Meet the 2020 Social Journalism Class at the Newmark School of Journalism at CUNY

A dynamic group of journalists who listen and engage with communities. They offer empathy. They question everything. They’re truth tellers.

Melissa DiPento
Nov 25, 2019 · 10 min read
Social Journalism ’20. Photo by Melissa DiPento.

By Alyxaundria Sanford

Listening and empathy are at the heart of social journalism. This group of students will be experimenting with dozens of new tools and methods of engagement to reach diverse communities in meaningful and exciting ways.

Like students who have come before them, these journalists will convene community members together, produce crowdsourced journalism, host listening posts, ask for feedback, experiment with technology to reach audiences, use old-school methods of reaching geographic communities, try text-messaging to reach an audience, craft newsletters, host collaborative projects using art and journalism, and so much more!

This group is thoughtful and creative, and we’re sure they’ll also come up with new ways to reach audiences and communities.

Meet the class of 2020:

Karla Arroyo

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Karla Arroyo. Photo by Skyler Reid.

Karla Arroyo graduated from SUNY Old Westbury in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in media and communications. She launched her blog,, in 2016 where she writes about natural hair care, travel, and lifestyle. With an emphasis on the natural hair care space, Karla has also written for Curl Evolution Salon, one of the most recognized salons in Long Island that specialize in curly hair. She is adamant about being confident in embracing your natural hair, no matter the setting. Through her studies as a Social Journalism student at Newmark-J, she hopes to examine the discrimination against natural hair in the workplace and society as a whole. She lives an active lifestyle and is just ran her first TCS NYC Marathon in November.

Kayla Boone

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Kayla Boone. Photo by Skyler Reid.

Kayla Boone graduated in 2017 from Hampton University with a degree in journalism. There, she worked at campus TV and radio and was the editor of arts and entertainment at the student paper. She’s held internships with ESPN and E! and worked as a housing assistant for the New York City Housing Authority.

Boone has special interests in low-income housing access, police brutality, and social justice advocacy. During her time at Newmark J-School, she will cover the effects music has on mental health. Some of her passions include making music, writing poetry, reading, and taking long walks on the beach after dusk.

Frank DiFiore

Pronouns: He/him/his

Frank DiFiore. Photo by Skyler Reid.

Frank DiFiore graduated from SUNY Purchase with a degree in journalism in 2014, where he also reported for the student newspaper. He worked as a reporter at the Malone Telegram in northern New York for four years where he has covered the Franklin County Legislature; the towns of Bombay, Chateaugay, Constable, Duane, and Waverly; several nearby school districts; and the St. Regis Mohawk Territory.

During his time in the Social Journalism program, he will be covering public defenders and their defendants. Some of his passions include criminal law, world history, the study of the Abrahamic faiths, role-playing communities, and novel writing.

Allison Dikanovic

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Allison Dikanovic. Photo provided.

Born and raised in Wisconsin, Allison Dikanovic graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee in 2017 with a degree in international affairs and journalism. She comes to us from her job reporting for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, an innovative, hyperlocal nonprofit news organization that serves Milwaukee’s central city neighborhoods. While there, she focused on issues related to the justice system, incarceration and education, which collided in her coverage of youth justice reform. Her multimedia series on human trafficking in Milwaukee won a regional Edward R. Murrow Award, and her writing has been published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Associated Press, and the Solutions Journalism Network.

After college, Allison served in an AmeriCorps position through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and provided academic support to transition-age youth in Oakland, California. While at Marquette, she worked at a youth leadership organization and started the youth-led online magazine, Youth Rise MKE, alongside local high school students. She is passionate about exploring the ways that grassroots community development and journalism can intersect, and is especially curious about the ways that young people can be better represented and more engaged in local media.

Madeline Faber

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Madeline Faber. Photo by Skyler Reid.

