Eight fellowships have been awarded for the 2016-2017 academic year by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. The projects range from emerging technologies and watchdog journalism to community engagement and navigating new business models.

This year’s RJI Fellowships were selected from 369 applicants worldwide.

Each spring RJI leadership identifies journalists, technologists, entrepreneurs, business strategists and educators who raise their hands and present ideas that can help strengthen journalism. This eclectic group will be RJI’s 10th class of fellows.

“It’s really terrific and inspiring to have the opportunity to work with passionate folks who are eager to go above and beyond to help journalism,” said RJI Executive Director Randy Picht.

There are three types of RJI Fellowships: residential, nonresidential and institutional. Residential fellows spend eight months on the University of Missouri campus. Nonresidential fellows explore their ideas from their home or office, with an occasional visit to campus. And institutional fellows have projects that leverage resources at the company or institution they are affiliated with.

Meet the class


Alejandro Gonzalez

Alejandro Gonzalez, development and innovation director for 14ymedio, will work on low-bandwidth technology to amplify the distribution of the news organization’s content in Cuba. The project will also develop revenue streams that directly leverage users instead of third-party advertisers.


Tamara Power-Drutis

Crosscut News will conduct a research project on the most efficient and effective way to convert nonprofit-news readers into engaged email subscribers. Crosscut Public Media Executive Director Tamara Power-Drutis will serve as the project leader.

Aaron Sharockman

PolitiFact, a political claim and fact-checking website published by the Tampa Bay Times, will create a new online tool to document the campaign promises of the next U.S. president and track whether he or she stays true to those promises in the White House. Journalists can also use the promise-tracking tool to categorize the promises of local or state politicians. PolitiFact Executive Director Aaron Sharockman will lead the project.

Andrew Haeg

GroundSource, a community engagement platform, will build chat bots for news delivery and crowdsourcing. Andrew Haeg, project leader and GroundSource founder, will work with natural language processing researchers to develop naturalistic interactions, research open source bot frameworks, and measure whether two-way, conversational news leads to higher levels of engagement.


Thomas Kent

Thomas Kent, who is stepping down as standards editor at The Associated Press to move into full-time journalism research and teaching, will explore the prospects for common understandings on ethics and standards across the virtual reality journalism industry.

Mike WheelerDavid Danto

Mike Wheeler, managing partner of Westerly Partners, and David Danto, director of emerging technologies for Interactive Multimedia and Collaborative Communications Alliance, will design and test new low-cost, scalable video recording and archiving systems based on emerging technologies for public community meetings and events. By lowering the cost and complexity, they intend for their solutions to become an essential part of community journalism.

Connor Sheets

Connor Sheets, statewide investigative reporter for AL.com, will create, implement and evaluate techniques that recognize, train and engage members of Alabama communities in pitching stories and concepts they believe should be part of the mainstream news agenda. He will lead a series of targeted seminars intended to generate a base of news “deputies” to serve as a conduit for the ideas, experiences and concerns that affect them and their peers, ultimately resulting in richer and more varied coverage of the local communities.

Michelle Ferrier

Dr. Michelle Barrett Ferrier, associate dean for innovation at the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University, will create and test a hybrid accelerator model to support student-professional media startups for underserved and underrepresented communities. She will also build a platform for collaboration among historically black higher education institutions with graduate programs in media and journalism entrepreneurship. Ferrier will build on her work through the Media Deserts Project.

About the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute

The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, which opened its doors in 2008, works with citizens, journalists and researchers to strengthen democracy through better journalism. RJI seeks out the most exciting new ideas, tests them with real-world experiments, uses social science research to assess their effectiveness and delivers solutions that citizens and journalists can put to use in their own communities.


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