Columbia Journalism Investigations Welcomes 7 Post-Graduate Fellows for 2023-2024

The fellows will engage in intensive, full-time reporting work for CJI’s investigative, cross-borders data and global migration teams.

December 20, 2023

Columbia Journalism School announced that seven recent graduates will join Columbia Journalism Investigations, the school’s preeminent postgraduate reporting fellowship. The 2023-2024 cohort will engage in intensive, full-time reporting work for CJI’s investigative, cross-borders data and global migration teams.

Kristen Lombardi, CJI editor and program director, said this year’s fellows bring a breadth of newsroom experience and reporting skills to the program.

“These emerging investigative reporters represent the best of the journalism school, from the M.A. programs in politics and business journalism to the M.S. program in investigative journalism,” she said. “They will learn the nuts-and-bolts of team-based investigations, collaborating with each other and professional news outlets to tell deeply reported stories in the public interest. I can’t wait to see what they produce with our partner newsrooms.”

CJI launched in 2014 with the dual mission of providing extraordinary recent graduates the opportunity to deepen their investigative skills while helping meet the gap for talent and investigative resources in today's newsrooms.

photo of Jose M. Del Pino

During the fully-paid fellowships, which last from six months to a year, CJI reporting fellows partner with editors and senior reporters at leading news organizations to produce investigations that would not otherwise be possible. 

The 2023-24 fellows have joined one of the three teams at CJI: investigations, cross-borders data and global migration.

Two fellows have joined CJI’s global migration team, in which fellows spend up to nine months investigating immigration issues, particularly those at the intersection of gender and migration.

photo of Churchill Ndonwie

The 2023-24 global migration fellows include Jose M. Del Pino, M.A. Politics ’23, and Churchill Ndonwie, MS ’23.

Del Pino is a Chilean journalist who has worked in print, radio and TV for Clarin Group in Argentina, Canal 10 in Uruguay and Canal 13 and Bio Bio in Chile. He has also been an associate professor at Gabriela Mistral University.

Ndonwie is an immigration reporter based in New York City. His work has been published in New York Focus and Chalkbeat.

Photo of Jana Cholakovska

CJI’s cross-borders data team offers recent graduates the opportunity to apply their data and investigative skills to produce global stories of public interest in collaboration with international reporters and news organizations.

This team welcomed three fellows: Jana Cholakovska, M.S. Stabile ‘23; Pooja Sarkar, M.A. Business ’23; and Alec Gitelman, M.S. ’23.

Cholakovska is an international investigative reporter covering the environment, public health, labor rights and politics.

Photo of Pooja Sarkar

She has worked with The Washington Post, Public Health Watch, Grist, The Guardian, VICE and at the Investigative Reporting Lab in her native North Macedonia.

Sarkar is a financial investigative journalist and served as a senior assistant editor at Forbes India, where she covered private equity, climate finance and government spending.

She also produced and anchored Forbes India’s book podcast.

Photo of Alec Gitelman

Gitelman has worked in IT, film production and broadcast news and has focused on marrying data journalism with documentary filmmaking. His goal is to turn every story into a multimedia story whenever possible.

CJI’s investigative team pairs postgraduate fellows with experienced investigative reporters and editors to produce deep investigations into urgent matters of public interest in the U.S.

The two fellows who joined the CJI investigative team – Willow Higgins and Ryan Kost – are both June graduates of the J-School’s M.A. program politics concentration

Photo of Willow Higgins

Before joining CJI, Higgins was an investigative reporter on Evangelical efforts to combat sex trafficking in Texas.

She has worked as a city council reporter and an editor at a fact-checking company, and was an editorial intern at Texas Monthly.

Kost is an investigative and narrative journalist from Arizona.

He has more than a decade of experience working in newsrooms, including as a staff writer for The San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian and The Associated Press.

Headshot of Ryan Kost

The 2023-2024 fellows join Columbia Journalism Investigations following a prodigious year of multi-newsroom reporting collaborations. CJI’s global migration team working with the Center for Public Integrity and Futuro Media shed light on how disaster-restoration companies fail to protect their mostly immigrant workforce from dangerous toxins in the multi-platform series called “Toxic Labor,” published in September 2023 in both English and Spanish

CJI’s cross borders data team joined forces with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and about a half dozen international partner newsrooms to scrutinize the lending practices of the primary development bank in Central America. Dubbed “The Dictator’s Bank,” the investigation found the bank has funded projects that led to environmental destruction, and others where loans were diverted for corrupt practices or used to fund the pet projects of dictators. 

Plus, a December 2023 investigation by another CJI team working with NPR and The Ohio Newsroom revealed that courts in Ohio affirmed improper conduct by more than 100 county prosecutors over a four-year span. More than a dozen of these prosecutors did so at least twice — and none of them faced any documented history of discipline as a result. 

The investigation was the first in a series of radio and digital pieces dubbed Improper Conduct,” which documented how Ohio prosecutors can violate legal and ethical standards meant to preserve a defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial in order to win convictions. More of CJI’s award-winning work can be found here.

Columbia Journalism Investigations Fellowships are among several exclusive paid fellowships available through the Journalism School. For more information, visit Exclusive Fellowships and Internships.