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Interviews with the 2022 Alumni Award Winners

Read our interviews with 2022 Alumni Award Winners Malini Parthasarathy, ‘82 M.S., chairperson of The Hindu Group Publishing Ltd.; Eric Marcus, ‘84 M.S., founder and host of the “Making Gay History” podcast, Stuart Schear, ‘84 M.S., vice president for Communications and Marketing at American Jewish World Service, Thomas Maier, `82 M.S., investigative journalist at Newsday and author of several books of American history and biography, and the winners of the First Decade Award, Wendy Lu, `16 M.S., recently an editor at HuffPost, and will be starting a new role as a senior staff editor at The New York Times next month, and Mukhtar Ibrahim, `17 M.S. Stabile, editor and executive director of Sahan Journal.

For more information on the 2022 winners, see our press release here.

Malini Parthasarathy,

Malini Parthasarathy, '82 M.S., Chairperson of The Hindu Group Publishing Ltd.

What is your favorite memory of the J-School?

New York was a transformational and life-changing experience!

Some of us were called earlier in August 1981 to begin an orientation before the real program started later that fall. I remember being in a constant state of dread and admiration in the early days at the J-School, with the ever-present reminders of its iconic status like the World Room, world-famous as a setting for the announcement of the Pulitzer Prizes.

My favorite moments were aplenty, too many to individually name. I do remember looking forward to the assignments of RW1, which had us hitting the streets in search of various adventures and being conscious that at the end of the day, one had to turn in a story that would survive the rigorous scrutiny it would inevitably be subjected to! I also enjoyed trips to the UN as part of the UN reporting course, and meeting diplomats from all countries, thrilled to be starting out life as a journalist.

Which story or project are you most proud of and why?
 

I’m not sure I can say there’s any story or project that I remember being proud of, since they were all works in progress and awaiting the refining pens and pencils of supervisors! But I was very thrilled with the outcome of one particularly challenging assignment in the RW1 course, requiring the student to seek out and spend the day with a notable person to do a profile of. At that time the late David Halberstam, journalist and celebrated writer known for his reporting on the Vietnam war and on media culture, was in the news because he had just published one of his best sellers. I enjoyed spending the day with him, walking the streets of Manhattan, trotting behind him to a coffee shop, watching as he stopped to buy shirts, all the while musing aloud on American politics and media throughout the day. It made for a great profile, much appreciated by my supervisors back then!
 
What advice would you give to the next generation of J-Schoolers?
 

First, enjoy your time at the J-School! Every minute is a precious future memory, every conversation, every laugh, every thought is special in this awesome place because they belong to a time that you will always cherish.
 
Second, remember that you are in New York, the world’s hub. The J-School gives you a unique opportunity to develop your reporting and writing skills, situated as you are in one of the world’s most creative and imaginative cities. Use your time there to go out on the streets with your J-School ID card and write stories on the great city that is the best news laboratory you can ever get!

Eric Marcus, '84 M.S., Founder and Host of the “Making Gay History” podcast

What is your favorite memory of the J-School?

I have two very distinct memories from the J-School, but I can’t say they’re necessarily favorites as much as they were indelible. 
 

During the first semester of RW1, I wound up having a challenging relationship with names. Our adjunct, Dick Blood, who was a former editor at the New York Daily News and a tough newsman from central casting, threatened to have me thrown out of the J-School if I misspelled one more name.

To this day, whenever I write anything, even an email, I double-check the spelling of names — both first and last. Dick subsequently became a mentor and dear friend.

The other distinct memory was being told by one of the deans that being out about the fact I was gay would ruin my career. I’m not sure he said it in exactly those words, but that’s how I heard it. And while his advice was well-meaning given the times, I was still shocked. In the years that followed, I discovered that there was a lot of truth to what he said, at least in terms of the obstacles I found in broadcast network news.

Which story or project are you most proud of and why?

There are two stories I wrote while at the J-School of which I’m most proud. The first was quite literally our first assignment in RW1. I was sent to the Bronx to find a story for “The Bronx Beat,” our class publication (I hope I’m remembering that correctly). I landed on a story about the residents of a lone apartment house that had survived the 1970s arson that devastated much of the South Bronx and how they saved it. That was exactly the kind of combination urban redevelopment and human interest story I was most keen to write about. Thanks to Dick Blood, my RW1 adjunct, who still had contacts at the New York Daily News, my story wound up on the front page of the paper’s Bronx and Manhattan “Metro” section.   

