MILWAUKEE – The J. William and Mary Diederich College of Communication today announced the trio of journalists who will spend the 2015-16 academic year as part of the Perry and Alicia O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism. For the first time, the program will also support a fourth fellow who will spend the same nine months focusing on a matter important to journalists and the public.
The 2015-16 residential O’Brien Fellows are Justin George, a crime reporter at The Baltimore Sun; Liz Navratil, a crime and courts reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Dave Umhoefer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The nonresidential fellow is Miranda Spivack, a former editor and reporter at The Washington Post and who lives in Maryland.
Begun in 2012-13, the O’Brien Fellowship has already enabled seven newsroom professionals to produce the highest caliber of work – stories with the potential to change policies and lives. The O’Brien Fellows spend the 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.
The fellows also help to develop the next generation of journalists. They integrate Marquette students into their projects as reporters and assistants – giving them first-hand experience alongside a veteran journalist and the potential of a university-sponsored internship next summer at one of the newsrooms.
“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.”
A total of 12 graduate and undergraduate students have worked with the 2014-15 O’Brien Fellows: Brandon Loomis of The Arizona Republic, Raquel Rutledge of the Journal Sentinel and Marjorie Valbrun, who is aligned with The Washington Post and is reporting on welfare reform.
The Journal Sentinel has already begun to publish work by Rutledge and her students. “Gasping for Action” revealed to its readers in February that, after more than a decade of studies detailing diacetyl’s danger, the federal government has failed to issue regulations specifying safe levels of exposure.
In March, The Republic revealed two investigative reports by Loomis and photographer Mark Henle: “As the River Runs Dry: The Southwest’s Water Crisis” and “As the River Runs Dry: An Ongoing Battle Between Urban and Rural Water Users.” Marquette student Patrick Leary, who has been working with Loomis during the academic year, produced a video for the package.
The inaugural O’Brien Fellow was Meg Kissinger of the Journal Sentinel, who examined Milwaukee County’s troubled mental health system during the 2012-13 academic year. Groups of graduate and undergraduate students contributed to her series, “Chronic Crisis: A System That Doesn’t Heal.” Kissinger’s efforts earned a George A. Polk Award, one of journalism’s most prestigious honors.
Three fellows teamed with students during 2013-14. Journal Sentinel reporter Dan Egan’s “A Watershed Moment: Great Lakes at a Crossroads” focused on the destruction caused by invasive species entering the Great Lakes and inland waters worldwide. The Seattle Times published reporter Hal Bernton’s series, “Losing Ground: The Struggle to Reduce CO2.” Lillian Thomas, an assistant managing editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, produced the series “Poor Health: Poverty and Scarce Resources in U.S. Cities,” parts of which the Journal Sentinel and Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service published as well.