Alumni Newsletter May 2020

  • By Newmark J-School Staff

Melissa Bykofsky Rothman ’12, deputy editor, and Anna Halkidis ’12, features editor, for, collaborated on “American Birth Story.” (See story in “Alumni News.”)



Wednesday May 13, 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. ET via Zoom 

Emily Laber-Warren, director of the Health & Science Reporting Program, in conversation with Alex Robinson ’12, editor, Modern Farmer Media, and Rachel Sapin ’12, Americas reporter, IntraFishMedia, about what is happening in the food industry and what consumers can expect. Register here.

Wednesday, June 3, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.

Shannon Gallo, manager of career services at CUNY School of Professional Studies, will discuss ways to perfect your professional sales pitch and present your business credentials on LinkedIn to prospective employers. Register here.




How do you do journalism when you are stuck at home? J+, Newmark J-School’s professional development division, has launched Remote Reporter, a series of FREE videos of 25 minutes or less by our faculty. The series offers tips and techniques to help journalists navigate working in isolation in the pandemic. Topics include upping your LInkedIn game, finding experts, using copy-right free footage, minding diversity and inclusion, protecting yourself from online abuse and engagement reporting.

Just as local reporting is proving to be critical in New York and across the nation, the J-School is launching Newmark J-Corps, an innovative summer news service that will be staffed by the Class of 2020 and showcase professionally edited coverage for underserved communities.

We’ve been raising money to help students in the Class of 2020 finish their master’s degrees amidst the economic uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis. An anonymous private foundation has agreed to match each dollar the J-School raises to reach its goal of $505,000 by June 30. Please consider making a donation of any size to the Future Journalist Fund and double your impact.



The news below was submitted by faculty, staff, and alumni. Send your items to

Faculty member Daryl Khan is director of the Urban Reporting Program as well as New York bureau chief for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE), for which many current students and recent grads freelance. They, along with dozens of Newmark alumni, are covering the coronavirus pandemic and its impact, particularly among the country’s most vulnerable populations. Writing for JJIE, Clarissa Sosin ’17 covered Connecticut’s juvenile justiceyouths vulnerable to COVID-19 and welfare systemsTrevor Boyer ’18 covered a nation-wide move to empty juvenile facilitiesEthan Stark-Miller ’19 focused on how Pennsylvania is dealing with the same issue; Rachel Rippetoe ’19 and Lauren Costantino ’19 collaborated on how it is affecting homeless youth, and Marco Poggio ’16 covered the impact of coronavirus on solitary confinement for juveniles.

Shuka Kalantari ’08 is the senior producer of The Science of Happiness podcast, which has received widespread coverage during COVID-19.

Clark Merrefield ’08, an economic research reporter for Journalist’s Resource (Harvard University), has delved into how the pandemic has added to problems in oil pricessocial distancingconsumer spendingU.S. prisons, and the inequality of working remotely, especially with rural broadband.

Rima Abdelkader ’09 has helped to put a human face on the terrible toll of the pandemic in her role as a reporter at NBC News.

Collin Orcutt ’09 is the executive producer of the documentary series Home, which went live on Apple TV+ on April 17.

Mary Stachyra Lopez ’09 has joined The Atlantic as a contract editor for audience engagement. Previously, she was with the Catholic Herald for nearly seven years and recently wrote about how the pandemic is affecting parish life.

Joseph Walker ’09 has detailed for The Wall Street Journal how pharmaceutical giants are racing to develop effective therapies for the novel coronavirus.

Katie Honan ’10 has been covering the coronavirus for The Wall Street Journal, including a story about how 55 people died in a single Brooklyn nursing home.

Vishal Persaud ’10 has recently taken on a new role as editor of Venture Capital and Technology at Pitchbook Data for the Pitchbook News team.

Chris Prentice ’10 won a SABEW award as part of a small team at Reuters News for breaking news coverage of the U.S.- China trade war in 2019. She has moved to Washington, D.C. to cover white collar crime for Reuters.

