Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, Medill associate professor Debbie Cenziper launches second book, “Citizen 865: The Hunt for Hitler’s Hidden Soldiers in America”

By Thea Showalter (BSJ22)

Medill Associate Professor and Director of Investigative Reporting and Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Debra Cenziper recently released “Citizen 865: The Hunt for Hitler’s Hidden Soldiers in America.” Her book, published last November, tells the extraordinary true story of the U.S. Department of Justice’s decades-long search for former members of a secretive Nazi killing squad who hid in plain sight after the war as American citizens.

In her book, Cenziper breaks open the story surrounding one of the deadliest and most secret Nazi killing operations of World War II— a “school for mass murder” run in the small Polish town of Trawniki. The SS recruited and trained thousands of men from across Eastern Europe, creating a ruthless army of soldiers that ultimately carried out the systematic murder of nearly two million Jews in fewer than 20 months.

But after the end of the war and the fall of the Third Reich, some of the so-called “Trawniki Men” obtained documentation to move to America and vanished, some taking their families with them. Decades later in Prague, American historians unearthed new evidence of the Trawniki men, triggering a fervent search on U.S. soil and a long-awaited battle for justice.

“Citizen 865” is a “triumph of reporting and storytelling,” but it doesn’t feel dark, despite its subject matter, said bestselling author and Medill alum Alex Kotlowitz at a Medill book talk with Cenziper held January 30 at Medill.

“It’s a book that reads like a detective novel,” Kotlowitz said.

But “Citizen 865” is also a love story— it weaves in the tale of Feliks and Lucyna, two Jewish orphans who escaped the Trawniki Men and certain death at every turn. The couple later moved to America and raised a family, unaware that they were sharing a country with some of the men who had once pursued them and killed their families.

Cenziper said that idea for the book came in late 2016, at a cocktail party outside Washington, D.C. where she talked to a lawyer with the Department of Justice about a lesser-known, “tiny” unit responsible for tracking down Nazis after the war, and was hooked.

“I was really interested in knowing the people inside the Justice Department who spent their entire lives trying to track these people down,” Cenziper said.

Cenziper soon after talked to Elizabeth White, one of the historians who discovered the Nazi roster of Trawniki men in Prague in the 1990s.

“When she told me that story I knew it was a book,” Cenziper said. “Because I loved that image of historians finding those records in a dusty basement in Prague. I was fascinated by that idea.”

She retraced the steps of Elizabeth White and her colleagues by visiting the Nazi archives in Prague. She also met Feliks and Lucyna’s children and grandchildren, who shared tapes recorded by the couple to preserve a record of their story.

Through “Citizen 865,” Cenziper was able to bring “a sense of hope and light” to an “incredibly dark period” of history, said Kotlowitz.

Cenziper acknowledged that the reporting– researching people whose lives were tragically impacted, and listening to interviews with mass murderers, who were dispassionate and clinical about their crimes– was often dark and difficult.

However, chronicling the efforts of so many historians, investigators and prosecutors to seek justice brought a sense of hope.

“I was so moved by the people in this book, especially the historians,” Cenziper said. “They were able to find this unexplored sliver of history and expand the record.”


Medill alumna’s recounting of the sinking of the S.S. Athenia in WWII as told by her aunt

Doris Elaine Kent (4th from right, in white blanket) after being rescued by the Knute Nelson

Photo credits: (Getty Images)

By Martha Wiedman (Weinberg71)

Martha Wiedman, a 1971 graduate of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, penned the following essay about her aunt, Doris Elaine Kent (Fox), (MSJ40) and her experience aboard the S.S. Athenia when it was torpedoed in 1939. The SS. Athenia was the first UK ship to be sunk by Germany during World War II. 117 civilian passengers and crew were killed including 28 U.S. citizens. Kent survived to chronicle her account of the sinking and its aftermath.

My aunt, Doris Kent, was born in 1917 to a family living in the small town of Humboldt, Kansas. She grew up during the Great Depression, the oldest in a family of five. Her appetite for adventure sprang from her fascination with the outside world and love of communication. Like three of her siblings, she attended the University of Kansas on a scholarship and graduated in 1937. She loved to write and moved to France in 1939 to work for the Paris Herald Tribune and earned her master’s from Medill in 1940. I wrote this essay to show what exactly what a woman with her interests and background could accomplish— preserving a personal experience as a moment in history.

Doris showed bravery, clear thinking and concise reporting at a time of national crisis.  In August 1939, she was a copywriter for the Paris Herald Tribune. A former colleague alerted her to the impending threat of war with Germany and she quickly made her way to Glasgow to board the S.S. Athenia on September 1st, 1939.  She chronicled her experience of the torpedoing of the Athenia and the ensuing destruction that resulted in the loss of 117 civilian lives.  She documented the terror and suffering of the passengers and the eventual rescue of most by the Norwegian tanker MS Knute Nelson, which delivered 430 survivors to Galway, Ireland.

