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Alumni Newsletter, October 2022

  • By Salma Abdelnour Gilman

Dear Alumni,

We can’t wait to see so many of you at Alumni Homecoming this weekend: Saturday, October 15. Attendees: Remember that proof of Covid vaccination or a negative test (taken anytime Oct. 9-15) is required for entry. You’ll need to upload your vaccine info to the Cleared4 app before you arrive, OR upload proof of a negative Covid test taken within the past week. It’s a good idea to bring the vaccine or test proof with you too, as a backup. We’re excited by all the RSVPs, and we have a fabulous day planned!

Meanwhile, read on below for our alumni updates, and for our chat with Rommel H. Ojeda ’21, a recent Newmark grad who has packed a ton into this past year.

Keep on sending your news our way, and reach out anytime if you’d like to set up a time to chat with me by phone or Zoom.

Cheers!
Salma

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


Covering the Queen’s funeral, left to right: Spectrum News’s Brianne Barry ’13, photojournalist Benjamin Boocker, national anchor Annika Pergament, Shanel Dawson ’17.

UPCOMING EVENTS

Newmark J-School Alumni Homecoming 2022
Homecoming is this Saturday, October 15. It’s our first big alumni gathering since the pandemic, and we’re thrilled for the chance to reunite with you on campus. Here’s a preview of our fantastic lineup: We’ll start with a Welcome Lunch with Dean Graciela Mochkofsky. Then, our keynote guest Maggie Freleng ’15—2022 Pulitzer Prize winner and Newmark adjunct faculty member—will join us for a dialogue with Alana Casanova-Burgess ’10. We’ll follow that up with a panel discussion on how to create more inclusive newsrooms, featuring guests Simone Sebastian ’10, Sarah Kazadi ’12, Reece Williams ’19 and P. Kim Bui, Exec Program ’20. Afterwards we’ll go out for happy hour drinks (and snacks!) around the corner.

Date: October 15, at Newmark J-School.

Black Media Summit
Newmark ABJ is hosting its second annual Black Media Summit. This virtual event will span two days and include five panels centering on the experiences of Black journalists and institutions committed to telling our stories. The theme of this year’s Black Media Summit is Breaking Out of Your Niche, which will focus on discussing the many different ways we, as people in the media industry, can execute and support journalism without being put in a box.

Dates: October 28-29, online.
Register here.


ANNOUNCEMENTS

The Economic Hardship Reporting Project / Newmark J-School Reporting Grant

This program will provide funding to two exceptional Newmark graduates to produce ambitious works of journalism about climate change or inequity. Grantees will be given a reporting stipend, project mentorship, and connections to editors at professional publications. Grantees will be selected based on the quality of their story pitches and the feasibility of their reporting plans.

The grant is open to Newmark J-School students who will graduate this December 2022 or who have graduated within the past three years. The selection committee includes EHRP members, Newmark J-School faculty and industry experts.

Grantees will be given a $5,000 reporting stipend, in addition to any fees paid by publications. They will have access to Newmark J-School production equipment and facilities during the grant year. Grantees will also be paired with a reporting mentor, who will be available to guide their reporting, on and off the field. The mentor will also receive a stipend.

Application info here.
Deadline: October 15.
Recipients will be announced by November 15.

Writing Fellowship, The American Prospect

The American Prospect is looking for applicants with strong writing and analytical abilities who will generate story ideas as well as take assignments. A passion for politics and policy is a prerequisite. Social engagement is a priority, and they are seeking someone who is eager to reach readers across a variety of channels and to create new audiences, including through newsletters or podcasts.

This two-year full time fellowship starts at $41,000 annually and includes a full range of benefits (health, dental, vision), plus union membership in Washington-Baltimore News Guild (Communication Workers of America) which secures an annual raise. The position can be based at their D.C. headquarters or remote.

This fellowship is open to early-career journalists. Seasoned journalists with many years of experience at a publication are not eligible to apply.

Application info here.
Deadline: October 16.


ALUMNI UPDATES

Win-Win

Mariana Henninger ’10 and her team were nominated for a national Emmy award for Outstanding Long Form Hard News Feature Story. The NBC News Digital documentary, “Southlake: Racial Reckoning in a Texas Suburb,” focused on proposed diversity plans in the small community and rising neighborhood tensions over diversity, education and critical race theory.

Jesenia De Moya Correa ’17 of The Philadelphia Inquirer received The Lenfest Institute Diverse Journalist Award for her journalism, initiatives and the impact her reporting has had on the newsroom. The award is one of the 2022 Keystone Media Awards. She was selected among competing journalists from 110 newsrooms.