Simone Sebastian ’10 and Josh White led the Washington Post team that was a 2020 Pulitzer Prize finalist in the Breaking News category and was honored with the the Scripps Howard Foundation Award in the same category.

Teresa Tomassoni ’10 was recently featured in CNN’s “America on Hold: We all have a story”, about everyday heroes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Almudena Toral ’10 is joining ProPublica as its first executive producer for video and will oversee its documentary film department. Toral, who is in the inaugural class of the school’s Executive Program in News Innovation and Leadership, comes to ProPublica from Univision. She has racked up a long list of awards, including a 2018 news and documentary Emmy and a 2018 Hillman Prize for Web Journalism.

Roxanna Asgarian ’11 wrote for Vox about Louisiana’s longest-serving incarcerated woman contracting COVID-19 in prison, despite being approved for clemency nine months ago, and about the foster care system buckling under the increased stress of the pandemic.

Zachary Kussin ’11 has written heart wrenching memorials to the victims of the coronavirus. Recently, he memorialized his classmate Annais Morales’ father, whom she lost to COVID-19.

Alva French ’11 produced, edited, and created animated graphics for a video for the Population Reference bureau, supporting dialogue among faith leaders, policymakers, and families in the Sahel on family planning resources.

Tom DiChristopher ’12, senior natural gas reporter for S&P Global Market Intelligence’s news unit, wrote about how the coronavirus pandemic has slowed the gas ban momentum and created new challenges for climate activists.

Amital Isaac ’12 is currently pursuing a pre-med post-baccalaureate at Harvard.

Kate Trafecante ’12 has produced a series of television packages for CNN, profiling small business owners and workers who have struggled to access stimulus funds, ways in which the relief programs have fallen short of their goals, and deeply moving personal stories.

Erin Brodwin ’13 is a San Francisco-based health-tech reporter at STAT, where she focuses on Silicon Valley power players like Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft and their ambitions in health.

Jordan Davidson ’13 wrote for about how many don’t have the coronavirus symptoms that are considered standard.

Chris Dell ’13 served as a media and marketing consultant for the release of “Rise of the Moon” album by Black Moon, a legendary hip-hop group based in Brooklyn, NY. He has co-founded U.F.A.C. – United Fight Against Coronavirus, a non-profit startup that is partnering with music artists and producers to help globally distribute and sell discounted PPE to medical and essential workers.

Sofia Perpétua ’13 traveled to the south of Brazil for Greenpeace to produce “Bees are sentinels’: mass bee die-offs signal the wider impact of Brazil’s pesticide boom” and its accompanying video.

Linda Villarosa ’13, journalism program director at the City College of New York, wrote a cover story for The New York Times titled “A Deadly Price: The Terrible Racial Disparities of Covid-19 in America,” about the tragic impact of the coronavirus on a black social organization in New Orleans.

Rosa Goldensohn ’14 at The City has been highlighting the virulence of the virus at RIkers Island, helping to force Mayor di Blasio to add more protective equipment for staff and inmates alike.

Gwynne Hogan ’14 of WNYC reported that the number of undiagnosed but likely virus-related at-home fatalities was soaring and helped force the city to up the number of acknowledged losses.

Oliver Morrison ’14 was awarded the “Science Communicator Award” by the Carnegie Science Center, and in April he was selected as a fellow by the Creative Nonfiction Foundation. Reporting for PublicSource, he has been on the forefront of Pittsburgh’s pandemic coverage, including medical practicesPittsburgh’s future, and the rise of telemedicine.

Jake Naughton ’14 shot the photos for a piece in Wired about the soon to be extinct vaquita, a warm-water porpoise, and its lessons on saving other at-risk species. He has also founded the website LIFEBOAT, a platform connecting artists who have seen all work disappear as a result of the pandemic with people who want to support them.

Heather Martino ’14 was the associate producer/associate editor for The New York Times Op-Doc “You Need Something New to Watch. What About the Universe?” released on April 28.

Damian Geminder ’15 interviewed a seamstress from Queens who is making masks for health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic. Geminder is editor and media coordinator for Women Deserve Better.

