McGraw Center Announces Fall 2017 Fellows

  • By Ellen Lai

Three veteran journalists were awarded grants of up to $15,000 as recipients of the latest round of the McGraw Fellowships for Business Journalism.

The funding will support reporting on a variety of issues, from the environmental and financial concerns surrounding the closing of abandoned American coal mines, to the rise of student loan debt that parents are now taking on, and the ability of highly-indebted energy companies to fund the safe removal of aging offshore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

The McGraw Fellowships, an initiative of the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Center for Business Journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, were created in 2014 to support ambitious coverage of critical issues related to the U.S. economy and business. The Fellowships – awarded twice a year – enable experienced journalists to produce deeply reported works of investigative or enterprise business journalism.

The new McGraw Fellows are:

Mark Olalde: A freelance investigative journalist based in Washington, D.C., Olalde will examine the financial and environmental consequences of the closure of American coal mines during the Fellowship. In partnership with Climate Home, he will build a database of abandoned mining operations in the U.S., map emissions from those sites, and estimate the funding available for reclamation.

Working at the intersection of the environment, politics and the economy, Olalde has reported from the U.S., the Caribbean and southern Africa. He has previously written for Yale Environment 360, The Arizona Republic, Roads & Kingdoms and others. He recently completed a similar investigation into South Africa’s mines, where his work freed never-before-seen data that reimagined the country’s understanding of its failed mine closure system and played a role in leading to legislative amendments.

Susannah Snider: The Pittsburgh-based personal finance editor for U.S. News & World Report, Snider will use the Fellowship to report on an often-overlooked segment of the student-loan borrowing population: parents. The mothers and fathers of college students are frequently permitted to take on vast sums of federal student loan debt with little regard for their ability to repay — and without access to many student loan repayment relief plans and forgiveness programs. Snider will take a deeper look at how the business of higher education and the economics of student loan borrowing have intersected to imperil the retirement funds and financial futures of thousands of American parents. 

Since 2010, Snider has reported on a wide range of personal finance topics, from consumer travel to college financial aid, student loans and employment for U.S. News. She previously worked at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and has appeared as a personal finance expert on shows including Fox & Friends, the Tavis Smiley Show, and Fox Business Network.

Alex Plough: A reporter at Debtwire North America, where he covers all aspects of the U.S. debt markets, Plough’s Fellowship project will investigate the ability of a handful of highly-leveraged energy companies in the Gulf of Mexico to pay for the removal of aging offshore platforms and pipelines for which they are liable. Low oil prices continue to pummel the industry, creating a real threat that operators will file for bankruptcy and abandon their obligations. And even as the Trump administration is moving aggressively to lessen Federal oversight of drilling in the Gulf, the industry is locked in a showdown with the government over who will fund the multi-billion dollar cost of decommissioning the offshore infrastructure.

Plough is a member of Debtwire’s first dedicated investigative journalism team and led its coverage of the financial burden that aging oil and gas platforms pose to the offshore energy industry. The first in a series of stories, ‘Dangers in the Deep’, won regional and national business journalism awards. With a background in data-driven investigative stories, he has reported on business, human rights and environmental issues.

Roughly 100 journalists working in nearly a dozen countries applied for the latest round of McGraw Fellowships. Each Fellow receives a stipend of up to $5,000 a month for three months. The McGraw Center provides Fellows with financial backing, editorial support and assistance placing stories with media outlets.

Applications for McGraw Fellowships are considered twice a year. The next deadline for proposals is Dec. 15, 2017. For more information and the online application, go to

Jane Sasseen
Executive Director
McGraw Center for Business Journalism