Dear Berkeley Journalism Community,
It is with great pride that I write to highlight the incredible work of our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends.
We just completed weeks of activity leading up to our annual student thesis showcases and a commencement ceremony on the most beautiful of California days. As educators, there really isn’t a more glorious time of year than the day we celebrate the perseverance and talent of our beloved students along with their family and friends. Watch it here.
The Investigative Reporting Program, led by Professor David Barstow, hosted the 14th Annual Logan Symposium in Investigative Reporting in April — our first big in-person event since the pandemic began. And we also hosted a fruitful and productive meeting with our Advisory Board.
I am thrilled to announce the appointment of Amy Utstein to the role of senior assistant dean of administration and strategy, and the promotion of Blaine Jones as senior director of student affairs. Following the hiring of Steve Katz, our new assistant dean for advancement, my senior leadership team is now in place. I can’t wait to see what we’ll accomplish together!
We also announced a new Advisory Board member, Kathy Im, one of the most respected women in journalism philanthropy, who kindly said she was thrilled to join the board as the School has become “a symbol of hope and reinvention” under my leadership.
Our Dean’s Fellows program, a leadership development initiative that fully funds up to five first-generation college students annually, is gearing up for its second year, thanks to the generosity of our Advisory Board members Steve Silberstein (BA Economics/MLS) and Bill Whitaker (MJ ’78 & ’17), alum Pamela Rorke Levy’s (‘79) Brooks-Mathews Foundation, and Maureen Orth (BA Political Science/CLS ‘64). Other new programs, like our new reporting on China initiative, co-taught by New York Times reporters Edward Wong (also an alum and Advisory Board member of Berkeley Journalism) and Amy Qin, had a great launch. As part of this initiative, the School has awarded a fellowship this fall to an incoming Berkeley Journalism student with a demonstrated interest in covering China. We are deeply grateful to Cal alum Bak Chan for funding this popular course.
Our fifth annual Bloomberg-UNC-Berkeley Business Journalism Diversity Program, an intensive, five-day business journalism workshop, was held mid-May in New York City. The program has given more than 50 students from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of business journalism. It also serves as a pipeline to recruit promising students of color to our school. Investigative reporter Nazmul Ahasan (‘23) was selected this year, and four past participants would go on to be Berkeley Journalism students: Maria Sestito (’20), Marco Torrez (‘21), Sabrina Kharrazi (‘23) and Coral del Mar Murphy-Marcos (’23).
Last August, we created a new pilot program to guarantee equitable paid summer internships to all of our students. With a $245,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, Berkeley Journalism brings forth a solution to the crippling cutbacks in newsroom internship budgets around the country, a long proven gateway for young reporters to launch careers in journalism. This summer, we are supporting 23 students with a maximum of $5,000 in compensation for summer internships at the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, The Point Reyes Light, KALW, Mission Local, the San Francisco Chronicle and numerous independent documentary films. If your journalism organization is looking for fall interns, reach out to Betsy Rate, director of career services, here.
Here are some of the highlights from our prolific journalism community. I share these knowing it is impossible for us to feature all of the accomplishments in this limited space, so I urge you to follow our social media channels to learn of our community’s important work and awards in real time.
In February, “American Insurrection,” a collaboration between Berkeley Journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program, PBS FRONTLINE and ProPublica, won a George Polk Award. The documentary and companion article — “How an Active Duty Airman Tried to Start a Civil War,” by Gisela Pérez de Acha (’20), Kathryn Hurd (’21) and Ellie Lightfoot (’21) — was published on the FRONTLINE and ProPublica websites. They and their reporting were also featured in the documentary. The students worked under the editorial supervision of David Barstow, head of the Investigative Reporting Program. The article arose from a story idea by Lecturer David Thigpen, who in 2020 taught a Berkeley Journalism class on covering domestic extremism. “American Insurrection” was also nominated in the News category of The Peabody Awards.
Seeing this project recognized in the Peabody and Polk Awards is really meaningful and reminds us just how remarkable the publishing opportunities we provide our students are.
Lecturer Daffodil Altan (’04), Professor Andrés Cediel (’04), Maria Jose Calderon (’09) and the extraordinary class of ’20 students were named duPont-Columbia Award finalists for “Covid’s Hidden Toll,” a FRONTLINE documentary on worker safety, produced in the early days of the pandemic. Brandon Yadegari, Lulu Orozco, Nick Roberts, Rosa Tuirán, Jess Alvarenga, and Pedro Cota were associate producers, with Molly Forster contributing additional research. Zach Stauffer (’08) contributed additional camera work.