Justin Joffe ’15 has been named editor, publications and research, for Muck Rack.

Cole Rosengren ’15, senior editor of Waste Dive, was recently a Neal Awards finalist for a three-part series he edited and co-wrote about labor conditions at recycling facilities in 2019. This year, he’s helped make Waste Dive the leading news source about COVID-19, environmental policy and M&A in the U.S. waste and recycling industry.

Michaela Ross ’15 was promoted to a content editor role at Bloomberg Government.

Christina Thornell ’16, a video producer at, produced The Big Lessons from South Korea’s Coronavirus Response and Being Our Best Selves During the Coronavirus.

Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech ’17 joins the RFA Corps, reporting for the Democrat and Chronicle based in Rochester, NY, and focusing on the city’s Puerto Rican community.

Michael Rain, Tow-Knight ’17, and his team CRISP have been awarded grant funding from John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships to report and distribute COVID-19 related information to Spanish and English speaking immigrant communities in the San Francisco Bay Area using WhatsApp as one of the primary distribution channels, partnering with local radio station KBBF Radio 89.1 FM.

Julia Sclafani ’17 joins the RFA Corps, reporting on health issues for Searchlight New Mexico, an independent investigative news organization.

Joshua Christensen ’18 launched “What I Know,” a podcast with Inc. magazine. Senior writer Christine Lagorio-Chafkin and producer/co-host Christensen draw out the real grit and true lessons behind innovative companies and remarkable brands.

Dominic McKenzie ’18had just begun his job as a reporter for Spectrum News when he wrote a story about the coronavirus and those living with HIV, which was picked up nationally.

Avery Miles ’18 is a podcast producer at Fast Company, where she is putting together “Fast Break,” a show with Talib Visram ’18 aimed at providing a weekly dose of inspiration during a stressful time, with positive news, creative insights and practical tips.

Willa Rubin ’18 is a producer on The Wall Street Journal podcast, a collaboration with Gimlet Media, and the team won SABEW’s audio award and plaudits from the judges for its coverage of WeWork’s demise.

Brenda León ’19 joins the RFA Corps, reporting on undercovered Latino communities for Connecticut Public Radio.

Fruhlein Econar ’19 is working as a picture researcher for The Sun and wrote this piece on how Philippine government officials are getting in the way of the country’s pandemic response.

Mekdela Maskal ’19 began working as engagement editor at Covering Climate Now, a journalism collaborative working across 400+ newsrooms to support better coverage of the climate crisis.

Shantal Riley ’19 wrote about a treatment for COVID-19, convalescent plasma therapy, for the Frontline/PBS website.

Frida Sterenberg ’19, a photographer and Riverdale resident, focused her camera on her immediate surroundings in “City may be closed, but hearts are open,” a series of photographs for The Riverdale Press.

Two 2012 classmates at, Deputy Editor Melissa Bykofsky Rothman and Features Editor Anna Halkidis, collaborated on “American Birth Story”, an investigation spotlighting the maternal health care crisis in this country that disproportionately affects expectant Black and Native women. When the pandemic hit, they expanded their reporting to show how COVID-19 was compounding the problems with pregnancy and deliveries.

The two alumnae met during their first semester at Newmark J-School and discovered that they were both spending a lot of time in Queens — Melissa because her beat was Bayside and Anna because she lived there. They quickly bonded over story ideas and a mutual interest in pop culture and magazine journalism.

“We used to always send each other our article drafts for an extra set of eyes, so editing each other now at feels so natural,” Melissa said.

When Melissa was up for a promotion to deputy editor from senior editor in early 2019, she recommended Anna as her replacement. Though neither is a parent, the data about maternal mortality in the U.S. convinced them this was an underreported story and “we knew that we had to do what we could to empower our readers so that they feel as confident as they can going into the delivery room,” Melissa said.

With content rolling out over the following weeks and months, they expect “American Birth Story” to become a resource for information, service, and support as pregnancy and delivery continue to change.