Alumni Newsletter, May 2023

  • By Salma Abdelnour Gilman

Dear Alumni,

The summer countdown begins! This will be the last monthly newsletter until September, but please keep your updates coming in. We’ll include them in the next edition. Meanwhile, there’s lots to announce: tons of awards, a bunch of great upcoming events, our new mentorship program, and much more.

A few important dates first:

  • Alumni Meetup NYC: Wednesday, June 14 at 6 p.m.: We’ll be hosting a casual mid-June pizza hangout for alumni and admitted students, and we’d like to offer a stipend to a handful of alumni hosts who are available to spend an hour or so talking with entering students about J-School. Please email me by June 2 if you’d like to be one of our alumni hosts:
  • Homecoming is Saturday, Oct. 14: Save the date and stay tuned!

Quick updates:

  • Mentorship Program 2023: Thanks to all of you who’ve signed up! We’re excited to have many alumni participate in this year’s program. You can still register here, or contact us for an invite if you didn’t find yours or need help signing up. We’re now in the process of matching alumni mentors with student mentees. We’ll notify one cohort in June and the next one in September.
  • Alumni survey: Look out for our brief survey asking your thoughts about the types of alumni events and career support you’d find most relevant to your life now. We promise we’ll keep this survey brief.
  • Google Drive Aug. 18 storage deadline: See below under Announcements, if you haven’t received our emails about this yet.
  • ICYMI: Current student Safiyah Riddle ’23 was featured on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show” on May 3. While he was introducing her, Lehrer called our J-School “great” and said Riddle’s work as an intern for The City shows how Newmark J-School students can have a big impact even before they graduate.

See below for lots of updates from our amazing alumni, including a whole slew of awards this month: Pulitzer, Peabody, Emmy, Deadline Club and more!

And…Read on to get to know the four brilliant winners of our Alumni Awards this year. We’re celebrating them at our May 30 Alumni Awards for Excellence ceremony, led by Wesley Lowery. Join us there and help us toast the winners!

Cheers and happy summer!
Salma Abdelnour Gilman
Head of Alumni Affairs


Header image: Heather Martino ’13 (right) with cryogenics expert Kitty Liao, who invented a solution to combat the problem of vaccines getting spoiled during the last mile of delivery. Liao is featured in a documentary Martino produced called “The Big Idea” (see below).



Alumni Awards for Excellence

Newmark J-School is pleased to announce Charlene Wiatta Freeman ’22, Gina Heeb ’22, Ariana Perez-Castells ’22, and Joseph Darius Jaafari ’16 as the 2023 recipients of the Awards for Excellence.

Join us for a special presentation of the awards led by Wesley Lowery and a cocktail reception on the terrace of The Century Association.

The awards, presented annually, honor alumni whose exemplary reporting and remarkable accomplishments represent the highest aspirations of Newmark J-School. Their impact underscores the essential role our graduates play in furthering a better journalism that serves the public.

Date and Time: May 30, 6-8 p.m. ET
Location: Century Club, 7 W. 43rd St., New York, NY.
Register here.


Covering Hate Crimes in Black, Asian, Jewish and LGBTQ Media

The Center for Community Media is hosting a half-day conference on how community media can and do respond to hate crimes targeting Black, Asian, Jewish and LGBTQ communities.

The conference will feature two distinguished speakers with expertise in civil rights, racism and community safety; a panel discussion with Black, Asian, Jewish and LGBTQ community media journalists covering hate crimes in their communities; and two workshops on research and editorial best practices. The conference will bring community media journalists, journalism students and members of the Newmark J-School community into a conversation about how we can collectively understand and respond to ongoing crises of racist, xenophobic, antisemitic, homophobic and transphobic violence in our society today.

Date and Time: June 9, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. ET
Location: Hybrid | Zoom and in person at 219 W. 40th St., New York, NY
Register here.


NYC-Area Newmark Alumni Meetup and Student Intro

Join us on June 14 at 6 p.m. for a chance to connect with NYC-area Newmark alumni, and to chat with admitted students about making the most of J-School. Please let us know if you’d be willing to be one of the alumni hosts: We’ll pay you a stipend for your time. (Free pizza is included.) Stay tuned for details, and please reach out now if you’re interested in being an alumni host. Email Salma in Alumni Affairs by June 2:

Date and Time: June 14, 6-7:30 p.m. ET
Location: On or near campus (details coming soon!)


6th Annual CUNY Multi-Campus Alumni Career Event

The Offices of Alumni Relations and Career Services at CUNY’s School of Professional Studies are hosting the 6th Annual CUNY Multi-Campus Alumni Career Event. This year will feature presenter and CUNY alum Denise Patrick, who will offer a workshop called L.E.A.D. with Confidence: Harnessing the Power of Leadership, Engagement, Authenticity and Drive, followed by cross-CUNY-campus networking in breakout rooms.