Doris wrote her own first-hand account of the harrowing events of the time between when the torpedo struck and her rescue the following morning.

I was in the dining room (tourist) eating a lamb chop. After the awful explosion, I dashed somehow thru the door, down a long corridor, to stairs. My cabin was one deck below. I had to get my lifebelt. Going down, I found the stairs broken— clinging to the rail I got down—in pitch black felt my way to cabin–reached under bunks for lifebelts—a heavy metal trunk had been shoved in—a great shove and I got it out of way—and felt the lifebelts. On way back up broken stairs, gave one lifebelt away, feeling way up, opened door to deck and it was LIGHT! Barney was there on deck—he saw me and said— “Here, get into that boat.” It was Boat 6, the only other boat (besides 5) which had a motor and shortwave radio. No one knew how to run it and we had to row all night long. . . Lady Lake nearly fell back into the sea on top of me!

 I was the next one up from Boat 6. Hanging dead weight on the bosin chair, just then I heard them scream, “Hold tight!” The ocean washed up over my head and washed me off the chair. My grip on the knotted rope held. The lifeboat surged out away, then back in. . . they jerked one great jerk—and yanked me up just as boat came crashing into ship—just below my legs—they had pulled me up just in time to keep me from being crushed. On up, to deck’s rail, and there was Captain Cook. He exclaimed, “My God, girl, it’s you!”

 According to historian Max Caulfield, the sinking of the S.S. Athenia, the last passenger ship out of Europe before the start of the war, was the very first of Germany’s acts of aggression against Britain in World War II.

“Two days later,” wrote Caulfield, “with 1102 passengers aboard, the Athenia was at sea 250 miles from the nearest land. On that day, September 3, war was declared. . . Oberleutnant Fritz-Julius Lemp in command of U-Boat 30 struck the first blow of the war.”

My aunt was also an advertising copywriter at Marshall Field & Company, Chicago from 1937 to 1939, a freelance writer for the New York Herald Tribune and Paris Herald Tribune in 1939 and advertising copywriter for the Chicago-based Carson Pirie Scott & Company from 1939 to 1940. She was a public relations writer for Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. from 1963 to 1966 and a member of the American Association of University Women (branch president from 1984 to 1986), part of the University of Kansas Alumni Association.

Note: Alicia Fox, Doris’ granddaughter, supplied vital details and news clippings to reconstruct Doris’ role in Paris and her escape to Glasgow. Deborah Fox, Doris’ daughter-in-law, created a display board of her experience on the Athenia, for her birthday.  We are all proud of Doris and I thank them for their help.

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Hannah Gebresilassie (MSJ16) celebrates positivity with HannahJoyTV

A “leap of faith” has taken Hannah Gebresilassie on a journey from working as a television reporter in a small-town in Illinois to launching headfirst into developing her own media brand.

Late in 2018, Gebresilassie launched HannahJoyTV  and the and the Promote Positivity Movement, combining her passion for entrepreneurship and her love of storytelling to share uplifting news and promote a message of worldwide peace and unity for her followers across social media platforms.

Today, her personal brand and her company are still growing and evolving in ways she never expected.

“It’s taken its own form, honestly,” said Gebresilassie. “I went from just focusing on the storytelling aspect to releasing a brand, like a whole merch line that goes along with it. It went from just sharing positive stories to sharing a positive message in many forms.”

At the end of February, Gebresilassie was the keynote speaker for Project Africa, an annual event hosted by the African Student Association at Georgia Tech, her alma mater.

HannahJoyTV is simultaneously a celebration of Gebresilassie’s Ethiopian-Eritrean heritage and universal content that “anyone and everyone” can enjoy. This duality is reflected in HannahJoyTV’s logo: four hearts of green, yellow, red, and blue, from the colors of the Ethiopian and Eritrean flags.

The design reflects the desire for unity and peace between the two countries that Gebresilassie says she and many members of the Ethiopian and Eritrean communities hope for.

“But it’s also the same colors as Google, if you think about it,” Gebresilassie said. “I wanted to create something neutral that anybody could relate to.”

The daughter of Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants, Gebresilassie grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. After earning an undergraduate in business administration from Georgia tech and a master’s in journalism from Medill, Gebresilassie fell in love with telling stories and became a television reporter for WSIL-TV in southern Illinois in the summer of 2017.

In her first year, Gebresilassie brought global perspectives to her local TV audience that rippled out across social media. After just a few months on the job, her coverage of an Ethiopian New Year celebration went viral. Not long after, Gebresilassie wore a traditional braided hairstyle on air that again caused a buzz.

“It was actually pretty crazy that I was reporting on this international situation in this little rural town in southern Illinois and people actually really appreciated it,” she said.

