Celebrating 2023 Alumni Award Recipients

  • By Newmark J-School Staff

Dean Graciela Mochkofsky has announced this year’s four alumni awards for excellence winners, whose exemplary reporting and remarkable accomplishments represent the highest aspirations of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. The recipients will be celebrated at a ceremony at the Century Club in New York City on Tuesday, May 30, 2023.

The four honorees are Charlene Wiatta Freeman ’22, who will receive the Sidney Hillman Foundation Award for Social Justice Reporting; Gina Heeb ’22, who has been selected for the Frederic Wiegold Prize for Business Journalism; Ariana Perez-Castells ’22, who will be presented with the Newsweek Magazine Alumni Prize; and Joseph Darius Jaafari ’16 who will be honored with the Stephen B. Shepard Prize for Investigative Reporting.

“Our honorees inspire us with their passion and commitment to our field,” Dean Graciela Mochkofsky said. “They represent the amazing launchpad that Newmark J-School is for our students. I’m honored to celebrate their professional achievements, but also the fact that they’ve brought the school’s vision to life through their work.”

During her time at the J-School, Freeman specialized in international reporting and audio-visual journalism. Her graduate work included a feature story about South Bronx “violence interrupters” — community members who work to end gun violence; an audio documentary about the plight of a Black farming couple from Louisiana, who were affected by what the U.S. Department of Agriculture itself admitted were its own lending practices putting Black farmers at a disadvantage; and multimedia coverage of Haitian advocates demanding just treatment for asylum seekers amid pandemic-era deportations. Her social justice reporting began even before she came to J-School when in 2009 she founded and hosted a weekly feminist radio program called Womanspeak at 89.3FM WRFG Atlanta — a public radio station with a progressive mission. She is a graduate of Spelman College and holds a bachelor’s in English Literature.

Heeb is a rising star in business journalism who works on the banking team at The Wall Street Journal. She is receiving a prize that honors the late Frederic Wiegold, former Bloomberg Markets senior editor and an 18-year veteran of The Wall Street Journal. Heeb has been covering everything from the ups and downs of the stock market, how banks are affected by the banking crisis, and American consumer finance. Her reporting has also appeared in The New York Times, Bloomberg Law, NBC News, and CNBC. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and international relations from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Ariana Perez Castells

The Newsweek Alumni Prize was established by journalists from the magazine to honor a graduate who best exemplifies the values, spirit, and excellence of Newsweek. Perez-Castells, a graduate of the bilingual program at the Newmark J-School, has a passion for reporting in both English and Spanish about health, the environment, and labor. She will join the Philadelphia Inquirer in May as a general assignment business reporter. Perez-Castells’ work has also been published in The Wall Street Journal, Univision, City Limits, The Texas Tribune, and Bushwick Daily. She holds a bachelor’s degree in written arts and human rights from Bard College.

The Shepard Prize goes to Class of 2016 alum Jaafari for his year-long investigation into an Arizona constable involved in multiple violations, including a deadly shooting. Jaafari’s courageous reporting for The Arizona Republic exposed the lack of accountability by the state’s Constable Ethics and Standards Board in the wake of the constable’s actions. His investigation prompted other victims to come forward and resulted in the board calling for the constable’s resignation. In addition to his role as an investigative reporter at AZ Republic, Jaafari is also the founder and executive editor of LOOKOUT, a local nonprofit news organization dedicated to covering LGBTQ+ issues in the greater Phoenix area.