CMI 2020 Annual Report


Learn more about the work of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University during 2019-2020. If you want to be the first to know what's happening at the CMI, sign up for our monthly email newsletters:

Doris O’Donnell Fellowship

Hensley visits campus,

works with students

This profile first appeared on Point Park University’s website

CMI helps business

leaders remain on air

By Andrew Conte

Doris O’Donnell winner Erica Hensley visits campus to work on fellowship

proect, meet with environmental studies and journalism students.

What did receiving the Doris

O’Donnell Innovations in Investigative

Journalism Fellowship from the Center for

Media Innovation at Point Park University

mean to you and the work you do?

I can’t overstate how important it has

been. Mississippi Today is a non-profit

fully digital state-wide newsroom that’s

completely free to readers, so we are really

shaking up the traditional news model. But

with that, we have to rely on diverse

revenue streams. We don’t have

subscriptions or circulation, so we are

funded through fellowships, grants and

donors. As the only fully staffed newsroom

covering the whole state, the deep-dive

stories we tell would likely go untold

without our reporting.

Tell us about your project.

Lots of data! My project is a great example

of stories that would otherwise go untold.

I’m looking at lead exposure across the

state and identifying pockets of risk.

Because Mississippi is a bit of “data desert”

with regard to some public health problems,

there isn’t comprehensive data

about where children are most susceptible

to lead. To combat that, I’m extracting

data where I can, overlapping datasets and

identifying that risk myself. Lead exposure

usually happens three ways: water, paint or

soil/dust. I’m tracking all three exposures

and layering the information to map risk


What was it like spending a week at Point

Park University in January?

It was great! The CMI is such a beautiful

space and powerful resource for students,

reporters and just the city itself, really. I’m

honestly a little jealous for younger Erica,

wishing I had had a resource like this in

college. It’s great to see students

embracing true multimedia storytelling

through multiple platforms. It’s the only

way news media will survive as we know

it. I was trained, not very long ago, to think

of news in silos: “print,” “broadcast,” and a

little bit of “online.” Those lines are blurred

more than ever and students need to not

only be comfortable in all three, but need

to be able to merge them for digital

storytelling. It’s great to see a place for

young journalists that embraces that.

As part of your fellowship, you had the

opportunity to work with our students in

class with Professors Matthew Opdyke,

Ph.D., and Bill Moushey, M.S. What were

some of your key messages to the

environmental studies and journalism


The message I really try to impart is that

every story is a health or environment

story. Even if you don’t see the immediate

Photo by Emma Federkeil

health and medical ramifications – there is

likely a long-term health impact. Also, to just

be comfortable asking “why?” on a deeper

level and looking toward solutions. What

are the social determinants of this situation?

What powers that be stand to benefit from

keeping the status quo and who’s working on

changing it? It’s not enough anymore to just

point to the problems – there are too many. I

think it’s beholden on journalists to focus on

answers, where possible, and explore what’s

working as well.

What was it like working with our


I hope they’ve gleaned something from it.

It can be hard to gauge impact on students,

but if after I leave they have one more data

skill in their reporting toolbox, or can think a

little more creatively about how to collect and

visualize data, then I’ll be happy.

Screenshots and graphic by Nick Ruffolo

We have been making television

programs in our pajamas.

Not really. But we could have been.

When the pandemic started, the CMI

collaborated to produce a Sunday morning

talk show with WPXI-TV, Pittsburgh’s NBC

affiliate, and the Allegheny Conference on

Community Development.

The producers of Our Region’s Business

could no longer go into the studio, so we

started recording the show remotely via

video chat. The relationship lasted through


The first four shows weren’t perfect, but

they all ran on broadcast television in


Before the crisis, TV producers were right to

insist on studio quality for every show. But

as we all have learned, good content right

now means more than anything.

If you’re wondering how to make yourself

more camera-ready, here are some tips on

how to look your best during a remote video


1. Face a light source such as a window.

2. Create a quiet space.

3. Place camera at eye level.

4. Wear plain colors and avoid patterns.

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5. Smile!