Alumni Weekend 2020 has been canceled due to COVID-19. Learn more.
The Columbia Journalism School Alumni Awards are presented every year to distinguished graduates who exemplify the best of the Journalism School's high standards of journalism. The 2020 winners are Michelle Johnson, ’82 M.S.; Donna Ladd, ’01 M.S., and Natasha Lebedeva, ’94 M.S. The J-School is also presenting the First Decade Award, for graduates of the last 10 years, to Alexandra Bell, ’13 M.S., and Robert Fieseler, ’13 M.S. Part-Time.
For more information on the 2020 winners, see our press release here.
To see the complete list of past winners please click HERE.
Featured Alumni Q&A: Photojournalist Gabriela Bhaskar, '17 M.S.
Featured in the J-School May alumni newsletter:
Her photos have appeared in The New York Times, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. Gabriela Bhaskar, '17 M.S., is a freelance photojournalist based in New York City. A social media marketing strategist before J-School, she said she "fell in love with photography as a teenager and have always been passionate about social justice, so photojournalism was always the goal for me.'' She attended the J-School "to improve my reporting and storytelling skills that I hoped would elevate my photography.'' Here, she talks about the challenges of documenting a city at the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis.
Q. What is the biggest challenge for you as a photographer right now to report on the coronavirus story? Is access an issue?
A. As a photographer, I have thrived in intimate settings and with intimate stories. One of the things I appreciate about my job is that people, who don’t need to open themselves and their lives up, trust me enough to photograph some of the most private parts of their lives.
We photojournalists are limited in how we work because we need to socially distance, wear PPE and work faster than before. The time and tools we used to rely on to create meaningful portraits or images cannot be employed. It’s also scary for our sources to see us in the proper PPE.
People are understandably stressed about being outside the home and when they see someone in a mask with a long lens lurking on a corner, waiting for a moment, they are agitated and scared. I have had more encounters of aggression towards me for doing basic street photography on assignment since I started covering this on March 9 than I ever have had before.
Q. How do you stay safe?
A. I am glad we have a better guidance on this now but in the beginning it was confusing. My family is Singaporean and having spent a lot of time there during SARS and living there through H1N1, I assumed the surgical and N95 masks were good ways to protect each other and ourselves but the CDC and our newsrooms were providing very different information. We finally understood the truth was that there was a shortage and that provided its own ethical quandaries about using valuable PPE that our healthcare workers needed. It took several weeks for the safety standards to change. In retrospect, this grey area was probably the most vulnerable time for us in the field. It was peak spread with the least amount of PPE and the city was still running at capacity.
At the moment, I have been restocked by my clients with KN95 masks. I had received safety training from Reuters before this and in the last several weeks have been offered targeted safety training from other news and journalism organizations to better understand the proper safety protocol for any situation we are walking into. I use gloves when I feel like I can’t avoid touching high traffic surfaces, obviously observing the correct way to don and doff them. I also have hand sanitizer that I’m constantly applying when I can’t wash my hands.
Finally, I have a lengthy disinfectant process when I get home. Shoes and clothing are removed at the door, put in a bag away from the rest of our laundry and laundered as often as possible. I jump straight into the shower. Then, I don gloves and make my way through disinfecting all my gear including the buttons, wheels and the viewfinder on my cameras and all my bags, cases and zippers. We had a hard time finding cleaning supplies, but luckily family and friends from across the country who live in less impacted areas have been helping ship products like Lysol Disinfectant Spray, which I use for my camera bag and jackets that can’t be laundered.
Q. How are freelance photographers taking care of each other?
A. Colleagues have organized Zoom calls to talk through some of the issues I mentioned. I think we all know this is difficult. I think we collectively have taken initiative to make sure people are coping and are feeling supported.
I feel lucky to have been introduced to the Dart Center at J-School and have been tuning into their webinars. It’s helpful to hear what other people are going through.
As freelancers, we were already quite isolated so I think in some ways the work isn’t that different. We rarely saw our editors to begin with, and if we weren’t covering massive press events, we didn’t see each other on assignment. That said, when I have run into colleagues, I have felt so much joy, and that funny little foot tap is currently functioning as a warm hug that we so desperately need.
Bhaskar gets the last word: You didn’t ask this question but I do feel like before the crisis there was a hierarchy of expertise in reporting. Photographers and videographers were assumed to be illustrators of a story, when in reality, we often have a lot of ideas of our own and know how to report. At the moment, we are the ones out in the field seeing what is happening. I have had more writers use what I am seeing, my sources and story ideas than ever before. I hope our industry acknowledges that there is value in collaboration with us when this is all over.
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 here for a list of available jobs, maintained by our office of Career Development.
- Our resume, multimedia portfolio, social media and cover letter writing guides: Tips and other advise to help you stand out from the crowd of applicants.
- Additional resources, including recordings of past events and guides on freelancing, salaries, newsletters, and more.
To explore these resources, you’ll need your UNI.
In addition, go here to tap into the network of J-School alumni:
- Alumni Community: The University's alumni directory. Look up any alum and find out where they live or work. Upload your bio info so others can find you.
- The J-School group on LinkedIn.
- The J-School Facebook closed group for freelancers.
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 email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.