MediaShift20: Recognizing Digital Media’s Top Innovators

    by Bianca Fortis
    January 8, 2018

    Click the image to read our entire series.

    We’ve launched a special new annual feature called the MediaShift20, in which we recognize the top innovators in digital media for the year. We asked our community to nominate people they think should be recognized for their contributions to the industry.

    After the nominations were made, the MediaShift staff then voted to create the final list. We’re excited to announce our 20 picks, a diverse group of individuals who hail all over the world, representing disciplines from investigative reporting about big data to artificial intelligence and beyond.


    We have also created the EducationShift20 and MetricShift20 lists for top educators and metrics professionals, respectively.

    Congratulations to the first-ever MediaShift20!

    1. Stefanie Murray, Center for Cooperative Media

    First up on our list is Stefanie Murray, the director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University in New Jersey. The mission of the Center, a grant-funded organization, is to strengthen the local journalism ecosystem throughout the Garden State through partnerships, collaborations, training, product development, research and communication with more than 170 partners. She also helped shepherd the Voting Block project in New Jersey, with news organizations throughout the state helping to produce dinners for voters to understand their issues before the governor’s election last fall. Murray’s background includes working for the Ann Arbor News, the Detroit Free Press and the Tennessean. At the Tennessean, she focused on innovation and audience growth, and was selected to serve on a small Gannett-wide team that built a training program for journalists around the country.



    2. Francesco Marconi, Associated Press

    Francesco Marconi serves as the manager of strategy and corporate development at the Associated Press where he manages strategy and co-leads the organization’s automation and AI efforts. He’s also an Innovation Fellow at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, as well as an affiliate researcher at the MIT Media Lab’s Laboratory of Social Machines where he works on the applications of machine learning in journalism. He recently published Live Like Fiction, a book about being successful and creative, based on some of his most popular Medium blog posts. As NYC Media Lab’s Justin Hendrix wrote in his nomination for Marconi: “Francesco is relentless in his curiosity for new technology and how it might be applied in media. This year he has focused on what I think are the two biggest trends impacting the future of media: artificial intelligence and virtual and augmented reality. Francesco is a connector, across different companies and industries and communities.”


    3. Lydia Polgreen, HuffPost

    After 15 years at the New York Times – where she won many awards for her international coverage – Lydia Polgreen took the helm of HuffPost in December 2016 after Arianna Huffington stepped down from her role as editor-in-chief. In that year, Polgreen oversaw the publication’s name change, a site redesign and traveled on a special listening tour bus to visit 25 cities across the United States. She also ran HuffPost’s Facebook messenger bot.  In a cover story for Out, the magazine called her the “Queer black woman changing journalism.”

    “You would not describe Lydia as someone who is patiently waiting for things to come her way,” Joe Kahn, managing editor for the New York Times, told Out. “She has her eyes set on various prizes, and she’s really good at making things happen for herself.”

    Be sure to check out our interview with Polgreen from October on the MediaShift Podcast.

    4. Berit Anderson and Brett Horvath, Scout.ai

    Together Berit Anderson and Brett Horvath run Scout.ai, a social platform where users submit ideas about the future of technology and vote to predict what will happen next. Scout publishes original research, analysis and science fiction. Anderson is the CEO and editor-in-chief of the site. Formerly she worked as the managing editor of Crosscut.com, a Seattle-based news site, and at Strategic News Service, a predictive newsletter. Horvath is Scout’s head of strategy and partnerships and formerly worked on election campaigns. He also worked with foreign governments to respond to online threats and opportunities and designed the first comprehensive search tool that could search Twitter’s entire database in real-time.

    5. Doug Mitchell, Next Generation Radio

    Doug Mitchell has dedicated his career to supporting aspiring journalists. He founded NPR’s Next Generation Radio program, a week-long program that trains young journalists how to report for radio. His work as a mentor began in 1999 when he watched a group of NPR interns struggling. “I was right there and I’d walk across the hall and say ‘No, no, you do it this way,’” Mitchell said in an interview on the “It’s All Journalism” podcast. “I thought, nobody’s helping them, so maybe I should help them. So, I helped them finish their show that summer of ’99 and I thought, you know what, this is a really good idea. Let me see if I can carry it forward.” A supporter of diversity in media, Mitchell sits on the board of the Latino Public Radio Consortium, is a peer reviewer for the Fulbright Association and consults with the International Women’s Media Foundation. Along with ONA, Mitchell also recently helped launch the Journalism Mentorship Collaborative, which is an open network of newsrooms committed to diversifying their organizations through mentorship programs.

    6. Dana Coester and Gina Martino Dahlia, 100 Days of Appalachia

    100 Days of Appalachia launched a year ago with the goal of telling stories from within Appalachia, a region of the country that was suddenly getting a lot of attention after the 2016 election.

