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Alumni Newsletter, December 2021

  • By Virginia Jeffries
Photo: Babak Fakhamzadeh

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Channing Gerard Joseph Named Associate Professor Focused on Race and Identity
The Newmark Graduate School of Journalism has hired Channing Gerard Joseph as its first-ever associate professor specializing in race and identity. Joseph has spent more than two decades writing and editing about issues of race, queer identity, inequality, and social justice for organizations such as The Nation, the Associated Press, The New York Times, and SF Weekly, where he became the editor-in-chief in 2016. Channing comes to us from USC’s Annenberg School, where he has taught courses in deadline news, narrative writing, digital storytelling, journalistic ethics, and techniques for engaging diverse communities. He has also taught at SUNY – Plattsburgh and Oberlin College, where he obtained his B.A. in Philosophy and Theater. He received his M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University.

Host a Newmark J-School Intern
Looking for a summer intern? You know where to turn. Applications are open to join the Newmark J-Corps Summer Internship program by hosting an intern from the Class of 2022. As we did last year, we are asking media companies to commit to pay interns at least minimum wage for 280 hours (35 hours per week for 8 weeks) between June and August or provide $4,000 to the J-Corps summer internship fund to help underwrite our stipend program. For non-profit news organizations that are unable to support a paid intern, the school has a fund you can apply to. If your nonprofit is accepted into the program, the Newmark J-School will match your $2,000 contribution 1:1. Each intern you select will work for 280 hours, receive a $4,000 stipend, and earn three credit hours toward their master’s degree. Deadline: Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. Questions? Contact career.services@journalism.cuny.edu.

ALUMNI NEWS

The news below was submitted by faculty, staff, and alumni. Send your items to alumnioffice@journalism.cuny.edu.

Rachael Levy ’14 was recently hired at POLITICO’s D.C. bureau covering the Biden administration and the players influencing how Americans pay for healthcare, including via Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. Previously, she covered hedge funds, law enforcement, and domestic terrorism for The Wall Street Journal.

Meral Agish ’14, Theresa Gaffney ’20, and Giuliah Hjort ’19 were on the production team for the Queens Memory Project that won the Third Coast Award’s Impact prize for their community-centered oral history podcast episode “Intersection.”

Mia Garchitorena ’15 and Derek Scancarelli ’15 are now engaged.

Suman Bhattacharyya ’16 has been hired as a reporter at The Wall Street Journal to cover emerging technology.

Scott R. Axelrod ’17 and longtime girlfriend Shannon Paige welcomed a daughter, Alice Grey Axelrod, on Sept. 24, 2021 in Staten Island. Alice already smiles a lot more than her dad and spends her mornings with a bottle and the Times style section.

Erin DeGregorio ’17 was promoted to full-time staff at Fordham Law School as marketing and communications associate.

Paula Moura ’18 worked as a field producer and archival producer on the film “The Territory,” which premiers at the Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema competition. The film, co-produced with the Uru-eu-wau-wau indigenous community in Brazil, draws on intimate access to both sides of an escalating land conflict, and ultimately tells the story of the fight for the Amazon rainforest. It can be streamed online on Jan. 24 and 26, 2022.

Arno Pedram ’19 began training to become a lead producer on France 24’s English-language global news service. Pedram also works part time reporting for the Associated Press.

Suzannah Cavanaugh ’20 was honored as a finalist in the Third Coast Award’s Best New Artist category for her audio documentary “5 O’Clock Nowhere.

Ali McPherson ’20 became a contributing writer for BET.com, working on arts and culture features centering on Black culture. She is also an associate news editor at LinkedIn.

Carolyn Brown ’20 accepted a full-time position as a staff photographer/reporter at Louisville’s arts and culture alt-weekly, LEO, after interning there as a Newmark J-School student and freelancing for the paper earlier this fall.

Shoshannah Buxbaum ’20 is now a producer at Science Friday.

Max Adler EngageJ ’22 will soon start a new full-time role at Bloomberg as a reporter.

OPPORTUNITIES

Stephen B. Shepard Prize for Investigative Reporting
The Stephen B. Shepard Prize for Investigative Reporting honors a graduate of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. This prize will be awarded to a Newmark J-School alumnus/a who has produced the best investigative work in 2021. Any graduate of the Newmark J-School is eligible to self-nominate or nominate a classmate for this prize. The honoree will receive $5,000, from The Tow Foundation. Submit nominations by midnight EST Dec. 31, 2021.


Afghan Native Sharif Hassan ’17 Covers Taliban Takeover for The New York Times: “I never expected the government would fall in 10 days.”

