Media Skills Fellows open windows to their worlds


Every Wednesday evening, almost a dozen people crowd into the Daily Planet office to share stories and supper as they learn new skills in the Media Skills Fellowship program. At the halfway point in the 10-week project, they reviewed lessons learned: overcoming fear of Facebook, learning to find Creative Commons-licensed photos, story-building, the difference between photography and photojournalism, “that Twitter stuff,” how to build a Facebook group for a church youth organization.

The project, funded by a Bush Foundation grant, promises that participants will learn and share a variety of media skills, and will begin using those skills for better communication in, about, and on behalf of their diverse communities. They began in March, and will finish up in May.

Vangeline Ortega hopes to use the fellowship as an opportunity to learn how to use social media and photography to increase awareness about kidney failure, organ transplantation, and donor education. She’s on dialysis, but remains active in the community, working with Hispanic youth through the Association of Non-Smokers, and with a youth group in her Soka Gakkai International Buddhist religious community. Read her story — “Brother, can you spare a kidney?” here. Since beginning the media skills program, she has overcome her fear of Facebook and set up a Facebook group for youth in her Soka Gakkai International Buddhist religious community. Next project: video! 

Tom Johnson is an avid Twitter user (@TwoPuttTommy) and blogger, who has blogged with the Minnesota Progressive Project. As a disabled vet and a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans, he hopes to use this fellowship to focus on veterans’ stories and to gain expertise for his volunteer work with the DFL party and social media training. With lessons learned in the group, he is working on a Facebook page for the Hopkins VFW. 

Paige Elliott is studying public relations at the Takoda Institute, after earning a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Minnesota. Paige plans to create a website for her church and improve its social media outreach. When she told church members about her project, some asked her to help them get on Facebook, so a workshop for them is also on her agenda. She’s also interested in telling people’s stories — read her first story about The Nicollet café here.



Tamara Ward lives in the Harrison Neighborhood in North Minneapolis, where she has been active in neighborhood organizations. She is passionate in working with low-income, unemployed, homeless, and African American communities, and hopes to use this fellowship to learn better reporting skills. She is working on a photo essay of Northside murals, and a Facebook page for a community group.


Mary Lou Garza Middleton is the executive office and administrative specialist at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. She’s also a writer and editor for African Global Roots, and has experience in organizing. She hopes to use this fellowship to learn social media tools, write unique stories, and teach others how to tell their own stories. Read her first story about artist Stanley Christopher here. Since joining the group, she has learned more about Facebook and plans to help improve African Global Roots on-line presence. 

Mai Lor Xiong works in community organizing, community development, affordable housing and nonprofit management on the East Side of St. Paul and manages E-Democracy’s Payne-Phalen forum. She has worked with organizations such as the Hmong American Partnership, Payne Phalen District Five Community Council, Contender for the Faith Church, and other East Side neighborhood organizations. In her first article for the Daily Planet, she told the growing-up story of Lenda Xiong. Now she is working on setting up a Facebook page for Eastside Neighborhood Development Company.  


Juanita Espinosa is a Dakota/Ojibwe woman who has been a board member of the Minneapolis American Indian Center and Tiwahe (a Native American foundation), since 1983 and 1999, respectively. She is board president of InProgress, a youth media arts organization, was the chief curator at the Native Arts Circle, and now manages the Two Rivers Gallery for the Minneapolis American Indian Center. She has also served as executive director of the Native Arts Circle. Juanita is a mother of a daughter that is differently abled, and a grandmother to four grandchildren. Her first article told a story of the digital divide from the perspective of a young mother seeking employment, and she has set up a private Facebook group for a work group. 

Aamina Muhammad
is a student at the University of Minnesota, historian of the Black Student Union on campus, and volunteers at local schools and at the Minneapolis Youth Congress. Aamina wants to explore Latin America, as she has Mexican heritage, and is passionate about international travel and learning about other cultures.



Elizabeth Thao is an editor and reporter for Hmong Pages newspaper, and also works as an assistant educator at Bridgeview School in St. Paul. She grew up and lived in the Frogtown and Eastside communities in St. Paul with her family, and she also identifies with the Westside of St. Paul. She has begun planning for more active social media presence for Hmong Pages, beginning with setting up a Facebook page as part of the Media Skills project. Her first stories focused on the next wave of Hmong shamans.

The first group of Media Skills Fellows will finish their training in May, with a second group beginning in September. 


CORRECTION: Juanita Espinoza was the chief curator at the Native Arts Circle, until it closed in January 2010.