    “We’re not a local media outlet and we’re not a regional media outlet. We’re a national outlet about the region and with the region,” Dana Coester, the site’s creative director and executive director, told MediaShift in December. She’s also the creative director for the WVU Media Innovation Center and runs the Innovators-in-Residence program there. Coester is directing a documentary film on Muslim identity in Appalachia.

    Gina Martino Dahlia is the general manager for 100 Days in Appalachia and is the executive producer of WVU News as well as the managing director for the WVU Media Innovation Center. Previously, she has had many roles in journalism, including a TV news anchor and reporter at a CBS affiliate.

    100 Days of Appalachia made our list of the Top 6 Journalism Collaborations in 2017.


    7. Sumaiya and Yusuf Omar, Founders of “Hashtag Our Stories”

    Wife and husband duo Sumaiya Omar, a social media consultant, and Yusuf Omar, a journalist, launched social video platform Hashtag Our Stories as a way to empower disenfranchised communities to tell their own stories through mobile video. In 2017 they set out on a world tour to meet with local communities to train them in storytelling. 

    “I realized that there was a massive potential in training people on the absolute fringes of society, voices that are not being listened to, and the next billion people that will come online, in using mobile phones to tell their own stories, and to curate that into meaningful shows and content,” Yusuf Omar said in an interview.


    8. Craig Silverman, BuzzFeed

    Craig Silverman, BuzzFeed’s first-ever media editor, is the guy known for helping to popularize the term “fake news,” a phrase he says now makes him cringe.

    “When people see the term ‘media editor,’ they probably think the coverage will be about hiring and firing, financials, new product launches and so on,” Silverman said in an interview with Fortune. “But my beat is going to be more about networked media or democratized media—platforms and networks, misinformation and the economic incentives for creating different types of content.”

    Silverman, who was named in last year’s Politico50, is a powerhouse at BuzzFeed, constantly producing stories about online hoaxes, digital advertising, Facebook’s disruption of the media industry and more.

    He also runs the Fake Newsletter, where he briefs readers on online rumors, fake news and misinformation. You can sign up for it here.


    9. DeShuna Moore Spencer, Kweli.tv

    DeShuna Moore Spencer runs Kweli.tv, an interactive video streaming network where users can watch films, documentaries, web shows and news about the African diaspora. The network won Harvard African Business Club’s New Venture Pitch Competition last year. Spencer is also the founding publisher of emPowermagazine.com, where she launched an awards program to honor community activists of color. She’s also the producer and host of the emPower Hour radio show. In 2014 she won UNITY Journalists’ NewU Start-up Competition, which included a $20,000 grant from the Ford Foundation.


    10. Kate Lesniak, Publisher at Bitch Media

    Kate Lesniak has been the publisher of Bitch Media, which publishes Bitch Magazine, the feminist quarterly founded in 1996, since November 2016. She previously served as the non-profit’s director of strategic engagement for eight months and as its director of development for four years prior to that. At Bitch, she helped launch features including the Weekly Reader, Feminist Snack Break and What Just Happened? As Bitch Media executive director Julie Falk wrote in her nomination: “Kate is passionate about reader engagement and about converting readers into sustaining members. In 2017, she designed and implemented a project to test whether readers who engaged with Bitch Media through Hearken would convert to membership at a higher rate. Her project demonstrated that they did.”


    11. Sally Lehrman, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University

    Sally Lehrman is the director of the journalism ethics program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. There she leads the Trust Project, a consortium of about 75 news companies that is developing transparency standards to help assess quality and credibility of journalism. She also helped launch “Trust Indicators,” to surface quality news to potentially billions of readers (here’s more background on the project). She’s won awards for her reporting on medicine, biotechnology and science policy and was a John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford University. She specializes in identity, race relations and gender.


    12. Michelle Holmes, Alabama Media Group

    Michelle Holmes has been the vice president of content for the Alabama Media Group since 2013 where she oversees editorial operations for the Birmingham News, Mobile’s Press-Register, the Huntsville Times, the Mississippi Press, AL.com and gulflive.com. In 2017 she helped launch Red Clay Media, which produces shareable videos about life in the South. Holmes also helped launch Reckon, a special Facebook page to foster tough conversations among followers. Nieman Lab’s Christine Schmidt called Reckon “Vox on the Chattahoochee.” Holmes was a 2012 Knight Fellow at Stanford University and the director of business development at UstreamTV in San Francisco, where she focused on content partnerships.


    13. Simon Galperin, Community Information Districts

    Simon Galperin is the director of Community Information Cooperative (CiC) an organization developing community information districts (info districts). Galperin believes it’s a model for revenue generation that can work in any community that understands the value of local news and information. Special districts already exist for services such as firefighting, water and sanitation. He’s also an engagement advocate for Groundsource.



