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Medill’s Fight to Save Local News

Local and regional newspapers, many of them more than 100 years old, going out of business. Broadcast media shrinking. Online startups folding after blowing through millions of dollars in initial funding. And throughout the industry, journalists losing jobs.

In recent years, through its Local News Initiative, the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications has gone beyond its traditional role of undergraduate and graduate education, launching a number of outreach programs to assist media professionals in combating the industry’s troubling trends and to help high schools educate young journalists.

“The role of the modern journalism school cannot simply be the training of future journalists and marketers. The industries that we serve are in such turmoil that if our students are to have jobs, to have industries to go into, those industries need leadership, research and someone from outside the industry to help them think outside of the box and chart a path forward,” said Medill Dean Charles Whitaker. “So it’s in our vested interest to step outside of what our traditional role was and provide the leadership, the innovation, the creative thinking to enable these organizations and entities to continue. Otherwise, if they implode and cease to function, there will be no place for our students to go.”

This special edition of the Medill magazine takes a look at the Local News Initiative and its outreach programs.

If you want to know the state of journalism in the U.S. today, your best source is the website of Medill’s Local News Initiative,

From the sobering info contained in an annual report on the state of local news to success stories that illustrate what’s working, the site provides an up-to-date look at the journalism industry. But for those willing to drill a bit deeper, the site also details the pathbreaking work of the Local News Initiative, a key project of Medill.

Founded in 2017, the LNI is an innovative research and development project with the goal of reinventing the relationship between news organizations and audiences while developing new approaches to local news business models. The LNI is led by Professor Tim Franklin, Senior Associate Dean and John M. Mutz Chair in Local News and Director of the Medill Local News Initiative. Franklin came to Medill from the Poynter Institute after a distinguished career in which he served as the top editor of The Indianapolis Star, Orlando Sentinel and Baltimore Sun.

“A goal of the Local News Initiative is to do what Medill and a university can uniquely do: impactful research about the
local news industry and local news audiences,” Franklin said.

Unquestionably the most visible product of the LNI has been its annual report on the state of local news, which is led by Visiting Professor Penny Abernathy. The 2023 report, which came out last November, garnered headlines across the country with its grim finding that the U.S. was losing 2.5 local newspapers a week and that 204 counties now have no access or very limited access to local news — “news deserts.” In addition, using metrics developed by Medill’s data scientists, researchers and faculty members, the report identified another 228 counties at risk of becoming news deserts.

However, the report, the LNI website, and the LNI itself now also shine a light on local news bright spots, those media outlets that are succeeding in attracting audiences, doing high-quality journalism — and even making money — in today’s challenging media environment. Creating more of those successes is also a key goal of the LNI.

“We want people to know the challenges around local news — and they are considerable — but we also want to be inspiring new ideas to help local news outlets figure out new business models going forward. And we want to work directly with news organizations to help them become sustainable over the long term,” Franklin said.

To do that, the LNI has created or expanded a number of programs aimed at bolstering local news (see related stories on following pages). While a number of the programs are focused on the Chicago area, the LNI’s research and work includes news organizations across the U.S. The Medill Subscriber Engagement Index, done in conjunction with the Spiegel Research Center, includes more than 100 news organizations from across the country and provides local digital readership and benchmarking data to new outlets big and small for free.

In doing so, Medill hopes to develop models for local news that, while probably different from what media have done in the past, will enable journalism to continue to benefit society, said Dean Charles Whitaker.

“Is that possible? I absolutely think it’s possible. Do I think we’re going to save local news as it has traditionally existed? No. But the goal is to determine what local news and journalism should look like in the rest of the 21st century,” Whitaker said.

“The goal is to preserve vehicles of information that will function as a way for our communities to see themselves, that will serve as another pillar of democracy that will be a bulwark against authoritarianism,” Whitaker added. “I’m agnostic about what form that takes, I just want us to help figure out what that form is. The goal is to ensure local
news, a reliable source of credible information that citizens can turn to, that we can agree upon and that is trusted by everyone, in order to preserve democracy.”

Support for the Local News Initiative and the launch of its programs has come from major grants from the McCormick Foundation, Knight Foundation, Lilly Endowment, other foundations and significant gifts from John Mutz (BSJ57, MSJ58) and Mark Ferguson (BSJ80). Medill now is seeking additional funding from other organizations and from alumni.

After an initial grant of $300,000 from the Lilly Endowment and the Mutz gift, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation made a grant of $1 million in 2019 and then followed up with a $2.4 million grant in 2022 to launch the Local
News Accelerator.

In addition to Lilly and McCormick, the Local News Initiative has received grants and gifts from the Knight Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Joyce Foundation, Microsoft, Google, SNPA Foundation, Myrta Pulliam Charitable Trust and the KAS USA Foundation.

In 2017, Mutz contributed $250,000 to help launch the Local News Initiative and then followed up with a $2 million gift in 2020 to endow a professorship in local news. Tim Franklin,

Medill’s senior associate dean and professor, is the John M. Mutz Chair in Local News and the Director of the Local News Initiative.

While a student at Medill, Mutz worked on the copy desk at the Indianapolis News. However, he did not go into journalism, entering politics after a short stint in public relations. He served in the Indiana legislature and was elected lieutenant governor of the state before then going into private business and philanthropy. He was the president of PSI Energy, the largest utility in Indiana, and then headed the Lilly Endowment Inc., one of the world’s largest private foundations. Two of Mutz’s children and two of his grandchildren also graduated from Northwestern.

