2019 Brian Donovan Journalism Fellow Reflects on Opportunity to Hone Reporting Skills and Develop Professional Network

Ericka Francois was the 2019 Brian Donovan Fellow. Photo courtesy of Ericka Francois

I became dedicated to pursuing journalism as a way to advocate for society’s most vulnerable citizens and bring more public scrutiny to the government’s role in their lives. As a former foster youth, I am especially interested in trauma and children. One thing that’s always bothered me is how foster youth are prescribed psychotropics at high rates at young ages — I watched it happen to my four younger siblings. 

Through the Brian Donovan Journalism Fellowship with The Chronicle of Social Change, I was able to develop an investigative reporting project on this issue. I organized meetings with sources, analyzed child welfare data and learned from professional journalists within the publication’s network. 

I was assigned two amazing mentors, Michael Fitzgerald, The Chronicle’s New York-based northeast editor, and Bret Begun, features editor at Bloomberg’s Newsweek. I kept in contact with both mentors weekly throughout the fellowship. Michael was always encouraging and positive; he made me feel like I could do anything. He also wasn’t capable of harsh criticism which I found hilarious; rather, he gave positive criticism, if that makes sense. I got to visit Bret at his Bloomberg office, and he and Michael became not only awesome mentors, but great resources in assisting me in different angles to take with my psychotropic story. 

Through the fellowship, I was also able to grow meaningful relationships with all the professional journalists, editors and writers I connected with from publications like The New York Times who have mentored me. I got to hone my writing, interviewing and researching skills. 

Michael and Bret’s mentorship has impacted my professional career by providing me with the clarity and assistance needed to further pursue my career path of journalism. I grew a supportive network with the Brian Donovan Fellowship and learned more about journalism in a way that I wouldn’t have in any other fellowship program. I want to continue to build relationships with those in my career field and get comfortable with being uncomfortable in a new space, with new people and new ideas. 

I’m invested in learning not just about journalism, but being challenged in numerous ways. I was challenged having to work as a real journalist in finding subjects to interview and practicing the code of ethics as a developing journalist. The Brian Donovan Fellowship challenged my way of thinking, my rationale, and my perspective on how media narratives are formed. 

As I started down this career path, I often said that I “give the voiceless a voice,” but my perspective on this evolved over the summer spent working with The Chronicle. As quoted by Lacy M. Johnson, “I wish writers would stop saying they want to be a ‘voice for the voiceless.’ Everyone has a voice, even marginalized folks; the problem is others don’t listen. Instead of speaking for and over them, try using your platform to amplify what folks are already saying so others can hear,” and that is what I have grown to achieve through my investigative psychotropic project. 

My ultimate goal is to one day become a nationally recognized advocate and leader who will improve child welfare in the future, and The Brian Donovan Fellowship has made me more confident in that goal.  

Ericka Francois was the 2019 Brian Donovan Journalism Fellow for The Chronicle of Social Change. She is a student at State University of New York at New Paltz. You can read her report on the use of psychotropics in foster care here.

Fostering Media Connections’ Brian Donovan Journalism Fellowship is a summer-long experience that provides hands-on journalism training for current and former foster youth who are pursuing a career in the media. We’re currently seeking two fellows for Summer 2020. Learn more and apply here

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