Fellowship program embeds top performing students in top newsrooms across the country

Five Missouri School of Journalism seniors will help advance new storytelling initiatives and business practices at leading news organizations as the latest group of RJI Student Innovation Fellows.

The projects will range from creating Snapchat content intended to reach first-time voters to helping a product team use emerging technologies such as virtual reality to create content.

Humera Lodhi is the program’s first summer fellow and is working for Raycom Media, based at WAVE-TV in Louisville, Kentucky.

The fall fellows and their fellowship locations are:

  • Meg Cunningham, ABC News’ Washington Bureau in Washington, D.C.
  • Kyra Haas, PolitiFact’s Washington, D.C., office.
  • Hannah Rodriguez, The Seattle Times.
  • Rachel Thomas, Mic in New York City.

The fellowship program, which launched in January 2018, pairs up newsrooms with “smart, digital-minded students,” says Mike McKean, associate director at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. The program provides newsrooms with extra hands on deck, while offering students real-world experience.

Each fellow receives a minimum of $4,000 to help with living expenses as they work 30 hours a week. RJI and the partner organizations share the cost of the stipend.

“The results from the spring 2018 fellowships at ABC News, PolitiFact, Mic and NowThis confirm that we’ve come up with a good idea that serves the needs of newsrooms,” says McKean. “We look forward to working with some of those partners again this fall while reaching out to other media outlets that want access to innovative, tech-savvy journalism students.”

Raycom Media and The Seattle Times are the newest fellowship partners.

Seattle Times Executive Editor Don Shelton says he decided to enlist his newsroom in the program after being impressed by a group of Missouri School of Journalism students and faculty who visited his newsroom last year. Professor Marty Steffens has taken her Media Models class to Seattle annually the past 10 years to explore a variety of changing business models.

“The students were smart, engaged and asked a lot of good questions,” says Shelton. “When we found out about the RJI Student Innovation Fellowship program it seemed like a win-win. We’re excited about hosting one of the students this fall.”

Meet the fellows

Humera Lodhi
Humera Lodhi

Humera Lodhi of Columbia, Missouri, will produce Snapchat content for four of Raycom Media’s stations with a particular focus on key U.S. Senate races in Indiana, Missouri and Arizona. Lodhi is working at WAVE-TV in Kentucky, which has a large Indiana audience, says Bill Shory, news director.

Lodhi’s project is a continuation of a partnership with Raycom that began in the spring as a senior capstone project for another group of students. The project “Snap the Vote,” is an initiative to bring election news and information to younger readers through the Snapchat platform.

“In doing so, it would encourage a younger audience to register to vote and be more informed,” says Lodhi.

She says she’s excited to see how a newer social platform such as Snapchat will fit a traditional newsroom setting.

“Snapchat is a particularly difficult platform for traditional journalists to use and understand,” says Shory. “Humera’s multiplatform background not only lets her produce content that fits that platform, she’s already helping us to understand how we can – and can’t – leverage the platform for other coverage.”

Another capstone team will take over the project in the fall and focus on the November elections.

Meg Cunningham
Meg Cunningham

Meg Cunningham of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, will report on the congressional midterm elections as a fellow at ABC News.

Creating more engaging digital and social media content as a way to reach those who haven’t engaged with ABC News as much in the past is one of Cunningham’s fellowship goals, she says.

“Politics, policy, and people are my passions,” she says. “I hope to continue to hone my political reporting skills by really focusing on the audience that may not be reached as easily.”

Cunningham has been working as a news anchor at KBIA-FM, an NPR member station, and as a print and multimedia reporter at Vox Magazine this summer.

Kyra Haas
Kyra Haas

Kyra Haas of Lawrence, Kansas, will help fact-check politicians and candidates and tag fake news stories during the midterm election season as a fellow at PolitiFact.

Haas says she is looking forward to working for an organization that is “holding politicians accountable”: something she has wanted to do since middle school, she says.

“My mom is a legislative research analyst in Kansas, so I grew up talking about state politics around the kitchen table,” she says. “PolitiFact has always been a reliable source for verifying politicians’ statements, so I jumped at the opportunity to learn from the reporters there.”

This summer Haas is interning as a general assignment reporter at the Washington Island Observer in Washington Island, Wisconsin.

Hannah Rodriguez
Hannah Rodriguez

Hannah Rodriguez of Rock Island, Illinois, will help produce videos and multimedia content for The Seattle Times.

Rodriguez says she hopes to further develop her technical skills as a journalist during her fellowship.

“The goal is to become a more efficient editor and become even more knowledgeable within the field,” she says.

She says she’s also ready for the challenge of working in a new city and newsroom.

Rodriguez is interning at The Bulletin in Brussels, Belgium this summer.

Rachel Thomas
Rachel Thomas

Rachel Thomas of Kansas City, Missouri, will be part of Mic’s Product team where she will help Mic’s engineers use emerging technologies such as virtual reality or tap-through technology (users tap the screen to proceed through a story) to produce content.

She applied for the fellowship after her team VeriPixel competed in and won the 2018-19 RJI Student Competition. During the competition, she saw the fields of tech journalism and emerging technologies coming together.

“Through the fellowship, I hope to better understand the importance of the inner-workings of the intersection of journalism and emerging tech,” she says.

Thomas is helping with engagement efforts at Kansas City Public Television this summer.

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