JSK doubles down on its investment of four community impact fellows

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The John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships is testing a new remote senior fellowship model aimed at expanding the work of journalism leaders who are closing information gaps in their local communities. 

Beginning this month, four JSK Senior Community Impact Fellows will come together as a virtual cohort. JSK will provide coaching and advising as well as weekly opportunities for learning and support for the fellows as they work on community news and information projects they have already launched. 

The senior fellows are working in local communities across the country, from rural Mendocino County in northern California to Newark, New Jersey. While each fellow is focused on serving specific information needs, they face similar challenges in their work. They also all share a focus on listening to residents, building deep relationships with them and producing community-centered journalism. 

This is the second of two remote fellowships that JSK is offering for the 2021-22 academic year. Last month, JSK named 10 Community Impact Fellows who will pursue projects in local communities of color across the United States. 

The two fellowship programs are distinct from each other, but are guided by JSK’s overarching commitment to equity, diversity and our mission to develop and empower leaders who create solutions to journalism’s most urgent problems. 

Senior Community Impact Fellows begin the program having already moved through their initial stages of exploring, testing and initial refining of their ideas for addressing a local news and information need in their community. And they are now positioned to pursue a specific goal that has shown promise. 

“These journalism leaders have reached a pivotal stage in their organization’s development,” said Dawn Garcia, JSK director. “We believe that JSK’s support will help them make great advances in the important impact they are having in their local communities and provide lessons for others who are pursuing similar work.”

The four 2021-22 JSK Senior Community Impact Fellows are: 

Maritza L. Félix of Phoenix, Arizona, founder of Conecta Arizona. Félix created a information-sharing service along the Arizona-Mexico border that began with a WhatsApp group of less than 20 and has bootstrapped it to a multi-platform project that engages with more than 3,000 people daily. Over the past 16 months, she has hosted 350 Horas del Cafecitos — community conversations on the app — and debunked more than 300 myths about the pandemic and the border. And today Conecta is powering information sharing through a newsletter, a weekly talk show on local Phoenix radio station and partnerships with media outlets in Mexico. Félix is now focused on creating a sustainable organization that keeps two-way communication as its core, with the goal of ultimately seeding local Connectas groups in communities on both sides of the border. 

Lyndsey Gilpin of Louisville, Kentucky, publisher and executive editor, Southerly. Gilpin has grown Southerly from a weekly newsletter into an independent, nonprofit digital publication that has partnered with local and regional news organizations to cover environmental issues that directly affect residents’ lives. Over the past year, she has sharpened her focus to communities that have little or no local news coverage and, in a pilot, collaborated with two communities on new ways to disseminate useful, verified local information and resources. From this experience, Gilpin has restructured Southerly and is now working on longer-term organizational strategy and revenue plans. 

Brittany Harley of Newark, New Jersey, founder, Five Wards Media. For the past couple of years, Harley has been tackling a long-standing problem in her hometown — legacy media’s failure to serve its diverse communities’ information needs. Through The Newark News & Story Collaborative, a pilot project she began while working at the local public radio station, she’s trained community members who have produced previously unreported stories. Harley recently transitioned the collaborative to a free-standing, community-based initiative. During her senior JSK fellowship, she is focusing on organizational strategy to support producing unique coverage that centers the concerns, voices and information needs of the diverse communities in Newark.

Kate B. Maxwell of Ukiah, California, publisher of The Mendocino Voice. Maxwell co-founded The Mendocino Voice, a worker-owned news service, in 2016 in response to the gutting of the corporate-owned local legacy newsroom. She’s kept the small start-up going through multiple record wildfire seasons and the pandemic; the Voice  has grown to be the only county-wide source of reliable, useful information to residents coping with these crises.  Maxwell is now focusing on developing a business strategy that incorporates the tenets of worker-community ownership and supports organizational resilience. 

Previously, JSK has occasionally hosted one senior fellow for an academic year. This is the first time the program has created a cohort of senior fellows. 

Garcia said while JSK expects to resume residential fellowships in the Fall of 2022, it is exploring the possibility of also offering some type of remote fellowships.  She said the senior fellowship test, along with the second remote community impact fellowships, will help JSK decide whether to create an ongoing virtual fellowship and, if so, how to design it to support projects that are best pursued in community, rather than in a campus setting. If JSK decides to add an ongoing virtual fellowship, it would then decide on eligibility guidelines, selection criteria and an application process for that program. 

The JSK Fellowships JSK announced the remote Community Impact Fellows in June 2020, pivoting from its traditional Stanford-based residential fellowship because of the coronavirus pandemic. Eleven journalists from across the U.S. worked on practical solutions to address the journalism industry’s long-standing neglect of communities of color — a failure exacerbated by the pandemic. The impressive work those fellows did led JSK to decide last spring to continue the program for a second year.