Alumni Newsletter, August 2020

  • By Newmark J-School Staff
Alum Adeola Fayehun appears in front of a green screen smiling with her eyes closed and hands up.
Adeola Fayehun’08, host and producer of “Keeping It Real With Adeola,” was selected from more than 2,700 candidates to deliver a TED Talk. (See story below.)


Aug. 24, 2020
On Aug. 24, 2020, we will celebrate “Founder’s Day” to mark the anniversary of the journalism school’s opening on Aug. 24, 2006. Stay tuned for how you can join in via a Facebook Frame, Twitter (#HBDNewmark) and Instagram, and look for special video messages from Founding Dean Stephen Shepard and Dean Sarah Bartlett.



The Newmark J-School now has three faculty — all women of color — who are members of the documentary branch of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and ScienceYoruba Richen, director of the documentary program, and Michele Stephenson, both 2020 invitees, join Sabrina Gordon in the film industry’s Oscar-voting elite.

The award-winning director and producer Yoruba Richen, director of Newmark J-School’s documentary program, and New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi are partnering on a film that will explore Ms. Taylor’s life and investigate the circumstances of her death. The work will be part of The New York Times Presents, a new documentary series launched by FX and Hulu.

Graciela Mochkofsky participated in a discussion on WNYC’s “The Takeaway” on the topic of how Latinos remain seriously underrepresented in newsrooms. Mochkofsky is executive director of the Center for Community Media at the Newmark J-School and director of its Spanish-language Journalism Program.

The Executive Program in News Innovation and Leadership wrapped up its summer Let’s Talk News Business series after hosting eight conversations with the brightest minds in the media business. They discussed revenue models, digital strategies, management tactics, leadership, and product and audience strategy.

Ryan Sutton, head New York restaurant critic at, teaches our “Writing Critically About Food and Restaurants” course. In “Why This Restaurant Critic Isn’t Dining Out Right Now,” he details his own experience with COVID-19.

Newmark J-School has switched to Alma, a new library system, as of Aug. 3. You still have access to databases through the links in this guide. If you have any questions, please email



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

For the first time, Newmark J-School was selected as a partner school for a special journalism bootcamp run by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. This year’s virtual program, headed by faculty lead Jeremy Caplan, included Ivan Flores ’18Juan B. Garcia ’18Virginia Jeffries ’19Tamsen Maloy ’18Paula Moura ’18Megan Myscofski ’19Abigail Napp ’19Ann Seymour ’19Frida Sterenberg ’19, and Annie Todd ’19 and connected journalism and international relations students with policy experts and multimedia specialists to tell pressing stories from around the globe.

Clark Merrefield ’08 of Journalist’s Resource wrote about how states that slash spending to make it through an economic crisis can end up worsening income inequality. He also detailed how a Bureau of Labor Statistics misclassification error made the official unemployment rate lower than it should have been.

Graham Kates ’10, an investigative reporter at CBS NEWS, has been digging into campaign data app collection efforts and how “The Trump campaign app is tapping a “gold mine” of data about Americans.” He also worked on the story of how a “Company tied to Trump campaign manager gets PPP loan,” and how “Phunware, a data firm for Trump campaign, got millions in coronavirus small business help.”

Almudena Toral ’10 was named a finalist for annual reporting awards from the Deadline Club, the NYC arm of the National Society of Professional Journalists. Toral, who is in the inaugural class of the school’s Executive Program in News Innovation and Leadership, was the lead producer on two nominated video/digital packages for “In El Salvador, Violence Is Driving Girls to Kill Themselves.”

Roxanna Asgarian ’11 was awarded a USC Annenberg National Fellowship for reporting on effects of COVID-19 on vulnerable children and families, receiving the “Fund for Journalism on Child and Youth Well-being” grant.

Shannon Firth ’12 received the “Center for Health Journalism” grant in the same USC Annenberg National Fellowship program as Roxanna (above).

Melissa Noel ’12 was selected as the 2020 Ethel Payne Fellow by the National Association of Black Journalists. The honor comes with a $5,000 award. Noel works for One Caribbean Television and CBS News U.S. Virgin Islands. 

Ann Marie Awad ’13 launched a second season of her podcast, “On Something: Life After Legalization,” with Colorado Public Radio and PRX.