“One of the things that the Lilly Endowment did when I was president was to encourage the creation of community foundations and we eventually seeded enough community foundations in every county in Indiana. That involvement, as well as running for office, made it crystal clear to me how important a reliable, sustainable — and I might say profitable — local news source is for a community,”
Mutz said.

To make a gift or for more information on how to support the Local News Initiative programs, contact Kyle Daniels, associate director of development, at or 847.467.3736.

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12 Writers Accepted for Inaugural George R.R. Martin Summer Workshop

Twelve writers have been accepted into the inaugural George R.R. Martin Summer Intensive Writing Workshop at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. The workshop will take place in Evanston in July.

Medill received almost 400 workshop applications from accomplished journalists around the world. The inaugural group of twelve fellows includes Pulitzer Prize, Peabody and Emmy Award winners, and journalists who have reported from war zones around the world, covered politics, food, classical music, religion, and more. They hail from the United States, England, Malaysia, and South Korea.

“I couldn’t have asked for a more talented and passionate group of writers for our inaugural workshop,” said Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, senior lecturer and George R.R. Martin Chair in Storytelling. “Many are journalists who have wanted to write their first novel for years — several have toiled away on them in their spare time while working as full-time journalists.”

Over the course of the seven-day workshop, fellows will attend craft-focused classes on the various aspects of writing a novel, workshop their book chapters with instructors who are award-winning novelists themselves, attend firesides with visiting authors, have the opportunity to meet literary agents, and also have concentrated writing time.

“Medill is thrilled to be helping these journalists craft their first fiction stories,” Tan said. “We look forward to helping them share their debut novels with the world.”

Participants include:

Honey Ahmad

honey_ahmad_150x200.jpgAhmad is a Malaysian screenwriter, podcaster and food journalist. She was on the writing team for Emmy-nominated “Saladin,” Malaysia’s first fully-animated series. She has written and produced over 8,000 hours of food content, including a food drama series called “I Eat KL,” which the Asian Wall Street Journal called “a mouth-watering soap opera.” Ahmad’s first film that she co-wrote, “Motif,” featured a female cop on the trail of a small-town murder. She reimagined Walinong Sari into an animation short which has won film fest awards in LA, New York, Mexico, Chile and Japan. She also hosts the “Two Book Nerds Talking” podcast.

Lisa Armstrong

lisa_armstrong_150x200.jpgArmstrong is an award-winning journalist and professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She has reported from several countries, including Sierra Leone, Kenya and the Philippines, and reported from Haiti from 2010 to 2014, through grants from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and NYU. She has been featured on NPR and the BBC, discussing rape in the camps in Haiti and HIV/AIDS in the aftermath of the earthquake. Armstrong’s work has been published in The Intercept, the New Yorker and other outlets. She has produced and directed documentaries, including one for CBS News about the role that poor mental health care provided by for-profit companies has played in an increase in suicides in state prisons. She directed a documentary about a young man who was incarcerated in an adult prison when he was 16, which was featured in the Social Impact track at SXSW.

Tara Bahrampour


Bahrampour was a staff writer from 2004 to 2023 at The Washington Post, where she covered beats including immigration, education, aging and demography, and reported on war and political upheaval in North Africa, the Middle East, and the Republic of Georgia. She also has written for The New York Times, The New Yorker, Travel + Leisure and other publications, and has taught journalism at New York University and at the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs in Tbilisi. Bahrampour is the author of “To See and See Again: A Life in Iran and America,” a memoir about growing up in Iran, fleeing the Islamic revolution as a child and returning as an adult. Prior to becoming a journalist, she wrote short stories and vowed to one day return to fiction. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Ernabel Demillo (MSJ93)

ernabel_demillo_150x200.jpgDemillo hosts and reports for CUNY-TV’s Emmy-award winning “Asian American Life.” Her work has received multiple awards, including an Emmy in 2020 for her short documentary on a Philippine-based feeding program. Prior, she spent a decade as a reporter and anchor on the Emmy-award winning FOX-5 morning news show, “Good Day New York.” Demillo was a reporter for the Orange County Newschannel in California and the CBS-affiliate in Sacramento. She is also a tenured journalism professor at Saint Peter’s University and now serves as chair of the Department of Communication and Media Culture. Demillo is the recipient of a grant from the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium in partnership with Slice of Culture to help fill the void of local news in Hudson County, New Jersey. She received her BA in Journalism and International Relations from the University of Southern California and her MSJ from Medill in 1993.

Monica Eng

monica_eng_150x200.jpgEng is an award-winning, veteran Chicago reporter. She has worked in Chicago journalism for more than three decades starting at the Chicago Sun-Times and moving to the Chicago Tribune and WBEZ. She has served as an Axios Chicago reporter since the summer of 2021. Eng’s great-grandfather came to Chicago in 1911 and opened Chinese restaurants that served as the inspiration for her first attempt at fiction.

Angie Jaime (BSJ11)

angie_jaime_150x200.jpgJaime is the youngest daughter in a tight-knit family, as Mexicans from Guanajuato, of Otomi and Purépecha heritage, who share a legacy of post-colonialism and migration. She is a graduate of Medill whose work has been published by Teen Vogue, The Los Angeles Times, Vice, i-D and more. Most recently, she served as the first-ever Head of Creator Content for The Los Angeles Times. Through culture-shifting journalism, Jaime strives to create digital and physical spaces that are more civically engaged, accessible and reflective of the real world. Her work explores how communities at the margins survive and thrive in the Western world; and the ways cultural phenomena, art and technology can affect populations in disparate ways. Occasionally, she writes personal essays.

