept. 15, 2018, in Austin, Texas, as Mandy presents Jane with the Rich Jaroslovsky Founder Award.

Mandy Jenkins hugs Jane McDonnell on on Sept. 15, 2018, in Austin, Texas, as Mandy presents Jane with the Rich Jaroslovsky Founder Award. (Photo by Anya Semenoff for the Online News Association)

“Without Mandy I would never have found my way to ONA and found the joy I have experienced in being a part of this community. Mandy was a friend and collaborator, and usually both at the same time. Above all else Mandy was an absolute inspiration to me and to many others. She has without doubt been one of the most influential and supportive people in my journalism career and her passion and dedication for supporting others is something we should all aspire to. We met more than a decade ago and hit it off immediately. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world attending journalism events or working on innovative projects with Mandy. The pandemic didn’t stop us having regular coffee catch-ups where we mostly schemed and hatched plans about saving some part of the industry or another. Despite living on different sides of the Atlantic we would always find a way to meet up if travel plans aligned as well as taking the chance to hang out on the sidelines of whatever conference we were at, in whatever place that might be. There was usually always some element of partying involved. I know this is how many others will remember Mandy as she made us all feel valued and seen, even when you knew there were fifty other people that she was able to make feel that way at the same time – she just knew everybody and everybody wanted to know Mandy. But it’s the simple ‘hey friend’ that after months of not seeing each other – and despite all the stuff that had happened in between – that always allowed us to pick up exactly where we left off. I’m going to miss that immeasurably.” – Fergus Bell, ONA board member and Founder and CEO of Fathm

“For as long as I’ve known Mandy, which extended far beyond our time together on the ONA board, I always appreciated her optimistic, can-do attitude, and was in awe of her kindness and generous spirit. She wanted to help and to make a difference for journalists struggling during these times of uncertainty and anxiety — and she did. Every member of the ONA community knew Mandy cared about them as individuals, and that’s why her loss is especially painful. She was a mentor to many and a friend to us all. We are all better off for her involvement in ONA and to have known her as a colleague, a friend and a role model.” – Joshua Hatch, former ONA Board President (2016-17) and Director of Digital Platform and Audience for the Chronicle of Higher Education

“I am where I am in huge thanks to Mandy Jenkins. I met her when I was a reporter working my very first news job out of college. Since then, she either hired me or made the introduction that led to my hiring for almost my entire career. She was my mentor, my role model and most importantly, my friend. Working with her at ONA was a bonus. She was able to work the room, go out for drinks or karaoke and then get up the next day for a run and do it all again. She had unwavering energy and passion for journalism and fellow journalists. I am going to miss her very much.” – Kelly Jones, former ONA consultant and Analyst at Verify

“Mandy handed the ONA President baton to me in 2020. She was already very tired, but determined to make sure I was set up for success. I’ll always remember her generosity, her grace, and her thirst for learning. When a group of us decided to visit a tattoo parlor in Austin following a board meeting, she went three steps farther than my own decision to get an ear piercing. Mandy left the store with a tattoo blazoned across her arm that read ‘More.’” – Shazna Nessa, former ONA Board President (2020-21) and Global Head of Visuals at the Wall Street Journal

Mandy Jenkins looks at her right arm, which has a tattoo that reads "more."

Mandy Jenkins’ tattoo. (Photo courtesy of Charo Henríquez, ONA Board Vice President)