By the end of her first year she was in charge of WSIL-TV’s “Going Global,” a news segment where she could report and share stories about immigrant communities in southern Illinois.

“I just saw what I could do,” Gebresilassie said. “When I was working as a reporter, a lot of my stuff went viral. I just kind of said, ‘if I can do this here, what I could do on my own?’”

Gebresilassie said that what inspired her to transition to create HannahJoyTV was gaining a new perspective on the potential that was in front of her.  The biggest challenge Gebresilassie faced was money— she moved from Southern Illinois back to Atlanta, Georgia, where her parents live.

“I’ve been the brokest I’ve been since undergrad, to be frank,” Gebresilassie said. “But I’m happy. I’m happy with the flexibility that I have and I’m thankful.”

Gebresilassie took on side jobs that were easy on her mental health as she developed HannahJoyTV— washing dishes and babysitting.

“I always tell people, everyone doesn’t come from the same type of financial situation,” she said. “And it’s okay to take jobs that can fill the gaps in the meantime.”

But in the past months, Gebresilassie has seen a burgeoning income from emceeing at events around the country and freelance projects she found through connections she made at Medill.

And she has developed an expert eye for cost-saving opportunities to promote her brand— in 2019, she organized a pop-up tour across eight states, around her existing travel plans to visit family.

But managing her time to address every aspect of her platform is also a challenge for Gebresilassie.

“The to-do list never seems to end,” she said. “For me, it’s like my mind goes in sometimes a hundred different directions, so I’m still working on building a structure and making sure that I’m just taking care of everything equally.”

But Gebresilassie has never doubted the direction she is taking— and for that she acknowledges her time at Medill.

“My time at Medill really prepared me to be the ultimate journalist…you’re at Medill with these incredibly talented people from all over,” she said. “And I found my niche while I was there. I found that my heart was in the community.”

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Medill Alumni Making a Difference During the Pandemic

As the COVID-19 battle rages, Northwestern alumni are reporting daily from Washington, New York, Chicago and numerous other cities hit so hard by this pandemic.  NBC correspondents Gabe Gutierrez (BSJ05), pictured, Peter Alexander (BSJ98) and Sam Brock (BSJ05, MSJ07) are reporting practically 24-7 on national television. Christine Brennan (BSJ80, MSJ81), one of the nation’s foremost Olympic experts, has been interviewing members of Team U.S.A. about the postponement of the 2020 Games.

Medill alum Justin Kerr (BSJ93) shifted the McKinley Park News toward coronavirus coverage and features starting in early March when the effects of the pandemic first started hitting the neighborhood. The publication, a micro-local news website covering Chicago’s McKinley Park Community Area and Central Manufacturing District, updated its neighborhood event calendars, de-listing canceled events and adding a coronavirus-specific community schedule, including senior shopping hours and food distribution for families of Chicago Public Schools students.

“We changed our coverage, too,” Kerr said. “Some articles in development had to be shifted aside to focus on more immediate coronavirus news.” This has included a directory of neighborhood restaurants staying open for delivery and take-out, published immediately after Illinois Governor JB Pritzker’s order to shutter in-restaurant dining, and a local fabricator’s efforts to manufacture 150,000 face shields for Chicago’s first responders and front-line medical workers. All news and event content published on the McKinley Park News has been freely available and will remain so, Kerr said.

The coronavirus pandemic also inspired the relaunch of the publication’s community forums, including the new McKinley Park Support Network, a set of discussion boards designed to support fast and easy coronavirus communication. Kerr said it’s been a handy channel for him to quickly aggregate and share general info that might not have a neighborhood-specific hook to justify a news article, but that’s still important and relevant for the readership of the McKinley Park News.

“All of our members — including participating local Institutions — have access to participate in the McKinley Park Support Network,” Kerr said. “Access to this and other features on the McKinley Park News is automated and available at no cost.”

Kerr noted how the publication’s progressive privacy practices support coronavirus dialogue. “Our member privacy policies and tools are best in their class,” he said.

According to Kerr, this ethos will help the McKinley Park News weather an environment of economic catastrophe caused by the pandemic. “Our operating costs are designed to be dirt-cheap,”  he said. Kerr noted his own currently unpaid role as the publication’s sole staffer. “Where the pandemic will hurt is expanding our revenue to enable staff compensation and look at business expansion into adjacent neighborhoods,” he said. “However, I strongly believe in the demand and business potential of high-quality local news: When the pandemic ends, surviving local news publications will hopefully have even more opportunities in what’s already a mostly ignored, wide-open market.”

Leigh Ann Winick (BSJ84) is a medical producer for CBS News based in New York who is helping shape the network’s coverage of the pandemic. Since January, she has produced frequent segments on the emerging virus, fronted by the network’s practicing physician contributors. With the first U.S. death in late February, the medical team became command central for the network’s multi-platform coverage. Then, on March 11, two colleagues were diagnosed, and the entire CBS Broadcast Center was emptied in one afternoon. Since then, everyone based in New York has been working remotely.

