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Alumni Newsletter, September 2022

  • By Salma Abdelnour Gilman

Dear Alumni,

First, our biggest news: We welcomed our new dean, Graciela Mochkofsky, to the J-School in August. Many of you already know Graciela: She joined Newmark in 2016 as founding director of our groundbreaking Bilingual Journalism Program, and in 2019 she became Executive Director of our Center for Community Media.

Graciela also became a contributing writer at The New Yorker in 2021, and she just published her seventh book, “The Prophet of the Andes” (Knopf), in August—the same month she began her deanship.

In early September, Graciela met with the Alumni Board and emphasized how critical our alumni are to the J-School. She expressed her strong commitment to ensuring our graduates continue to feel supported by and connected to Newmark J-School long after Commencement.

Graciela will be joining us at Alumni Homecoming on October 15: The day kicks off with a lunchtime Q&A with the Dean at 12:30 p.m.

Read on for our jam-packed alumni updates section (a lot happened this summer!), and for our chat with Abi Ishola-Ayodeji ’08, whose debut novel, “Patience Is a Subtle Thief” (HarperCollins), came out this spring. Also check out a 90-second video from our Q&A with her on our Instagram starting Sept. 15 at 3 p.m. EST.

Also: Look out for our next alumni survey in October, and always feel free to reach out to share your ideas for programming, career development, and other ways you’d like to stay engaged with Newmark J-School. Stay tuned too for a new alumni networking and peer-to-peer mentorship opportunity in the pipeline.

Cheers!
Salma

Salma Abdelnour Gilman
Head of Alumni Affairs
salma.abdelnour@journalism.cuny.edu


In our Alumni Q&A below, Abi Ishola-Ayodeji '08 (pictured above in Ghana) talks about her acclaimed debut novel, Patience Is a Subtle Thief.
In our Alumni Q&A below, Abi Ishola-Ayodeji ’08 (pictured above in Ghana) talks about her acclaimed debut novel, Patience Is a Subtle Thief.

UPCOMING EVENTS

Newmark J-School Homecoming 2022
You’ve probably heard by now: Homecoming is on Saturday, October 15. It’s our first big alumni gathering since the pandemic, and we’re thrilled for this chance to reunite with you on campus.

Register now, and join us on October 15 to hang out with your former classmates and meet lots of other alumni. You’ll get to hear from our brilliant keynote guest Maggie Freleng ’15—2022 Pulitzer Prize winner and Newmark adjunct faculty member—and participate in our alumni panel discussion on creating more inclusive newsrooms and changing what gets covered, and how.

We’ll be toasting a big milestone for our 15th-anniversary alumni from the Class of 2007. We’re also celebrating our 10th-anniversary grads (Class of 2012, and Classes of 2011 and 2010 too since we missed reuniting in person during the pandemic), plus our 5th-anniversary grads (Class of 2017, and also 2016 and 2015). All alumni attendees from the years above will get extra swag, in addition to the Homecoming swag-bag that goes out to every alum who shows up. We’re excited to see you in October!


ANNOUNCEMENTS

McGraw Fellowship for Business Journalism
The McGraw Fellowships, launched at Newmark J-School in 2014, provide grants of up to $15,000 and editorial support for experienced journalists to produce deeply reported enterprise and investigative stories on critical economic, financial and business topics. The fellowships are open to freelance and staff journalists in all media who have at least five years’ professional experience. The deadline to apply for Fall 2022 Fellowships is September 30, 2022; Spring 2023 applications will be due March 31, 2023. Apply here.


ALUMNI UPDATES

Win-Win

David Chiu ’07 received an honorable mention at the 2022 Society of Features Journalism/Excellence-in-Journalism Award for the New York Times piece “Overlooked No More: Jobriath, Openly Gay Glam Rocker in the ’70s.”

Samantha Stark ’10 has been nominated for a Primetime Emmy award in the special category of Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction for her role in the documentary “Controlling Britney Spears.” The film is a follow-up to “Framing Britney Spears,” a documentary Stark directed, which was nominated in the same category last year.

Alissa Ambrose ’11, senior producer of Color Code, and her team received an award for Best Podcast from the North American Digital Media Awards.

Kevin Loria ’12 wrote an investigation of PFAS chemicals in food packaging for Consumer Reports, and Catherine Roberts ’15 reported on period underwear. Both pieces contributed to the Consumer Reports Folio award win for overall editorial excellence by an association or non-profit.

Elly Yu ’13 is a finalist for the Gerald Loeb Award in audio reporting for the collaborative piece, “Immediate Jeopardy: Death and Neglect in California Nursing Homes”, for KPCC, Southern California Public Radio.

Oliver Morrison ’14’s series “PWSA: After the Crisis” won an Edward R. Murrow Award. The series focused on the water crisis in Pittsburgh. Morrison also started a new job as a general assignment reporter at WESA 90.5 in Pittsburgh in May.