Anne Midgette

anne_midgette_150x200.jpgMidgette was the classical music critic of The Washington Post, where she established herself as one of the leading voices in her field. She also wrote on the visual arts and did significant work on #MeToo. Before the Post, she became the first woman to write classical music reviews on a regular basis for The New York Times where she contributed reviews and features on music and theater. A graduate of Yale University, Midgette started her career as a journalist during the 11 years she lived in Germany. She is co-author of “The King and I,” a candid book about Luciano Pavarotti written with his manager, Herbert Breslin, and “My Nine Lives,” written with the pianist Leon Fleisher, who lost the use of his right hand and then regained it three decades later. She is working on a historical novel about the woman who built pianos for Beethoven.

Anna Lekas Miller

anna_lekasmiller_150x200.jpgLekas Miller is a journalist who began her work in Palestine, covering daily life under Israel’s occupation for The Daily Beast, before moving to Lebanon—and then Turkey and Iraq—to cover the Syrian civil war, the refugee exodus to Europe and the rise and fall of the Islamic State for Vanity Fair, Deutsche Welle and other publications. Her favorite stories center around love and romance, particularly the ones that show the way that love can flourish in even the darkest places. Her first book, “Love Across Borders,” is a collection of real-life love stories of people who have been displaced by conflict and separated by borders, fighting for their happily ever after in a world that is divided by passports and papers. She plans to write a novel that follows the emotional journey of a young Palestinian journalist navigating life in London while still being tied to the Middle East.

Tracy Mumford

tracy_mumford_150x200.jpgMumford is a writer and podcast producer, currently bouncing between Minnesota and places closer to an ocean. She started in public radio and now produces a morning news show with The New York Times audio team. Her work in various mediums has won a Peabody Award — and fourth place at the Minnesota State Fair quilt competition (category 205). During the pandemic, Mumford sculpted eight wire-and-mortar tentacles bursting out of her front yard; they’re still standing. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.

Robert Pierre

robert_pierre_150x200.jpgPierre’s work centers the voices and lived experience of people and communities that have been historically marginalized. A former reporter and editor at The Washington Post, he was the initial impetus behind the 2006 groundbreaking series and later book, “Being A Black Man: At the Corner of Progress and Peril.” He was on the Metro reporting team that won the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting massacre in 2007. Pierre is the co-author of “A Day Late and A Dollar Short: High Hopes and Deferred Dreams in Obama’s ‘Post-Racial’ America.” He owns Bald Cypress Media and has provided media solutions to clients including UNCF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Pierre has taught at Dillard University, Georgetown University and Howard University. Pierre graduated from Louisiana State University.

Mike Rezendes

mike_rezendes_150x200.jpgRezendes is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist with the global investigations team at The Associated Press. His recent work includes an examination of child sex abuse in the Mormon Church and financial corruption in the Catholic Church. Rezendes is also a television writer, a screenwriter and a biographer. He is currently at work on a biography of the late Jimmy Breslin, the legendary New York reporter who gave voice to the powerless and helped create the New Journalism. Previously, he worked for The Boston Globe Spotlight Team where he shared two Pulitzer Prizes, one for revealing the cover-up of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church, and one for covering the bombing of the Boston Marathon. Rezendes was running the marathon when the bombs exploded and worked into the night covering the tragedy. In 2015, Rezendes was played by Mark Ruffalo in the Academy Award-winning movie, “Spotlight.”

Josh Smith

josh_smith_150x200.jpgSmith is Reuters’ bureau chief in Seoul, where he oversees a team of more than 20 journalists covering both South and North Korea. He joined Reuters in 2016 in Afghanistan, then moved to Seoul amid the “fire and fury” of 2017. Smith went on to cover the Trump-Kim summits, lead a rare reporting trip to Pyongyang, and reveal the scale of North Korea’s pandemic border walls. First arriving in Kabul for the military affairs newspaper Stars and Stripes in 2013, Smith spent nearly five years chronicling the West’s attempts to extricate itself from the conflict and the increasing toll on the Afghan population. He has also reported on security affairs from Russia, Europe, Central Asia and Iraq, where he accompanied Shi’ite militias to the frontlines of the battle against Islamic State militants, and in 2019 he reported on the Hong Kong protests, including from inside the occupied Polytechnic University.

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Medill alumna to serve as inaugural George R.R. Martin Chair in Storytelling

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, BSJ97, will serve as the inaugural holder of the George R.R. Martin Chair in Storytelling at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University.

Tan, a journalist, author and teacher, will lead the George R.R. Martin Summer Intensive Writing Workshop, as well as teach courses across a breadth of genres to both undergraduate and graduate students.

The George R.R. Martin Summer Intensive Writing Workshop will provide support for journalism professionals seeking careers in creative writing. Launching in 2024, the workshop will enroll six to eight writers and authors each summer and afford budding fiction writers, screenwriters and playwrights the time, space and guidance to develop their projects.

“Journalists have always been compelling storytellers, and many have a wealth of stories and ideas that would make for rich novels, films, TV shows and plays,” said Tan, whose book career launched when she turned an essay she wrote for The Wall Street Journal into the 2011 memoir, “A Tiger in the Kitchen.” “I am thrilled to be leading this unique program that will help journalists make that leap from news narratives to creative writing.”

Martin, BSJ70, MSJ71, is the author of the acclaimed “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels and co-executive producer of the Emmy award-winning “Game of Thrones” series. His $5 million gift to Medill established both the endowed professorship and the workshop.

“Storytelling is at the foundation of our school, and Cheryl’s expertise in telling her own stories and helping others tell their stories will allow Medill to build on its tradition of excellence in this area,” said Medill Dean Charles Whitaker. “We are grateful to George R.R. Martin for his generous gift, and delighted to welcome Cheryl back to Medill.”