“It’s taken a lot of improvising,” Winick says. “We no longer obsess over camera angles or lighting. Travel restrictions have increased our reliance on cell phone video. There’s an urgency to convey the latest information – which can literally be life saving – and if that comes via a phoner or a Zoom interview from a scientist’s hotel room, we’ll use that. We are  finding many ‘real people’ stories through social media. While I’m working harder than ever, I’ve been fortified by the basic skills I learned at Medill, and the hope that we  are positively impacting millions of lives during this heartbreaking time.”

Alumni journalists, however, aren’t the only Medillians making a difference during the pandemic.

Preeti N. Malani (MSJ91), MD,  is the Chief Health Officer for the University of Michigan and a Professor of Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. She, too, is working on the front line against COVID-19. Rather than covering the pandemic for news outlets, her work in infectious diseases is taking her to the bedside to help care of patients who are sickened with COVID-19.

Like many regions of the country, Michigan is developing contingency plans to care for large numbers of patients (well beyond the usual capacity of our hospital), according to Dr. Malani. She is part of a large multi-disciplinary group involved with the planning of a temporary field hospital to help care for the anticipated patient surge from across the state.

As Chief Health Officer, Dr. Malani advises the university president on all aspects of health and well-being for students, faculty and staff.

“In rapid sequence, we had to make decisions on bringing students home from overseas education, suspending face to face instruction, moving day to day activities to remote locations, and how to support students who can’t leave campus,” she said. “There are numerous administrative issues that require creative solutions as there is no playbook to address this situation.”

Dr. Malani adds that in her role as an associate editor at the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), she has written a series of summaries directed toward clinicians and helped review and edit a number of time sensitive manuscripts that have helped inform patient care, public health measures, and general policies.

“Instead of writing the news story, I’ve instead given dozens of interviews, and have been asked to provide guidance to several lawmakers including Michigan’s governor,” she added. “My Medill education continues to pay dividends in unexpected ways. Always grateful for what I learned so many years ago.”

David Charns (MSJ11) left his morning anchoring job at WMTW in Portland, Maine, in January for a new challenge, but his search quickly slowed due to the pandemic.

“I wanted to continue working my craft while searching for a new full-time broadcast job,” Charns said. “With 24/7 news of this national emergency on many different topics, I have found there was and is a need for concrete, ‘Here’s what happened, here’s what’s next’ coverage to easily communicate important information news consumers want. I had talked to many people who said they were tuning out because the nonstop news was so grim.”

Charns set out to provide quick, daily roundups of all of the major coronavirus headlines across his social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube). In three weeks, he said, these videos have garnered tens of thousands of combined views.

“I am now branching out with interviews with people impacted by this emergency, which will be posted soon along with the news of the day.”

IMC15 graduate Sunny Williams and his team at Tiny Docs are responding to the urgent need for child-friendly content about the pandemic with Covid-19 health information just for kids.

Tiny Docs, co-founded by Williams in 2015,  produces “Health Caretoons,” — animated cartoons that teach kids about their health in a fun, relateable, and easy-to-understand way. The library covers medical procedures, chronic health conditions, and general wellness. “All Tiny Docs content is vetted by our board of pediatricians, child life specialists, and nurses to ensure the information is medically accurate and beneficial,” says Williams.

“To help kids manage Covid-related stress and anxiety, we released a caretoon on mindfulness. Our Tiny Comic: A Kid’s Guide to Covid-19 teaches kids how to be healthy, how to manage their feelings, and how to be kind during this time of challenge and uncertainty. We’ve also released several Covid-19 related blogs by experienced and passionate pediatric professionals. And more free caretoons, blogs, and comics will be released in the coming weeks.”

In the United Kingdom, IMC alumna Jacine Rutasikwa (IMC10) and her husband, Paul, have converted their rum distillery, Matugga Distillers, into a production house for hand sanitizer to help combat the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a very uncertain landscape for communities and small businesses. With your help, our small family-owned distillery in Livingston can support our local NHS and care workers while building our company’s resilience during challenging times,” Rutasikwa told supporters in a March e-Newsletter to supporters.

“The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our way of life is still unfolding, but it is profound,” she said. “From the uncertainty and chaos, new norms will emerge. And therein lies the big opportunity for our resilient community – to reshape new realities. Above all, now is the time to pull together, look after one another and refuse to let our spirits drop.”

Finally, on the student side, the Northwestern News Network team created a great segment on COVID-19 coverage. And,  The Daily Northwestern, under the direction of newly appointed editor Marissa Martinez (BSJ21), has been producing COVID-19 coverage with the help of Daily staffers sheltering at home nationwide. Martinez is interviewed in this Chicago Public Radio station story. First year Medill undergrad, Andrew Rowan, successfully placed his first professional story in Teen Vogue: “With college mental health centers closed, many students are working out the kinks of online therapy,” which came out of research he began in a class in the fall quarter.

