Celebrating the inaugural Executive Program Cohort

16 leaders finished the Executive Program in News Innovation and Leadership. Now they’re tackling big newsroom challenges and leading the way for others.


The Executive Program cohort delivered their final presentations in March 2021 over Zoom.

By Elise Czajkowski

In March, the first cohort of the Executive Program in News Innovation and Leadership at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism completed their capstone projects.

The 16 leaders — who hailed from Chile, Egypt, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Venezuela — joined together on a Zoom call to share their capstone presentations, which focused on wide range of issues in media today, from product development to leadership skills to diversity and equity in newsrooms.

Watch the full presentation event here:

Get to know the 16 pioneering #NewmarkJLeaders here:

Susanne Amann (01:15:50–01:21:44) has served as managing editor and been in charge of human resources, budgeting, and change at DER SPIEGEL since 2019. She has held various positions at the SPIEGEL group since 2010. Prior to that, she trained at “taz — die Tageszeitung” and worked at the Financial Times Deutschland.

“Corona changed our corporate culture a lot faster than I would ever have imagined. As a member of the Corona Task Force, I experienced the rapid conversion of the whole editorial team. Workflows and processes were digitalized, questioned and simplified. At the same time, we realized that the pandemic would have massive economic consequences, collapsing advertising revenues on all platforms, and the challenges in the print business made it necessary for us to focus even more on growth and revenue areas.”

Ana Arriagada (00:14:59–00:20:04) is a journalist and co-founder of El Soberano, an independent digital medium that covers social movements and organizations in Chile. She also teaches digital media at Diego Portales University in Santiago, and is an ambassador for Chicas Poderosas, an international organization that promotes female leadership to ensure that women’s perspectives are represented in the media.

“My goal is to think in journalism as a service. Also, to build a product that tackles a big heavy issue, the connection between citizens and organizations they can trust.”

Thierry Backes (00:09:33–00:14:50) was formerly digital strategist at the leading German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. He now works for WDR aktuell, a public broadcaster in Cologne. He led a crowdsourcing project for the bike community in Munich and won the German Local Journalism Award with an analysis of a social-media-triggered panic after a shooting at a shopping mall.

“The very vast majority of journalists in Germany aim to pursue careers in legacy media companies and feel very, very comfortable as employees. None of the colleagues I interviewed for this project is ready to or willing to start as a creator.”

Lauren Berry (00:43:16–00:49:29) leads a global team of editors at Bloomberg looking to use technology to build the newsroom of the future. Under her direction, Bloomberg has built out automated and semi-automated workflows for everything from earnings stories to local language content. As deputy bureau chief, Berry works to develop talent, direct news coverage, and host major newsmakers at Bloomberg’s global headquarters in New York.

“Organizations should look to limit repetitive and manual workflows. For the most part, newsrooms are still utilizing fully manual approaches to their curation strategies. This can lead to inconsistencies in how news is displayed, and causes delays as we wait for editors to see identify, judge and action content.”

A native Iowan, P. Kim Bui (01:01:38–01:14:40) has focused her career on leading real-time news initiatives and creating new storytelling forms for digital, print, and broadcast companies catering to local, national, and global audiences. At the Arizona Republic, Bui is creating and running strategy for the breaking news and audience teams, as well as developing innovative new storytelling techniques.

“I think what has to change is we have to learn to accept that, as journalists, we have power, and as newsrooms, we have power. And that we have to figure out ways to give up and share some of that power with the community. And that's going to require slightly different thinking about what our role is in the community and how we are going to interact with them.”

Rosy Catanach (01:01:38–01:14:40) is a product leader of web and mobile apps loved by millions and publishing systems powering thousands of journalists. She joined The New York Times in 2013 and has worked on an array of Times products, including the flagship New York Times web and mobile apps, Cooking, Crossword, and NYT Now. She currently leads the publishing team in building the next generation of newsroom tools, enabling an unprecedented combination of sophisticated programming, testing, and rapid advancement of product experiences for Times readers.

“The big challenge that I see is this huge gap between ambitions, which are high — and they should be high — and our ability to execute on those ambitions in a timely manner. And that gap is real. And you want that gap. That gap is big, because you don't want to lower ambitions. But at the same time, there's a limiting factor to how much we can execute.”

Styli Charalambous (01:33:32–01:46:42) co-founded Daily Maverick, a 10-year-old South African news startup focusing on political analysis, opinion, and investigative journalism. Daily Maverick won the 2019 Global Shining Light Award for work done on the GuptaLeaks investigations that helped unseat a corrupt sitting president, Jacob Zuma. He oversees all the non-editorial functions of the business and, despite having a finance background, considers himself a fully-reformed accountant.

“The only thing that we get going through a process of change and successful innovation, is that we get to the beginning again and realize that we have to change and innovate again. It's a constant, always-on demand.”

Jonah Comstock (00:49:41–00:55:23) plays a leading role at HIMSS Media, which includes MobiHealthNews, Heathcare IT News, and Healthcare Finance News. A Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he has written for Psychology Today and the Columbia Journalism Review. He’s also a Dow Jones Copy Editing Fellow and has worked on the copy desks at Newsday and the Tampa Bay Times.