In addition to teaching and leading the summer workshop, Tan will collaborate with faculty in the School of Communication and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences to convene panels and conferences on writing for students, the greater Northwestern community and the public and be a liaison to industries related to long-form narrative and storytelling.

After graduating from Medill, Tan began her career at The Baltimore Sun as a metro news reporter, then a fashion, arts and entertainment writer. She followed this with positions in fashion writing at InStyle and The Wall Street Journal.

She is the author of two internationally recognized books and has served as an editor and contributor to two anthologies. Her essays, features, reviews and news stories have been published in major news outlets and magazines throughout the world.

Tan also has participated in nearly a dozen writing fellowships and has taught at universities and workshops.

“Medill taught me so much about writing,” Tan said. “I look forward to coming home and helping journalists build a new library of books and shows incubated right here at Northwestern.”

Tan will join the Medill faculty in September.

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Gifts from ‘Game of Thrones’ novelist to develop future storytellers

Northwestern alumnus George R.R. Martin commits $5 million to establish professorship, writing workshop at Medill


EVANSTON, Ill. — George R.R. Martin ’70, ’71 MS, ’21 H, author of the acclaimed “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels and co-executive producer of the Emmy award-winning “Game of Thrones” series, is sharing his love of storytelling through two gifts totaling $5 million to Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.

A $3 million gift will establish the George R.R. Martin Summer Intensive Writing Workshop, which will provide instruction for journalism professionals seeking to launch careers in creative writing. Launching in 2024, the workshop will enroll six to eight writers and authors each summer and afford budding fiction writers, screenwriters and playwrights the time, space and guidance to develop their projects.

A $2 million gift will establish an endowed professorship, the George R.R. Martin Chair in Storytelling. The professor who is named to this position will lead the George R.R. Martin Summer Intensive Writing Workshop, as well as teach courses across a breadth of genres, from narrative nonfiction to creative writing, to both undergraduate and graduate students.

“George R.R. Martin is a prolific and iconic author with an international audience,” Northwestern President Michael H. Schill said. “We are so grateful for his generosity to his alma mater, which will inspire and equip the next generation of storytellers at Northwestern.”

Medill helps students in its journalism and integrated marketing communications degree programs learn how to tell compelling stories, whether they are based on reporting or data. Martin’s investment will bolster Medill’s teaching in long-form narrative and storytelling and make the school a destination for writers seeking to hone their craft and launch their careers in fiction and writing for the screen and stage.

“The George R.R. Martin Chair in Storytelling and the Summer Intensive Writing Workshop will enable us to recruit, retain and host recognized authors and storytellers for the benefit of Northwestern students and writers from around the country,” said Charles Whitaker ’80, ’81 MS, dean of Medill. “These initiatives will help aspiring writers across myriad literary genres to make their mark on the world, as George has done.”

Through collaboration with faculty in the School of Communication and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, the Martin Chair also will convene panels and conferences on writing for students, the greater Northwestern community and the public and be a liaison to industries related to long-form narrative and storytelling.

About George R.R. MartinGeorge R.R. Martin is a novelist and short story writer who specializes in the fantasy, horror and science fiction genre and is best known for “A Song of Ice and Fire,” an international bestselling series of epic fantasy novels that HBO later adapted into the acclaimed dramatic series “Game of Thrones.” He serves as co-executive producer of the award-winning TV series, which has remained HBO’s biggest hit of all time since its conclusion in 2019. Martin also is the author of “Fire & Blood,” the basis for HBO’s “Game of Thrones” prequel “House of the Dragon,” which drew nearly 10 million viewers with its premiere episode. His books have sold millions of copies and been translated into 47 languages.

Martin received a B.S. in journalism from Medill in 1970 and an MS from the school in 1971. He was inducted into the Medill Hall of Achievement in 2015 and spoke at Medill’s 2021 convocation. That same year, Northwestern awarded Martin the honorary title of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Martin began writing at a young age, selling monster stories — accompanied by dramatic readings — to neighborhood children for pennies. In high school, he became a comic book collector and began to write fiction for comic fanzines (amateur fan magazines). Martin sold his first comic, “The Hero,” to Galaxy in 1970 at age 21; it was published in February 1971.

The New Jersey native taught journalism at Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa, from 1976 to 1978 before becoming a writer-in-residence there from 1978 to 1979. His first experience in Hollywood was as a story editor for “The Twilight Zone” at CBS Television. He later became executive story consultant and then a producer for “Beauty and the Beast,” also on CBS. He also was executive producer for “Doorways,” a pilot he wrote for Columbia Pictures Television.

Martin has won several Hugo Awards for his short stories, novels, novellas and novelettes. He also has received four Emmy Awards for his work as co-executive producer of “Game of Thrones.” Martin was named one of “the most influential people in the world” by Time magazine as part of its 2011 Time 100 list.

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New scholarship funds launched with support of Medill alumni, McCormick Foundation

Gifts provided to mark the school’s Centennial will benefit future students

EVANSTON, ILL. — With the support of hundreds of Northwestern alumni in celebration of Medill’s Centennial, two new endowed scholarship funds have been launched for students of the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University.

The Medill Centennial Undergraduate and Graduate Scholarships will enhance the diversity of the Medill community. The scholarships will be used to help Medill to attract top students by meeting their demonstrated financial need and will build talented and diverse classes committed to telling stories and building brands that combat stereotypes and promote greater cultural awareness.

