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Newmark J-School Newsletter Fall 2020

  • By Newmark J-School Staff
Graphics showing feature stats of the Class of 2021: one hundred students enrolled; 59% female, 38% male and 3% other; average age of 26 (youngest student is 22 and oldest student is 48); 23% come from CUNY undergrad colleges and 10% from SUNY; 19% are Black, 30% are Latinx and 3% are Asian; compared to the Class of 2020 the new class have 4% more Blacks and 5% Latinx.


We’re more New York and increasingly inclusive

Welcome to the 100 enrolled members of the Class of 2021! These students — 1 in 5 of whom are the first generation at a university — took the courses and got the grades, of course, to pursue rigorous CUNY graduate study. One third were New York public undergraduates. They also join the Newmark J-School from intriguing life paths, including jobs as a park ranger, body painter, food critic, stand-up comedian, stage manager, and of course, journalist. In addition to 74 students who are pursuing a Master’s in Journalism including 10 who are studying in Spanish and English, 16 are getting a Master’s in Social Journalism. Above is a glimpse, by the numbers, on the pros of tomorrow.


Students tell stories and collect data to memorialize every life

COVID-19 took such a swift and brutal toll, would the disease’s victims be forgotten? Not if Newmark J-School students have their say. They have participated in two separate projects to memorialize the coronavirus dead in New York and among a crucial but often neglected group of Americans: health workers.

Reporting and writing about lost fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters has been tough and emotional for the aspiring journalists, as they explained in a podcast for the Gotham Center for New York History. They noted that TheCity’s project Missing Them, (with Columbia University and TheCity staff), also has been meaningful and rewarding. The work preserves memories of COVID-19 stricken New Yorkers, especially those in underserved communities, who lacked the money for loved ones to publish paid death notices or to be notable enough for news obituaries. The ’20 students participating in Missing Them were: Francis DiFiore, Caroline Leddy, Luca Powell and Ashley Rodriguez. 

Azmat Khan — an award-winning journalist and an Investigative Journalist in Residence at school — led students in a project investigating the deaths of health workers: “Lost on the Frontline.”  The ’20 students who contributed to project published in Kaiser Health News Service and The Guardian, were: Suzannah Cavanaugh, Holly DeMuth, Theresa Gaffney, Madeleine Kornfeld, Isoke Samuel, Kelsie Sandoval, and Sonya Swink. They crafted vignettes of a “full spectrum of health care workers who died from COVID-19 or related complications after treating or helping care for patients with the virus,” Khan explained on social media. They also helped to build a database about victims’ race, pre-existing conditions, and the status of their insurance, personal protective equipment, paid sick leave and testing. It also records if they kept working after exposure and more.

Experts will work with the data, as will journalists, to “understand patterns and problems” for caregivers handling COVID-19 cases, said Khan. While medical scientists, academics, or government agencies traditionally have specialized in this kind of study, journalists and news organizations are now stepping up.

Emma Davis ‘19 enjoys a scrapbook moment with her boss and MSNBC host Ali Velshi.
Emma Davis ‘19 enjoys a scrapbook moment with her boss and MSNBC host Ali Velshi. Photo was shot (when still allowed in February) in 30 Rockefeller Studio 3A.


Newmark J-School alums play a role in coverage

While legendary journalism careers have been launched via the wall-to-wall, quadrennial news coverage of the U.S. presidential campaign, the politics beat has its own formidable challenges for newcomers. In an unprecedented year of pandemic, fires, floods, civil unrest, and economic crisis, how does anyone stay ahead of competitors in one of the most divisive election seasons in history?

That has been the high bar for Newmark J-School alumni seeking to do distinctive journalism on politics across the country. Graduates immersed in this relentless work include: Emma Davis ’19, a production assistant for MSNBC host Ali Velshi; Rachel Glickhouse a ‘15 Social Journalism grad who is putting together ProPublica”s weekly Electionland newsletter, and Graham Kates ‘10, who wrote about a Trump campaign app for CBS News. In a recent interview Davis said political journalists toil to stay atop the news and to master complex issues and policies. But what happens when they interview voters who love to talk but are “ill-informed?”

Read more about Emma Davis

Adjunct professor Michael Lysak getting a haircut from his son at home.
Adjunct professor Michael Lysak asked his son to help him demonstrate how to incorporate everyday sounds for multimedia storytelling. This was one of many recent faculty efforts to create teaching materials and experiences that are a cut above for students now learning mostly online.


Teachers learning and trying new ways to engage students and educate

The Newmark J-School faculty are rising to the challenges of a new school year in which most classes will be taught online. Eighty percent of the faculty have taken advantage of special tutorials developed by Jeremy Caplan, director of teaching, learning, and assessment. They are combining interactive videos, remote quizzes, new texts, and online chats to boost student engagement and deal with the challenges of this new online environment. Many are incorporating supplemental technologies that can allow the hands on learning that has been a hallmark of the school since it started. Before the semester started, Associate Professor Bob Sacha introduced himself to his students by sending them a short welcome video that he made in Central Park.  Audio adjunct Michael Lysak created a video at home to demonstrate a range of sounds from the buzzing of him getting a haircut to the sizzle as he cooked sausage. Students can learn a lot from their cyber experiences at the Newmark J-School, says Associate Dean Andrew Mendelson: The “same action of trying to build a community in a classroom is replicated in trying to build relationships quickly with sources where you have to establish trust not in person.”

Read more


Top-ranked issues? Their coverage declined, CCM study finds 

Rigorous research can provide busy working journalists and harried news organizations important insights about the reports they rush to present. The school’s Center for Community Media (CCM), for example, may have Spanish-language media re-examining their practices and presentations for a potential audience of 60 million people.