Sharif Hassan ’17 (left) and Anuz Thapa ’17 at Newmark J-School Photo: Virginia Jeffries

Sharif Hassan ’17 was about to take off from Kabul Airport the evening of Aug. 15, 2021 when he decided he should get off the plane. A few hours earlier, the Taliban had breached the Afghan capital, causing mass hysteria in the city and chaos at the airport as crowds desperately tried to get flights out of the country.

Hassan, 31, had been covering Afghanistan as a reporter for The New York Times for just a few weeks.

The Times had chartered the plane to get its employees out of the country, fearing they might become targets under the new regime. But when the crew closed the cabin doors, most of his colleagues had not yet made it to the tarmac. Looking out the window as people swarmed the runway, it sank in that the pilots were going to leave without them.

Hassan began arguing with the crew, begging them to wait five or ten more minutes so his coworkers could board.

“I was like, O.K., let me be a part of the group. I have to get off,” he said. “I texted my colleagues: ‘What do you guys want me to do? I can get off the plane right now.’”

They told him to stay onboard. When the plane departed for Kiev, “a third of the seats were empty,” he said. “I felt [sick] to my stomach.”

Nine years earlier in 2012, as a recent business-school graduate working in his native Kabul, Hassan began his journalism career as a source, rather than a reporter. A journalist for The Washington Post reached out to him for help with a story he was writing. The reporter was so impressed that he called Hassan a few months later asking him if he’d like a job.

“I told him I have no experience in journalism, I have no academic background in journalism,” he said. The reporter was confident Hassan would learn on the job. In the end, he accepted the offer.

For the next three years, he covered Afghanistan for The Washington Post. “We did mainly security stories, attacks by the Taliban, by ISIS. Basically anything,” he said. “But mostly, of course, security because there was a war going on.”

In 2016, he won a Fulbright Award to study journalism at Newmark J-School. “My primary goal was to be able to write independently,” Hassan said. “I had [written] some very short new stories before coming to CUNY, but I could not write the way that I write now.”

He enrolled in the international reporting concentration and took as many writing classes as he could. In the summer of 2017, he interned in Washington, D.C. with his former employer, The Washington Post.

“In my internship I had some feature stories and I think they were pretty good,” he said. “So the primary goal of me joining CUNY was to learn how to write independently. And I largely achieved that goal when I graduated.”

Since then, much of Hassan’s career and personal life has been dictated by the chaos of war. In January of 2018, less than a month after graduating with his master’s degree from Newmark J-School, he was rehired by The Washington Post and returned home. “I arrived [in Kabul] and the plan was that I would start working a few weeks later,” he said. “But two or three days after I arrived, there was a massive attack by the Taliban.”

The paper needed immediate help covering a siege that left 18 people dead. Hassan started right away. He covered Afghanistan for The Washington Post for the next two and a half years.

When he got an offer to move to The New York Times in July of 2021, his start date once again coincided with an unexpected catastrophe: the rapid collapse of the country’s U.S.-backed government, upending Hassan’s entire life. “When I started working for The New York Times, I never expected the government would fall in 10 days,” he said.

Hassan was not alone. U.S. intelligence had failed to predict the Taliban’s stunningly swift takeover, surprising even U.S. President Joe Biden.

But others had seen it coming. “To be honest, there were discussions going on when the Taliban began capturing districts in June and July,” Hassan said.

People he knew from outlying areas, far from the capital’s bubble, had witnessed the Taliban capture other cities and territory and began planning to leave the country much earlier. “They had seen what I couldn’t see [from Kabul],” Hassan said.

So Hassan stayed in Afghanistan, despite the looming danger, until the last possible minute. As others rushed to flee, he remained deeply ambivalent, oscillating back and forth even after reaching his coveted seat on an outbound plane.

When he landed in Kiev, Hassan could not avoid seeing the terror he had left behind at the Kabul airport.

“From the moment I arrived, it was four or five in the morning, everybody at the airport in Kiev was scrolling up and down on their smartphones. I could see they were watching videos,” he said. “I saw shootings. I saw crazy things everywhere.”

Hassan could not relax until days later, when the rest of The New York Times staff got flights out of the country. “I think I was probably happier than them that they left safely,” he said.

He spent the next three weeks in Ukraine before relocating with his family again, this time to Mexico City. His life is still in upheaval: He is staying in a hotel and doesn’t know if he’ll be approved for asylum in the U.S. or Canada.

“I’m a refugee now, right? My life is in limbo,” he said. “This is a very big change, a lengthy transition. It takes some time to digest.”

Hassan said it is a challenge to cover Afghanistan remotely from Mexico, but working to get the country’s stories to a global audience helps him cope and brings him satisfaction.

“This is a very critical time for Afghans and basically we are writing history,” he said. “So I want to be a part of it. I just want to give a voice and play a role in writing the history of my people.”