Carnival of Journalism #3: Improving The Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Reynolds Fellows Program

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

Yes, it’s that time again — step right up and join the Carnival of Journalism.  For the occasional reader, the carnival is the brainchild of  David Cohn, founder of Spot.Us and a current Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow.  Every month, a group of us is asked to blog about a specific topic.  He gave us two choices this month: after a five-year, $25 million investment, what would be the next step for the Knight Foundation to further its mission to drive innovation in journalism; or the Reynolds Fellowship is just 4 years old.  How would you shape the fellowship to drive innovation?

I’m going to tackle question two, because I think programs like the Reynolds Fellowship will be key in helping shape the ongoing innovation — and change — we’re seeing in the practice of journalism.

The institute offers an eight-month fellowship for those looking to develop and study a “big” idea in journalism that will offer solutions for the future of our industry.  Fellows receive an $80,000 stipend and another $10,000  to cover living expenses, moving costs and insurance.  Fellows reside at the institute’s home in Columbia, Mo., from Sept. 1, 2011, through April 30, 2012 to collaborate with “some of the brightest minds in media.”

In a time of tumultuous and exhilarating change in journalism, what would you do with eight months, a generous living stipend and a chance to collaborate with some of the brightest minds in media today

I consider myself someone who tries to keep her finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the fields of training and innovation in our crazy industry, especially as co-chair of the National Association of Black Journalists’s Digital Journalism Task Force.  But I have to admit, I had never even heard of the fellowship until I learned about it in a random tweet late last year on the @NABJDigital Twitter account.

So I’m going to offer a new twist on my ongoing diversity theme.  I would encourage the Reynolds Journalism Institute to make more of an effort to attract more diverse fellows to the program in the widest sense of the word. 

The program has done a good job of including women, but I’ d love to see not only more people of color, but I’d also like to see folks including early career journalists, citizen journalists/news bloggers and entrepreneurs looking to improve journalism.

To this end, I would encourage the institute to tap past fellows and key staff members to leave the friendly confines of Columbia, Mo., and send them to events where there are gatherings of more diverse journalists, including organizations like NABJ, the South Asian Journalists Association, the Society of American Business Editors and Writers and even Blog World & New Media Expo.  Use these events to speak about the fellowship and why attendees should consider applying for it.

Many journalism organizations have events year round,  including webinars, one-day workshops and meet-ups that the institute could tap to get the message out about the fellowship.  And many more journalism organizations have blogs, magazines and eletters that the institute could use to tout the benefits of the fellowship and encourage folks to apply.

The Reynolds Journalism Institute’s website is a font of information on things including upcoming events and training.  I had no idea these resources were there, so staff should do more outreach to offer these resources to journalism schools and organizations as a way to not only get a foot in the door to reach potential fellows, but also to keep the institute’s mission front and center 365 days a year and serve as a training resource for those who don’t apply for the fellowship.

The Reynolds Journalism Institute is currently taking applications for its 2011-2012 class.  I encourage my fellow journalists with an idea that will offer solutions to keep our industry viable to consider applying.  I especially encourage those who normally don’t consider these types of programs to seriously look at what the institute has to offer. 

In aviation, pilots follow check lists covering takeoff, flight, before landing and after landing on each and every flight.  They take it seriously, and never treat it like a rote exercise, because the safety of passengers is at stake.

I urge the Reynolds Journalism Institute to create its own check list specifically to expand the diversity of the Reynolds Fellows program and make its programming more widely available to the journalism community.  The future of our industry depends on the efforts of the Reynolds Journalism Institute and other teaching organizations to prepare us all for rapid change.

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One response to “Carnival of Journalism #3: Improving The Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Reynolds Fellows Program

  1. Pingback: Carnival Roundup No. 3: Driving innovation #JCarn « Carnival of Journalism

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