Our new cross-campus, multidisciplinary initiative “Our Better Web” takes aim at disinformation, emboldened by a collective mission. As part of this project, Queena Kim, adjunct professor of audio and senior editor at Reveal, and Aaron Glantz, an award-winning investigative reporter and senior investigations editor at NPR’s California newsroom, are co-teaching J276 Digital Accountability.
Steven Rascón (‘22) recently appeared on “Hecho en California,” the most listened to Spanish-language talk program broadcast across Northern and Central California, to present his investigation produced with Berkeley Law’s Danielle Elliot explaining the relationship between Section 230 and the spread of Spanish misinformation and disinformation. Thanks to Advisory Board member and Cal alum Simone Coxe (BA/Political Science and Government) for funding this effort.
A second investigation, co-produced with Lola Proctor (‘23) examining the relationship between Section 230 and right-wing hate speech, was featured on the Pat Thurston Show on KGO 810, the Bay Area’s ABC radio affiliate. Both projects will soon be broadcast as packages on Latino Rebels, a high-profile podcast produced by Pulitzer Prize-winning Futuro Media. We’re also working with editors at widely heard public radio programs to get the balance of the students’ great work out into the world.
In 2021, we established the Reporters in Residence Fellowship to welcome talented Bay Area journalists to our campus community. One of our inaugural fellows, Maria Bernal (‘23), was recently selected as a 2022 White House Correspondents’ Association scholar. Read her essay on the experience here.
Class of ’22 reporters Ari Sen, Freddy Brewster, Katie Licari-Kozak, Lecturer Jim Wheaton and alumna Sukey Lewis (’15) were honored at the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter James Madison Freedom of Information Awards for their various work.
Steven Rascón (‘22) and Kathryn Styer Martínez (‘23), along with alums Jonathan Jones (’05) and Amy Mostafa (‘20), were nominated for a Peabody Award in the Podcast/Radio category for Reveal’s “Mississippi Goddam: The Ballad of Billey Joe.” In it, host Al Letson makes good on a promise to find out what really happened to a Black high schooler whose dreams of going to college and playing pro football ended during a 2008 traffic stop. Authorities said he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound during the confrontation with a white sheriff’s deputy, but the boy’s family has always had doubts.
Thesis projects published: Izzy Bloom’s (‘22) deeply personal thesis project about her mom’s experience as an immigrant, wanting to raise her children bilingual but facing pushback, aired on KQED. Sofie Kodner’s (’22) powerful investigation into how a prominent Black doctor’s land in Missouri was taken from him in the 1950s, ran on “99% Invisible.” Clara Mokri and Katie Bernstein’s (‘21) thesis film was recently picked up by The New Yorker and already has some 130,000 YouTube views.
Watching our talented students earn competitive scholarships is everything. Eleonora Bianchi of Switzerland and Idris Muktar Ibrahim of Kenya (both Class of ’22) were awarded scholarships from the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents, honoring foreign journalists completing their master’s level studies in the U.S. Sofie Kodner (’22), Talia Mindich (’22) and Iqra Salah (’23) were named Overseas Press Club Foundation Scholars. Closer to home, Bashirah Mack (‘22) was named the Marlon T. Riggs Fellow in Documentary Filmmaking, Kori Suzuki (’23) was awarded the Dorothea Lange Fellowship in a campuswide competition, and Joey Horan (‘22) was named the Brian Pollack Fellow in Documentary Filmmaking.
In book news, “The Geometry of Life”— the first photography monograph by award-winning visual storyteller Associate Professor Richard Koci Hernandez — is available now. Professor Elena Conis (’04) — a historian of public health and medicine — is getting strong reviews for her latest book, “How to Sell a Poison: The Rise, Fall, and Toxic Return of DDT.”
In the news: Professor Edward Wasserman weighs in on the Supreme Court leak, and argues Sarah Palin’s failed defamation suit may offer anti-press forces an opening to destroy the ruling that has shielded news media from legal reprisal over reporting errors, both in the San Francisco Chronicle. Professor Jennifer Redfearn, director of “Apart,” was interviewed on 1A about her powerful documentary exploring incarceration through three mothers. Continuing Lecturer Jennifer Kahn (’00) has a cover story on actor/writer/ director Taika Waititi in the July/August issue of Wired.
Professor Emeritus Michael Pollan was named a Guggenheim Fellow.
Continuing Lecturer Adam Hochschild reviews three new books arguing that disappearing jobs and widening inequality helped make possible Trump’s politics of resentment, in The New York Review of Books. His next book, “American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis,” will be published in October.
Professor Ken Light’s work is included in gallerist Peter Fetterman’s new book, “The Power of Photography,” which celebrates the photograph’s unique capacity for sensibility. Each of the 120 images is a time capsule, offering us a glimpse into days past. Yet each photograph also speaks of tranquility, peace, and hope for the future. The book features “Peace Fingers,” from Ken’s book “What’s Going On? 1969-1974.”