Photo credit Gutierrez – MSNBC
Photo credit Malani – University of Michigan 
Photo credit distillers: Stewart Attwood

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Medill News April 2020

April 2020 News

Medill IMC Thought Leaders is proud to feature “IMC in a Changing World,” a series on marketing and leadership advice in the midst of the COVID19 epidemic and our new reality. We are grateful to our professors for their generosity in sharing practical advice for these challenging times.⁠ ⁠ We hope you and your family and friends are doing well and staying safe!⁠ ⁠ Follow along with the series on our LinkedIn page linked in the bio above, where you can also send us your questions. ⁠ ⁠ #IMCInAChangingWorld #MedillIMCThoughtLeaders #Medil #MedillIMC #COVID19

Patti Wolter has been named by the Provost as a Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished Professor of Instruction. This honor is awarded annually to a group of faculty members in recognition of their  extraordinary teaching and service to the university. In naming Patti to the 2020 class of CDM Professors, the provost noted not only her exemplary teaching, but also her mentorship of students, alumni and younger faculty, as well as her leadership in matters of curriculum reform and her connections to some of the country’s most prestigious media outlets. Her three-year appointment as a Charles Deering McCormick Professor begins in September.  A ceremony installing all of the CDM honorees will be held in the fall.

Medill senior lecturer Alex Kotlowitz’s  “An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago” a trenchant examination of the social and emotional toll that gun violence exacts on both victims and perpetrators, has won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, bestowed by Columbia University and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Established in 1998, the Lukas Prize recognizes excellence in nonfiction that “exemplifies the literary grace and commitment to serious research and social concern” that characterized the work of the award’s namesake, J. Anthony Lukas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and investigative journalist who died in 1997.

The Northwestern News Network (NNN) took first place in Best Newscast category of the Region 5 SPJ student contest and will now move on to the national SPJ competition. Joey took first place General News Reporting category for a story she did as a reporter, not as an intern,  for the NBC affiliate in Bakersfield, California last summer. Region 5 comprises chapters in Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky.

Finding Yingying , which tells the story of Yingying Zhang, a 26-year-old Chinese student who disappeared at University of Illinois in 2017, won the Special Jury Recognition for Breakthrough Voice Award at the South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW).  This feature-length documentary by Jiayan “Jenny” Shi (MSJ17) began as an MSJ student short in a graduate documentary class that went on to win a College Emmy and be nominated for a Student Academy Award.

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Medill Alums Win 2020 Pulitzer Prizes – Individual and Teams

Congratulations to Medill alumnus Brian M. Rosenthal (BSJ11) of The New York Times on receiving the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting for his work on the New York City taxi industry. His reporting found that drivers had been the victim of predatory lending resulting in nearly a thousand bankruptcies and several suicides. His series has led to the proposal of a $500 million bailout for drivers.

Rosenthal has been an investigative reporter on the Metro desk of The New York Times since May 2017. He covered state government for The Houston Chronicle between 2014 and 2016 and for The Seattle Times between 2011 and 2013. While in Houston, he was on the team that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service for a series that exposed that Texas was systematically denying special education services to tens of thousands of children with disabilities. While in Seattle, he was part of a reporting team that won the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for coverage of a mudslide that killed 43 people. He also has won a George A. Polk Award and the Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting.

Read Rosenthal’s comments about the win:

In addition to Rosenthal, Evan Hill (BSJ07), a member of the New York Times Visual Investigations team, was lead reporter on a New York Times investigation into the Russian bombing of Syrian civilians that won a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting, as well as a George Polk Award for international reporting on February 19. The Pulitzer jury recognized the Visual Investigations team for two stories that proved, for the first time, that the Russian Air Force was responsible for a series of attacks on hospitals and other civilian sites in opposition-held Syria.

Andy Wolfson, (MSJ78), a reporter in Louisville at The Courier Journal, was a member of a team that won a 2020 Pulitzer for breaking news reporting for a story about hundreds of pardons issued by a lame duck governor, including for murderers, rapists and campaign supporters.

Also honored May 4 as part of a Pulitzer-winning team was Lori Montgomery (BSJ84), now deputy national editor at The Washington Post. The Post’s staff won the Pulitzer for Explanatory Reporting for a series that showed the effects of extreme temperatures to the planet (found here:

Photo Credits

Rosenthal photo:
Hill photo: Evan Hill 

Montgomery photo:

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Medill News Highlights – May 2020

Northwestern’s 2020 Commencement will be Virtual with Student Option to Return for On-Site Ceremony Next Year

Read the announcement by President Schapiro.

