Journalism and COVID-19: Remembering Tiffany Shackelford

This journalist profile is part of Journalism and COVID-19: The Toll of a Pandemic, PEN America’s project covering the toll of the coronavirus crisis on the journalism industry in the United States. Our hearts go out to the family members and friends of the journalists lost during the pandemic.

Tiffany Shackelford headshot

Photo from Facebook

Name: Tiffany Shackelford
Age: 46
Died: December 27, 2020
Location: Alexandria, VA
Work History:1Steve Dorsey and Kris Viesselman, “Remembering Tiffany Shackelford” Society for News Design, December 30, 2020; Hanna Fahsholtz, “Remembering Tiffany Shackelford” USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy, January 4, 2021; Dana Hedgpeth, “Tiffany Shackelford, 46, was known as a unique, fun ‘force’ to friends, familyThe Washington Post, February 11, 2021; “Tiffany Michelle Shackelford” Dignity Memorial.

  • Executive Director, Society for News Design
  • Consultant, MG Strategy + Design
  • Director, Voter Communications Task Force, USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy
  • Head of Outreach and Partnerships, Election Cybersecurity Initiative, USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy
  • Chief Strategy Officer, National Governors Association
  • Creator, Washington, D.C. chapter of the Online News Association
  • Executive Director, Association of Alternative Newsmedia
  • Director of Communications and Marketing, Phase2 Technology
  • Founder and Executive Director, Capitolbeat
  • Founder and Assistant Managing Editor, Stateline

Selected Remembrances:
“I’m one of so many people like me who came into his orbit, young people interested in Asian American issues and Asian American life, who would show up at things, not really know anyone, be standing off to the side. He would be the first person to come over and notice you and say hello, then take you around and introduce you to everyone there. That’s who he was. . . He was Chinatown to me.”
—Eveline Chao, freelance journalist [Vulture]

“Tiffany stepped into SND during a critical time for the organization. She took on the daunting task of helping the organization reimagine what it needed to be for the ever-changing industry and — most importantly — for its members.

“She was a fierce advocate for the industry’s rising stars — especially women. On more than one occasion, she reminded me that you must be your own advocate. ‘Be the f – – – ing badass that I know you are!’ she would tell me. Her belief in you provided the sense that you could do anything, and she would be right by your side. SND would not be ready to move into the future without her leadership and guidance.”
—Paige K. Connor, founder and principal of pkcxstrategy and former president of the Society for News Design (SND) [Society for News Design]

“Tiffany and I went to middle and high school together and were in church acolyte and youth groups together during that time, as well. She was precocious and I was far behind, but she tolerated me anyway out of some combined sense of community, benevolence and nostalgia.

“Tiffany was always smart and strange and special. She was an enlightened spirit. She was also such a character, larger than life. There are few people who fit that bill, but she was even rarer. She contrived as a creative mind, towards fun, humor, excitement, large ideas, connecting people; at the same time, I can’t think of anyone more genuine, authentic and unique.

“Here’s to more wine (bourbon), song and laughter. And to Tiffany Shackelford. For living well and right all around, and for bringing everyone else along with her. Love to you and your family, Tiffany. Rest in peace, or however you see fit, since no one doubts that, as always, you’re doing it the absolute best way possible.
—Shag Drewry, friend of Tiffany Shackelford [Dignity Memorial]

“Tiffany was a bright light in any room she entered and a spark for any group she joined. She was an agent for constructive change, which today is reflected on so many fronts. She continued to advise periodically after she left, and helped drive diversification and collaboration at levels never seen before. Tiffany’s legacy is in the future of the media and civic engagement, and will be defined by the seeds she planted that we can only strive to nurture. Her deep concern, joyful nature, scrappy outlook and hearty laugh will always illuminate those efforts.”
—John Heaston, publisher/editor of Pioneer Publishing and president of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia [Society for News Design]

“One of Tiffany’s mundane superpowers, her words, was getting people involved. She let you know you could contribute, could lead from any seat, and always passed along her enthusiasm and warmth. That’s not mundane at all. It was a special gift she used to bring people together and empower a whole tribe of digital journalists.” 
—Matt Mansfield, consultant at MG Strategy + Design, former president of the Society for News Design, and organizer at the Online News Association [Society for News Design]

“Tiffany had this rare ability to see you – like really, really see you. She’d somehow fully realize your strengths and skills within your first few interactions together, even – and especially – if you didn’t. My favorite thing about her was that she’d find a way to compliment, drop knowledge and make you laugh all in the same breath of air. I will be forever grateful for the time I had learning from her and all the moments of laughter we shared.” 
—Alyson Morris, features designer at the Chicago Tribune and president of the Society for News Design [Society for News Design]

“Tiffany was intelligent yet kind and caring, bold and always energetic. So energetic! She lit up the room, regardless of the meeting.

“I especially enjoyed working one on one with her to strategize our way through the challenges in D.C. to accomplish our common goals. She was a hard worker, an ideas person, and a connector. It was always a pleasure working with her.

It is heartbreaking to know that we won’t be meeting up in the city to catch-up and talk shop.”
—Jessica Puchala, former senior director of communications & marketing, The Fulcrum [Dignity Memorial]

“Tiffany was simply a force of nature. 

“Her sharp intellect was often revealed with a sly smile, wrapped in a bawdy sense of humor. 

“She was a connector — one possessing a generous spirit — who took pleasure in making introductions between those in her broad and varied network.

“Many of her numerous accomplishments occurred when she combined her sharp strategic abilities with her enthusiastic delivery and potent convening abilities.”
—Society for News Design [Society for News Design]

“Anyone who has been in the same room as Tiffany was instantly intoxicated with her boisterous love, laughter and occasional F-bombs. Tiffany was a tornado of goodness. She spun the world and moved us all.”
—Yuri Victor, Senior Editor, The Atlantic [Society for News Design]

“Tiffany was a beloved mother, colleague and friend, and a longtime member of our community. She had a fast, acerbic wit like no one else, and her generosity touched legions of people. Everyone who knew Tiffany has a great story to tell — she was a bright, amazing light. May her memory be a blessing to all who knew her.”
—Amy Webb, Founder and CEO, Future Today Institute [Society for News Design]

“Tiffany had a way of charming everyone she met, from interns and freelancers to governors and senators. Her laughter was infectious, and even a mundane conference call could feel like a party if she was on the line. It’s hard to fathom this world without her. I hope the angels are prepared to laugh their asses off.”
—Jason Zaragoza, director of operations at the National Press Foundation and former staffer at the Association of Alternative Newsmedia [Society for News Design]