Alumni Newsletter, March 2021

  • By Newmark J-School Staff

“Framing Britney Spears” associate producer Melanie Bencosme ’14 (left) and director Samantha Stark ’10 in Mississippi interviewing Felicia Culotta (seated). Read story below.


Wednesday, March 3, 7:00 p.m.
Steve Shepard, founding dean of Newmark J-School, discusses his latest book “Second Thoughts: On Family, Friendship, Faith and Writers” in conversation with Joyce Barnathan, president, International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). Register here.

Tuesday, March 9, 6:00 p.m.
In his new book, “Sparring with Smokin’ Joe,” Professor Glenn Lewis, director of the York College journalism program, describes the life of boxing champion Joe Frazier, bringing him out from the shadow of Muhammad Ali and revealing not just the great boxer but the resilience, homespun humor, and heart that sustained him throughout his tumultuous career. Register here.

Tuesday, March 23, 6:00 p.m.
New York City is getting older, fast. The population aged 65 or older is expected to grow 20 percent over the next 20 years–five times faster than the population under 18. That will create huge opportunities for the city’s culture, workforce, and social fabric–and real challenges related to housing, health, transit, and more. Register here.

Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021
Fingers crossed for an in-person reunion at 219 West 40th Street — and a special happy hour with the Dean for the 10th reunion classes of 2010 and 2011!


The Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting is donating $100,000 to a scholarship fund at the Newmark J-School aimed at supporting students who will bring more diversity into the field of journalism. Launched in 2018, the fund has provided tuition and living expenses to eight students so far.

The Office of Career Services is hosting a virtual Speed Networking Fair on Friday, March 26 from 12:30-1:30 p.m. EST,  to help the Class of 2021 and recent graduates sharpen their self-presentation skills. As graduates, you are in the unique position to pass on what you learned about networking. To join us, please register via Handshake, using your employer email account. (Please do not use your personal or J-School email for this event.) Once you complete the registration process, you will receive an email inviting you to set up your schedule. To ensure students are able to sign up for virtual 1:1 sessions with your company, you must register and set up your schedule by Thursday, March 11.


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

Cathy Rainone ’07 was promoted to audience retention manager at NBC Owned Television Stations. In this role, Rainone will be responsible for developing and executing strategies that grow digital audiences at NBC, Telemundo, and NBC Sports Regional Networks. Previously, she was a digital operations editor and a news editor at NBC Owned TV Stations.

Clark Merrefield ’08 was promoted to senior economics editor at The Journalist’s Resource, which is launching a revamped website. He recently wrote “Youth incarceration fell when California required counties to pay more for juvenile detention.”

Jeanmarie Evelly ’09 is the new editorial leader of City Limits, the award-winning nonprofit newsroom, which is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year.

Alissa Ambrose ’11 is senior producer of a new podcast launched at STAT, working with producer Theresa Gaffney ’20.

Annais Morales ’11, a segment producer for “The News with Shepard Smith” at CNBC,  took a look at the extreme lack of diversity in health care as part of Black History Month. Fewer than 6% of American doctors are Black, and in some specialties, it’s even worse. Morales is also in charge of the show’s “Coast to Coast” and “On the Money” segments.

Nicholas Rizzi ’11 has been promoted to web editor for the Commercial Observer.

Ashley Welch ’11 was married on Oct. 22, 2020 to Ronan Scully in Gibraltar after moving to Cork City, Ireland in September. They were separated during the pandemic and eloped to be together in his home country. Welch has transitioned to full-time freelancing and writes for a number of health publications.

Erin Brodwin ’13, health tech reporter for STAT News, was selected as Reporter of the Year by Rock Health, Fenwick & West and Goldman Sachs as part of their annual “Top 50 in Digital Health” awards and was featured in their video. 

Chris Dell ’13 recently served as executive editor/producer in publishing the Super Bowl LV Content Hub for his new sports media startup, The Betting Predators, and he is currently seeking both copy editors and content creators to join his growing team. Anyone interested in collaborating can email Dell is a co-founder and the editor-in-chief of The Betting Predators platform, which was created in partnership with, the exclusive odds provider for the Associated Press.

Jillian Eugenios ’13 interviewed Samantha Stark ’10 for NBC News about her film, “Framing Britney Spears.”

Sierra Leone Starks ’13 created a U.S. Army-sponsored podcast with one of the soldiers in the Battalion she works for, and it is gaining press as they head into Season 2.

Gabriella Iannetta ’14 has joined The Sun (US) as its SEO Editor.