CUNY alumni from all campuses are welcome to attend.

Date and Time: June 15, 6- 8 p.m. ET
Location: Zoom
Register here by June 13.



J+ Summer Boosts

Newmark J-School alumni get 50% off the J+ Summer Boosts, three-day master classes held in person in July. You can apply for one or both Boosts: The Transformation Boost (July 5-7) will be led by Anita Zielina, executive in residence, and guests, and will cover emerging technologies, product, strategy and change management for news; the program includes a visit to Bloomberg News. The Engagement Boost (July 10-12) will be led by Niketa Patel, senior director of leadership programs at J+ (pictured right), and guests, and will discuss community building, data and metrics, and rethinking engagement strategies while dealing with volatile platforms; the program will include a visit to Linkedin. Learn what you need to know this year to keep up with the industry, help your news organization thrive and stay ahead in your career! Check the box for alumni on the application to receive the discount.

Application deadline: June 1
Apply here.

Executive Program in News Innovation and Leadership

The Executive Program in News Innovation and Leadership is now accepting applications for its fourth cohort. This global, rigorous program, which runs from Sept. 2023 to June 2024, operates under a hybrid model of weekly virtual classes and leadership workshops and three in-person residencies in New York City. Candidates from local, national and international news organizations with backgrounds in editorial, product, business and technology are encouraged to apply. Participants will work on a capstone project under the guidance of a personal coach.

After successfully completing the program, participants will receive a certificate of completion issued by Newmark J-School. Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis.

Application deadline: June 2
Apply here.

Uncovering Justice Stories: A Free Workshop for Journalists at Newmark J-School

“Justice Stories: How to Expose Past Wrongs — and Get Action Now” is a free two-day workshop funded by The Tow Foundation and aimed at mid-career journalists covering juvenile justice, criminal justice and related beats. Applications are now open to participate in the workshop, which will be held June 20-21 at the Newmark J-School campus.

Reporters enrolled in the all-expenses-paid training sessions are expected to arrive with story pitches. They’ll get direct feedback and guidance from top-notch journalists expert in rooting out long-buried injustices and using the reporting to fuel high-impact stories that tackle current struggles.

Applicants should send a resume, along with relevant written, video or audio clips — and a proposal for a criminal justice story they’d like to work on — to the J-School’s Daryl Khan at Qualified journalists will be accepted as they apply.

Dates: June 20-21 at Newmark J-School, 219 W. 40th St., New York, NY
Information and application guidelines here.



Google Drive Storage Deadline: Aug. 18

This is a reminder about Google’s changing storage policies: After Aug. 18, all alumni Google Drive data will need to be permanently deleted to make space for new students. As a J-School alum, you will still have lifetime access to your email, but your email storage limit will now be 5GB. (Be cautious of large attachments to avoid exceeding that limit.)

You can still access and download all of your existing Google Drive data until Aug. 18. For instructions on how to migrate your data before that date to avoid losing it, please refer to this Google Drive Storage FAQ; contact Alumni Affairs if you need more assistance.

Alumni Updates



  • Chris Prentice ’10 was part of a team at Reuters that won the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing’s real-time reporting award for coverage of FTX in 2022.
  • Matt Draper ’11 and Deanne Gaston ’16 produced HBO’s “House of the Dragon” website, which won a Webby Award in the Websites and Mobile Sites: TV/Film/Streaming category.
  • Susie Armitage ’13 was story editor for Project Brazen’s podcast “Kabul Falling,” which was nominated for a Peabody Award. The eight-part narrative series tells the story of the Taliban takeover through the eyes of the Afghans who lived it.
  • Carlos Serrano ’17 has been selected as one of the 2023 Logan Science Journalism fellows.
  • Paula Moura ’18 is part of a team that won a Peabody Award for “The Territory,” a documentary about the Amazon rainforest. Moura was a field producer for the film. View the trailer here.
  • Lauren Costantino, Engagement J ‘​​​​​19, is part of a Miami Herald team that won the Pulitzer Prize this year for Editorial Writing. The award-winning work was a series of editorials on the failure of Florida public officials to deliver on many taxpayer-funded amenities and services that were promised to residents over decades.
  • Shantal Riley ’19 received an Emmy Award (pictured below) for her reporting in Un(re)solved – a multimedia project from Frontline PBS and Ado Ato Pictures that investigates hundreds of cold case murders committed during the Civil Rights Era. Riley was the lead reporter on the case of Jimmie Lee Jackson, whose death led to the historic march from Selma to Montgomery on Mar. 7, 1965. She won her award in the category of Outstanding Interactive Media: Innovation.
  • Bryce Buyakie ’20 won a First Place Award from the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors for Best News Writer for his reporting in The Daily Record. He also won second place awards for Best Enterprise Reporting, Best Explanatory Reporting, and Best Spot News Coverage.
  • Benjamin Chambers ’20 won three awards at the 2023 MDDC Press Association Awards: 2nd place for Feature Photo and 1st and 2nd places for Photo Series.
  • Molly Boigon ’22 and Newmark adjunct Andy Lehren won a Deadline Club Award in the Business Investigative Reporting category for their story about abusive labor practices by private contractors on U.S. army bases. Finalists for the Deadline Club Awards this year included a long list of Newmark J-Schoolers: Joel Schectman ’09Claudia Irizarry-Aponte ’18, Kevin Loria ’12, Sarah Kerr ’17, Griffin Kelly ’21, Sophia Lebowitz ’21, Keith Paul Medelis ’21, Rommel Ojeda ’21, Harry Parker ’21, Mary Steffenhagen ’21 (a finalist in two categories this year), Lauren Friedman ’22 and adjunct faculty Errol Louis.
  • Gina Heeb ’22 and Lucy Papachristou ’22 won the George Auerbach Scholarship and the Clare Recket Scholarship, respectively, from the New York Financial Writers Association.

