Sofiya Ballin: Creativity, courage and diversity line the path to journalism’s future

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Sofiya Ballin was one of the two 2015 Penny Bender Fuchs diversity fellows.

I started the SFJ fellowship with my mind on two of the largest reporting weekends on the horizon: Made In America and the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia.

I was feeling very journo’d out and I left full of fresh ideas for how I would contribute to the coverage. Meeting and sharing stories and ideas with reporters and editors across the country was exhilarating.

Though I’ve been at the Philadelphia Inquirer for almost a year, during the conference I was able to better understand what goes into producing the paper. More importantly, I understand better the challenges in our industry that go far beyond reporting stories.

Touring the Washington Post, listening to Pulitzer Prize winning journalists, and observing Michael Cavna and others share showed me how there’s no one way to tell a story and engage audiences. And that when it comes to the future of journalism, the pathway has to be filled with creativity, courage and many entry points.

Throughout the conference I was also able to confirm a lot of my inclinations about digital production.

In the sessions, I heard the collective voice of journalism calling for ideas on how to produce quality work and still make money in this changing media landscape. I took especial note of Professor Corey Takahashi’s presentation on the many ways reporters can tell their stories using audio and visual tools.

Going with my managing editor, Sandra Clark, also enhanced my experience. We were able to bounce ideas off of each other and discuss different approaches to expanding our audiences, changing newsroom culture and pursuing other revenue opportunities.

A highlight of the conference was partnering with Diversity Fellow Ada Tseng for a discussion about what journalists should know about millennials. At first, we were unsure about what we could contribute to the conversation. But as we began to talk about it with each other, we realized there were so many things that were second-nature to us that were worth discussing. One of the most important topics for both of us was diversity.

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Sofiya with Marian Liu (left), SFJ diversity fellows coordinator, and Ada Tseng, also a Penny Bender Fuchs diversity fellow this year.

Throughout each session, no one mentioned the importance of having a diverse newsroom, yet there was a desire to tap into the millennial audience or to expand readership. Stressing diversity (race, gender and age) on staff is a major catalyst for broadening readership. I’ve seen it for myself at my own paper. We also stressed that millennials are not monolithic and that people of color are often left out of the coverage.

While our focus was millennials, I was inspired by how hard veteran journalists are fighting for our profession and how important it is to learn new skill sets and to be flexible to change.

Most important, I left with a larger network, a bond with my fellow Fellow and feeling reinvigorated knowing that I have one of the greatest jobs in the world.

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