2017 SFJ conference schedule: Success Stories

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REGISTER TODAY! $125 for college students; $350 for members; $450 for non-members!



4-5:15 P.M. | SFJ board meeting
The Star’s Press Pavilion, 1601 McGee St.
Board and committee chairs gather to discuss last-minute details about the conference and begin planning for next year.

6-9 p.m. Opening reception at the hotel
Brookside Room at the Westin Kansas City at Crown Center, 1 E. Pershing Road
Come meet your fellow features creatures, register for the conference and relax.

THURSDAY, Sept. 28

Location: The Star’s Press Pavilion, 1601 McGee St.

8-9 a.m.: Shuttle service from hotel to Press Pavilion. Continental breakfast and registration at the Pavilion.

9-10 a.m.: Robb Armstrong of “Jump Start (an Andrews McMeel syndicate) will tell us how he went from a college student at Syracuse University with a comic strip to becoming a nationally syndicated cartoonist. He’s also written a memoir, Fearless: A Cartoonist’s Guide to Life.”

10-11:15 a.m.: Digital tools you shouldn’t live without, by Jennifer Brett of Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Topics she’ll cover include:

  • How to repurpose user-generated content from Facebook without an embed code. (once you have secured the content creator’s permission, of course)

  • How to use geo curation to enhance social searches

  • How to repurpose ephemeral Snapchat or Instagram Stories

  • How to create engaging social pushes to promote your content using a combination of apps

  • Facebook Live tips

11:15-11:30 a.m.: Break.

11:30 a.m. to noon: Visit KC, KC’s tourism bureau, welcomes us. 

Noon-1:30 p.m.: Awards luncheon. 

1:30-2 p.m.: Break

2-3 p.m.: SFJ winners tell all.
They’ve received their awards – now hear about their work. Jim Haag, a contest coordinator and retired Virginian-Pilot features editor, will lead a panel discussion with Rashod Ollison of The Virginian-Pilot, Jeneé Osterheldt of The Kansas City Star and Christopher Wynn of The Dallas Morning News.

3-4 p.m.: Show & Steal. Sharon Chapman and Laura Coffey.
One of the most popular segments of the conference, editors share their best ideas from the year past for anyone to steal.

4-5 p.m.: Shuttle service back to hotel.

5:30-6:30 p.m.: Shuttle service to Andrews McMeel from hotel lobby.

6-9 p.m.: Silent Auction at Andrews McMeel, 1130 Walnut St.
If you have “Doonesbury,” “For Better For Worse” or “Phoebe the Unicorn” in your paper, then you’re an Andrews McMeel client. The syndicate is hosting this year’s Silent Auction in its lovely art deco digs.

FRIDAY, Sept. 29

Location: The Star’s Press Pavilion

8-9 a.m.: Shuttle service from hotel to Press Pavilion. Continental breakfast 

9-10 a.m.: How to dive deep, author Candice Millard
Kansas City-based bestselling author and journalist Candice Millard has written three award-winning New York Times bestsellers: “The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey,” “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine & the Murder of a President” (about James Garfield) and her latest, “Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill.” Candice will explain how she does her meticulous research and how she finds the story that no one else has told.

10-11:30 a.m.SPJ-Google News Lab Training: Google Tools Fundamentals with Abigail Edge
Freelance journalist Abigail Edge will give an overview of how Google’s tools can help you research stories, fact-check, find what’s trending, and locate useful datasets. The workshop will highlight: advanced Google Search techniques, Google Trends, Google Public Data Explorer, and more to ensure you’re covered on how to fully uncover things.

11:30-noon: Break

Noon-1 p.m.: Lunch + Diversity Fellows presentation
Grab a bite to eat while listening to our amazing Diversity Fellows, Rashod Ollison of The
Virginian-Pilot and Michelle Zenarosa of Everyday Feminism and Woke magazines.

1-2 p.m.: Facebook Live shows: How to do them, and do they make money?
The Kansas City Star has launched several regularly scheduled Facebook Live shows, some of which are sponsored. Here are some lessons The Star has learned, presented by Brittany Coale (digital sales manager), Rachel Crader (growth editor), Jill Silva (Chow Town Live host and barbecue writer) and Shelly Yang (video journalist).