Jesse Vad ’20 won the Insight Award for Visual Journalism in the Small Newsroom category at the Institute for Nonprofit News Awards for his piece “On the Brink.” Vad traveled to rural communities in California to understand the constant struggles of life in drought conditions.

Radio reporter Clark Adomaitis ’21 in his new home base in Southwest Colorado (see below).

Featured News

Brigid Bergin ’07, senior political reporter at WNYC, is hosting the live call-in radio show “The People’s Guide to Power,” which runs weekly through the midterms. The episodes air on Sundays at 12 p.m. EST on WNYC 93.9 FM, AM 820, and www.wnyc.org. WNYC describes the show as intended to “feature thoughtful conversations with the people who hold power, those who seek it, and the journalists who cover them — and help New Yorkers navigate their right to the foundational act of democracy: the right to vote.”

Joel Schectman ’09 recently published a big investigative story for Reuters on “How the CIA failed Iranian spies in its secret war with Tehran.”

Ann Marie Awad ’13 is the recipient of the Ferris-UC Berkeley Psychedelic Journalism Fellowship. They will be using the grant to produce a limited podcast series on drug policy in America, building off the work they did on their original podcast On Something, which was about cannabis legalization.

Brianne Barry ’13 and Shanel Dawson ’17 traveled to London for Spectrum News’s national coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral (see photo above). Their team transmitted 40 live shots from iconic locations across London and did seven packages on the story within the five days leading up to the Queen’s funeral. The coverage aired on 30 stations across the country.

Rajashree Chakravarty ’15 joined Industry Dive as a banking reporter.

Kim Conner ’15 was recently promoted to senior video producer at Yale School of Medicine. She will lead a team in developing content that highlights innovations in medical research and clinical care and furthers patient education.

Luis Miguel Echegaray, EngageJ ’15, started a new position as host, analyst, writer and social commentator at ESPN.

Anthony Kane ’15 joined NBC News as a segment producer.

Erica Christie Anderson, EngageJ ’16, helped create a six-episode, documentary-style podcast, “The Wedge.” Launching on Nov. 11, the series will task journalists to engage with loved ones with whom they disagree. The pilot episode will follow her family and her “loving, hippie, anti-vax mother.” She also has other family-related news to share (see below).

Nicole Lewis ’16 returned to the Marshall Project as an engagement editor.

Juan Garcia ’18 joined The New York Times as a stringer, freelancing for the metro desk. His latest piece focused on New York City’s homeless shelters and migrants.

Paula Moura ’18 became a climate and environment reporter for WBUR. Her first story focused on Brazilians in Boston preparing for Brazil’s presidential election. The story was written in English and Portuguese.

Carolyn Adams ’19 joined Columbia University’s Center for Career Education as the associate director of event management and communications.

Shantal Riley ’19 was selected as one of the 2022-2023 National Science-Health-Environment Reporting Fellows (SHERF) by the Association of Health Care Journalists, the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and the Society of Environmental Journalists. She will also participate in an Uproot Project exhibit and networking event, “The Journey of a Story.”

Annie Todd ’19 received a promotion to statewide politics reporter at the Argus Leader in South Dakota. She is currently coordinating election coverage, which also includes the tight race between Gov. Kristi Noem and her Democratic challenger Rep. Jamie Smith.

Karla Arroyo, EngageJ ’20, started as a program communications and engagement manager at WPP.

Kevin Truong ’20 has received a grant from Sundance Institute’s 2022 Documentary Fund to produce a feature film, “Mai American,” based on his 20-minute documentary. The film is about “a 70-year-old Vietnamese American refugee living in Oregon [who] writes down her personal history, indelibly shaped by the War in Vietnam. As she shares her story with her filmmaker son, they begin separate but parallel journeys navigating the space between healing and confronting the traumas of their past.”

Clark Adomaitis ’21 started a new position as a radio reporter at NPR-affiliate radio stations KSUT and KSJD in Southwest Colorado. He is reporting on underrepresented voices, especially the Southern Ute tribe, as part of a project called Voices From the Edge of the Colorado Plateau. His first piece focused on a traditional Bear Dance in the Ute Tribe.

Jacqui Neber, EngageJ ’21, became a health care reporter at Crain’s New York Business.

Liz Richards, EngageJ ’21, began a new job as a manager of institutional giving at Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling.

