Class of 2016 Final Project Roundup

Check out some new ideas for how journalists can serve communities from the CUNY-J social journalism class

11 min readAug 24, 2017


CUNY School of Journalism’s second wave of social journalists graduated last December amid increasing uncertainty as to the future of journalism, following a contentious presidential election.

There may never be a more critical time for journalists to work on strengthening our relationship with the public we purport to serve.

Social journalism reconfigures journalism as a collaborative service, positioning communities above headlines, with the goal of building trust between journalists and the people we report on. The basics tenets of journalism still hold true, just with deeper focus on empathetic reporting, collaboration, entrepreneurship, and community engagement.

Here’s a roundup of the program’s most recent graduates’ capstone projects, with a little update on what they’ve been up to post-graduation.

“It’s so important to reach out to people just to see what’s going on, and ask them what’s going on. Veer away from this transactional relationship, when you call someone only when you need something.” — Joe Amditis

Joe Amditis is the associate director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. He spent his graduate school year working with local publishers in New Jersey. Joe started by asking locals how they get their news. The prevailing response? People get the news from their mobile phones.

If mobile phones are now the primary method of news consumption, how will local publishers meet this growing demand? Mobile news is expensive and competitive, and many smaller local publishers aren’t currently equipped to adapt to changing digital trends.

Aside from engaging over 150 local publishers in New Jersey, joining Facebook groups, making instructional Facebook live videos, weekly phone calls, and sending out a daily newsletter, Joe launched the NJ Mobile News Lab. He also raised $20,000 from the Dodge Foundation to subsidize a project that partners with local publishers to experiment in mobile news creation and distribution.

Joe’s NJ Mobile News Lab won first place in The New Jersey Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2017 Excellence in Journalism Awards, in the Media-Affiliated Blog category.

“Communities don’t need you to substitute journalism with whatever institute they’re challenging.” — Allen Arthur

Allen Arthur spent 2016 collaborating with the city’s formerly incarcerated community, working with them to share their stories on incarceration, release, and reentry. Allen believes it’s important to “facilitate stories instead of telling them.” Acting as a facilitator, he created Greylined, a publication for people impacted by policing and incarceration in New York City. He interviewed over two dozen formerly incarcerated people, taught smartphone classes to formerly incarcerated women, attended protests, asked questions, and did a ton of listening.

In April, The Crime Report published Allen’s piece on a job fair designed to connect formerly incarcerated attendees with potential employers. He sold a story about Tennessee’s pretrial indefinite solitary confinement problem to The Marshall Project, and he’s also working a collaborative zine about reentry.

“Citizen participation is a must. Speaking to Afro-Latinx people in New York, they felt like there was not much outreach to the community.” — Sasha Fountain

Sasha M Fountain explored Latinx identity, culture and representation in the media, beginning with an introspective look at her own Afro-Panamanian ethnicity. She created the Instagram: Afro Latinx of New York, developed her Tumblr: La Otra Cara Latina, and created the Medium publication: #HeyMiGente. In her first post for #HeyMiGente, Sasha defines ‘Latinx’ as the gender-neutral alternative to ‘Latino’ — relaying how use of the term ‘Latinx’ relates to inclusivity, belonging and representation. Correspondingly, ‘Afro-Latinx’ focuses inclusiveness beyond gender identity, including the often ignored diaspora of African-descendant Latinx people.

Sasha’s project aimed to shed light on Afro-Latinx people in New York City, by offering them a space to share their experiences of the crossroads between race and culture.

Currently interning as a video producer for the Manhattan Neighborhood Network, Sasha still posts on the Afro-Latinx of New York Instagram, and La Otra Cara Latina.

“Educators and students are talking about the same things when it comes to improving their ecosystem. Ultimately, they’re trying to find out how to connect to improve their skill sets.” — Simon Galperin

As a journalism undergrad at Rutgers University, Simon Galperin cofounded Muckgers, an independent hyperlocal journalism platform. For his social journalism capstone, Simon focused on emerging journalists and the degree to which j-schools prepare student journalists for newsrooms.

Simon launched Info Districts, a project for reimagining the way local journalism is funded. He surveyed journalism educators and students, live-streamed a Bernie Sanders rally, and interned at ProPublica.

In July, Columbia Journalism Review published Simon’s piece: “Journalism is a public service. Why don’t we fund it like one?” In it, Simon reasserts the importance of funding local journalism, which, as he contends in his presentation, can give emerging journalists an opportunity to do meaningful work.

“Millions of people, every single day, are creating new connections online, joining different social platforms, because people like to feel connected.” — Katelyn Gillum

Katelyn Gillum cofounded the nonprofit Wire the Wise, which pairs senior citizens (the wise) with young professionals (the wired) for technology workshops aimed at filling generational gaps in tech literacy. Partners like DOROT, and the 92nd and 14th Street YMCAs, offered tangible community-building spaces for Wire the Wise events.