Through the generosity of the alumni community, both funds exceeded the minimum $100,000 threshold to endow the scholarships in perpetuity. A special commitment from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation more than doubled the size of each endowment.

“We are proud to invest in Medill’s future,” said Dennis FitzSimons, Chairman of the McCormick Foundation. “The Foundation’s roots in education began with our founder, Robert R. McCormick, who helped Northwestern establish the school of journalism in honor of his grandfather Joseph Medill. In this Centennial year, aiding Medill’s mission of educating diverse young students in the principles of high-quality journalism and innovative marketing communications has never been more important.”

New gifts may be made to either the undergraduate or graduate fund to continue growing the endowments over time.

“I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of our alumni, and even more with the number of them who gave to support future Medill students,” said Medill Dean Charles Whitaker. “Each and every gift is meaningful to our school and to me personally. This is a wonderful way for us to fulfill the mission of our Centennial, both celebrating our unparalleled past and preparing for our unlimited future. I also am extremely grateful for the investment from the McCormick Foundation, which has supported Medill throughout our history.”

The scholarships will be awarded for the first time in the 2022-23 academic year. All undergraduate Medill students with unmet financial need will be automatically given consideration. Graduate applicants who meet the requirements for admission to Medill will also be automatically considered on the basis of financial need.

Gifts to the Medill Centennial Scholarships may be made online or by emailing Julie Frahar, director of development, or calling 312-285-1579.

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Medill Grad Honors Former Professor with Mary Dedinsky Graduate Journalism Scholarship

A gift from Medill grad Mike Lazerow and his wife will support graduate journalism students. Mike (BSJ96, MSJ96) and Kass Lazerow created The Mary Dedinsky Graduate Journalism Scholarship to honor Mary Dedinsky’s (BSJ69, MSJ70) long-time service to Medill and the broader journalism profession.

The Mary Dedinsky Graduate Journalism Scholarship will be awarded for the first time to an incoming graduate journalism student in fall 2022, with a preference for a student who could add diversity to the class.

Dedinsky is a Medill emeritus professor who served as associate dean at Medill and director of the journalism program at NU-Q, Medill’s pioneering program in Qatar. Dedinsky was inducted into the Medill Hall of Achievement as a part of the 2020 class. She continues to teach at Medill, and she serves on the governing board of Education for Employment, an international organization that helps young people in many countries move from school to employment.

Before Medill, Dedinsky was an editor and reporter. At the Chicago Sun-Times, she became the first woman to be named managing editor of a major metropolitan newspaper. She also served as 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 and twice served as a Pulitzer Prize juror.

According to Medill Dean Charles Whitaker (BSJ80, MSJ81), scholarship funding is one of the school’s most essential needs. “The Mary Dedinsky Graduate Journalism Scholarship will help us attract the most talented students and make their graduate education possible,” he said. “I am deeply grateful to Mike and Kass for this wonderful support — especially in tribute to Mary, who is such a cherished member of the Medill family.”

In the spring of 1992, Mike Lazerow went to Dedinsky, his academic adviser, with the idea for his first entrepreneurial business venture. Dedinsky encouraged Lazerow to pursue it. Soon University Wire (U-Wire) was born, Lazerow’s first tech startup created to collect and distribute news to college newspapers via the internet.

“Being his adviser, I felt I needed to always be on my toes,” she said. “This young man was coming up with new ideas and new things, and it was a challenge for me to think imaginatively and creatively myself. It is so exciting when you meet someone who inspires you.”

U-Wire launched Lazerow’s career in entrepreneurship. Since then, he and Kass Lazerow have co-founded several businesses, invested in more than 60 tech startups and currently run their venture capital firm Velvet Sea Ventures, which has close to $400 million in assets under management.

Mike Lazerow remembers Dedinsky as much more than an adviser — she was a friend who attended his wedding in 1999.

“She didn’t just teach at Northwestern,” Lazerow said. “She fundamentally changed my Northwestern experience.”

Dedinsky was both surprised and honored when she got the call about the Lazerows’ decision to create a scholarship in her name.

“Knowing Mike and Kass has really been a gift to me and enriched my life,” she said. “When I heard about the scholarship, I couldn’t quite believe it.”

The Lazerows named the scholarship in honor of a beloved professor and celebrated journalist hoping to inspire others to donate and support graduate journalism. So far, the couple’s plan is working as the estate of a late Medill grad anonymously matched the Lazerows’ donation to fund additional scholarships in Dedinsky’s honor.

For the Lazerows, student support was an obvious choice for their gift. “The scholarship provides one thing: opportunity,” Mike Lazerow said. “Going to Medill gives you practical skills to go out and succeed in whatever you want to do. The biggest hurdle is money. Creating graduate scholarships makes Northwestern a more competitive school, so we can attract different points of views and backgrounds.” The Lazerows previously supported the Mike and Kass Lazerow Graduate Scholarship and are members of the Northwestern University Leadership Circle. Mike Lazerow also serves on Medill’s Board of Advisers.

Gifts to the Mary Dedinsky Graduate Journalism Scholarship may be made online (explore “Search School and Program Funds”). Alternately, those wishing to support the fund may send a check to:

Northwestern University
Alumni Relations and Development
1201 Davis Street, Suite 1-400
Evanston, IL 60208-4410

Please make check out to Northwestern University and note the Mary Dedinsky Graduate Journalism Scholarship in the memo or enclosure.

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Medill to remodel broadcast studio, largest classroom thanks to transformational gift

A transformational gift from the Aida and Mike Feldman Philanthropic Trust, under the direction of Melissa Bernal-Vega (BSJ97) and Ernesto Vega (P’23, P’25), will enhance the learning environment for students Medill. The gift will create opportunities for Medill students to learn and collaborate using cutting-edge technology and facilities designed to respond to today’s curricular and industry needs.