Brett Dahlberg ’17 won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards, one for excellence in writing and one for best feature, for his work at the public radio station WCMU in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

Erin DeGregorio ’17 won a Catholic Press award after receiving second place for Best Feature Writing – Weekly, 6-Plus Full-Time Staff Members at this year’s Catholic Media Conference. The piece, “A Reunion 50 Years in the Making,” which focused on two long-lost siblings, ran in The Tablet.

Paula Moura ’18 served as field producer for the Sundance Award-winning documentary The Territory. The film was also selected as a New York Times critic’s pick. Moura has worked as a reporter for Frontline’s Police on Trial and was part of the team that worked on Facing Eviction.

Erin Horan’ 12 (right) and Greg Donahue recently got married in Islamorada, Florida.

 

Featured News

Tim Catts ’07 started a new job at ServiceNow as the managing editor of its Workflow and Workflow Quarterly publications.

Clark Merrefield ’08, senior economics editor at The Journalist’s Resource at Harvard Kennedy School, published a piece about the use of graphic images of mass shootings in news. The piece included Newmark adjunct professor Al-Amyn Sumar, and was credited in a Charles M. Blow column in the New York Times.

Joseph Walker ’09 and Ben Foldy ’18 published a big story in the Wall Street Journal on biotech entrepreneur Serhat Gumrukcu: “Biotech Wizard Left a Trail of Fraud—Prosecutors Allege It Ended in Murder.”

Vishal Persaud ’10 was recently promoted to senior editor of the venture capital and startups team at Insider.

Roxanna Asgarian ’11 will publish her book “We Were Once a Family: A Story of Love, Death and Child Removal in America” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) in March 2023. It focuses on the American foster care system and a 2018 murder. The book is available for preorder now. Asgarian also joined the Texas Tribune this month as a law and courts reporter.

Paul DeBenedetto ’11 joined KERA, the North Texas NPR station, as managing editor of daily news.

Zach Kussin ’11 was promoted to real estate editor at the New York Post.

Erin Horan ’12, a producer for CBS News, recently produced two pieces for CBS Mornings. One piece includes a segment with two-time Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion Briana Scurry, which took place on the 50th anniversary of Title IX. The other segment included Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s thoughts on abortion rights and gun legislation. (See below for more news from Horan.)

Susie Armitage ’13 served as a story editor on a new eight-episode narrative podcast about the fall of Kabul and the evacuations from Afghanistan.

Chris Dell ’13 began serving as editor for Catena Media’s Sharp Division. Dell is also beginning his second year as co-founder and editor-in-chief of the NFL premium content subscription service, Betting Predators. During his time in 2014 at Newmark’s Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, Dell also founded and became CEO of Go Baller Media, which recently landed a big client: Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, a high-profile sports gambler, philanthropist and owner/operator of Gallery Furniture in Houston.

Chinwe Oniah ’14 released an episode about capoeira—the Afro-Brazilian art-form combining martial arts, dance, music, history and philosophy—for the KQED Arts series If Cities Could Dance.

Rose Itzcovitz ’15 became an on-air reporter for WFMZ-TV.

Naeisha Rose ’15 joined the Patch as a general assignment editor covering New York City and Long Island.
Natasha Scully ’15 served as a producer for the upcoming film “TRANSition,” which premieres at this year’s Woodstock Film Festival in New York.

Khorri Atkinson ’16 has joined Bloomberg Law as a senior labor and employment reporter.

Simon Galperin, EngageJ ’16, was profiled in the Jewish Standard.

Mariya Moseley ’16 is now a social media manager at Vice.

Annamarya Scaccia ’16 has been promoted to director of communications at the Korn Ferry Institute.

Oscar Gonzalez ’17, Hanaa Tameez ’17 and Anuz Thapa ’17 were featured in the American Press Institute’s “Need to Know” newsletter, which highlighted Gonzalez’s piece for CNET, Tameez’s NiemanLab story and Thapa’s NBC News article.

Alma Sacasa ’17 started as a social media manager for Remezcla.

Alyxaundria Sanford, EngageJ ’17, has joined the Engagement Journalism faculty at Newmark J-School and will be co-teaching the community practicum course this Fall.

Moises Mendez II ’19 is now a culture reporter at TIME (photo below).

Megan Myscofski ’19 launched a narrative podcast called “Tapped” at Arizona Public Media. The podcast will focus on efforts to mitigate the rising cost of water in Arizona.

Reece Williams ’19 took on a new role at WNYC as the first-ever visuals editor.

Alexa Beyer, EngageJ ’20, is now the environment and energy reporter for Mountain State Spotlight.

Benjamin Chambers ’20 joined the News Journal in Delaware as a photojournalist.