“What is a newsletter for? We've been focusing on click-through rates, and thinking of newsletters as a conduit that takes the reader from their email inbox to our website, which is ultimately where we want them to be. But these newsletters that we're facing off against often aren't like that. They are the whole destination. The job that the newsletter is doing is not taking you somewhere else. It's just giving you the day's news update that you're after.”

At the regional newspaper Neue Westfälische in Germany, Alexander Droessler (00:55:34–01:00:29) worked with the startup Lokalportal to build a hybrid of a local social network and a local news site as third-pillar strategy for regional newspapers, in addition to paid content and third-party business. Now, he works as a digital transformation manager at Nordkurier Mediengruppe in Neubrandenburg.

“When I look at successful digital news companies with products — for example, newsletters — I always see, they have a very targeted audience and a very well-defined value proposition for them. So I think we can already see a pivot from mass media to niche audiences on the internet. To me, one product for all does not sound like a promising strategy.”

Ethar El-Katatney (00:20:47–00:37:30) is building a multiple-medium digital magazine at The Wall Street Journal aimed at 18 to 34 year olds. Previously, she was the senior executive producer who oversaw the digital newsroom at AJ+. She has over a decade of international journalism experience working on news, features, and investigative stories for print, online, and TV.

“And a lot of organizations think it's about the flashy video, or we need great transitions — it just needs to be very TikTok. We need to be on all these platforms. But I feel everything comes back to the stories that you tell, it comes back to representing their voices, it comes back to being authentic.”

Daisuke Furuta (00:38:25–00:43:12) is a Google News Lab Teaching Fellow in Toyko. He set up his own company, media-collab, in 2019 to support the digital transformation of Japanese media. Prior to that, he spent four years at BuzzFeed, where he was founder and editor-in-chief of the Japan edition.

“Fake news is a problem — 81% of Japanese people think so. What needs are unmet? To sort truth out of false, to know what to know, to develop the ability to distinguish reliable and accurate information.”

Maye Primera (00:20:47–00:37:30) is a bilingual multimedia journalist and author based in Miami. She has worked as a reporter and editor for more than 20 years, covering politics, immigration, borders, human rights, and violence issues in Latin America and the U.S. She currently works as a senior editor for Latin America at Univision News Digital.

Young Latinas are facing this silent mental health crisis for a very long time, since the 90s. Suicide attempt rates among Latinas are higher than among any other youth group in the US. So, feelings of pain, rage, isolation are shaping their youths in so many ways, and in extreme cases, they are hurting themselves.”

Abbie Scott (01:28:13–01:32:06) oversees global operations and management of 600 journalists in the editorial department at the Financial Times. She is focused on ensuring that the FT and its journalists thrive in an ever-changing industry.

“The FT’s history may be as a 133-year-old newspaper, but we have built a successful and thriving digital subscription business with a diversified revenue stream, including events, professional training and strategic consultants. But if we stand still now, that will mean being left behind. And the media industry and news industry has gone through a huge amount of change, and is unrecognizable from the newspaper and print business only a few years ago.”

Almudena Toral (00:20:47–00:37:30) is a visual journalist and filmmaker. Currently, she works as an executive producer at ProPublica; previously, she was the head of enterprise video at the Univision News Digital. She has taught video storytelling at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, pursued her own projects worldwide, and worked at The New York Times and TIME.

“What can we learn from the entertainment world, and from Hollywood specifically, about how to reach diverse audiences and young audiences, especially through different storytelling? How can we think about bringing real stories that can be rigorous investigative journalism, to the long form space, and meet audiences where they are, in their couch in the evening? And how can we make some of that journalism more accessible, more fun, more beautiful and interesting?”

Graham Watson-Ringo (01:21:54–01:28:08) is the senior director of member strategy at the News Revenue Hub. Prior to that, she was the managing editor of the Rivard Report in San Antonio, after previously serving as the head of subscriber digital for the San Antonio Express-News. Watson-Ringo originally hails from Redlands, California, and is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she played soccer.

“Once we stopped having this very hair-on-fire moment, and we stopped trying to cover everything of such a large scale thing, and we took a pause and said, ‘What should we be covering that makes sense for us?’ I think that's when we changed. I think that's when the pivot happened. And that's when reporters started to see their beats, their roles within how we were covering the coronavirus pandemic differently.”

Mary Willson (01:33:32–01:46:42) is the chief of staff and communication director at A+ Colorado. Previously, she worked as the director of engagement at EdNC, a nonprofit news organization focused on covering North Carolina education and policy. Before that, she held a variety of engagement and management roles at 6AM City, a media startup which does hyperlocal editorial newsletters in the Southeast U.S.

“I've realized that leadership is really internal, and it's about those decisions that you make in the moment. And what your viewpoint is, and not necessarily what your position is.”

Elise Czajkowski is a writer/editor who regularly writes about the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism’s executive and professional education programs. Based in New York, she was previously a Tow Knight Fellow in Entrepreneurial Journalism at the Newmark J-School. She launched a non-profit called Sidewalk News, which uses outdoor advertising to distribute local news.