Oliver Morrison ’14 is the proud father of Jackson Greenbrier Morrison-Brown, born at 9:58 p.m. on Feb.10, weighing in at 8 pounds, 7 ounces and 21 inches tall.

Emrys Eller ’15 wrote about the New York State Department of Health’s failures to adequately punish doctors for sexual misconduct, an investigation he began five years ago in Marshall Allen’s investigative health class at Newmark J-School. Eller also produced a podcast for Rolling Stone’s 500 Great Albums of All Time.

Maggie Freleng ’15 is the host and producer of “Unjust & Unsolved,” a podcast on the Obsessed Network focusing on wrongful convictions and the crimes that are consequently left unsolved. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times cited the podcast’s episode on Brandon Spencer in reexamining the facts of his case. 

Lisa Thomson ’16, an interview producer on Al Jazeera English’s “The Stream,” worked on an episode expanding on some of the issues Samatha Stark’s (‘10) recent New York Times documentary “Framing Britney Spears” raised around media treatment and representation of high profile women.

Brett Dahlberg ’17 started a new job as a reporter for WCMU, a local NPR station in Michigan.

Teddy Grant ’17 is the new Digital Content Producer at Black News Channel.

Mallory Moench ’17 is covering City Hall for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Kristine Villanueva, SocialJ ’17, recently spoke during a Gather Lightning Chat about her work examining the rise in COVID-19-related anti-Asian hate. During this conversation, she shared more about her strategic decisions when challenges arose and how the project was cited in national and local legislation.

Vanessa Swales ’18  is an investigative reporter at Wisconsin Watch, where she recently wrote about how COVID-19 infects half of Wisconsin inmates, five times the overall state rate.

Mankaprr Conteh ’19 has joined Rolling Stone as a staff writer.

Monroe Hammond ’19 has joined Popular Science as a contract editor.

Kerem InalSocialJ ’19, recently joined ABC News as a visual verification producer, where he is responsible for sourcing, clearing, and licensing social content, as well as identifying potential interview subjects from all social media platforms during breaking news.

Diara J. Townes, SocialJ ’19, is a program manager with the Aspen Institute. Prior to this role, she worked to counter COVID-19 and U.S. election mis/disinformation with First Draft News. 


On Feb. 19, Director Samantha Stark ’10 and Associate Producer Melanie Bencosme ’14 spoke with Marlow Stern, senior entertainment editor of The Daily Beast, for a Newmark J-School program about the making of “Framing Britney Spears.” The New York Times documentary captures what the public might not know about the nature of Spears’s legal fight with her father over who should control her estate.

For the past 13 years, Spears has been locked in a conservatorship, unable to control her sizable fortune and live her own life. The documentary has brought her court battle for control of her estate into sharp relief and, since its broadcast on Feb. 5, sparked a national reckoning over how the media and public mistreated the pop star.

“I had no idea this would hit such a nerve to change things,” Stark said. “My biggest fear is they would see the footage and make fun of her again. It was really shocking to me that people got what we were trying to say.  Something so moving, a career high point in my life, is “WE ARE SORRY BRITNEY” started trending online. Regular people started saying ‘I’m sorry for laughing at the jokes about you’. ‘I’m sorry I bought the magazine about you’. I never thought that would happen.”

The original concept of the documentary, which took six month to produce, was to confront the misogynistic and unfair media coverage of Spears through a present-day lens. Their research, however, led them to focus attention on the conservatorship, a system that was intended for the elderly and those with dementia, not a 26-year-old pop star who at one point was making $1 million a week in Las Vegas while under the watch of a conservator. The story was a difficult one because of sealed and redacted records and prolific celebrity non-disclosure agreements. Their casting document included over 1,000 names, broken down by different topics, with many unwilling to discuss Britney and her current situation.

The duo was brought together through Newmark J-School, when Bencosme received an email about an opening on Stark’s team at The New York Times, where Stark has worked for the past nine years. “Through that email, it put me in touch with Sam,” Bencosme said. “It was the magic of the Newmark network and connections, which were seemingly never-ending.”

Newmark J-School “changed the whole course of my life,” Stark says. While in J-School, she was a summer intern at WNYC, launching video on its radio platform, followed by an internship at The New York Times with LensBlog. Stark filled in for a staff member on maternity leave, which then led to a full-time role in the video department.

The two shared that their documentary allowed them to achieve a life goal when “Framing Britney Spears” appeared in the AP Day planner, the source of many journalism school reporting assignments.

“We really celebrated that,” Bencosme said.