2-3 p.m.: Atten-TION! with Jennifer Rowe of Missouri School of Journalism
Help your stories get noticed with exciting headlines and compelling leads. This session will provide tips for how to write attention-grabbing headlines and story leads with contemporary and classic examples from award-winning features. Learn how to sell your stories and start them off so that readers just can’t turn away.

3-4 p.m.: Lynden Steele: Life after the Pulitzer — how to find the story after the story
Lynden, assistant managing editor for photography at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and his team won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for its coverage of the protests in Ferguson. But the stories don’t end with journalism’s highest honor; Lynden will share how the newsroom followed up with even more award-winning coverage.

4-4:15 p.m.: Meet the future
We’ll introduce our student attendees.

4-4:15 p.m. | Changing of the guard
It’s a time-honored tradition: The current SFJ president, Kathy Lu, turns over the gavel – and a few other surprising pieces of clothing – to the incoming president, Jim Haag. Then, sadly, it’s time to wrap it up.

4:30-5:30 p.m. | SHUTTLE BACK TO HOTEL

Free evening. Students heading to Royals game. Meet at the lobby to board the bus.

SATURDAY, Sept. 30 (Campus connection)

This session is designed for our college participants. However, journalists who would like to volunteer to help provide feedback or network with the students are welcome.

Location: The Star’s Press Pavilion, 1601 McGee St.

8-9 A.M. | Shuttle service + hot breakfast 
Pick up shuttle at the hotel; breakfast

9 a.m. to noon: Network & feedback
Professional journalists — Jim Haag, Kathy Lu, Margaret Myers, Jeneé Osterheldt, Alice Short,  and Emily Spicer — will spend time with each student who wants feedback on various topics, including on resumes, clips and interview tips.

12:30-1:30 p.m.: SFJ board meeting, with lunch
The planning for next year begins now, as the new officers and committee members begin setting goals for 2018.


This tour is designed for any conference participant who wants to get to know a little bit about the city we’re meeting in.

10 A.M. | Depart hotel on bus

10:15-10:30 A.M. | Visit American Jazz Museum, 1616 E. 18th St.
Explore the museum’s history in the changing exhibit, “The Legacy Plays On,” which celebrates the museum’s 20th anniversary.

10:45-11:15 A.M. | Tour the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, 1616 E 18th St.
Video presentations and memorabilia chronicle the history and heroes of the leagues – from their origin after the Civil War to their demise in the 1960s.

11:20-11:50 A.M. | More time at AJM, 1616 E. 18th St.
Linger at the place that honors jazz masters such as Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Big Joe Turner and hundreds of others.

NOON-1 P.M. | Lunch at Gates-Bar-B-Q, 1221 Brooklyn Ave.
Enjoy a family-owned Kansas City tradition, cafeteria-style. Owner George Gates will offer a history of his place and KC’s role in the world of barbecue.


Apply now for our 2017 Diversity Fellowship!

The Society for Features Journalism is committed to developing news-gathering staffs that are representative of the multicultural communities its members serve.

Toward this goal, SFJ is sponsoring the Penny Bender Fuchs Diversity Fellowship Program for journalists of color in conjunction with its annual conference, which this year is in Kansas City.

Programming will feature a heavy emphasis on storytelling and leadership, and Diversity Fellows will learn what’s happening in features departments nationwide while networking with outstanding journalists specializing in lifestyle and entertainment coverage.

Fellowships cover SFJ conference registration, airfare within the U.S. and hotel. Fellows also will be reimbursed for expenses toward baggage and transportation.

Deadline:   May 25, 2017

Application requirements: resume, essay, photo, letter of recommendation, work samples (see flyer below for more details)

Submit: Email applications with PDF attachments to Margaret Myers at mmyers@atlanticmedia.com.

Questions: 202.266.7263

SFJ 2017 fellowship

Meet 2016 SFJ diversity fellows from Bradenton Herald, Washington Post, UT-Austin


We are excited to introduce our 2016 Penny Bender Fuchs Diversity Fellows! They each will receive an expense-paid trip to attend our annual conference, happening in Aug. 10-13 in Austin, Texas.

Get to know them a little here.

Jenny Abella, The Washington Post

AAJA VOICES 2014 mugs

Jenny Abella

Jennifer Abella has been a copy editor at The Washington Post since 2000, when she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Currently the copy chief for Washington Post Magazine, she has held several positions at the paper, including features copy chief and deputy

copy chief of the universal news desk. In her spare time she is a pop culture junkie and Anglophile who blogs and manages social media for UNC’s annual Jane Austen Summer Program.


