Diversity Leadership Fellows Program
Meet the Recipients
April Bethea, SPJ member since 2005, is an online producer at The Charlotte Observer. She previously spent eight years as a reporter for the Observer, covering Mecklenburg County government, education and other general news for the metro and regional desks. In her new job, she serves as a morning producer for www.charlotteobserver.com. Bethea has served on multiple newsroom taskforces, and was lead writer of a set of breaking news guidelines. Bethea has been a member of the Greater Charlotte chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the national organization since 2012. Bethea also is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, and served as president of the Charlotte Area Association of Black Journalists as it relaunched in 2005-06. A native of Charlotte, N.C., Bethea is a recent graduate of the Leaders Under 40 program sponsored by Community Building Initiative and serves as a volunteer project co-leader with Hands on Charlotte.
Cheryl DMello, SPJ member since 2007, is a freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio. She has a Master's in English Literature from the University of Mumbai, India, a Diploma in Journalism from the Xavier Institute of Communication, Mumbai, and a Master's in Communication Theory and Methodology from Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio. DMello has been a reporter for the local Gazette newspaper, an adjunct faculty member at Cuyahoga Community College, and a member of the editorial team of The Lotus, the Asian Indian newspaper in Cleveland for which she has been volunteering as a writer for several years. She has written for publications in India, Dubai, and in the U.S. Her Masters Thesis on the Bhutanese refugees in the Cleveland area was nominated by the CSU Graduate Committee for the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools (MAGS) 2011 Distinguished Master's Thesis Competition. She is the immediate past president of the Cleveland Chapter of SPJ and a 2012 graduate of the Ted Scripps Leadership Institute. She lives in Cleveland with her family.
Vianna Davila, SPJ member since 2013, is the transportation reporter for the San Antonio Express-News. Born and raised in San Antonio, she got a job covering community news for the Express shortly after graduating from Rice University in 2002 with a BA in English. She later joined the paper's criminal justice team, covering crime for two and a half years before leaving to pursue her master's in journalism-documentary at the University of California Berkeley. Her thesis film, "In His Blood," about two overnight news cameramen, won Best Documentary Short Film at the 2009 San Antonio Film Festival. Davila returned to the Express-News that year, to report on general assignments and produce videos for the paper's website, MySA.com, before she moved to the transportation beat in 2011. She also teaches journalism at Texas A&M University-San Antonio and is an officer with the San Antonio SPJ chapter.
Maria Ortiz-Briones, SPJ member since, 2012, is the health reporter for Vida en el Valle, a McClatchy publication. She covers health issues impacting Latinos in the Central Valley. Ortiz-Briones has worked for more than a decade in daily journalism. She has worked as reporter covering spot news, served as both a features writer and editor and she has been the editor of a Spanish publication for Lee Enterprises newspapers in California. She was also the features copy editor for three Gannett newspapers including The Visalia Times-Delta, The Tulare Advance-Register and The Salinas California. She is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalist (NAHJ), The Society of Professional Journalist (SPJ), CCNMA - Latino Journalist of California and the Association of Health Care Journalists.
Jocelyne Pruna, SPJ member since 2012, joined the 5NEWS team in October 2011 as a general assignments reporter. She was born in Miami, Florida but has called Fayetteville, Arkansas home since 2000. She graduated from Fayetteville High School with high honors and received her bachelors degree in Broadcast Journalism and Political Science with a minor in Spanish at the University of Arkansas. Before joining the 5NEWS team, she worked for Univision Arkansas and La Prensa Libre where she contributed to the newspaper since 2006. She also worked for KUAF, the local NPR affiliate, producing on air public service announcements. She began her journalism adventure as an intern for an NBC affiliate station. She has also worked behind the scenes as a video operator, graphics, and camera operator. Her passion, other than news, is encouraging students to get a college education, especially first-generation college students.
Francisco Vara-Orta, SPJ member since 2012, has been a reporter at the Express-News since February 2011. He has also worked as a staff writer and reporter for the Austin Business Journal, Los Angeles Business Journal, Los Angeles Times, Austin American-Statesman, Laredo Morning Times and La Prensa, a bilingual newspaper in San Antonio. He has won several awards for his work at various papers, which has also appeared in the Houston Chronicle. He holds a degree in English/Communication Arts and Latin American Studies from St. Marys University in San Antonio, where he re-founded its student paper, leading the staff to win 120 awards during his tenure. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Education Writers Association, National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association, and is Vice President of the San Antonio Association of Hispanic Journalists. He describes himself as a proud South Texan, born and raised in the Alamo City, circa 1984.
About the Diversity Leadership Fellows Program
SPJ works to promote a broader voice for diverse journalists in newsrooms across the country, and to expand the depth and quality of news reporting through better sourcing. This mission has been carried out through the SPJ Diversity Committees print and online products, including the Rainbow Sourcebook, Diversity Toolbox, Teaching Plan, Anti-Profiling Guidelines and the increasingly popular Diversity blog, Whos News? The committee also partners with UNITY: Journalists of Color members and ethnic media to offer training programs.
Diversity efforts are just as important within the SPJ membership as they are in newsrooms and in reporting. Strengthening SPJs diversity membership representation is important to the organizations health and future. The Diversity Leadership Program is an opportunity for members to become more acquainted with SPJ through exposure to the Society. This educational process begins at the national convention and includes a complimentary convention registration and paid travel to the event. Each year, SPJ selects six members to participate in the program and they are referred to as SPJ Diversity Leadership Fellows.
The Diversity Leadership Program was first introduced in 2005 and 35 members have gone through the program thus far. Participants indicate that they appreciate getting to know members of the SPJ national leadership ladder through the program. The program also affords Fellows the opportunity to feel more connected to the organization and to the conference through their program participation. This connectedness is intended to increase membership retention and to create a larger pool of local and national SPJ leaders .
While at the conference, the Fellows will have a gathering to get to know each other; they will attend SPJ board meetings and business meetings and they will attend the conference sessions and events.
The Fellows' participation in the annual conference is the jumping off point to building a connection and a loyalty to SPJ. The Diversity Leadership Program helps to foster a stronger belief in SPJ and encourages involvement within the organization.