Marquette University
Press Release

Marquette College of Communication accepting applications for 2015-16 O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism

The O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism allows three newsroom professionals to do the best work of their careers on issues of vital importance.

By - Dec 11th, 2014 10:28 am

MILWAUKEE – The J. William and Mary Diederich College of Communication is accepting applications from journalists ready to spend nine months researching, reporting and telling the stories they care most deeply about – stories with the potential to change policies and lives.

Now in its third year, the college’s O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism allows three newsroom professionals to do the best work of their careers on issues of vital importance. The O’Brien Fellows spend the academic year based at Marquette University, but return to their home news organizations with an in-depth public service journalism project ready for publication or broadcast.

Each O’Brien Fellow has the option of partnering with the Pulitzer Prize-winning Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, with access to its journalists, staff, data and various investigative and presentation resources. The fellows also help to develop the next generation of journalists by integrating Marquette students into their projects as reporters and assistants – giving them first-hand experience in public service journalism.

The deadline for applications for the 2015-16 academic year is Jan. 31, 2015. In addition to contributing to each chosen fellow’s newsroom salary, the university provides financial allowances for project-related travel, technology, research and equipment, depending on the nature of work pursued. The respective newsrooms also get to choose a student collaborator for a university-sponsored summer internship.

“The O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism is unlike other university-based opportunities in which journalists spend a year removed from producing stories,” said Lori Bergen, dean of the College of Communication. “Our fellows come to Marquette and work here and elsewhere every day toward producing a series of stories that end up months later on the front pages of their newspapers.”

The O’Brien Fellows for 2014-15 include Brandon Loomis of The Arizona Republic, Raquel Rutledge of the Journal Sentinel and Marjorie Valbrun, who is aligned with The Washington Post. They are reporting on water scarcity, food production and welfare reform, respectively. The inaugural O’Brien Fellow, Meg Kissinger of the Journal Sentinel, earned a George A. Polk Award, one of journalism’s most prestigious awards, for the “Chronic Crisis: A System That Doesn’t Heal” series she produced while based at Marquette during 2012-13. “Chronic Crisis” investigated mental health care in Milwaukee County, across the country and Belgium. The series has led to many reforms, including several new bills signed by Gov. Scott Walker and another measure aimed at creating a new governing body to oversee mental health care in the county.

The 2013-14 O’Brien Fellows all had their public service journalism published throughout 2014:

  • The Seattle Times’ Hal Bernton emerged with “Losing Ground: The Struggle to Reduce CO2,” a series of stories resulting in state, national and international reporting focused on the battle to control carbon emissions in the United States as well as on China’s changing energy industry. “The program allowed Hal to take advantage of the university’s talented staff and students to take his reporting to a new level,” said Kathy Best, editor of The Times. “Just as important, the fellowship provided the increasingly scarce resources to allow him and a graduate student to follow his reporting overseas. What a wonderful gift to the cause of good journalism.”
  • The Journal Sentinel’s Dan Egan completed “A Watershed Moment: Great Lakes at a Crossroads,” a body of work that sought to inform readers about the enormous environmental destruction caused by invasive species entering the five magnificent lakes and all inland waters from across the world. “The public’s growing knowledge of this threat to the Great Lakes – and ways to stop it – is certain to have a major impact on policy going forward,” said George Stanley, the Journal Sentinel’s managing editor, who will soon become its editor.
  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Lillian Thomas finished “Poor Health: A Special Report,” a series that offered national and local reporting that focuses on the barriers to health and health care for low-income urban Americans. “We’re proud of this work and of our association with Marquette University – and we know that our readers are the great beneficiaries,” Post-Gazette Executive Editor David M. Shribman said. The Journal Sentinel also published much of Thomas’ series in its print and online editions as well as some of Bernton’s work. Thomas and the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service also collaborated on related coverage as part of her fellowship.

“The O’Brien Fellowship really allows a deep dive into a topic that the journalist is very interested in, has expertise on – maybe it builds on reporting you have done at your home paper. That was the case for me: That we had done extensive coverage of the health care in poor neighborhoods (in Pittsburgh) and I really wanted to see what was happening in other cities. … It’s such a great opportunity to build on something that you might want to do, or have been doing, but (with the fellowship) you would have the travel, the ability and the time and the money to do that kind of project,” said Thomas.

The 2015-16 fellows will each return to Marquette in October 2016 to participate in an O’Brien Fellowship-hosted conference spotlighting their projects. In October 2013, the fellowship hosted “Milwaukee County’s Mental Health: Solutions to a Chronic Crisis,” a two-day event that included a community discussion about the issues Kissinger’s series brought to light. Two months ago, Bernton, Egan and Thomas returned to present their work at a similar conference.

For more information about the O’Brien Fellowship or about the application process, call (414) 288-4068.

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