Mary Steffenhagen ’21 recently went to Germany on a Fulbright scholarship for the Berlin Capital Program. This month also marks a new step in her career. She will begin as a full-time associate producer on The Takeaway at WNYC.

Some Personal News…

Carmel Delshad ’11 and her husband welcomed a baby boy in August.

Carmel Delshad ’21 has a new baby boy, Jamal, born this summer.

Erica Christie Anderson, EngageJ ’16, celebrates the one-year birthday of her child, Benicio-James Henry Perez, this month.

Erica Christie Anderson ’16’s son, Benny, just turned one.

A CHAT WITH…ROMMEL H. OJEDA ’21

Rommel H. Ojeda ’21

Fresh Out of J-School, Rommel Ojeda ’21 Has Already Had an Epic Year
Turning a summer of hard work into a job offer is the holy grail for interns everywhere. Rommel H. Ojeda ’21 made it happen this year, when Documented brought him on full-time after he finished up his J-School internship. For a career changer who decided to go into journalism after spending a few years trying out different careers—from graphic design to marketing, psychology and business law—moving at lightning speed from journalism internship to job offer is a solid sign that Ojeda is on the right track.

Ojeda’s experience immigrating to the U.S. from Ecuador in elementary school has played a key role in helping him focus his sights on the kind of journalism he wants to do. “It has made me want to pursue journalism as a career,” says Ojeda, who majored in creative writing and journalism at Baruch. “It also helped me get in touch with my own identity as an immigrant, and write stories that are important to immigrants. My parents were amazing, but I also saw their struggle because of the lack of services available to them.

This up-close look at the daily hurdles for immigrants to the U.S. is also giving Ojeda the tools he needs to do the kind of engagement journalism he’s focused on at Documented. “It gave me the cultural capital to connect, sympathize and engage in a dialogue with them. A lot of times I have insight into what kinds of challenges they might be facing. My experience has helped me do better journalism, and to create trust.”

In early October, Ojeda took an hour out of his deadline-packed schedule to chat with us:

You’ve been extremely busy since you graduated last year. What have you been up to?
I’ve started working at Documented. First it was in an internship through the J-School, and from there it developed into a full-time position. My new role at Documented is community correspondent. That’s a fancier word for community engagement journalist.

What do you do day-to-day at Documented?
I’ve been trying to grow the Whatsapp community for immigrants in New York who speak Spanish, while simultaneously building a repertoire of resources with information that is practical and accessible. They receive our newsletter in Spanish through Whatsapp, and I’ve been interacting with them one-on-one every day. We create stories from the responses we get from them. We’re showcasing the stories in a new section we created on our website, called Community Powered Investigations. A lot of the stories I write come from the comments we get.

We write the story, but then we also find someone who can help them. For example: There were some credit card scheming practices happening to individuals who were receiving money through the Excluded Workers Fund. They received money in the form of a debit card, and when they went to an ATM, there were credit card skimmers who had put devices on those ATMS. [Recipients] lost thousands of dollars and were having trouble getting their money back, but the credit card companies were not very responsive whenever those people filed a claim. A lot of people were waiting more than 30 days; someone waited six months. So what we did was we found a contact, whether that was a state senator or a representative, who could help the individuals reach the company that issued the cards. Some people in our investigation were given managers to oversee their claim, and eventually most of them got their money back. I wouldn’t say this is solutions journalism, necessarily, and it’s hard to track impact—but I would always try to find something or someone that could help them out.

At a rally, a demonstrator pushes a cart full of fines issued to street vendors. Photo by Rommel H. Ojeda.

What kind of impact has your reporting had so far?
For that story specifically, we contacted the NYPD, some senators, and Black Hawk, the company issuing the cards. One person we spoke with contacted the attorney general and put pressure on Black Hawk.

Some people got their money when we started inquiring what was going on with their claim. I remember reaching out to Black Hawk on a Tuesday, on a claim that someone had lost $3,000. I told them we’re publishing this story tomorrow and we want to know what’s going on with this claim. The day the story got published, the individual got in touch with me and said they’re getting their money back. I don’t know if it’s coincidence or impact. There were cases when people weren’t hearing anything, and when we started reporting they started hearing about getting their money back.

What made you decide to be a journalist? Were you motivated by the ability to have this kind of impact on people?
I’ve always liked telling stories, and I wanted to get into journalism so I could tell stories with different mediums. I’m an immigrant, and my parents were undocumented immigrants at one point. I saw that the news media were not telling stories with the voices of immigrants in mind. Usually they would have an “expert” explain what is happening in a community that they did not live in—and this was not telling the story that I thought should be told.

