MJ Bear Fellowship application

II. PROJECT, EXPERIMENT, CONCEPT

Provide a description of and link to your digital journalism concept, experiment or project completed after Jan. 1, 2011, specifying your role — whether you were the sole creator or a member of a team. The selection committee is looking for ideas that show spark, creativity and innovation. Some examples: a new take on a complex data visualization project; a unique approach to news coverage or news gathering; a novel form of news content distribution; or a fresh approach to using social media or mobile technology. Applicant should explain how your strategy moves digital journalism forward or provides valuable lessons or outcomes. Length: 500 words or fewer; or multimedia presentation no longer than three minutes.

I love personality profiles. I loved writing them as a student journalist and they remain one of my favorite story forms as a professional.

Profiles highlight people who shape our communities. They allow us to peek into the lives of those we may not meet. They answer long-wondered questions. They expose us to different ways of thinking, the struggles and successes of others and can often be the reason newspapers make us smile.

Profiles have the power to make a story out of people whose names you may not recognize in a headline.

The modern news website isn’t particularly fond of the personality profile. The architecture is built for the daily, hourly, and, sometimes, minute-by-minute churn of breaking news. It’s easy for evergreen content to go unseen by readers.

Profiles have staying power, enjoyable past the publication date. They remain relevant.

Faces of Our Region is an attempt to highlight these stories in a breaking news world while generating traffic and assessing how we represent the diversity of our community.

The gallery combines profiles from all sections of the newspaper in reverse-chronological order with medium shot photography, short summaries and links to stories. It is a living document that highlights some of our best photography in a large format. Colors feel more vibrant and details crisper when viewing in this manner.

The response was worth the tedious work. Conceptualization and creation were my own. There is no check box in our content management system to denote selected works as profiles. I started with a staff contact list and searched for the authors who commonly wrote profiles to build the foundation. I went from one author to the next, scanning headlines, looking for word counts above 500, rewriting summaries and often uploading unseen photography for new additions. The first iteration, neither complete nor comprehensive, launched to display a collection of works from 2010. The project felt comprehensive in late 2011 after countless searches and continuous updates. It has since tallied more than one million page views.

One good idea can lead to another. I began to think whether my newspaper reflected the diversity of the community through the people we would spotlight. We initially think reporting on diversity involves covering cultural events and ethnic conflict. It can be much more. In a profile, the people are the story. Sometimes the ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation and other measures of diversity are the focus, sometimes not. We make these people representatives. We introduce them into our reader’s homes. While I don’t yet have an answer, Faces of Our Region spurred many conversations about whom we feature and how we feature them.

My job as a web producer is to experiment with story delivery and find new ways to disseminate content created by others. Faces of Our Region is one of those ways and I would like to inspire other producers at other outlets to think about how they can show off stories with longer shelf lives.

IV. PERSONAL STATEMENT OR PRESENTATION

Tell us about yourself in a personal statement or a multi-media presentation. Length: 300 words or fewer; or multimedia presentation no longer than one minute.

No one grows up wanting to become a web producer.

My job title could use a little rebranding, like, let’s say, digital Swiss Army journalist.

I entered the newsroom at The Sacramento Bee in the fall of 2008 happy to have a job, wishing I would someday become a reporter. Reporters get all of the fun. They interview exciting people, they gather facts into a compelling narrative and they see their name in print.

Online content developers, the staid name we use for web producers, exist as a sort of man behind the curtain. Post this story. Add this photo. Embed these links. Tweet it. Facebook it. Share it. Publish. Publish. Publish. There are a lot of requests. Even people in the newsroom don’t know what we do.

I realized very quickly that if I couldn’t become a reporter then I would strive to become the best web producer.

I learned the ins and outs of the content management system. I embraced social media to become our in-house expert. I delved into analytics to find relationships and trends within the data. There’s a rhythm and flow to managing a web site. It can actually be a lot of fun.

My extended stay in college allowed me to hone a variety of skills, including reporting, editing, photography, podcasting, computer-assisted reporting, design and leadership. A web producer may use any and all of these skills in a day. A broad interest gave me a broad base, and I feel fortunate for it.

I’m cool with trying to be the best damn web maestro. Sure, my job would be a lot better if I had a heads-up display and could manage information with the wave of a hand.

But there just aren’t any openings for Iron Man at Stark Enterprises.

V. MENTORSHIP

Each fellow is paired with a mentor for six months to help them move forward, whether on a project, business idea, career path or professional development. In 200 words or less, what specific guidance would you need a mentor to provide? What should his or her strengths be in order to help you?

A mentor could provide support for redesigning the presentation of the Faces of Our Region gallery and coaching approaches to study diversity in our newspaper’s reporting.

I’ve considered developing a second design that introduces the subjects within a rectangular array of close up faces. Users could display a full photo, summary and link when clicked upon. I don’t have a background in coding and know basic HTML. I’m sure there are more ways to present the profiles while increasing click-thru rates.

I would like help thinking about how the gallery could initiate intelligent conversations about how our newspaper covers diversity. The gallery provides the opportunity to assess what groups of people are under-represented in comparison to our population. Has another news outlet done something like this before? Is there a set of best practices to consider?

These two requests, design and ethics, are not necessarily complementary skills. Most importantly, a mentor could spur new ideas and introduce new approaches.

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