Christine DeRosa ’20 covered the Alex Jones trial for Law360, starting from the moment when Jones’s attorneys faced discipline after allegedly releasing confidential information, to the jury’s decision in the case. She also did a podcast on the courtroom drama.

Malique Morris ’20 starts a new role this month as a direct-to-consumer correspondent for The Business of Fashion.

Ali McPherson ’20 will begin volunteering as a career coach for Scholar Match, providing career tips, advice and guidance to first-generation and low income students.

Peter Senzamici ’20 is now an editor and reporter for Patch, where he will cover Prospect Heights, Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn.

Steven Vago ’20 recently spoke with Hadi Matar, Salman Rushdie’s alleged stabber. His reporting was picked up by several outlets including AP, Reuters and The Washington Post.

Rawan Yaghi, EngageJ ’20, is now an audience producer at Reuters.

Clark Adomaitis ’21 started a new position as a radio reporter at NPR-affiliate radio stations KSUT and KSJD in Southwest Colorado. He will report on underrepresented voices, especially the Southern Ute tribe, as part of a project called Voices From the Edge of the Colorado Plateau.

Sahalie Donaldson ’21 started a new job as an education and City Hall reporter and first read head writer at City & State NY.

Jeff Jarvis, director of Newmark’s Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, published a piece on his Buzz Machine site about the growing lack of media accountability following the cancellation of Brian Stelter’s “Reliable Sources” show on CNN. The story featured Juliet Jeske ’21, who started “Decoding Fox News” on Twitter and Substack.

For our faculty who freelance, it’s always a delight to be hired by former students. Newmark J-School writing coach Tim Harper completed several feature articles this year for Danielle Hyams ’19, editor of the Escape Home vertical in Mitra Kalita’s stable of Epicenter sites. Here’s a sampling of stories about second homes that Danielle has coaxed out of her former features professor.

Some Personal News…

Celia Gorman ’11 and Frans Koster ’11 are now married.

Erin Horan ’12 married Greg Donahue in May in Islamorada, Florida (see photo above). In true TV producer fashion, they got married where the hit Netflix series “Bloodline” was shot.


A CHAT WITH…ABI ISHOLA-AYODEJI ’08

Abi Ishola-Ayodeji. Photo by Bankola Ayodeji.
Abi Ishola-Ayodeji. Photo by Bankola Ayodeji.

Abi Ishola-Ayodeji ’08 Takes Her Journalism Skills In an Unexpected Direction in Her Acclaimed New Novel
The work of Newmark J-School’s incredibly talented grads shows up everywhere in the media and culture, from broadcast TV to audio, print to digital, documentary film to academia, non-profits and beyond. But in the Fiction section of the bookstore? That’s a rarer proposition.

As any journalist who takes a break from non-fiction to try writing a novel can attest, getting one of those published is an often-elusive dream. Abi Ishola-Ayodeji ’08 made it real this spring, when her novel “Patience Is a Subtle Thief” was released by the HarperCollins imprint HarperVia, to rave reviews. Kirkus Reviews called it “a poignant, revealing, and rueful tale of how much the political can affect the personal.” Set in Nigeria during the political upheaval of the 1990s, the novel follows a university student and her friends as they cope with a government in turmoil, an economy in freefall, and the temptation to test boundaries and live bigger than their circumstances allow.

We couldn’t help but wonder: How much of the book is fiction, and how much is journalism? After we devoured the novel over a summer weekend—got sucked in instantly and couldn’t stop— Ishola-Ayodeji jumped on a Zoom with us to chat. Read on for her Q&A with Salma, and check out more of it on our Instagram starting on Sept. 15 at 3 p.m. EST.

Ishola-Ayodeji's novel (HarperVia 2022) is available in hardcover now. Jacket design by Sara Wood.
Ishola-Ayodeji’s novel (HarperVia 2022) is available in hardcover now. Jacket design by Sara Wood.

You spent part of your childhood in Nigeria in the early ’90s, and that era forms the backdrop for your novel Patience Is a Subtle Thief. Do you have memories of being in Nigeria during the historic 1993 elections?

My parents sent me to Nigeria along with my sisters when I was 13. It was a pivotal time—coming of age, being in a new environment. I remembered my classmates being so fired up about what happened [in Nigeria’s 1993 elections]. For me it was shocking, because being in America for all those years, people my age did not engage in politics that way. That was life-changing for me, obviously, seeing a new government and being immersed in it. All I knew was there was a man known as M.K.O Abiola running for president, and things didn’t work out for him at that time.

My sister and I were supposed to finish secondary and high school there, but we stayed for one school year and moved back to Miami. Then when I moved to New York [for college], I met a lot of people from Nigeria, and they would commemorate those elections every year on June 12. I felt that story deserved more attention, and I wanted to be able to explore it more myself.