The gift will support the renovation of the forum in the McCormick Foundation Center, Medill’s most iconic space on the Evanston campus, to upgrade the technology and expand the space to provide enough seating to accommodate Medill’s entire first-year class. The work will be completed in the year ahead, and the space will be renamed in tribute to Melissa’s father, Alfredo M. Bernal.

The gift will also allow an upgrade and expansion of Medill’s broadcast and digital media suite on the fourth floor of the McCormick Foundation Center. The Aida and Mike Feldman Broadcast and Digital Media Suite will include space for TV editing and teaching, podcasting, team meetings and voice-over work. In addition to being at the center of curricular activity, the suite will create a space for student media groups to meet and work.

“We are delighted for the opportunity to transform these spaces to give all Medill students an outstanding environment to learn and practice their skills,” said Medill Dean Charles Whitaker (BSJ80, MSJ81). “We are deeply grateful to the Vega family and the Aida and Mike Feldman Philanthropic Trust for their generosity. These enhanced facilities will support Medill’s efforts to be the best school of its kind in the world.”

Melissa and Ernesto are co-founders of CANVAS Real Estate, a Florida-based firm with more than 20 years in the residential and commercial real estate and property management businesses. CANVAS has 10 offices across Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties and more than 1,100 agents.

Melissa came to Medill as a first-generation student, and it was while she was studying at Northwestern that she met Ernesto, a fellow Cuban American who also grew up in Miami. They are parents of two current Northwestern students: Matthew, a first-year journalism student at Medill, and Michael, a junior studying at the McCormick School of Engineering. Melissa is a co-director of the Northwestern Alumni Admissions Council’s Southeast Florida Region and a member of the Northwestern Parents Leadership Council. She recently joined the Medill Board of Advisers.

“My experience at Northwestern—particularly Medill—informed and transformed my life,” said Melissa. “We are inspired by Medill’s uplifting environment that encourages free thought, mindful and meaningful communication. We are blessed to be part of its future.”

The Vegas are members of the Northwestern University Leadership Circle and NU Loyal Society, with 12 consecutive years of giving to the University. Through the Aida and Mike Feldman Philanthropic Trust, they have also generously supported Northwestern Engineering with the establishment of the Enrique Feldman Studio and Northwestern Student Affairs through their support of the University’s Multicultural Center. The Aida and Mike Feldman Philanthropic Trust supports educational bricks and mortar projects across the United States and in Israel.

The Vegas’ recent gift to Medill was one of the largest Medill received as part of We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern, which helped realize the transformational vis

Giving Back

Medill grad turned serial entrepreneur gives back through the Mike and Kass Lazerow Graduate Scholarship

By Kaitlyn Thompson (BSJ11, IMC17)

Michael Lazerow (BSJ96, MSJ96) and his wife Kass recently made the decision to gift a scholarship to support Medill graduate journalism students. Lazerow, a serial entrepreneur, has co-founded several successful media and software companies. The most recent, founded with Kass, sold to Salesforce for $800 million. Kass and Mike are now two of the most prolific technology investors in New York City – a departure from Mike’s time as a Medill student studying political reporting in D.C.

We spoke with Mike about his time at Northwestern, how he went from Medill student and Daily Northwestern writer to entrepreneur, and he and Kass’s decision to create a scholarship to help Medill graduate students.

Thompson: Early in your career, you moved away from traditional journalism and into entrepreneurship. Did you always know that’s what you wanted to do with your career?

Lazerow: If you would have asked me at Northwestern what I would do and what I was interested in, I would have said I would be a political reporter based in D.C. I worked at Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, and finished my Medill career in the D.C. program with Professor Ellen Shearer. My class had a bunch of people who would later become political journalists. I thought I wanted to do that, and it was the closest thing I had to a dream until the commercial internet came along.

Thompson: So far, you’ve co-funded over 50 different investments and founded several companies in your career. What do you think makes you a particularly good investor?

Lazerow: I started my first company back at Northwestern, and since then, I’ve been through a lot – financings and acquisitions, hirings and firings. I know what it’s like to run out of money. I know what it’s like to bring on a first client and to lose that client. That is what I think is kind of different – I started investing very grassroots, and I don’t consider myself an investor so much as an entrepreneur.

I do everything with my wife, Kass, who I met while attending a wedding soon after my time at Northwestern. We’ve also always been fascinated with “new” and innovation and what’s around the corner. Most of our time is spent with companies that are trying to take very large industries (invest where the money is) and leading some sort of transformation. I’m interested in everything that requires a beginners mind.

Thompson: How have your journalism degrees impacted your investment decisions? Have you used any of the skills you learned at Medill in your current career?

Lazerow: What Medill taught me more than anything is don’t bury the lede, say what you mean and mean what you say, and less is more. I grew up in Medill writing for the newspaper format where I only had a certain number of words – this scarcity of space. Clear writing is an extension of clear thinking. Whether it’s through emails, or blogs, or posts that I’ve written since leaving Medill, I continue to write almost every day.

Thompson: There are many ways to give back. When you decided to give back to Medill, what inspired you to choose to fund a Medill scholarship?  I hear your wife Kass was instrumental in this decision, too.

Lazerow: When my wife Kass and I decided we wanted to do something to pay it forward, we put our investor hats on and wanted to know how we could make the most impact. We got to understand why the need for graduate scholarships specifically was so important. In order to attract a diverse student body, and people from all different walks of life, there has to be financial assistance. Graduate school is expensive and there are limited options for financial aid and grants. Giving to Medill in this way really fit within really all of the giving that we’ve done to date (like Cycle for Survival) – it has significant impact and all of the money given actually goes to fulfill the promise of why it was donated.