CCM, with the support of scholars at Harvard and MIT, analyzed 667,247 articles published by 41 media outlets in Spanish from 15 states and Puerto Rico during the first three years of the Trump Administration. The research, by Ronny Rojas Hidalgo, an investigative journalist and Newmark J-School adjunct professor, used tested social science methods to determine specific issues — immigration, the high cost of health care, wages and employment, and racism — of top-ranking concern for Spanish-speaking audiences.

The six-month CCM study, however, reached counter-intuitive conclusions about reporting on these topics: Their coverage declined in Spanish-language media in the Trump era, including stories about immigration. This was a period in which the president and his followers put enormous pressure on the press in general, and the administration pursued an aggressive policy agenda from his first day in office to attack immigrants, particularly those arriving from Latin America. Researchers found that Spanish-language media, when focusing on race, looked to the experiences of Latinos and not African Americans. Spanish-language media on occasion also used sexist language and the problematic phrase “illegal immigrants,” terminology decried by human rights organizations and New York officials. Spanish-language media use the descriptive term Hispanic and Latino in more favorable fashion than immigrant, and they seem in no rush to adopt Latinx.

CCM’s director Graciela Mochkofsky recently wrote for The New Yorker on Who are you calling Latinx?

Read the CCM Report 


Honors for embattled Kashmiri photojournalist 

Photojournalist Masrat Zahra, 26, who reports on conflict in her home region of Jammu and Kashmir with a specific focus on women’s issues, will receive the 2020 Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism on Sept. 24. “I am feeling overwhelmed,” said Zahra upon learning of the award over WhatsApp from Srinagar, Kashmir. “This year was Masrat Zahravery tough for me.” In April, Zahra reported on clashes between militants and the Indian army in Kachdoora, Jammu, and Kashmir. When she shared an image of herself captioned “Gun vs. Camera,” the picture went viral and brought an onslaught of misogynistic hate speech. She was later charged under India’s stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for “glorify[ing] anti-national activities,” for which she may face up to seven years in prison. Named for the late international journalist who worked for Agence France-Presse, the Mackler award, hosted at the Newmark J-School, recognizes reporters from countries where independent media are under threat. Now in its 12th year, the award has celebrated journalists from Italy, Montenegro, Sri Lanka, Russia, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Sudan, Pakistan, Syria, Burundi, and Mexico. Join us to honor Zahra!

A salute to alumni stepping up for the Newmark J-School

Composite image of the members of the Alumni Boards: Rebecca Bratek '14, Erin Brodwin '13, Cesar R. Bustamante Jr. '11, Kara Chin '16, Kimberly Chin '17, Katie Honan '10, Ben Levisohn '07, Helina Selemon '15, Walter Smith-Randolph '10, Simon Sebastian '10, Chester Soria '12 and Matt Townsend '08.

With more than 1,000 alums, the school has established an inaugural Alumni Board, with Walter Smith-Randolph ’10, a reporter with WKRC Local 12 in Cincinnati, as chair and Simone Sebastian ’10, deputy America editor for The Washington Post, as vice chair.

Notable and quotable 

Award-winning broadcast journalist and author Soledad O’Brien will deliver the keynote address at the Newmark J-

Soledad O'Brien
Soledad O’Brien

School’s 14th commencement ceremony on Dec. 18. Typically held at TheTimesCenter auditorium on West 41st Street, graduation in this pandemic year will take place remotely. O’Brien is a longtime friend of the school. In her recent answer to a Twitter thread about snobbism in the media around hiring people from “elite” private schools, she wrote: “Very very good thread and one of the reasons my company intern pool always over-indexes in @CUNY students. (Who are amazing, btw.)” She will join Noelle Lilley, an Ida B. Wells Scholar and president of the school’s chapter of NABJ, who was chosen by her 2020 classmates as the student speaker, and Wall Street Journal reporter Katie Honan ’10, who will represent the alumni, on the virtual podium.

Lisa Armstrong was named a Knight-Wallace Reporting Fellow by the University of Michigan for the 2020-2021 academic year. On her fellowship, she will investigate COVID-19 in correctional facilities for The Marshall Project.

Tow Professor Emily Laber-Warren, wrote a story about a novel approach to infectious disease that may explain some of the asymptomatic COVID-19 cases. It came out in Undark and was picked up by Slate and NPR. Laber-Warren will be plenty busy this year, not only running our health and science reporting program, but creating several mini-courses for science journalists for The Open Notebook, with a grant from the Kavli Foundation.

Yoruba Richen

The Killing of Breonna Taylor,” the latest documentary by Yoruba Richen, a J-School professor, premiered on FX and is streaming on Hulu. The film is part of the New York Times Presents series, formerly The Weekly. In case anyone missed it, Richen and J-School adjunct Michele Stephenson, this year joined yet another adjunct Sabrina Schmidt Gordon as members of the documentary branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Richen, by the way, will be Professor of the Practice and Visiting Fellow in Africana Studies at Brown University in the coming academic year while still coaching and running the documentary specialization which she created at the J-School.


Tapping into wellsprings of visual creativity

A black and white photo by Reece T. Williams '19 called "A Striking Portrait," of four men celebrating the J'ouvert carnival.

Visual journalists can discover that their work not only demands perspiration, it benefits from inspiration, too. John Smock, the J-School’s director of photojournalism, has reached out to notable alums to record the creative spark they get from others’ work or their own prized photos. What does awesome and transformative look like? Take a peek at these one-minute videos: “A Striking Portrait” with Reece T. Williams ’19 and “Nuance in Portraiture” with Skyler Reid ’10.