Chris Dell’s ’13 digital media agency, Go Baller, which he founded as a 2014 Tow-Knight alum, is consulting and overseeing digital strategy for Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ 2021 New York City mayoral campaign. Chris is also a co-founder of The Betting Predators, a sports betting and fantasy sports media platform in partnership with, a two-time Inc. 5000 company. is the exclusive odds provider for the Associated Press and the largest sports betting media company compliant with U.S. Law. Chris will serve as The Betting Predators’ digital director and editor-in-chief.

Jillian Eugenios ’13 won a Daytime Emmy Award as a senior producer on “The Brave,” a series about people solving problems around the world.

Topher Forhecz’s ’13 latest project as a podcast producer for Bloomberg News is Blood River, a six-episode series that launched July 27. The killers of Berta Caceres had every reason to believe they’d get away with murder. More than 100 other environmental activists in Honduras had been killed in the previous five years, yet almost no one had been punished for the crimes. Blood River follows a four-year quest to find her killers – a twisting trail that leads into the country’s circles of power.

Sophia Rosenbaum ’13 wrote a story for the AP about how many people are saying 2020 is canceled and are pinning their hopes on 2021, the year when everything, and maybe nothing, happens. The story digs into the uniquely human behavior of putting stock in a period of time, and how, as Emily Dickinson wrote, “hope is the thing with feathers.”

Sierra Starks ’13 produced and hosted a podcast episode featuring a candid conversation about race in the U.S. Army with Sergeant Major Michael A. Grinston, the senior most enlisted member of the Army. The series, Words We Live By, is also available on Apple Podcast.

Linda Villarosa ’13 wrote the cover story of the Aug. 2 New York Times Magazine titled “The Refinery Next Door,” which focuses on how Black Americans are 75 percent more likely than others to live near facilities that produce hazardous waste and whether a gras-roots environmental-justice movement could make a difference. Villarosa is director of the journalism program at The City College of New York.

Jess Bal ’15 is spending several weeks this summer teaching a class called “Navigating the News” that she designed for rising 9th graders at the Bard High School Early College Program. She also assisted documentary photographer Susan Meiselas with a book about life on Little Italy’s rooftops that will be released in October. It includes a collection of family photographs and stories gathered from the community as well as an introduction by Martin Scorsese. 

Roshan Abraham’16 was awarded an online newsroom grant by Freelance Investigative Reporters and Editors (FIRE) for a story related to health records in prisons, with expectation to publish in the fall. As of June, he is an Equitable Cities Fellow with Next City and continues to report on Aging in NYC for City Limits. 

Gustavo Martínez Contreras ’16, a reporter with the Asbury Park Press who was arrested covering a Black Lives Matter protest in June, has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the police violated his First Amendment and other civil rights protections.

Sérgio Spagnuolo, Tow-Knight ’16, currently an ICFJ Knight Fellow, is creating a digital tool to give journalists better access to scientists and medical professionals who are thought leaders in their fields. In its initial phase, he will use the tool Science Pulse to track scientific research and commentary related to Covid-19 on social media. Spagnuolo is the founder and managing-editor of the data-driven news agency Volt Data Lab and editor of Aos Fatos, the Brazilian fact-checking website.

Sebastián Auyanet, SocialJ ’17, wrote How Conexión Migrante became a switchboard for Latino migrants in the U.S. for the Membership Puzzle Project.

Brett Dahlberg ’17, health reporter at WXXI public radio in Rochester, won first place for enterprise reporting and was on the team that got second place for news series in the New York State Associated Press Association’s awards this year.

Dawn Kissi, Tow-Knight ’17, will be a Knight-Bagehot fellow at Columbia’s Graduate Journalism School and Business School next year. Kissi is the co-founder of the digital media firm Emerging Market Media and serves as editor of the firm’s flagship website, Emerging Market Views, which covers frontier markets for financial market professionals.

Kyle Mackie ’17, a reporter at WBFO in Buffalo, was on a team that got second place for documentary reporting in the New York State Associated Press Association’s awards this year.

Clarissa Sosin ’17 is a Poynter-Koch fellow and working for Queens County Politics for the next year. She is also still hard at work on two grant-funded projects that focus on policing and criminal justice –– an investigative one in Louisiana and a more documentary/narrative project in Pennsylvania.

Eliana Perez ’18, Avery Miles ’18, Tamsen Maloy ’18, Laura Olivieri Robles ’18, and Graison Dangor ’18 worked on “Medical Price Roulette,” which won the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists – Sigma Delta Chi Public Service gold medal for network news. The series, which explores the vagaries of medical pricing, won regulatory change, made people’s bills vanish, and elicited a huge response from viewers.