Katelyn’s work with Wire the Wise is focused on ensuring that seniors learn what they want to learn, which means tailoring each partnership (the wise + the wired) to fit a senior’s unique tech needs. She created the publication Wise Words to document what she learned from the events, even collecting 400 survey responses from ‘Wise’ participants on what could be done to improve intergenerational communities. Her main takeaways: seniors need individualized help, intergenerational connections are important, and bringing disparate communities together can help in creating civic dialogue.

Katelyn is currently a community specialist at Meetup, and has continued her work with Wire the Wise, which hosted a record 30 seniors at an event in April.

“We wanted our engagement campaign to be leveraged to empower and support communities, but we also want to amplify the Rainey’s story of hope and love and healing, which is at the core of the film.” — Sabrina

Sabrina Schmidt Gordon is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and instructor at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She designed a community engagement campaign for the documentary she produced, QUEST. QUEST is decade-long chronicle of the Raineys, a North Philadelphia family tragically impacted by the gun violence plaguing their community.

For her social journalism capstone, Sabrina expanded her focus to gun violence disrupting urban communities nationwide, with special focus on North Philly and the Rainey family. She interviewed local activists and educators in Philadelphia. Her interview with the creators of #blacklivesmatter broke the internet, and she organized an exhibition and panel discussion, before launching a community engagement tour coinciding with the film’s screenings. You can follow updates on the documentary on Facebook.

Acclaimed reviews from Variety, The New York Times, IndieWire, and a host of others, QUEST has screened at Sundance and at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. This summer, BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez, the documentary Sabrina directed about iconic poet Sonia Sanchez, was nominated for a 2017 News and Documentary Emmy.

“Digital engagement is awesome, however, to really engage with a community, you have to do a lot of on-the-ground and person-to-person interaction.” — Colin

Colin-Pierre Larnerd worked with New York City’s busking community. Buskers are street and subway performers who sing, dance and everything in between for gratuity or recognition. Colin chose to focus on the community of independent freelance buskers unaffiliated with the MTA’s Music Under New York program. Weeks of interviews and fieldwork culminated into the development of The BUSK Stop: NYC — a multi-platform project showcasing buskers and the stories unique to them. Colin reported on the challenges buskers face, like competitive spaces, poor sound quality, wavering foot traffic, and police confrontations.

Colin wants to promote buskers and advocate on behalf of them, develop digital tools that benefit buskers, and debunk myths about the community. He used ThingLink to prototype an interactive digital tool that maps where buskers perform. He created Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr pages for The BUSK Stop, produced Facebook live videos of performances, and used GroundSource to engage the busking community through text messaging.

Following graduation, Colin spent weeks in Kolkata, India, helping local youth gain the resources needed to reach financial security. You can read more about the Kolkata project here. Colin has since joined Meetup as one of their community specialists.

“The point was to work with a community on a project, as opposed to creating something and trying to find a good fit for it.” — Anna-Michelle

Anna-Michelle Lavandier has been a gamer since she was nine, making her a member of the gaming community she spent 2016 reporting on. Anna- Michelle aims to correct popular misconceptions of who gamers are, by applying the main tenets of social journalism: listening, collaborating and creating, to expand visibility of diverse gaming communities.

She created The Nerd Castle, featuring stories ranging from industry news to the gaming conversations occurring at local levels. Anna-Michelle’s first-person story about her gaming discovery was published in Orlando Sentinel’s New Voices column. She wrote about Latino in-game characters and representation for El Mundo Tech. She also expanded The Nerd Castle to Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Anna-Michelle plans to expand her project to cover all aspects of what she calls “nerd culture,” with special focus on local gaming community news. She currently works as a data analyst at Shareablee, and plans to continue writing for The Nerd Castle.

“I wanted to be the bridge between this community and the information that exists out there — the information that doesn’t reach the community.” — Gloria Medina

Gloria Medina has worked as a journalist for nearly two decades, primarily covering New York City’s Hispanic community. For her project, Gloria focused on the new immigrant community in Queens, New York. She chose to work with Queens’ Hispanic and Asian immigrant communities, because the pair represent the two largest sociocultural groups in the borough.

Gloria pinpointed a lack of institutional resources and widespread misinformation as the main issues impacting the new immigrant community. New immigrants, many of whom aren’t yet fluent English speakers, utilize communicative platforms and tools like Facebook, WhatsApp, and WeChat. With this in mind, Gloria organized a series of workshops, promoting them on Facebook, in group chats, and by distributing multilingual flyers throughout Queens. The workshops are designed to curate the governmental resources that already exist, but are often underutilized by new immigrants for legitimate reasons (language barriers, fear of detention or deportation), and supplement that with information gathered through local reporting.

Gloria plans to found a nonprofit specifically serving Hispanic immigrants in New York City, and she currently works on the outreach and engagement team at the Queens Chamber of Commerce.