Our Excelling Alumni
In prize news, Sarah Cahlan (’19) of The Washington Post’s visual forensics team, Post investigative reporter Emma Brown (’09) and audio producer Ariel Plotnick (’18) were awarded the Pulitzer Prize public service medal for coverage of the causes, costs and aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack. Alsanosi Adam (’16) of NPR was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in Audio Reporting for “compelling, accessible and empathetic stories on the complicated war and threats to democracy in East Africa.”
Brett Murphy (’16) won the Hillman Prize for Newspaper reporting for exposing a nationwide pattern of physical, legal and professional retaliation against police whistleblowers.
Angélica Casas (’17) of the BBC was named winner of White House News Photographers Association’s “Multimedia Journalist of the Year” award.
We love highlighting the extraordinary careers of our alumni. Tanay Gokhale (‘23) recently profiled audio producer Justin Richmond (’15), from KALX as a UC Berkeley philosophy undergrad to his extraordinary work producing/hosting “Broken Record”; and visual storyteller Yoli Martinez (’15) of The Washington Post.
Mike Milano’s (’15) documentary “137 Shots” — about law enforcement facing scrutiny as Americans demand justice after police violence claims multiple Black lives in Cleveland — premiered on Netflix in December and has been viewed upward of 20 million times. The film began as his master’s project.
In book news: New York Times reporter David Gelles’ (’08) “The Man Who Broke Capitalism,” about Jack Welch, the longtime chief executive of General Electric, is out now. Jon Mooallem (’06) published “Serious Face” and a riveting, must-read essay in The New York Times Magazine. Jori Lewis’ (‘06) first book, “Slaves For Peanuts: A Story of Conquest, Liberation, and a Crop That Changed History,” is out now.
News From Our Investigative Reporting Program (IRP)
During the spring semester, the IRP had approximately 40 students involved in over two dozen investigative projects. Students in Professor David Barstow’s Blockbuster investigative reporting seminar traveled to Mexico, Italy, and Kenya on reporting trips over the winter break. The IRP’s student reporters also have been working on the California Reporting Project with KQED reporters and alumni Sukey Lewis (’15) and Lisa Pickoff-White (’09).
On April 29 and 30, the IRP hosted the 14th Annual Reva & David Logan Symposium on Investigative Reporting, featuring recent Pulitzer Prize winners Azmat Khan and Corey Johnson, among other renowned journalists. Nearly 40 Berkeley Journalism students attended the Logan Symposium this year. One tradition of the Symposium is to match Berkeley Journalism students with professional journalist mentors, and this year, a record 34 students met with mentors for one-on-one conversations. In May, students in Barstow’s Blockbuster seminar finished many of their investigative projects, several which are slated to be published in the coming months.
Last year, we partnered with the Human Rights Center (HRC) at Berkeley Law’s “Investigations Lab” to launch the country’s first multidisciplinary investigative reporting course using open source intelligence (OSINT) at a university. As part of the Logan Symposium, Lecturer Alexa Koenig, Gisela Pérez de Acha (’20) and Brian Nguyen (‘22) introduced the audience to open-source intelligence techniques.
As we near the end of our fiscal year, we send our gratitude to everyone who has supported our School and invite those who haven’t yet done so to contribute.
As many of you know, we want our graduates to leave with as little debt as possible so they can afford to take the entry-level jobs that are stepping stones to careers of enormous power and influence. Indeed, we are committed to raising an endowment to remove the economic obstacles to people from historically marginalized groups becoming journalists. To do that, we aim to raise $100 million.
We believe that who the storytellers are matters. Our democracy depends on journalists reflecting and reporting on the lived experiences of all people. Berkeley Journalism is committed to advancing faith in journalism by recruiting and training the next generation of truth-seeking, fact-based journalists to become exceptional storytellers and industry leaders. The scope of our vision is expansive but deeply worth the investment from each of us. Multiple programs need support, and the stakes are incredibly high. Will you stand proudly with us by making a tax-deductible donation today?
Wishing you and yours a safe and restorative summer ahead,
Dean and Professor
Robert A. Peck Chair
About this communique: The Dean’s Letter is a quarterly email newsletter sent to alumni, donors, students, faculty, media partners and others in Berkeley Journalism’s broad community. If you’d like to follow ongoing developments in real-time, find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Have alumni news or accomplishments to share? Please send it, along with a high-res headshot to firstname.lastname@example.org. Are you hiring? Please reach out to email@example.com.
June 15, 2023
Geeta Anand. Photo by Christopher Michel. Dear Berkeley Journalism Community, We live in a moment like no other. The threats to democratic culture posed by weaponized disinformation, partisan disharmony, and…