Presentation of the John Bartlow Martin award for public interest magazine journalism and conversation with winner

Join us as Medill’s Helen Gurley Brown Magazine Professor Patti Wolter presents the 2020 John Bartlow Martin Award to Lizzie Presser  of ProPublica for her story “The Dispossessed.” A conversation with Presser will follow. Presser is a journalist writing about inequality and how social policy is experienced. She was previously a contributing writer at The California Sunday Magazine. “The Dispossessed,” published in partnership with ProPublica and The New Yorker, is an investigation into the unjust repossession of African American-owned property through three different legal mechanisms in North Carolina. It won a George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting in 2020. Presser has twice been a finalist for a National Magazine Award and a Livingston Award.

Register for the 5/27 Zoom presentation.

Medill team wins Best Article Award from American Academy of Advertising

Online retailers must strike a balance between recommending relevant items to users and providing sponsored recommendations from advertisers. Recognizing this problem, a team at Medill IMC’s Spiegel Research Center developed an algorithm that improves user utility while reducing ad revenue by a small amount. The team consisting of Professor Ed Malthouse, postdoctoral fellows Khadija Ali Vakeel and Yasaman Kamyab Hessary, research fellow Morana Fudurić and Professor Robin Burke from University of Colorado Boulder were recently recognized for their work, receiving the 2019 Best Article Award in the Journal of Advertising from the American Academy of Advertising. The award was instituted in 1988 to honor the best article published each year.

Read the abstract

NNN Wins SPJ Award

The Northwestern News Network (NNN)  took first place in Best Newscast category of the Region 5 SPJ student contest and will now move on to the national SPJ competition. Joey took first place General News Reporting category for a story she did as a reporter, not as an intern,  for the NBC affiliate in Bakersfield, California last summer. Region 5 comprises chapters in Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky.

Prof. Jack Doppelt Co-Produces Election Report

What began as “Can American Democracy Survive the 2020 Elections? The Role of Media, Law, Norms, and Technology in Assuring Acceptance of Election Results,” evolved to “Fair Elections During a Crisis: Urgent Recommendations in Law, Media, Politics and Tech to Advance the Legitimacy of, and the Public’s Confidence in, the November 2020 U.S. Elections.  Read a New Yorker article about the report. Read the report.

Participate in the Medill Centennial Alumni Photo Gallery          

We plan to feature testimonials and photos from 100+ alumni on our Centennial website, launching this summer.  If you want to participate, please submit your quote and photo using this form! We would love to include you.

Lightfoot photo: WBEZ 

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Spring Immigrant Connect Class Chronicles Pandemic’s Effect on Immigrant and Refugee Communities

The spring of 2020 brought fear, death and grief to hundreds of thousands across the globe. In the few months that the second year undergraduate journalism students taking Professor Doppelt’s spring 301 writing and reporting Immigrant Connect course were getting to know immigrants and refugees, more than 400,000 people died of the coronavirus pandemic. More than ¼ of them died in the U.S.

As the class was meeting for the first times in early April, they decided to focus our reporting on the pandemic’s effect on different immigrant and refugee communities.

What the group came to realize is that one of the potential effects of a global pandemic is to recognize that the experiences of migration and decisions about cross-national travel may pull the U.S., willingly or not, out of its exceptionalist posture and into a more cooperative arena.

Here are their stories on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected different immigrant and refugee communities:

How have Chinese students handled what to do as the spread of COVID-19 limited their options to return to China? By Connie Deng 

Are people turning to traditional Chinese medicine during the coronavirus pandemic? By Lydia Rivers

How have Korean Americans prepared for COVID-19?  By Chloe Jeonghyun Heo

How have Indian grocery stores been impacted by COVID-19? By Rachel Baldauf

How have African refugees coped with COVID-19?  By Michael Fitzpatrick

How did COVID-19 affect Ramadan celebrations in the Arab American community around Dearborn, Michigan? By Bailey Pekar

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New York Times Reporter Azam Ahmed awarded the 2019 James Foley Medill Medal for Courage


Azam Ahmed, New York Times bureau chief for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, has won the James Foley Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism for his investigation of gang murder across Latin America. In his series “Kill, or Be Killed: Latin America’s Homicide Crisis,” Ahmed chronicled the rampant and unchecked gang violence in the region.

“No one deserves this recognition more than Azam,” said New York Times International Managing Editor Greg Winter. “He has put himself on the frontlines for years, from Afghanistan to Honduras, to document the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people. He does so with compassion, exceptional insight and compelling narratives that draw readers in and remind them, in the most intimate ways, of what people around the world confront on a daily basis.”

In Mexico and Honduras, Ahmed witnessed shootouts and cartel killings. In Brazil, he tracked down police officers who were members of illegal death squads and persuaded them not just to talk, but also to confess to murders and other crimes. After nine members of a Mormon family were killed in remote Mexican mountains, Ahmed traveled to the scene and discovered evidence that had been overlooked, including spent shell casings and a child’s shoe, to create a more accurate picture of what had happened than what the authorities presented.