In the real-life events depicted in your novel, Moshood (M.K.O.) Abiola was democratically elected in 1993, and then the previous military dictator Ibrahim Babangida annulled the election results. Do you ever get déja vu as you follow U.S. politics now?

I’ve been exploring the idea of patience—not my character [who is also named Patience], but actual patience, the idea that you can be patient for something to happen and it does not actually materialize. I was thinking a lot about the Nigeria of 1993, but I was also thinking about America. The climate right now is so volatile. A lot of people feel, when is this going to end? How patient do we have to be? I don’t know if there is an endgame.

Ishola-Ayodeji signs books at the East Hampton Library in Long Island, NY.
Ishola-Ayodeji signs books at the East Hampton Library in Long Island, NY.

What sparked your initial idea for the novel?

Patience Is a Subtle Thief started as a screenplay when I was an undergrad at FIT. I started writing it on a whim. I wrote about a young girl who gets into some shady dealings. As the public knows, it’s called 419 [in Nigeria]: Someone asks for a certain amount of money upfront to get a larger sum of money. Why would people be so desperate to reach out to other people in other countries for money? Poverty is an obvious part of it, but I wanted to know their stories. Over the years I picked up the screenplay and put it down. I didn’t know how to do a movie, so I thought, Why don’t I do a book? Meanwhile, I was living life, having kids, going back to school, and finally my husband said, “You should finish it.”

An interviewer from Porchlight Books said about your novel, “You can tell Abi Ishola-Ayodeji’s journalistic eye is interwoven into the fictional tale of Patience Adewale.” Did the reporting skills you honed at J-School play a role in the work you did as you researched and wrote this novel?

Definitely, to the point where it kind of made it harder for me to be free and creative. I was free and creative in certain aspects, but I kept saying: “This has to be real. This has to be true.” My husband and others would say, “This is fiction–you have some license.” I was obsessive about the research aspect, and I don’t regret that because I think in fiction you have to try to be as honest as possible and bring forth the real story. I don’t regret it.

Did you start out wanting to be a journalist, or did you think about becoming a novelist too from early on?

I always knew I loved writing. In high school I wrote an essay and the teacher read it out loud and said, “This is how you write an essay.” When a teacher affirms you, you think maybe I have something here.

Growing up in America, my father would tell us folktales at night and I would hang on every word. I started telling stories at 10. That’s how I fell in love with stories, listening to stories and coming up with stories off the top of my head. Those folktales have been handed down for generations. People from [my father’s] generation, they have these specific stories that they remember. There was a show called “Tales by Moonlight.” My husband and his generation– I wasn’t in Nigeria at the time–would listen to a woman [on the show] tell these stories.

As a young person I started collecting fashion magazines, and at first I wanted to write for them. That was my dream. I moved to New York to attend undergrad at FIT. Then I started working, and I worked for Christian Dior for a while, freelanced for Glamour, did stuff for Teen Vogue. I wanted to be in that world, but that world was hard to penetrate and to find something steady, so I decided to go back to school. That’s when I went to Newmark. I decided to try my hand at TV rather than print.

Ishola-Ayodeji on a reporting trip in Accra, Ghana.

Besides the novel, what other work or projects have you taken on since J-School?

I work at CUNY TV [where Ishola-Ayodeji is a producer on shows such as “Black America”, and I’ve done freelance writing. I also started a movement called Beyond Classically Beautiful. It started when a journalist called Viola Davis less classically beautiful than Halle Berry, which many Black women recognize as colorism, which is rooted in racism.

For me as a dark-skinned woman, it was something I had experienced quite a bit growing up in America. I went on Twitter and saw a lot of women hashtagging #lessclassicallybeautiful in solidarity with Viola Davis. The words Beyond Classically Beautiful popped into my head. I told my husband about what happened and I said, “Let’s do a photo series celebrating Black women.” We teamed together with others and created a photo series that went viral, then turned it into a media site. Now it’s a lifestyle brand, with products that have encouraging messages about Black women that make us feel empowered. We sell our products on BCBStyle.com.

A street scene in Accra, during one of Ishola-Ayodeji's reporting trips. Photo by Abi Ishola-Ayodeji.
A street scene in Accra, during one of Ishola-Ayodeji’s reporting trips. Photo by Abi Ishola-Ayodeji.

What’s one thing you remember from J-School that has stayed with you, or been especially compelling in the years since you graduated?

I definitely became more confident after being in J-School. I remember being told that I was a good writer when I was there, and it was really affirming, because after working at fashion magazines I wasn’t sure I could do it. At J-School I learned the skill of hard work, really diving into stories. I was able to explore different things, which I treasure. I learned to edit and shoot. The experience was well worth it. I tell that to everyone. And the camaraderie: I’m still friends with a few people I met there. We keep in touch, and that’s priceless.