Vanessa Swales ’18 has joined The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism to boost its coverage of key issues, including societal inequity, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the November presidential election in which Wisconsin voters are expected to play a decisive role.

Shay Urbani ’18 has been hard at work on First Draft’s Infotheque 2020, an exclusive virtual event to prepare journalists for covering election misinformation. Two days of sessions will address digital investigation skills, how to think about local and “elite” misinformation,” Facebook political advertising, election protection, and reporting misinformation that targets Black and Latinx communities.

Tat Bellamy-Walker ’19 has joined New Hampshire Public Radio as the Barbara and Richard Couch Fellow, contributing as a reporter to its coverage of coronavirus, racial justice, the 2020 elections, and more.

Emma Davis ’19 works as an anchor producer for the show “Velshi” on MSNBC, covering the presidential election and which party will win the Senate majority. They recently organized a panel of six voters in Bucks County, PA, where Trump won by less than 1% in 2016. They may convene similar panels in other swing states.

Hiram Duran ’19 and Fruhlein Econar ’19 have been selected from a list of more than 1,000 photographers to be included in Diversify Photo’s new category of emerging talent, “Up Next Photographers.”

Lakshmi Sivadas, SocialJ ’19, is an audience engagement journalist with FactorDaily, an Indian startup that covers the business and impact of technology in India.

Alum Adeola Fayehum poses seated in front of a green screen.
Adeola Fayehun ’08


More than a year ago, Adeola Fayehun ’08 was contacted by Yahaira Castro, assistant dean for student experience at Newmark J-School, urging her to answer a TED Talk open call. Several auditions later, including one before TED curator Chris Anderson, Fayehun was selected as one of 11 people, from more than 2,700 entries, to deliver her TED Talk: “Africa is a sleeping giant — I’m trying to wake it up.” Originally slated as an on-stage event in Vancouver, Canada in May, it went virtual due to COVID-19, broadcasting on July 6, 2020.

Initially, she was reluctant to throw her hat in the ring.

“I wanted to apply, but at the same time I was wondering, will they take me? So I sent it to quite a number of people that I thought should be on TED Talk because I believed they had strong stories,” Fayehun said. “It’s funny, because that is probably how Yahaira felt about me. I finally applied and made a one-minute video about why I should be on TED Talk. I basically told them, ‘Listen, I’m your girl when it comes to African news.’”

The TED Talk showcased the Nigerian-born Fayehun’s news satire program on YouTube, “Keeping It Real With Adeola,” which she launched after leaving SaharaTV in 2017. The show, which she produces, writes, and edits, focuses on African political news, with a twist. Several of her stories have gone viral, exceeding 4 million views, including one about a Nigerian pastor allegedly involved in a sex scandal. (It has since been removed by YouTube following legal action by the pastor, which Fayehun is contesting.)

“Africans are really in love with their pastors, so when you talk about them, they watch,” Fayehun said. “Especially when I talk about Men of God who are not Men of God.” (Fayehun uses air quotes.) “I am a pastor’s child, I have nothing against real Men of God, just people who enrich themselves at the expense of their congregation.”

Another one of her viral stories was “Thomas Sankara: Africa’s Best President,” which profiled the former president of Burkina Faso. She talks about how he transformed the country and was killed by his best friend, who was sponsored by France. Because of the topics tackled on her show, Fayehun must keep a low profile and cannot reveal her current location nor the village in Nigeria where she grew up and met her husband of 11 years.

Since 2018, Fayehun has successfully applied for grants from the National Endowment for Democracy and the MacArthur Foundation, which have funded video editors and equipment for her home studio.

As for the name of her show? “When at J-School, I would say, ‘it’s been real’ or ‘it’s been a real pleasure’ to my classmates when I was heading home,” Fayehun said. “So I gave the show that name.”

Fayehun says her star turn on TED Talk might never have happened without Newmark J-School, which she attended on a generous scholarship. “I am glad I could make the J-School proud. It is because of the people there and the program that I could be on TED Talk.”

A lesson she takes away from her TED Talk experience is to believe in yourself. “We underrate ourselves,” she said. “Whatever opportunities there are, you should just always apply. The worst you will hear is no. But if you don’t apply at all, you have zero chance.”