Thompson: I want to take a minute to revisit your time attending Northwestern as a student.  What memories stand out most?

Lazerow: One of the thing I loved most about Medill was that I was at Northwestern. I was attending a Big 10 school with arts, sports, Greek life – access to an entire world from this one global university. 75 percent of my classes were outside of Medill, which meant I was forced to go out and take courses in disciplines like economics, philosophy and literature.

At the same time, I happened to be in this world-class journalism program. I wrote for The Daily Northwestern and, while I wrote a bunch of stories, I really dove into my first company, University Wire, which was a news service for college papers, one of the first information services using the internet exclusively with no print version.

Additionally, what I got out of Medill was not just a journalism degree, but long-standing relationships. To this day, I continue to be very close with NU and Medill people. The most important driver of my ability to start that first business while at Northwestern was my adviser, Mary Dedinsky. She was phenomenal and incredibly supportive. She also gave me one of my first Medill F’s that I still have a copy of today.

Thompson: Lastly, what advice do you have for people graduating with a journalism degree today?

 Lazerow: If you’re considering going into journalism, know that prestige and masthead no longer matter. Find where you can do the best work, no matter where it is. I’ve seen a lot of people make mistakes in this industry by focusing on, “I’m a writer for this, I’m a writer for that” instead of breaking out and just doing the most interesting work possible. Think omni-channel from the beginning – you’re a content creator, not just a print journalist or a TV journalist.

And even if you’re a journalist, think like a marketer. The journalists who are thriving are ones that know their reader / viewer / consumer and understand how to reach them and what channels they’re on. The days of writing and creating videos and not understanding your consumer is over.

Michael Lazerow is a serial entrepreneur who has co-founded four successful internet-based media companies. He is best-known as the founder, CEO and chairman of Buddy Media, Inc., a New York City-based company that develops and markets applications on the leading social media networks. It was purchased by for $800 million in 2012. Currently, Michael is an investor for Lazerow Ventures, a fund for his personal tech investments. These have included Buzzfeed, Domo, Namely, Scopely and about 50 others.

Before Buddy Media, Michael founded GolfServ, the parent company of, which was purchased by Time Warner’s Time Inc. division in January 2006 for $24 million. He led GolfServ from a start-up to a multi-million-dollar profitable golf media company. The company delivers golf content and ecommerce services to millions of golfers through its flagship site.

His byline has appeared in more than a dozen newspapers, including Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill; the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel; the Miami Herald; the Delaware State-News; The Capital Times in Madison, Wis.; and the Montgomery Journal.

Michael was on staff at The Daily Northwestern during his freshman year. While at NU, he created University Wire (U-Wire), a network of college papers that was sold to CBS.

Michael is a member of the Medill Board of Advisers. He often makes time to meet and speak with Medill students in NYC, particularly those in the Media Innovation and Content Strategy specialization.

Bio: Kaitlyn Thompson is a marketing strategist, passionate storyteller, global citizen, green tea connoisseur and chili cook-off champion always asking “why.”

Giving Back Home

Donors commit $1.5 million to support journalism students now and in the future

Retired history teachers Linnea Phillip Ghilardi (Weinberg BA66, MA67) and Steve Armstrong developed a deep appreciation for journalism and its role in shaping our understanding of history and current events through their years in the classroom. They also learned how a quality education can affect students.

The couple has made a $1.5 million commitment to Medill. Their commitment includes an outright gift of $100,000, which establishes the Linnea Phillip and Steve Armstrong Journalism Scholarship Fund. The fund will provide financial assistance to undergraduate journalism students beginning in fall 2021. The remainder of their gift will come in the form of a bequest that will enhance the existing fund.

“This tremendous commitment from Linnea and Steve will make a Medill education possible for generations of students, and we are deeply honored that the school will be part of their legacy,” Dean Charles Whitaker (BSJ80, MSJ81) said. “Linnea and Steve’s support will help us prepare future journalists to create an informed citizenry, which is a pillar of our democracy and a service that is more essential than ever in the face of current events.”

“Northwestern played a critical role in my life and continues to do so,” said Ghilardi, who hopes that the couple’s gift will have a transformative effect on scholarship recipients. During her five years at the University, she earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in history, which provided a strong foundation for her critical thinking and communication skills. “I became a better writer and thinker because of Northwestern.”

Ghilardi began teaching several years after graduating from the University. For more than 30 years, she served as a history teacher and administrator at high schools and colleges across Illinois and Montana, including De Lourdes College (Des Plaines, Illinois), Glenbrook North High School (Northbrook, Illinois), and other north suburban Chicago schools, as well as Helena High School (Helena, Montana). She later went on to pursue a doctoral degree in education, which she earned from National Louis University in 1999.

Armstrong’s educational career began in the Okavango Delta of Botswana, where he was stationed as a high school teacher in the Peace Corps. When he returned to his native Montana, he secured a teaching position in history at the school where Ghilardi worked. The two wed in 1981 and spent their married lives in Helena; Bigfork, Montana, where they currently live; and the Chicago area, where they lived and taught for nearly two decades. During their time in Chicago, Armstrong taught at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois.

Armstrong earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Montana and a master’s degree from Ohio University; however, he too had the opportunity to experience Northwestern over the years. He attended several history and global studies workshops at the University and what is now the Northwestern Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs, and also completed a fellowship program at Stanford, where one of Ghilardi’s former professors taught all of his classes. And as a member of the Northshore Concert Band, he performed several times at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on the Evanston campus.