Madeline Faber is a journalist and editor from Memphis, Tennessee. Before joining the 2020 graduating class of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, she worked as executive editor of High Ground News. During her two and a half years in that role, she piloted On The Ground, an embedded reporting project that became a community engagement model for other publications around the country. She is pursuing her master’s degree in Social Journalism because she believes in the program’s mission to further engaged, local reporting as an antidote to media distrust.

She began working as a journalist in 2014 as a development reporter for daily and weekly publications in Memphis. In 2015, she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Christian Brothers University. Additionally, she has appeared as a regular guest on Behind the Headlines, a news commentary program on Memphis public television, and has consulted on multimedia projects for HuffPost and The Guardian.

As a candidate for a master’s degree in Social Journalism, she is interested in reporting on how the U.S.’s FOSTA/SESTA laws, which passed in 2018, have affected information networks among online communities of sex workers.

Terrence Fraser

Pronouns: He/him/his

Terrence Fraser. Photo by Skyler Reid.

Terrence Fraser is a Brooklyn native with Caribbean roots. The communities he’s interested in engaging with are: the Afro-Caribbean community in Central and South Brooklyn; the black LGBTQ community, especially gay black men; the activist community in New York City; incarcerated POC and their families; and those impacted by police brutality and their families.

Fraser attended Princeton University, where he studied Politics and African American Studies, and wrote about the influence of multinational corporations in Africa. After graduation, he worked at ProPublica and the Marshall Project, where he got a sense of how non-profit investigative newsrooms are funded.

He is also a multimedia producer who’s self-publishing his first film called sold out. sold out explains the role of re-zonings in displacing poor communities of color. And it exposes how big money donors in real estate influence NYC politicians’ housing policy. Fraser is attending the Craig Newmark School of Journalism in order to improve his research skills, produce high-quality multimedia projects, engage with and uplift his community, and get his media start up off the ground.

Skanda Kadirgamar

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Skanda Kadirgamar. Photo by Skyler Reid.

Born and raised in New York City, Skanda Kadirgamar graduated from the New School in 2016 with a degree in anthropology and politics.

She has worked at various outlets, including The Nation, Democracy Now, Truthout and The Week. She has written several freelance pieces covering a wide variety of topics. Police militarization, housing, education, labor and South Asian community politics are among the issues she’s taken on.

Now that she’s enrolled at the Craig Newmark School of Journalism, Skanda is covering and connecting with the Kashmiri community in New York City.

Victoria Mba-Jonas

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Victoria Mba-Jonas. Photo by Skyler Reid.

Victoria Mba-Jonas graduated from Howard University in 2018 with a degree in journalism. At Howard, she served as executive editor of the Howard University Association of Black Journalists and was involved with various campus media outlets. She has interned at a variety of places including The Haitian Times, Essence, and ASME.

Mba-Jonas was one of the top students in the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism’s Knight Diversity Initiative summer fellowship program. She is an Ida B. Wells Scholar and active NABJ member.

She is interested in telling stories about Black experiences, culture, disadvantages and in creating sustainable media businesses. During her time in the Social Journalism program, she’ll be exploring the Black cannabis community or how the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana affects the Black community.

Zinhle Ngema

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Zinhle Ngema. Photo by Skyler Reid.

Zinhle Ngema comes to us from Johannesburg, South Africa, where she graduated from Varsity College with a major in English and Communication Science.

Her interest in journalism stemmed from her passion for public speaking and writing — both which she hopes to utilize in her career.

Through the Social Journalism program, she hopes to serve women and children dealing with issues of domestic violence, as well as the transgender community. As of right now, her dream is to work in broadcasting, while still having the freedom to write for different platforms and publications.

John Philp

Pronouns: he/his/him

John Philp. Photo provided.

John Philp, originally from Australia, comes to us from his job as executive producer with Splash Studios in Brooklyn, where his responsibilities include writing, producing, directing, shooting and project management. He began his career with a reporting job in Australia in his teens and has since accumulated about 30 years of experience producing everything from feature docs to podcasts.