When I started journalism, Trump was in the presidency so there was a lot of anti-immigrant rhetoric going on. I wanted to get into journalism to empower people, not just my community but marginalized communities in general. I didn’t know how to make a difference until I started my internship with Documented. I did the Bilingual program [at Newmark], but the engagement aspect developed from my internships.

Ojeda speaking with a homeowner affected by Hurricane Ida, Summer 2022. Photo by Oscar Durand.

Did you choose Newmark J-School because of our Bilingual Journalism program?
I always knew how to speak Spanish, but one of the things that’s interesting is that writing journalism in Spanish is very different from writing journalism in English. One of the things that attracted me to the Bilingual Journalism program is that the quotes I was reading in Spanish articles didn’t seem natural, but seemed like they were translated from English. I don’t want to put down other journalists, because sometimes they don’t have the resources to have a Spanish speaker tag along who can write down quotes how they are said originally. Yes, you can use Google Translator to write in Spanish, but they can’t use that to build trust with Spanish-speaking communities. That was what attracted me to the program.

I also saw some alumni, like Claudia Irizarry Aponte ’18 from THE CITY, and the work she was doing in reporting on these communities—that was the kind of value I wanted to get from the program. The program gave me the tools to go deeper into learning about the culture and habits of a certain community. It made me rethink who the experts were.

In J-School I also did documentary and filmmaking. I never really thought I would be doing engagement journalism until I was exposed to that through the internship. I used to get carried away by saying that journalism has to be this long investigative form, but in reality there are so many different ways to do journalism. For me, engagement has been very refreshing because being able to talk to a community on a daily basis, and for them to be able to come to me when they have trouble, it means a lot.

Here’s an example I think is funny: This person had received a message from her aunt, in one of these chain scams that are usually sent during Christmas. Her aunt had fallen for these chain scams that ask you to enter your info, and then if you want $1,000 you’ve got to share it with 10 other people. So she sent it to us. She said, “I’m sending this to you guys [at Documented] because I trust you guys, and I also blocked my aunt.” She came to us because she trusts us even more than her own family.

What courses and professors at Newmark stand out to you most?
I took Advanced Reporting on Latino Communities for Bilingual Journalism with Adriana Gallardo, who does engagement journalism at ProPublica. One of the things I liked that she did is she was embedded in a community in Alaska for six months. She gained the trust of victims who had been sexually assaulted and empowered them to tell their stories. The delivery of the story was also inspiring: They turned it into an exhibition and presented poster-size portraits at a museum in Alaska, and collaborated with a local newspaper, which helped the reach.

And Felipe De La Hoz—one of the things I really liked about his class is that he gave us permission to already be full-time journalists and to use him as a resource and as an editor, as someone who could help us do the job better. I like to experiment with different things, but I also need feedback on how to do things better, and his expertise was really valuable. Sometimes in my mind certain things might make sense, but there might be people who are not familiar with those topics. He has an explanatory approach to help things make sense for people who have not been following certain topics. He has a newsletter called Borderlines, which I used to read even before he was my professor.

Demonstrators in Manhattan demand the reopening of Jing Fong restaurant, whose lease was terminated in May by one the largest landlords in Chinatown and board chair of MOCA, Jonathan Chu. Photo by Rommel H. Ojeda for Documented.

What do you do when you’re not out reporting or on deadline?
I love taking photos and playing guitar. I’m also a big film person. Recently I did a rewatching of French New Wave films after the passing of Godard.

Also, I love to talk. I can connect the theory of relativity to what happened yesterday at breakfast–those marketing classes really helped!

Any tips for early-career journalists on how to parlay an internship into a job offer?
I always say the J-School gave me so many tools that I didn’t even know I had. I say this because when I did the internship I was always wondering: What is going to happen after my internships? Am I going to be freelancing? Or doing something else? When Documented gave me a contract, I was, in a way, surprised, because I thought I was maybe not qualified for a position there. But they said, “You’ve been doing this for the whole summer.”

So I say this to all my friends: The skills and knowledge you are gaining in J-School are things they are doing in newsrooms right now, so we should go into jobs with confidence.

For me it was just being open about the things I was struggling with. I was super lucky to have great editors during my internships. I was always asking them, “Hey, I want to get to this point. Can you help me get there? How can I get better at this? How can I get a job offer?” They were very open with me.

The J-School prepares everyone for the workplace right now, and everyone should be confident to ask those questions and aim for anything they want.