Board member blog post: From fellow to fellowship chair

USN_Kira_ZalanBy Kira Zalan, JAWS Board Member

I reluctantly attended my first JAWS mixer three years ago, at Co Co. Sala in Washington, D.C. I’m not good at mingling, plus I was just starting out in journalism and was convinced I had nothing to offer professionally. Networking was a D.C. skill I lacked and, after living seven years in this town, I wasn’t sure I wanted to learn it. I committed to one hour (I stayed two) and one drink (I had two). I walked out of Co Co. Sala into the summer D.C. night impressed. JAWS didn’t feel like a stiff, professional organization at all. Instead, I felt like a welcomed guest at a family reunion.

Honestly, I applied for a CAMP fellowship because I liked the feeling of JAWS. I didn’t know the programming and was unsure I’d learn much skill-wise, but there was something special about this group, and I wanted to be there.

CAMP in Albuquerque, New Mexico, later that year blew me away.

There was the panel called “Pitch Like a Pro” by Rachel Louise Snyder, Katherine Lanpher and Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn that gave me a how-to guide for getting my pitches noticed, and taught me to “never, ever give up.” NPR editor Marilyn Geewax’s panel “Economics of Every Story” forever changed my approach to stories of national importance: Focus on the impact on communities, on people. A presentation on human trafficking helped me focus my own story on the subject, which I would publish a few months later. My talented roommate, Ankita Rao, was so passionate about storytelling that it reassured me about my decision to change careers and start over at 30 years old. I left CAMP energized and inspired.  I also committed to JAWS.

This year, I have the honor of serving on the board and as Fellowship Chairwoman. That means I have the responsibility of giving 10 more emerging journalists the opportunity to have the same powerful JAWS experience as I did in New Mexico in 2012 and Vermont in 2013. Together with Nancy Day, we convinced Sheila Solomon, Charreah Jackson, Adrienne Lawrence and immediate past fellow Rachel Bowers to join the Fellowship Committee. These JAWdesses committed to the time-consuming, work-intensive task of choosing the next batch of emerging journalist fellows, and I am exceedingly grateful.

The deadline to apply was June 1, and I am happy to report that this year we received a record 86 applications from exceptionally talented women from all over the country, as well as abroad. To me, this is a sign of how much our organization is needed. Several applicants, some hearing of JAWS for the first time, expressed their gratitude and excitement that JAWS exists.

We are growing in a good way. Another sign of this are the three new JAWS fellowships. The Mid-Career and Entrepreneurial Fellowships are designed for JAWS members. The Diversity Fellowship, sponsored by the Financial Times and arranged by JAWS member Stacy-Marie Ishmael, will give us the opportunity to bring one more journalist that’s typically underrepresented in newsrooms to CAMP. The deadline to apply for these is July 1, so please check out the details here, and please spread the word.

I am proud to be on this board and am excited to take part in creating opportunities for other women to experience CAMP and, if they haven’t already, to fall in love with JAWS.
Thank you for making me feel welcome at your family reunion once upon a time, and for extending that signature JAWS support to incoming fellows.