MJ Bear, a former vice president for online at NPR and a founding board member of the Online News Association, died Friday (Dec. 16) in Seattle after battling leukemia for seven months. At the time of her death she was based in Vienna for Microsoft as an executive producer in central and eastern Europe, and the Middle East and Africa. She was 48.
Bear ran NPR online operations from 1996 to 2001, as manager and director of new media services, and vice president for online. She created more than 35 NPR.org websites; acquired online properties such as Fresh Air with Terry Gross; and created the web-only music destination All Songs Considered. Bear won two Webby Awards.
She also created the PBS/NPR Interactive Summit, which, by its second year in 2001, drew 600 participants. From 2002 to ’05, Bear was a professor in residence and assistant professor at American University’s School of Communication. She taught digital media, broadcast journalism and advanced editing, as well as co-authoring a report on media self-censorship in coverage of the war in Iraq.
In 2004 she served as a Knight International Foundation Fellow in Bucharest, Romania, training journalism students and media professionals. She was later recruited by Radio Free Europe in Prague and served as director of programming from 2005 to 2008.
During the last several years her responsibilities with Microsoft included launching websites in Greece, Poland, Israel, and Turkey as well as new TV programming in Kyrgyzstan and Georgia.
She was past president of the Young Leadership division for the Jewish Federation of Seattle. She had an active role in Jewish communities in every city in which she lived.
Mary Jane Bear was born on April 9, 1962, to Aaron David and Jeanette Blumberg Bear in Des Moines, Iowa. She received a bachelor’s in broadcast journalism from Boston University and a master’s in U.S. foreign policy and Mid-East governments from University of Virginia.
She was preceded in death by her father, David Bear. She is survived by her mother, Jeanette Bear; brother, Dr. Philip (Robin) Bear; sister, Linda (Robert) Carpenter; uncles Myron (Barbara) Bear and Rabbi Herman (Paula) Blumberg; niece and nephews Chelsea, Elliot and Mason Bear, and Blake and Jake Carpenter; and cousins Joan Tigai, Jonathon Blumberg (Jenny Richlin), David (Karen) Blumberg, Naomi (Rabbi Braham) David, Dawne (Gregg) Novicoff, and Ab (Allyson) Bear.
“MJ’s energy, vision and dedication to public media made a lasting impression in the hearts and minds of so many,” Cindy Johanson, former PBS senior vice president, interactive and education, told Current. “She will be missed.”
UPDATE: Her funeral will be 1 p.m. on Tuesday (Dec. 21) at Tifereth Israel Synagogue (924 Polk Blvd., Des Moines, Iowa, 50312). A “Seattle Celebration of MJ” will take place at 7 p.m. Jan. 6 at the home of Wendy and Reuven Carlyle; visit this Facebook page for details and to RSVP. There’ll also be a memorial service in Washington, D.C., sometime in January.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that friends consider a donation to the Online News Association. Bear had expressed interest in creating an endowment to help aspiring young journalists. During her illness, she wrote this purpose statement for the endowment:
“To promote the voices of young professionals working in or training to work in the field of Online news by presenting programs at the Association’s annual meeting, or in other venues. The programs will be designed to explore and showcase innovations, developments and new ideas in the field by sponsoring panel presentations, keynote talks or other appropriate formats.”
The ONA is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt non-profit organization. Make checks payable to Online News Association, with a memo/notation on the check, “MJ Bear Endowment Fund.” Mail to: Online News Association, MJ Bear Endowment Fund, P.O. Box 65741, Washington, D.C. 20035.