Q: Tell us about your current job.

I oversee copy editing and production for The Washington Post Magazine: I slot copy, oversee proofing, manage production deadlines, publish stories to the Web and compile our entertainment calendar.

Q: What are some of the favorites stories you covered?

We’ve done some great stories recently, including a mascot boot camp and an infographic about black superheroes going mainstream.

Q: How do you use social media?

I am on social media every day mostly for personal use, but also to support my volunteer work for the Jane Austen Summer Program in North Carolina. My work with JASP allows me to experiment —  on a small scale —  with concepts I’ve gleaned from working at The Post.

Q: Why is features journalism important to you?

I love learning about the personal angles of stories — not just policies or politics, but also the way they affect people’s lives.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.” – Jane Austen, “Pride and Prejudice”

It applies to anything you love, really — you don’t even feel it happening; it just happens.

Q: What kinds of media do you personally read for fun and news?

I am thoroughly addicted to Twitter, particularly news accounts that have a geeky/entertainment bent: The Mary Sue, Hitfix, IGN, Vulture, The Hollywood Reporter.

For fun, I read young adult literature as well as pop culture-centric nonfiction.

Q: What do you hope to get from SFJ conference?

I’d like to get back in touch with the roots of editing and working with writers to craft a strong narrative without losing the writer’s voice. I’m also really interested in the impact of social media on features stories. I’d love to learn more about crafting compelling social headlines for our content and how other publications enhance their long reads for the web in an age when readers have such short attention spans.

 Amaris Castillo, Bradenton Herald

Amaris Castillo Photo

Amaris Castillo

Amaris Castillo is a law enforcement/island reporter for the Bradenton Herald, where she has worked since 2014.

Castillo has a multimedia series called Bodega Stories, where she publishes stories and portraits of people who frequent her parents’ Latin market in Saint Petersburg, Fla. The project is her small way of preserving language and culture, which means a lot to her as a first-generation American.

Castillo was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Dominican parents and has a master’s from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a bachelor’s from the University of South Florida.


Q: Tell us about your current job.

As the law enforcement/island reporter for the Bradenton Herald, I am regularly sent out to cover breaking news situations such as shootings, fires and crashes. I also report on Anna Maria Island, a 7-mile barrier island that’s filled with challenges related to tourism and all that it brings to residents and business owners. There are three cities on the island, so my job is to keep track of what’s going on in each city. As the night reporter at my newspaper, I’m also called on to cover general assignment stories that range from graduation ceremonies to animal rights protests.

Though law enforcement and the island are my primary beats, I am always searching for interesting feature stories, as well as stories on the immigrant experience — one of my interests.

Q: What are some of the favorite stories you covered?

One is a series on a Honduran boy who crossed the border to reunite with his parents in Bradenton and the challenges he now faces as he seeks asylum. Another story I enjoyed working on was the historic and absolutely bizarre election tie-breaker in Bradenton Beach between an ousted mayor and current-mayor/former- vice mayor — it was one of those “only in Florida” stories where I witnessed an election tie broken through a deck of cards.

Though interviewing people who are grieving after losing a loved one is extremely difficult, I feel it is an honor to tell their stories. Some of my favorite stories have been about grieving and loss; I wrote a story about a grieving mother who lost her daughter to a heroin overdose just days prior to our interview, and I also recently sat down with a local family who lost four relatives in the Ecuador earthquake. It means a lot to have people willing to speak to me despite their overwhelming grief — I do not take this lightly and always do my best to treat what they tell me with great care.

Q: How do you use social media?

I use social media to share my work, as well as the work of my colleagues and other journalists I admire.

I also use social media as a reporting tool; there have been times where these networks have helped me reach a new source. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, I am able to dig and dig and dig until I am able to reach someone I need to speak to for a story.

Q: Why is features journalism important to you?

Features journalism is important to me because it stretches beyond the formulaic and cut-and-dried story. It allows journalists to expand and try to incorporate feeling and the essence of a source in the story — the exhausted eyes of a grieving mother, the nervous face of a graduate about to step onto the stage and receive his diploma. I am drawn to feature stories because they bring me in and make me feel as if I am a witness to what’s being done and what’s being said.