Many Newmark J-School alumni and current students are winners of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Region 1 Mark of Excellence Awards, and will be competing in the national awards this fall.  See here for the full list of  SPJ’s Region 1 Newmark J-School honorees.

Our faculty members are also among the award-winners this spring:

  • Greg David, director of the Business and Economics Reporting Program, is the winner of the New York Press Club’s Business Reporting NYC Metro award for digital publications for his story “Is Manhattan’s Back-to-the-Office Moment Finally Here?” in The City.
  • Andy Lehren, adjunct faculty member, shared a Deadline Club Award with Molly Boigon ’22 (see above).
  • Errol Louis, adjunct faculty member, was a finalist for a Deadline Club Award.
  • Yoruba Richen, director of the Documentary Program, won a Peabody for “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.”
  • Linda Villarosa 13, Newmark J-School professor, is a Pulitzer Prize finalist this year for her book Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation. Here is the video of her book event at Newmark last fall.


Featured News

  • Matt Draper ’11 (right) has joined Sorare – a global fantasy sports game and marketplace – as editorial lead across brand and products (soccer, NBA and MLB). He previously worked at HBO/HBO Sports as a senior manager of web content and strategy.
  • Heather Martino, Entrepreneurial ’14 (below right), produced a film that recently premiered at the MIT Museum in Boston. The film, called “The Big Idea,” follows three innovators who are brilliant, bold and united by the desire to use technology, science and engineering to create radical, systemic change. “It took us two years to make this, and in that span of time I was pregnant and had my daughter, Emilia, who is 15 months old now,” Martino said. “The day I was induced into labor, I was simultaneously producing a shoot remotely at the World Expo in Dubai, UAE.” The film received a standing ovation. Martino is pictured below, from right, with her daughter Emilia Valente and Kelly Buwalda, production assistant, outside the premiere at MIT Museum.
  • Kat Long ’15 gave a talk on May 11 at the Yale Club of New York City about George Borup, an Arctic explorer and Yale grad who was part of the first expedition to reach the North Pole. The talk accompanied an exhibit of the club library’s artifacts from his polar adventure. Long was selected for The Arctic Circle‘s Artist and Scientist Residency Program, which will take place aboard a sailing ship in and around Svalbard for three weeks in October 2023. She will be researching the changes in Svalbard’s Arctic landscape since the 1820s, when her ancestor visited the same places and wrote the first scientific account of the region. Her findings will form part of a book-length biography of her ancestor, an extension of her J-School capstone project.
  • Sebastián Auyanet, Engagement J ’17, will be the lead coach for the Google News Initiative/Sembramedia Media Boot Camp, the first one in Latin America’s history.
  • Clarissa Sosin ’17 (pictured below in August 2019) recently published a five-part investigative series called “In the Dark” with Verité News. The project examines the internal affairs division of the Baton Rouge Police Department. Sosin worked on the project for five years, in collaboration with J-School professor Daryl Khan and chief librarian and research professor Barbara Gray. Newmark adjunct Errol Louis recently interviewed them for his podcast, “You Decide,” and they were also featured in this interview with New Orleans Public Radio. Sosin began working on the project less than two months after receiving her diploma, and plans to keep going.
  • Ben Abrams ’20 is joining KWGS 89.5FM (Public Radio Tulsa), the NPR affiliate in Tulsa, OK, as reporter and local news anchor for “All Things Considered.”
  • Yara El Murr ’20 has been working as an assistant producer and researcher on a documentary feature, “The Soil and the Sea,” which explores the link between Lebanon’s missing people from the civil war and the hundreds of unmarked burial sites scattered around the country. The film premiered in Beirut on May 3 as part of Ecrans du Reel, a documentary festival organized by Metropolis Cinema. Fun fact: She got her job on the team as a direct result of her capstone project, “Reverberations.”
  • Matthew Euzarraga ’20 (right) started a full-time position at PIX11 News as a digital reporter after freelancing for The New York Daily News, and The US Sun.
  • Vanessa Ague’ 21 has been accepted to the National Critics Institute this summer at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.
  • Hafeezat Bishi, Engagement J ’22, joined the team at St. Louis Public Radio for the spring/summer to help generate content for their digital presence.
  • Caithlin Peña ’22 is now working as a freelance assignment desk editor for News12 Bronx and Brooklyn.
  • Wyatt Stayner ’22 recently published a story on aging in prison for the Prison Journalism Project, as part of a larger special series of stories from incarcerated and formerly incarcerated writers. Each story focuses on different angles of the issue of people growing old inside prisons. He began reporting this story in the fall of 2021 as a J-School student.