Philp is very involved in gun violence prevention, having founded the Dads Chapter of Moms Demand Action, part of Everytown for Gun Sense, a grassroots, nationwide volunteer movement dedicated to reducing gun deaths. John is also interested in issues surrounding restorative justice, prisons and immigration.

Michaela Román

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Michaela Román. Photo by Skyler Reid.

Michaela Román was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, and is proud to represent the predominantly Hispanic community she comes from. While earning a bachelor’s degree in Digital Media Production and Multimedia Journalism from the University of Texas at El Paso, Michaela was photo editor and editor-in-chief of her college newspaper, The Prospector, where she produced countless stories, photo galleries, videos and gained skills necessary for working in a newsroom setting.

During this time she also interned at KVIA, El Paso’s ABC affiliate, where she worked on the production team and at the Kitsap Sun, a daily newspaper in Bremerton, Washington, where she was a newsroom intern.

Following graduation, she interned at Starfish Media Group as a 2018 Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Knight Diversity Initiative summer fellow.

Michaela just completed her first full-time journalism job as a staff photographer at the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. Although photojournalism has been her go-to strength, she has now returned to the big city to find out how to better report on underrepresented communities as a social journalism student and gain more skills to succeed in this ever-changing industry.

While in the Social-J program, Michaela plans to work on stories that involve young adults living in poverty and stories surrounding the upcoming 2020 census.

Jake Wasserman

Pronouns: He/him/his

Jake Wasserman. Photo by Skyler Reid.

Originally from New Jersey, Jake Wasserman is new to the field of journalism. He graduated from Rutgers University in 2018 with a degree in public health. His background includes research in health policy, anthropology, cognitive science and international affairs.

While waiting for the U.S. economy to fundamentally restructure itself, he worked as a server in an exotic game meat restaurant. Now that he is in graduate school, Jake plans to push that restructuring through his reporting on health issues and systems. He also enjoys writing music, reading sci-fi novels, and exploring parks.

Rawan Yaghi

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Rawan Yaghi. Photo by Skyler Reid.

Rawan Yaghi comes to us from Gaza. She did her undergraduate degree in Italian and Linguistics at Jesus College at the University of Oxford, where she received the first Junior Members Scholarship. She speaks Arabic and Italian.

Yaghi has worked in a variety of fields — including teaching and publishing — as well as international development. Before joining us, she worked for the Gaza Community Mental Health Program as an Advocacy Officer.

Yaghi is also a writer of short fiction and she was published in Gaza Writes back, Palestine +100, and Once Upon a Time in Gaza. In addition to her contributions to Mondoweiss, and 27ora, she has published an op-ed in the NYT. She is a Fulbright grant recipient.

Ayako Takada

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Ayako Takada, a journalist visiting from Tokyo, is joining the Social Journalism program for the semester.

Ayako Takada. Photo provided.

She started her journalism career in 2006 at NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster and the biggest TV network, where she is now a director. NHK has sent her to study in the U.S. for a year beginning in August 2019.

She holds an M.A. in anthropology. With a special interest in the cultures and histories of different places, she has directed documentaries ranging from “Democratization of Myanmar” (2013) to “How Telepresence Robots Are Changing Society” (2016).

“Missing,” about the kidnapping of children to become farm laborers in China (2015), won the U.S. International Film and Video Festival’s Creative Excellence Prize for current-affairs documentaries.

Since 2015, she has been experimenting with new ways to communicate with her NHK audience by launching a Twitter account for a major news program, creating open-source and collaborative journalism with the audience, and producing short-form videos, as well as organizing study groups to equip her colleagues with new tools and ideas.

In New York she is pursuing ways to make the Japanese media eco-system more inclusive and diverse by learning from entrepreneurial journalism, social journalism, and ethnic media. She loves Americans’ boldness and honesty.

The Social Journalism program at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism is led by Carrie Brown. For more information, visit our website.

Engagement Journalism

MA students building new ways to engage communities at the Newmark School of Journalism at CUNY