    14. Carlos Watson, OZY

    Carlos Watson, a former MSNBC news anchor and journalist, launched Ozy Media, a millennial-targeted news site, in 2013. The site made headlines a year ago when it landed $10 million in funding, which it said it would use to hire more editorial staff. Past investors include Axel Springer and the Emerson Collective. He has hosted a show for PBS called “Third Rail with OZY” and has helped run an outreach project to help journalism educators.

    “Part of OZY’s mission is premium journalism with broad appeal,” Watson told USA Today. “It is not a narrow niche publication.”


    15. Irene McKisson, Arizona Daily Star / This Is Tucson

    Irene McKisson is the editor of #ThisisTuscon, a millennial women’s lifestyle vertical at the Arizona Daily Star. She helped develop the product and manages a small team of writers who also create content for Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and an app. According to Becky Pallack at the Arizona Daily Star: “Using the lean startup process, they built #ThisIsTucson, a digital media brand with unique content, read mostly by millennial women on mobile devices. At the end of the first year, the reach is 45% of the millennial women in our local coverage area.” McKisson previously ran the Star’s social media accounts as the newsroom’s social media and audience engagement editor and trained reporters. She started at the Star 13 years ago in the sports department. She also works as an adjunct instructor at the University of Arizona School of Journalism.


    16. Julia Angwin, ProPublica

    Julia Angwin is a senior reporter at ProPublica where she covers big data. To explain her motivation, here’s a quote from when we interviewed her on the MediaShift Podcast in September about ProPublica’s series on Machine Bias: “I feel like we’re in this weird situation where this big data economy feels like it’s fracturing our democracy in a way I wouldn’t have envisioned in my most paranoid moments before.” She previously worked at the Wall Street Journal where she led a privacy investigative team, and won a Pulitzer Prize. MediaShift covered an event last February at NYU where she discussed her groundbreaking work on algorithms.



    17. Brian Stelter, CNN

    Brian Stelter started TVNewser, a blog that covered TV news, in 2004 when he was a college freshman. Six months later he sold it to Mediabistro.com for $500. Two months after graduation he joined the New York Times as a media reporter and was a contributor to the publication’s Media Decoder blog. He was featured in the 2011 documentary “Page One” about the Times. He moved to CNN in 2013 where he now hosts “Reliable Sources,” which covers the week’s top media stories, every Sunday. He also reports frequently for CNN.com (and wrote 439 stories for the site in 2016 alone), and runs a daily newsletter that rounds up the day’s media news here. In a profile in the Washington Post’s Style section last spring, Stelter’s editor Rich Barbieri described him this way: “He’s kind of a force of nature. There are reporters out there who just cannot turn their curiosity off. That’s Brian.” His show, “Reliable Sources,” won a Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.


    18. Upasna Barath, Rookie

    Upasna Barath, a student at North Central College in Chicago, is a contributor to Rookie, a site for teen girls founded by fashion blogger-cum-media entrepreneur Tavi Gevinson. Barath writes monthly essays and also creates a video series called Upasna Asks where she ponders questions like “How do I break up with a friend?” and “What if I don’t like my name?”

    “I don’t know who ‘2019 graduated Upasna’ is, and I don’t want to make any decisions for her yet,” she said in an interview last month about what’s in store for the future. “A very smart person named Tavi Gevinson once told me, ‘You do not have to know now.’ I don’t want to make decisions for the person I haven’t become.”


    19. Janine Warner, SembraMedia

    Janine Warner is a Knight Fellow at the International Center for Journalists and the co-founder of SembraMedia, which supports digital media entrepreneurs who publish in Spanish. The organization researches digital media projects, is building an online directory and is developing training programs and support services. As San Diego State’s Amy Schmitz Weiss wrote in her nomination of Warner: “Her organization has opened so many doors of opportunity and created a network that wasn’t possible before. She truly is an innovator!” Previously Warner worked as a reporter in California and served as the director of new media for the Miami Herald in the late 1990s. She’s also written several books about the internet, including several in the “For Dummies” catalog.


    20. Claire Wardle, First Draft News

    During her time as the research director of Columbia University’s Tow Center, Claire Wardle worked on topics such as how publishers work with platforms and what universities can learn from news organizations about innovation. She’s now a research fellow at the Shorenstein Center where she leads First Draft News. First Draft is a non-profit that focuses on how to find and verify content found on social platforms. The organization has dozens of partners, including news organizations, associations, research labs and universities. Among its projects is CrossCheck, a collaborative project which debunked fake news around the French election last year. Wardle has written about why the term “fake news” should be avoided and the created a popular graphic and explainer for different types of mis- and disinformation.

    Bianca Fortis is the associate editor at MediaShift, a founding member of the Transborder Media storytelling collective and a social media consultant. Follow her on Twitter @biancafortis.

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