The second story I take pride in was a profile of Sister Patrice Murphy, a nun at St. Vincent’s Hospital who was counseling gay men whose partners had died from AIDS.  It was the early days of the AIDS crisis and mainstream newspapers were doing a terrible job of covering the growing epidemic and its impact. A Catholic nun providing bereavement counseling to gay men was the kind of human interest story that I thought subscribers to the Columbia New Service would be comfortable picking up and publishing, which lots of papers did. And, not incidentally, it was the first time I risked professionally being associated with a stigmatized community — my community — by reporting on it (even though I chose to feature a nun as my way into the story rather than the gay men Sister Murphy counseled).

What advice would you give to the next generation of J-Schoolers?
 
Get yourself a good mentor or two. There’s a lot to be learned from old journalists.

Stuart Schear

Stuart Schear, '84 M.S., Vice President for Communications and Marketing at American Jewish World Service

What is your favorite memory of the J-School?

In my 38-year relationship with the J-School, my favorite memory is participating in a Zoom class in September 2021, when I was invited to discuss reporting on HIV/AIDS with students from the class of 2022.

As my J-School reporting in 1984 on how AIDS was affecting the affectional and sexual behavior of gay men was severely discouraged by two J-School professors, I was heartened to meet students who were reporting on today’s “untold” stories of AIDS as they framed it.

This encounter, arranged by Professor Samuel Freedman, made me fall in love with the school again. This experience healed my feeling of being marginalized as a 27-year-old journalist, three years into the AIDS crisis and three years before ACT UP was founded, making it a tough time to report on “untold” stories of AIDS and an easy time to feel isolated. When I covered AIDS in 1984, my identity as a gay journalist was held against me, while today the diverse identities of the students in Freedman’s class were viewed as providing opportunities for rigorous reporting on “untold” stories. Seeing this vibrant new generation of J-School AIDS journalists on a Zoom screen is the J-School moment I will most cherish.

Which story or project are you most proud of and why?
 
I am proud of a short video that I reported for our 1984 documentary class and then co-produced with three other students about how young gay men were changing their behavior in response to AIDS. I persuaded a young gay man studying at Columbia to speak about why he had abandoned visiting bath houses in search of sex and was instead seriously seeking a partner and a longer and hopefully safer relationship. This was at a time when no treatments existed for AIDS and the practice of “safer sex” was just gaining currency. The manager of a bathhouse, which this young man had visited, allowed our J-School team to videotape an interview with him while he sat on the edge of one of the beds in one of the rooms used for the very encounters he had just given up. We wove his story together with an effort by young gay men in Park Slope to promote novel approaches to “safer sex.” I was most proud that the 12 students in our documentary class selected this piece as their top choice for a semester-long project but was saddened that our professors made it impossible for us to pursue this story.

What advice would you give to the next generation of J-Schoolers?
 
My advice is simple: pursue stories that few or no other journalists will cover, and, if you are certain that you have an untold story that must be told, don’t allow any authority to stop you.

Thomas Maier, '82 M.S., investigative journalist at Newsday and author of several books of American history and biography

What is your favorite memory of the J-School?

It was thrilling on the first day to walk through the J-School’s entrance, full of hope and ambitions, and then ascend the stairs to a place aptly called “The World Room.” I am the first in my family to go to college, so entering Columbia, the world’s most renowned journalism school, felt like an unforgettable dream come true.

But my most memorable time was in filming a documentary about organized crime at the old Fulton Fish Market. It was both fun and a bit dangerous. Our motley crew  Columbia would meet at dawn, drive my old 1975 Chevy to the cobblestoned streets around the market and then ask the fishmongers about the wise guys who controlled their corrupt market. The sights, the smells, the drama! At graduation, I won the John M. Patterson Award for that documentary, which we sold to Joan Konner, then at Channel 13 and later dean of the J-School. I came to Columbia as a print reporter from a small paper in Nyack, NY, without any television experience, and I wound up learning a whole new set of skills that influenced my career for the next 40 years.

Which story or project are you most proud of and why?