“Year after year as I read the entries, I think the stories can’t get any more harrowing; the world can’t get any more dangerous for journalists,” said founding judge and Medill Professor Emeritus Donna Leff (BSJ70, MSJ71). “But there seems to be no end to the violence for the subjects and peril for the reporters telling their stories. What stood out in Azam’s work was the riveting, graceful language and the vivid narrative in a deep portfolio that embraced the whole of his domain–Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.”

Ahmed spent 17 months interviewing one of Mexico’s deadliest hired killers who worked for the cartels. Ahmed exposed closely guarded secrets of the underworld, including an assassin training camp. In Honduras, Ahmed lived inside gang territory for weeks. In San Pedro Sula, Honduras, one of the deadliest cities in the world, Ahmed chronicled the siege of a neighborhood with vivid descriptions of shootouts, gang incursions and last-minute pleas to stop the killing.

“Much in the spirit of James Foley himself, Azam is a daring, gifted and skilled journalist,” said co-judge Brett Pulley (MSJ87), Bloomberg’s Atlanta bureau chief and Medill Board of Advisers member. “In story after story, he demonstrates a willingness to venture into society’s heart of darkness to illuminate the places and people who are integral to some of the globe’s most vexing issues and confounding and violent occurrences. His body of work stood tall above a field of entries that in their own right were tremendously impressive, important and powerful.”

Before moving to Mexico, Ahmed worked for nearly three years in Afghanistan covering the war there. He accompanied the Afghan security forces as they struggled to take over security from U.S. forces, and more broadly wrote about the deterioration of the United States’ longest-running war.

“As I read one arresting story after the next from Azam’s impressive portfolio, I could hardly believe this was the work of a single journalist,” said co-judge and Medill faculty member Ceci Rodgers (MSJ81). “Through his detailed reporting and his access to the inner workings of the drug gangs in Latin America, Azam opens a world to readers in a way that contextualizes the horrors driving migrants to the U.S. border to seek asylum. Beautifully crafted narratives and compelling characters draw us in and make us care.”

Honorable Mention

This year’s honorable mention also won high praise from the judges. In “Outsourcing Migration,” Associated Press reporters Maggie Michael, Lori Hinnant and Renata Brito exposed the devastating effects of restrictive European and U.S. immigration policies that have resulted in asylum-seekers being sent back to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—the very countries many of them are fleeing. The year-long project, funded in part by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, documented the abuse of people fleeing violence, and the benefits gained by mafia, militia and even the Libyan coast guard, which was paid by the EU to warehouse migrants.

Virtual Event

The judges will present the award to Ahmed and he will share his journey via webinar on Thursday, July 16 at 5 p.m. Central Time. Joining the event will be special guest Diane Foley, mother of Medill alumnus James Foley (MSJ08) and founder and president of the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation. Visit this link to participate in the webinar.

About the James Foley Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism 

The award is named in honor of Medill alumnus James Foley, who was captured while reporting in Syria in 2012 and killed by ISIS extremists in 2014.

The 2019 medal is given for work published during the 2019 calendar year to an individual or team of journalists, working for a U.S.-based media outlet, who best displayed moral, physical, ethical, financial or political courage in the pursuit of a story or series of stories.

The selection committee included Bloomberg’s Atlanta Bureau Chief and Medill Board of Advisers member Brett Pulley, Medill Professor Emeritus Donna Leff and Medill Director of Global Journalism Learning Ceci Rodgers.

The 2018 award was given to Max Bearak, Nairobi Bureau Chief for The Washington Post, for his reporting in 2018 from sub-Saharan Africa. Bearak’s stories from Congo, Niger and Zimbabwe chronicled a wide range of extreme events that required intense bravery in dangerous situations without being reckless or putting himself at the center of the story, said the judges, who were unanimous in their decision.


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Medill inducts Six Women into its 2020 Hall of Achievement Class

Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications welcomes six inductees into its Hall of Achievement this year. The all-female class celebrates 150 years of co-education at Northwestern. Medill’s Hall of Achievement was established in 1997 to honor Medill alumni whose distinctive careers have had positive effects on their fields.

“Northwestern’s 150 Years of Women is a celebration of catalysts — individuals who take risks, chart their own course and inspire change,” said Medill Dean Charles Whitaker. “Each of this year’s inductees is a pioneer and innovator in her field. We are honored to call them alumnae and induct them into this year’s class.”

Jeanie Caggiano (COMM82, MSA83)

Jeanie CaggianoJeanie Caggiano is an executive vice president and executive creative director at Leo Burnett Chicago. Currently, she is the lead for UnitedHealthcare, UnitedHealth Group and Feeding America, among other clients. In addition to UnitedHealth, she is best known for her two Allstate campaigns: “Mayhem” and the “Our Stand” campaign featuring Dennis Haysbert. She has contributed writing to Disney, McDonald’s, Hallmark Cards, Kellogg’s, Kraft, Procter & Gamble and Morgan Stanley. In February 2019, the women’s media group She Runs It (formerly Advertising Women of New York) named Caggiano a “Trailblazing Mother” at the Working Mothers of the Year awards.