Features journalism not only informs the public, but it engages the public.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

“Nothing happens unless first we dream” by the late poet/writer Carl Sandburg.

Q: What kinds of media do you personally read for fun and news?

For news, I read the Bradenton Herald, Tampa Bay Times, The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, NPR, to name a few. I also listen to NPR and different podcasts on my commute to and from work.

For fun, I enjoy watching Buzzfeed videos and I enjoy reading cultural sites such as Remezcla. I also really enjoy reading independent media like The Mash-Up Americans and La Galeria Magazine.

Q: What do you hope to get from SFJ conference?

I hope to leave the SFJ conference inspired, rejuvenated and with tools on how to become a better storyteller. My newspaper is smaller compared to other area newspapers, and so I hope to learn and soak in as much as I can to bring this knowledge back to my colleagues.

I look forward to meeting features editors from all over the U.S. and asking them what makes a great feature story to them personally — what are some do’s and, most importantly, what are some don’ts? I am so excited to be in the same space as others who are passionate about features journalism and look forward to productive discussions and workshops that will be both challenging and stimulating.

Emily Gibson, The University of Texas at Austin


Emily Gibson

I was born in Baltimore, Md., and grew up reading preteen tabloids such as Tiger Beat and J-14. Thankfully, my taste in magazines and journalism evolved, but my appetite for it didn’t.

I measure my lifetime in what blog or project I was writing at the time (my first “novel” was written when I was in grade school and was called Lobster Face, my first middle school blog was about music and was called CantBeatIt, I currently co-run a magazine, etc.)

When I got to high school, I took a newspaper course and that small taste of newsroom experience confirmed what I already knew: that I was going to give this journalism thing a shot.


Q: Tell us about your current job.

I currently intern for The Austin Chronicle, I am the communications assistant for the UT School of Biomedical Engineering and I run my own magazine, SMEAR Magazine, which published online and in print (we are currently working on our second print issue.)

Q: What are some of the favorites stories you covered?

I wrote a story about Texas’ first theatrical wrestling league run completely by female-identified people, which was a really awesome experience. I also worked on a story about the Austin Music Census citing a lack of gender diversity in the Austin scene, and how women musicians in Austin responded to that.

Most recently, I did a story about front man John Pelant from a band called Night Moves, which was a good experience because I had wanted to do a long form music feature for some time.

Q: How do you use social media?

I use social media to start conversations. Whether it is a joke status I post on Facebook or a questioning tweet about a policy or a news event, my main goal is always to get people talking and comfortable talking to each other. I think that, at its core, that is the purpose of social media: to be able to talk to people and bring people from different backgrounds and perspectives together.

Q: Why is features journalism important to you?

Features journalism is what attracted me to the field. Being able to meet people from different backgrounds and tell their stories seems like such an ideal job that I often have to remind myself that it is something I am really working toward. I think it’s important to use these platforms to tell stories that make people think – to represent the unrepresented voices and to provide a different perspective on issues. The fact that I am pursuing a job where I can tell people’s stories that could possibly incite some sort of change is exciting to me, and it is important to me to become the best features journalist I can be so I can better represent these people and their stories.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

“We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.” – Chuck Palahniuk

Q: What kinds of media do you personally read for fun and news?

For news, I read The Austin Chronicle, The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and Texas Monthly. For fun, I typically like to read memoirs – the most memorable one I have read in the past year was “Slave: My True Story” by Mende Nazer, and I am currently reading “Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise” by Ruth Reichl. I also like to read music magazines, specifically Impose and Pitchfork. And fiction-wise, I typically enjoy books that are a little strange or dystopian – Chuck Palahniuk and Margaret Atwood, for example.

Q: What do you hope to get from SFJ conference?

I am extremely excited to attend the SFJ conference. I hope to learn about the industry from people working in the field and hear the stories of how they decided to pursue features journalism and their favorite stories they’ve worked on.

Apply now for 2016 Diversity Fellowship

SFJ is now taking applications for its 2016 Penny Bender Fuchs Diversity Fellowship for journalists of color.

The fellowship covers all costs to attend our 2016 conference in Austin, Texas, from Aug. 9-14. Conference programming will focus on storytelling on all platforms.

Applicants should have a high interest in features journalism.

Deadline for applying is May 5.

SFJ diversity fellow

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



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.

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