“In applying social journalism strategies, we want to know where’s our community? We really want to bring about change.” — Noa Radosh

The community at the core of Noa Radosh’s capstone are Palestinian youth frustrated with the lack of employment and opportunities in the West Bank. Noa discovered that this deficit in employment often leads young Palestinians to seek dangerous construction jobs in Israel. Aiming to engage and serve this community, Noa created the publication, Yalla Habibi, to cultivate peaceful dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis.

Months of listening and ideating led Noa to cofound Forus Sifer Kilometer, with the goal of addressing the absence of a freelancing culture in Palestine in mind. Noa created a Facebook page, and launched a newsletter, which aggregates potential jobs and resources useful to prospective freelancers.

This summer, Noa is participating in Our Generation Speaks’ entrepreneurial fellowship for startups working with Palestinians and Israelis. In September, she’ll start interning at Democracy Now! en Español.

“What they really thought they were lacking was a space to come out and share their experiences without stigma.” — Phillip Richardson

Philip B. Richardson worked with Impac+nyc, an organization that brings together HIV+ men in New York City for fun social events. The goal of these events is to fill the gap of stigma-free social spaces in the + community.

Working with Impac+nyc, Philip navigated the community’s need for anonymity by engaging members in private Facebook pages, and at group mixers hosted by Impac+. Philip discovered a host of social concerns affecting the community, relating to stigmatization attached to status, age, and sexuality, with dating apps being a particularly discriminatory minefield for much of the community. To address this, Philip created a Tumblr page allowing anonymous submissions, wrote for Impac+’s newsletter, “The Guys,” where he offered subscribers advice on dating and networking. He also made an audiovisual album profiling attendees of one of Impac+’s nightlife mixers.

Following a stint as an editorial assistant and blog producer at The New York Times, Philip presently works as a communications officer at Planned Parenthood.

“I feel like social journalism has given me the tools to really utilize my skills in a different way, so that I can have a greater impact.” — Nancy Spiccia

Nancy Spiccia (nancy.spiccia) entered the social journalism program with a background as a Certified Public Account, specializing in healthcare consultation. Applying her expertise, Nancy’s project is centered around women living with a chronic illness unresolved through traditional medicine. Many of these women are interested in functional medicine, which looks at the underlying causes of the illness, like genetic factors, and the patient’s diet and environment. This diverges from traditional medicine’s symptom-based approach to diagnosing and treating chronic illness.

Nancy interviewed 25 members of the functional medicine community and started development of Chronic Health Bridge, a platform to better connect chronically ill women with essential functional medicine resources.

In March, MediaShift published Nancy’s how-to on entrepreneurial social journalism: “Creating a Journalism Startup: Problem to Prototype in 5 weeks.” In it, she describes the process of listening, ideating and prototyping that led to the creation of Chronic Health Bridge, and the ways in which social journalism brought her closer to her goal of helping chronically ill women.

“What tools can I create to change discrimination in the workplace, when hashtags aren’t enough and we want more empowerment beyond Twitter?” — Ashley Smalls

Ashley Smalls began looking broadly at the #blacklivesmatter community, ultimately choosing to focus her project on a smaller subset of that community: #blackgirlmagic.

#BlackGirlMagic demands greater visibility and representation of black girls and women globally, sharing stories of success and resilience, and highlighting prominent black women who embody the excellence that becomes magic. Ashley used social journalism to connect #blackgirlmagic to the career world, which has historically been a place of exclusion and discrimination for black women. She wanted to create a tool for this community of professional women.

Ashley created a #blackgirlmagic newsletter and the NoH8 chat bot — a bot designed to allow people to anonymously record and report instances of workplace discrimination. Her goal is to offer the #blackgirlmagic community a tool that responds to any fears or concerns they have about confronting professional discrimination.

Ashley Smalls is a social media manager at Complex, where she’s also tasked with driving awareness for their vertical aimed at young professionals and entrepreneurs, Complex Hustle.

“As part of this community, my first question was how do I establish myself as a journalist, and what is the role of social journalism in activist spaces?” — Martika

Martika Ornella collaborated with residents of East Harlem organizing against the gentrifying housing development some fear will spur the displacement of low-income residents of color. She helped East Harlem’s Church of the Living Hope conduct a month-long listening post, which documented East Harlem residents’ hopes and concerns for the changing neighborhood. She co-chaired a public rally organized by Community Voices Heard, and created New Harlem World, a publication covering the city’s evolving housing crisis. She talked to community leaders, activists, housing experts and city officials, many of whom expressed diverging solutions to the neighborhood’s intensifying affordable housing debate.

Martika-Ornella currently works at Daniel’s Music Foundation, a nonprofit recreational music center for people with disabilities, located in East Harlem. She also assists CUNY School of Journalism’s social journalism program director, Carrie Brown.