We’re thrilled to give this year’s Newmark J-School Alumni Awards for Excellence to these four outstanding winners:

Charlene Wiatta Freeman ’22 will receive the Sidney Hillman Foundation Award for Social Justice Reporting. Prior to J-School, Freeman demonstrated her commitment to social justice reporting by founding and hosting the weekly feminist radio program, Womanspeak, on 89.3FM WRFG Atlanta. Freeman’s interest in journalism started in childhood: “I would often hear my immigrant parents in lively conversation and debate with relatives and friends about the politics at home (i.e. the West African country of Liberia),” she told us. “There they would be, over steaming, delicious plates of West African cuisine, having some of the most intellectually stimulating conversations that I have ever heard. It remains as some of the best storytelling that I’ve experienced.”

While at J-School, Freeman—who graduated from Spelman College with a B.A. in English—specialized in international reporting and audio-visual journalism. She produced projects including a feature article highlighting the dedicated efforts of “violence interrupters” in the South Bronx who strive to combat gun violence, and an audio documentary shedding light on the challenges faced by a Black farming couple from Louisiana who were impacted by the discriminatory lending practices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Freeman said her work “has provided me ample opportunities to have dialogue and interaction with diverse communities directly impacted by the issues and events in news coverage.”


Gina Heeb ’22 is being recognized with a prize that honors the late Frederic Wiegold, the former senior editor of Bloomberg Markets and an 18-year veteran at The Wall Street Journal, where she currently works on the banking team. She told us that when she was growing up, papers like the WSJ helped explain global events like the 2008 financial crisis to her in comprehensive and accessible ways: “This gave me a keen recognition of just how vital business journalism is, from Wall Street to Main Street, and helped ignite my goal to inform the public and hold the powerful accountable as a reporter,” she said.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate before she came to Newmark, Heeb has journalistic pursuits that encompass a wide range of topics, including the fluctuating nature of the stock market, the impact of the banking crisis on financial institutions and the domain of American consumer finance. Her work has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, Bloomberg Law, NBC News and CNBC.

Ariana Perez-Castells ’22, a graduate of the Bilingual Program at Newmark J-School, reports in both English and Spanish about health, the environment and labor. She will receive the Newsweek Alumni Prize, which was established by journalists from the magazine to honor a graduate who best exemplifies its values, spirit and excellence. “The pandemic made me reevaluate my career. I had studied human rights and writing as an undergrad but was never quite sure how I could fit all of my interests into a career,” she told us. “I realized journalism might be the way forward and applied to CUNY. Once I got [there], everything clicked. For the first time, I felt like my interests and career path aligned with each other.”

Perez-Castells has written for The Wall Street Journal, Univision, City Limits, The Texas Tribune and Bushwick Daily, and has a bachelor’s degree in written arts and human rights from Bard College. She joins the Philadelphia Inquirer as a general assignment business reporter starting this month.

Joseph Darius Jaafari ’16 will receive the Stephen B. Shepard Prize for Investigative Reporting for his investigation of an Arizona constable involved in a deadly shooting and other violations. Jaafari’s year-long project for The Arizona Republic revealed the lack of accountability by the state’s Constable Ethics and Standards Board following the constable’s actions. As a result of his reporting, other victims came forward, leading the board to ultimately demand the constable’s resignation.

An investigative reporter at AZ Republic, Jaafari is also the creator and executive editor of LOOKOUT, a regional nonprofit news outlet committed to reporting on LGBTQ+ matters in the wider Phoenix vicinity. He said that before he became a journalist, “I thought I wanted to be a politician, because I wanted to do something to help people, and I wanted to make sure people in power were kept in check. That morphed into writing for a college paper, and being taken under the wing of professors at CUNY-York College who told me I had a talent.” He added, “It was during that time that I learned I could make a difference in people’s lives, while also being creative and keeping people accountable.”