Newest class of RJI Student Innovation Fellows to help newsrooms develop inventive solutions this summer
Six students at the Missouri School Journalism have been selected for the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute’s (RJI) Student Innovation Fellowships program. They will work at local news organizations around the country this summer to gain hands-on experience with a wide variety of innovative newsroom projects.
“The 2023 RJI Student Innovation Fellows are all very impressive young journalists, so I know they will not only learn a lot, but contribute a lot in these newsrooms,” said Kat Duncan, director of innovation at RJI. “Each of them has a very specific space of interest they want to grow within — whether it is product, equity, audience, data or other — so we matched them with newsrooms that can help them build upon their skills and experience. I can’t wait to see what they achieve this summer!”
Through a mix of in-person and remote fellowships, the students will fan out across the country to work on projects ranging from improving audience analytics and product testing to enhancing coverage of underrepresented communities.
Of course, the projects continue to share an important core: the students will be engaged in innovative and experimental work intended to not only benefit the participating newsrooms but to serve as a model for the industry.
The fellows are required to work between 30 to 40 hours at their newsroom and will produce content based on their findings and experiences for RJI as a part of the Innovation in Focus web series.
This summer’s students and partners are:
- Laine Cibulskis, Lake County News
- Anna Colletto, Texas Tribune
- Emily Hood, Star Tribune
- Ellie Lin, Sacramento Bee
- Katie Taranto, Springfield Daily Citizen
- Han Vu, American Press Institute
Meet the fellows
Junior Laine Cibulskis will work virtually at Lake County News, which serves the small rural community of Lake County, California.
Cibulskis will use data-mining software and artificial intelligence to identify and collect data about local sites that have been most impacted by climate change and wildifires. In addition, she will help the newspaper present information about the county’s budget in a more reader-friendly and visually appealing manner.
“Focusing on data visualization has been something I’ve been really into at [undergraduate student newspaper] The Maneater, and I hope to use those skills with Lake County News,” Cibulskis said.
A Walter Williams Scholar, she will also serve as a student innovation staffer at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute starting this spring.
Sophomore Anna Colletto is headed to Austin, Texas, where she will work with the product team at the Texas Tribune. Colletto will focus on audience testing to help the all-digital outlet best serve its community.
“I wanted a summer internship that was going to give me more opportunities to innovate and try new and exciting things,” she said. “I love the work RJI does, and I’m really excited about assisting with that work.”
Her placement at the nonprofit, community-focused Tribune is fitting, as she hopes to work for a nonprofit newspaper or public radio station doing local, investigative political journalism.
Colletto is currently editor-in-chief of The Maneater and, in the footsteps of J-School alum and CBS Chief Washington Correspondent Major Garrett, is double majoring in political science.
Junior Emily Hood will join the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, working to optimize newsroom systems that help reporters more closely connect with the needs of communities they cover. Her work will supplement the newspaper’s efforts to raise news literacy among its audience while developing tools that give the newsroom a more accurate picture of that same audience.
“I wanted to go into journalism to help people, so the opportunity to live in a community for 12 weeks and find ways to help a newsroom become more efficient in the delivery of information is perfect,” she said. “I’m really honored to be selected.”
Hood won a $2,500 scholarship from RJI last July for her work at the School’s digital business news outlet, Missouri Business Alert. She expects the fellowship to align well with her plans to work in audience engagement after graduating.
Ellie Lin, a senior, will work with the Sacramento Bee’s Equity Lab to help the outlet cover historically underrepresented communities. Over the course of the fellowship, she hopes to engage in multimedia storytelling as well as user interface design.
“I’m really excited and grateful for the support from RJI,” she said. “The focus on innovation in this year’s program is pretty cool.”
As digital director of Mizzou Student Media and former visuals director at The Maneater, she has experience using graphics and visual design to create and augment stories, but regardless of which tools she uses, she doesn’t expect her career to keep her behind the scenes.
“Ultimately, I want to be the person telling the story,” she said.
Senior Katie Taranto will be placed with the nonprofit Springfield Daily Citizen in Springfield, Missouri, where she will tackle both news product and audience engagement tasks. An education and youth reporter at the School’s digital-first community newspaper, the Columbia Missourian, she is excited about the opportunity to learn more about the industry firsthand.
“As a reporter, I want to broaden my horizons and learn more about other concentrations in the journalism industry, including audience engagement and news products,” she said. “I hope to leave the fellowship with fresh perspectives and experience that I can apply at the Journalism School’s newsrooms and beyond.
This will be Taranto’s second summer in a row spent with a nonprofit; last summer, she served as a communications intern at City of Refuge, which provides support to refugees and immigrants in Columbia.
Han Vu is a second year graduate student from Vietnam. She will work at the American Press Institute (API) under the tutelage of Elite Truong, API’s vice president of product strategy and the former director of strategic initiatives at the Washington Post, to learn more about the organization’s audience through data analysis.
“If we know our audience better, we can serve them better,” she said. “And if we want to expand our audience, we have to know why we appeal to some people and not to others.”
Vu worked as a political journalist for 13 years before coming to the School to study data journalism, a field that she sees as an opportunity to harness digital resources like social media to collect information that can enrich stories or reveal stories that might otherwise fly under the radar.
“I want to find the hidden story inside the dry and complicated data out there,” she said.