While I’m very proud of my Newsday investigative reporting, the biggest challenge has been to write six books about America and our times. This includes biographies of Dr. Benjamin Spock, the pediatrician and popularizer of Freud through his famous baby book; the Newhouse family’s Conde Nast media empire and the impact of the celebrity culture on our politics, notably the rise of Donald Trump; and a biography of sex researchers Masters and Johnson, adapted into an Emmy-winning Showtime television series. But I’m most proud of my trilogy of books about the Kennedy era. The first book, in 2003, explored how the Kennedy family’s Irish Catholic immigrant background impacted their public and private lives. The second in 2014, When Lions Roar, explored the little-known relationship of the Kennedys and Churchills, and was excerpted in Time.com and featured at a JFK Library seminar. And the third, a 2019 book called Mafia Spies , looked at the CIA during the Kennedy administration and its undeclared war run out of Florida against Castro’s Cuba, which included the use of organized crime figures. I traveled to Ireland, England and Cuba with these Kennedy books. Overall, I think these books redefine our understanding of the Kennedy story – not as a “Camelot” fantasy but rather as very influenced by their minority background, as JFK defined in his little-known book A Nation of Immigrants. That book led to the passage of the1965 Immigration Act, which greatly changed the America we live in today and is the Kennedy family’s greatest legacy.

What advice would you give to the next generation of J-Schoolers?

Two words: character and fluency. First, be able to translate your work into as many diverse platforms as possible – a multimedia “fluency” if you will – which is essential to the future. Today, I think being able to edit video and know the grammar of visual storytelling is as important as being able to type on a computer (or a manual typewriter!) was back in the 20th century. However, the importance of character transcends skills. It is crucial to intellectual honesty and a fearless presentation of facts. As an investigative reporter, you learn quickly how important character is to truth-telling – exploring the world as you find it without preconceived bias or ideology – and how things can go terribly wrong without it. Character teaches you to stand up to personal threats or legal challenges, to champion the rights of those less fortunate without power or money, and to force your news organization to publish when the cowardice of editors and publishers prefers that your story go away. Character isn’t something you’ll see in your paycheck but rather in the mirror. Character is essential to good journalism and a world in desperate need of it. Being a journalist – a witness to the world – is arguably the most noble calling of all.

Wendy Lu,'16 M.S., Editor at The Huffington Post

What is your favorite memory of the J-School?

Covering the pope's visit to New York City outside Madison Square Garden with my reporting class. Interviewing a bunch of Chick-fil-A super fanatics at 6 a.m. (one person even made a decision about where to go to college based on whether there was a Chick-fil-A nearby). Going to theJ-School's Halloween party. Walking along Riverside Park. Living off of Halal Guys and free food in the Stabile Student Center. Taking workshops at the Brown Institute. Planning events for CJS Women in Media. Watching all of my amazing classmates' final documentaries at Doc Fest. And, of course, graduation!

Which story or project are you most proud of and why?

I recently published a reported feature for HuffPost about the discrimination that doctors with disabilities face in the world of medicine. Prejudice against people with disabilities exists in every field, but there's a certain irony to the fact that doctors are responsible for taking care of sick patients, and yet the medical field expects doctors themselves to be "superhuman" and 100 percent healthy all the time. In the age of COVID-19, this is more relevant than ever. We have to contend with the fact that more and more people (including health care professionals) are getting long COVID, health care rationing has put countless disabled people to the back of the line for treatments, and front-line workers are being lauded as "heroes" even as they're exhausted from managing this crisis. It's all connected. I'm really proud of this piece because it's something that people rarely talk about — it's uncomfortable and difficult to navigate, but that makes it all the more important.

What advice would you give to the next generation of J-Schoolers?

Pitch any stories you write for class to publications — even the ones you don't think will say yes (you never know!). Learn how to freelance (the taxes part, too). Get enough sleep and remember to hydrate. Fight for the stories you want to tell. Bring an inclusive lens to every aspect of your work if you aren't already. Be humble enough to learn from your mistakes. Believe in yourself — it sounds so cliche, but whether you're applying for jobs or pitching stories or chasing down sources, rejection in some form is inevitable in journalism. There are enough barriers to breaking into journalism already; don't let yourself be one of them!

Mukhtar Ibrahim, '17 M.S. Stabile, editor and executive director of Sahan Journal

What is your favorite memory of the J-School?

During my time at the J School, I took Samuel Freedman’s book writing class. That class challenged me and motivated me to work hard on my other classes. I developed good connections with the rest of my classmates, who critiqued my work and gave me valuable feedback on my book proposal. After I graduated, Mr. Freedman and I became good friends and we would occasionally meet for lunch when he visited his family in Minneapolis.