The couple is further connected to Northwestern through Ghilardi’s family. She is the ninth member of her family to graduate from the University and was a student at the same time as two of her cousins, Phillip Zeman (Kellogg 66) and the late John Phillip (Kellogg 64). Well-known alumna, talk show host and soap opera creator Lee Phillip Bell (Weinberg 50, Grandparent 18), who served as a Northwestern trustee until her death earlier this year, was also a cousin of Ghilardi’s.

Ghilardi and Armstrong made their first gift to Northwestern in 1985 and have continued to support the University over the years. Their commitment to Medill is their first major gift to Northwestern and their first planned gift. They join a dedicated community of donors who are helping to secure Northwestern’s excellence far into the future. These donors are recognized as members of the Henry and Emma Rogers Society. The couple’s commitment will also count toward We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern.

“Medill is among the best journalism schools in the country,” Armstrong said. “Having taught history for over three decades apiece, Linnea and I are well versed on the importance of great journalism to our ever-evolving democracy. Students at Medill fit that calling. We hope that our gift encourages students to pursue journalism careers for decades to come.”

Postscript: Linnea Phillip Ghilardi passed away peacefully with Steve by her side on Aug. 27, 2020. 

Giving Back Home

Medill announces John M. Mutz Chair in Local News

A newly endowed chair will study and support innovation in local news at Medill thanks to a gift from Medill alumnus John M. Mutz (BSJ57, MSJ58).

The John M. Mutz Chair in Local News will focus on local news sustainability. It will advance the aims of Medill’s Local News Initiative, an innovative research and development project aimed at providing greater understanding of how digital audiences engage with local news and finding new approaches to bolster local news business models.

“Local news is vital to our democracy and an empowered citizenry,” said Medill Dean Charles Whitaker. “As the media industry has transformed, local news outlets face unprecedented challenges. We are deeply grateful for John’s visionary generosity, which helped Medill launch the Local News Initiative and will now cement our place as a leader in addressing the crisis facing local news.”

Mutz’s $2 million gift to create the local news chair counts toward We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern, raising his total giving to Northwestern to over $2.3 million. The chair was supported in part by alumni Patrick G. ’59, ’09 H and Shirley W. Ryan ’61, ’19 H (’97, ’00 P) through the Ryan Family Chair Challenge, which matches gifts made by other Northwestern supporters to establish new endowed professorships, or chairs, across a wide range of disciplines. In 2017, Mutz’s commitment of $250,000 to the Local News Initiative was instrumental to the program’s launch. He also is a member of the Henry and Emma Rogers Society, which recognizes those who have included Northwestern in their estate plans.

Mutz earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Medill in 1957 and 1958. He also participated in the Medill Cherubs program for high school journalism students in the summer of 1952. Mutz’s daughter, Diana, is a 1984 graduate of the School of Communication, and his son, Mark, graduated from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences in 1983. Two of Mutz’s grandchildren are also Northwestern alumni: Fletcher, who graduated from Weinberg College in 2017, and Maria, who graduated with a joint degree from the McCormick School of Engineering and Bienen School of Music in 2020.

Mutz is a business leader and politician who served as lieutenant governor of Indiana, Republican candidate for governor and president of Lilly Endowment Inc., one of the world’s largest private foundations. Mutz also served as president of PSI Energy, Indiana’s largest utility (now Duke Energy).

“My political experience has dramatically shown me how important reliable local news sources are to local governments and economies,” Mutz said. “Without it we may lose our democratic society and that would be a tragedy.”

Medill Senior Associate Dean and Professor Tim Franklin is the inaugural holder of the John M. Mutz Chair. Franklin is the leader of Medill’s Local News Initiative.

Franklin joined Medill’s faculty in 2017 after serving as president of The Poynter Institute, a leading international school for journalists and a media think tank. Before that, he had a distinguished career in journalism serving as top editor of three metropolitan newspapers, The Indianapolis Star, Orlando Sentinel and Baltimore Sun. His newsrooms won numerous national journalism awards, and The Sun was a Pulitzer Prize finalist during his tenure. Before joining Poynter in 2014, Franklin was a managing editor in the Washington bureau of Bloomberg News, helping oversee coverage of the White House, Congress, Supreme Court and many federal agencies. He also had a 17-year-career as a reporter and editor at the Chicago Tribune.

“I’m honored to serve as the inaugural Mutz Chair,” Franklin said. “John knows from first-hand experience during his political and business career about the importance of local news in our democracy. He’s passionate about the need for robust local news in our society, and he’s also passionate about Medill. With John’s generous gift, Medill will continue to be a national leader for years to come in developing partnerships, programs and new tools to help local news organizations and the communities they serve.”

Medill’s Local News Initiative began its work in 2018 in partnership with Medill’s Spiegel Research Center by analyzing 13 terabytes of reader and subscriber data from the Chicago Tribune, Indianapolis Star and San Francisco Chronicle to gain insights into online reader behavior. Medill now has conducted data-mining research in more than 20 local news markets. Next year, the school expects to roll out a new tool, the Medill Subscriber Engagement Index, which was awarded a Google Innovation Challenge grant. These findings, coupled with additional research and product development by Medill’s Knight Lab, are providing actionable guidance to media leaders about news and information consumers will pay for and how to grow reader revenue.

The funds raised through the “We Will” Campaign are helping realize the transformational vision set forth in Northwestern’s strategic plan and solidifying the University’s position among the world’s leading research universities. More information on We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern is available at the We Will website.