The Bisbee Review’s own Christine Steele earned a huge honor this week when she was named a Perry and Alicia O’Brien Fellow for Public Service Journalism at the Marquette University College of Communications.
Just how big is this? The other two fellows for the 2016-17 academic year are Pulitzer Prize winners.
Steele told me she will spend much of her nine months in Milwaukee researching and writing about the issue of homelessness and the uneven services the homeless receive from private companies that have huge public contracts. She will work with Marquette journalism students who will help to research these issues and produce a spectacular piece of public service journalism with roots in Southern Arizona.
Steele’s opportunity began almost the moment she walked in the door at The Bisbee Review. …
“The day after I started (in April 2015), we had an officer-involved shooting,” she said. Police shot and killed a homeless man named Carlos Ramirez who charged an officer while holding a knife. Family said they had been trying to get Ramirez mental health services he needed but had been thwarted by the very bureaucracy that was ostensibly in place to help him. That reporting led Christine to a Missouri-based company with a contract for mental health services in more than a dozen states, including Arizona.
Steele wrote incremental stories on the shooting and a subsequent lawsuit, and like all good investigative reporters, she kept scratching away at a story with legs. Are these services readily available in small communities? Are the mentally ill capable of making service appointments on their own? Who is watching to see that private corporations fulfill their obligations in these instances?
“There are a lot of questions and not enough answers,” she said. “It’s a big box of things to look at.”
In October, she saw notice of the O’Brien Fellowship on Facebook. She gave administrators her pitch. She flew to Milwaukee in February, where a panel interviewed six finalists. This week the university announced the winners, who also include Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter Mark Johnson and Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporter Jackie Crosby.
One of the very best aspects of the Fellowship is the opportunity to work with ambitious, talented young journalists. Steele is hoping to bring one or more of them back to Bisbee for further reporting over the course of her project. That will undoubtedly be eye-opening for the students. Don’t be surprised if this network brings us in contact with the best and brightest of the new generation of journalists. It should also be a reminder to us all: Shoot for the stars. There are similar fellowships at Stanford, Harvard, Michigan and elsewhere. You can’t win if you do not play.
The end result remains a work in progress, obviously. But you can bet Christine’s Fellowship project will run in the Sierra Vista Herald and the Bisbee Review, if not other Wick newspapers.
Congratulations, Christine. Can’t wait to hear more about this exceptional project.