A member of the 2016 Cannes Lions Outdoor Jury, Caggiano also has judged film and direction at the One Show, chaired the OBIE Awards jury, judged London International (mainline and Health & Wellness), the Facebook Awards and more.

Cindy Chupack (BSJ87)

Cindy ChupackCindy Chupack has won two Emmys and three Golden Globes as a TV writer/producer whose credits include “Sex and the City,” “Better Things,” “Divorce,” Modern Family,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and most recently, Showtime’s darkly comic hour, “I’m Dying Up Here.” In 2018, she directed her first episode of television for “I’m Dying Up Here” and her first feature, OTHERHOOD, starring Angela Bassett, Patricia Arquette and Felicity Huffman.

Chupack has written about dating and relationships for many magazines, has been published in The New York Times’ Modern Love column and is the author of two comic memoirs: “The Between Boyfriends Book: A Collection of Cautiously Hopeful Essays” and “The Longest Date: Life as a Wife”.

Chupack grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Right after graduating from Medill, she moved to New York City to work in advertising. She sold her first humorous essay to a women’s magazine in 1990, and the piece was spotted by a TV producer who encouraged her to pursue comedy writing, which she’s been doing ever since.

Mary Dedinsky (BSJ69, MSJ70)

Mary DedinskiMary Dedinsky is the director of the journalism program and associate professor in residence at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q). A long-time editor and reporter, Dedinsky was the first woman to be named managing editor of the Chicago Sun-Times. At the Sun-Times, she was also an education reporter, investigative reporter, editorial writer, metropolitan editor and director of editorial operations. For her work at the Sun-Times, she was elected to the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame. She has twice served as a Pulitzer Prize juror.

After the Sun-Times, Dedinsky became associate dean and associate professor of journalism at Medill where she taught media management to graduate students and news writing to undergraduates for 10 years. She also directed the Teaching Media Program, now called Journalism Residency, in which undergraduate students work for a quarter at media outlet or communications company. She has consulted for the Associated Press and numerous newspaper companies, among other things facilitating a major reorganization of a client’s editorial staff.

Helene Elliott (BSJ77)

Helene ElliottHelene Elliott was the first female journalist to be honored by the Hall of Fame of a major professional North American sport when she was given the Elmer Ferguson award by the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2005.

She began her career at the Chicago Sun-Times and later went to Newsday before joining the Los Angeles Times, where she has worked since 1989. She has covered 16 Olympics, as well as countless Stanley Cup Finals, in addition to covering the World Series, men’s and women’s World Cup soccer tournaments, the NBA Finals, the Super Bowl and other events.

Elliott also won the Best Breaking News Story award from the Associated Press Sports Editors for her story on the labor agreement that ended the National Hockey League lockout in 2005. She became a general sports columnist in 2006.

Maudlyne Ihejirika (MSJ87)

Maudlyne IhejirikaMaudlyne Ihejirika is an award-winning Chicago Sun-Times urban affairs columnist/reporter with 30 years of experience in journalism, public relations and government. Recently named among the Power 25, an annual ranking of the 25 most powerful women in Chicago journalism, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Iowa before attending Medill. She currently writes the Sun-Times “Chicago Chronicles,” long-form columns on “people and places that make Chicago tick.” She is the author of “Escape From Nigeria: A Memoir of Faith, Love and War,” a tale of her family’s survival of the brutal Nigerian-Biafran War, and miracles that brought them to the U.S.

Ihejirika is president of both the Chicago Journalists Association and the National Association of Black Journalists Chicago Chapter. She is a member of the Professional Advisory Board of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa, and a member of the prestigious Council of 100 at Northwestern.

Kary Mcllwain (MSA86)

Kary McillwainAs chief marketing and communications officer for Lurie Children’s Hospital, McIlwain leads marketing for the hospital and Lurie Children’s Foundation as well as all media relations and strategic communications. Her team is responsible for all owned, earned and paid media, CRM and direct marketing efforts, annual giving physician marketing and driving awareness, preference, volume, donations, reputation and reach for the top-ranked children’s hospital.

Lurie Children’s represents a capstone on a 25 plus year career in advertising. As President and CEO of Y&R Chicago, McIlwain was responsible for the strategy and operations of a full-service digital and traditional agency. Under McIlwain’ s leadership, Y&R grew exponentially, reinvented its digital offering, created a digital content studio, revamped its creative product and was named top 10 “Creative Heavyweights” by Creativity magazine.

Medill will honor the Hall of Achievement class of 2020 in the spring of 2021 in Evanston.