the kdmcinfo weblog

Featured Fellow: Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig

Michelle Fitzhugh-CraigFor Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig (Mar '11), utilizing digital media has been a process of providing voices to underserved communities.

She has helped grow publications ranging from a public interest print paper to an online hyperlocal news site. Her current project, shades Magazine, a digital publication covering women of all ethnicities, recently won the Ray Taliaferro Entrepreneurial Spirit Award from the National Association of Black Journalists.

Providing voice to the voiceless has long been a mantra in the blogging community, but Fitzhugh-Craig's recent career is an example of how that can be blended with old-fashioned journalism to produce vibrant and dedicated communities online.

"Despite the different platform, it is still journalism," Fitzhugh-Craig recently wrote to me in an email. "That means you still have the same process to put out information – it’s just your newsprint has become a computer screen."

Digital platforms, according to her, can fill the void that traditional media is leaving, especially as newsrooms and budgets shrink. Fitzhugh-Craig, who herself was laid-off from the Oakland Tribune in 2008, has found a freedom that larger publications do not necessarily afford.

"People can get their stories told and create their own 'voice' on the Web, and in turn do the same for their respective community or for underserved communities," she wrote.

Filling the void of traditional media, for Fitzhugh-Craig, couldn't come without the aid of tools like Wordpress. Thanks to Wordpress and other online publishing platforms, she says, anyone can create a website at low or no cast, and can offer a level of flexibility that traditional publishing platforms do not provide.

One example of that is Oakland Local, a hyperlocal news site serving Oakland, CA, where Fitzhugh-Craig is the managing editor. It launched almost two years ago, she got involved in the nonprofit news venture because it gives a community the opportunity to tell their own stories alongside seasoned reporters. That combination, according to her, can bring a different angle or new information to readers.

"One person can’t convince the hundreds of thousands of news publications and organizations around the globe to diversify their coverage and their staffing, especially at the management level," she wrote to me. "However, one person can use the Internet to potentially reach millions of people, quickly and easily and be the management that can make decisions as to what is covered and is published."

With 70,000 site visits, over 6,000 Facebook fans and 4,000 Twitter followers as of this summer, Oakland Local has been lauded by everyone from tech blog Mashable to the Columbia Journalism Review for its innovative local news model.

On myshadesmagazine.net, the online portal of shades Magazine, visitors are often greeted with audio and video segments, in addition to written stories. Fitzhugh-Craig, and her partner Z'ma Wyatt, use a flipbook program for the actual digital magazine, and Fitzhugh-Craig said they are exploring tools such as Wordpress plug-ins to allow users to interact more with the publication.

Wyatt recently said their primary concern in starting up the enterprise was they saw “that legacy journalism had done a poor job of providing a voice to people of color, especially women. Even more so, those in underserved communities.”

Fitzhugh-Craig began her journalism career in 1998 at The Arizona Republic. In 2003, she left to work as a freelance reporter and PR specialist. During that time, she served as Editor of Arizona’s Black Pages and Editor-in-Chief of the AZ Examiner. In 2005, she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where she began working for MediaNews Group publications, ending as City Editor at the Oakland Tribune.

She is a regional director of the National Association of Black Journalists.