Another favorite of being at the J-School was the connections I made outside of the school. I lived at International House and its then-President Calvin Sims invited me as a guest to the National Book Awards in 2016. It was surreal to witness and listen to John Lewis, Colson Whitehead and Ibram X. Kendi as they accepted their awards.

Which story or project are you most proud of and why?

I traveled to Kenya during winter break to do research and reporting for my thesis. It was about how the United States spent millions of dollars on a secret counterterrorism campaign to dissuade young Muslims in Kenya from joining terrorist groups, such as al-Shabaab and ISIS. BuzzFeed News published my thesis a week or so before graduation. My thesis advisor Ray Bonner, and Stabile director Sheila Coronel were both instrumental in making it happen.

What advice would you give to the next generation of J-Schoolers?

Know what you want to get out of the J-School. Most of my classmates and friends took advantage of the resources at the school available to all students. When instructors invite guests, make sure you connect with them after class. They are being invited for a reason. Also: get to know your instructors.

Save-the-Date: Alumni Weekend 2022

We are excited to announce that we are planning to hold Alumni Weekend on campus in 2022! Please put a hold on April 29-30. We will share details on events, reunion class activities and networking opportunities in the next few months.

While we will welcome all classes on campus, we will have special celebrations for the classes with milestone reunions. We will also celebrate the reunion classes that missed out on getting together during the pandemic.

If, however, public health protocols force us not to meet in person, we will switch to a virtual celebration.

LinkedIn Alumni Group

Given that we are part of a very special group — alumni of the J-School — we must stay connected! One way to do this is via a closed LinkedIn alumni group where we can talk about journalism and journalism-adjacent fields, awards, book launches, job leads and events of interest. If you aren’t already a member of this group, be sure to join today! 

We will admit only Columbia J-School graduates so please update your LinkedIn profile to reflect the fact that you are an alum.

Columbia Journalism Alumni | Groups | LinkedIn

Let Us Know What You're Up To

Update your contact information here to receive up-to-date announcements. Join the Alumni Community for a directory of other graduates. Questions? Email us at jalumni@columbia.edu.

Alumni Resources

Career Development

If you are looking to update your skills or find a new job, or you've just published a book or have a job change, you will find many resources through your J-School and Columbia University association. They include:

  • JobNews: Log on for a list of opportunities, including jobs, fellowships and freelance gigs maintained by our office of Career Development. JobNews also includes career resources, including resume and cover letter guides, job-hunting resources, and more,
  • Additional resources, including recordings of past events. Deadline Calendar, events calendar, and more.

To explore these resources, you’ll need your UNI.

In addition, go here to tap into the network of J-School alumni:

Don't forget to look for us on Twitter or Facebook.

Up your skills through the J-School's Professional Development program. Learn about immersive, specialized training for nondegree students offered here at the J-School or at our partner campuses around the globe.

Books and Job News: Have you written a book or have a new job or job change that you’d like the alumni community to know about? Tell us for inclusion in the monthly J-School alumni newsletter, which is emailed to all alumni, by emailing us at jalumni@columbia.edu. You can also submit details about your new book for inclusion in Columbia Magazine, published quarterly by the University’s Office of Alumni and Development, by emailing them at magazine@columbia.edu.

Alumni Board

The Alumni Board is the official link between graduates and the school's faculty, administration and current students. Board members are alumni who are willing to give of their time to help the Alumni Office come up with ways to engage graduates worldwide through programs and services.

See the current board members.

Give Back

As an alum, you can support the future of journalism in many ways:

Hire a Journalism School Graduate 

As an alum of the Journalism School, your achievements build over the years. Many alumni take the opportunity to “pay it forward” as mentors or hiring managers to the next generation. If you are a hiring editor or producer and want to interview Journalism School students for jobs and internships, please contact the Career Development Office, post a listing on our JobNews board or attend our annual Career Expo, the biggest of its kind at any journalism school.

Support the Journalism School

Learn how your donations can extend the mission of the Journalism School. 

Mentor a Current Student 

Through the mentor program, we give you an opportunity to help a current student get a handle on different aspects of the industry and form a professional relationship with a working journalist. The program is currently being revised. 

 

Contact

Alumni Events