Looking Ahead to the Spring 2021 Semester: An AJO Newsletter


February 8, 2021


Education, Media, Washington Square News


Dear AJO Community,

Recently, I received a note from Stephanie Rivas, one of our first graduates. Stephanie had joined 20 others as part of our inaugural group of students, enrolling in the AJO program in Fall 2019. Like many applicants, Stephanie didn’t have much journalism experience – she had a background in acting. But she realized she had another calling: she wanted to be an on-air reporter for a local news station.

Our program, Stephanie says, changed her life:

“When I decided to become a broadcast journalist, many discouraged me from returning to school. You don’t need to get your Master’s to be on TV, they insisted. Oh, but I did. I became a journalist through this program and a lifelong student in the pursuit of truth. The last thing the world needs is another talking head during these chaotic times.”

Stephanie believes the courses not only broadened her technical skills; they also challenged her views of media. “I found purpose and a sense of duty through those assignments,” she says, “Especially while reporting on my hometown of Key West, it became abundantly clear that local news is my passion.”

She went full-time, taking three classes in the fall, three in the spring, and two in the summer, earning her Master’s from NYU in nine months. Now, she was pleased to inform me, News10 ABC in Albany had hired her as an Anchor/Reporter.

“I know I couldn’t have done it without the lessons I learned here at NYU. I surely couldn’t do the job well without the high journalistic standards you and the other professors instilled in me.”

She closed her email with: “Thank you for always treating me like I deserved to have a seat at the table.”

Prof. Adam L. Penenberg

Prof. Adam L. Penenberg

For a journalism professor, helping students achieve their dreams is one of the perks of the job. Whether they come to NYU with extensive backgrounds in journalism or haven’t published a word, all seek a seat at the career table. As our website advertises: “We’re here to train journalists who want to change the world for the better.”

I’ve been teaching at NYU for 17 years and former students of mine are working across the media spectrum. They are reporters and editors at The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, and they break news at Bloomberg, Dow Jones and the Associated Press. They are on staff at The New Yorker, Wired, and The Atlantic, file features for Forbes, Fortune and Business Insider, and run bureaus in China and the European Union. Some appear on camera at CNBC and CNN; others pound beats for CNBC.com and CNN.com. Several have published books and won awards. And now one is an on-air anchor and reporter for a television station in Albany.

You can read more about Stephanie in this newsletter – our first. You will also meet several new members of our powerhouse faculty who teach in the AJO program, which includes journalists from The New York Times, CNN, CNBC, NBC, The New Yorker, Wired, and many others.

In this newsletter, you’ll hear from some current students, who pursued a challenging series of stories under the tutelage of Joel Marino, an editor at Business Insider who teaches Reporting the News. And you’ll find out about the first American Journalism Online Awards, our version of The Pulitzer’s – except we aim to shine light on journalists and publications that live outside the mainstream and don’t fit into the categories honored by many long-standing media awards. Finally, at the end you’ll find a partial list of published student work.

Given the times we live in, it’s perhaps worth repeating that the only profession explicitly named and protected in the Constitution is the press. It’s a responsibility we in the AJO program take seriously.

And to those in the AJO community – students, alumni, faculty, staff, and anyone else interested in what we do – thank you for joining us on this journey.

Stay safe, everyone.

Sincerely,Penenberg-SigAdam Penenberg
Founder & Director, American Journalism Online Program at NYU


Stephanie Rivas

Stephanie Rivas, Anchor/Reporter at News10 ABC Albany. Courtesy of Stephanie Rivas.

Stephanie Rivas was among the first group of students to enroll in the AJO program in the fall of 2019. Nine months later, she earned her Master’s, then secured a coveted job for News10 ABC in Albany as an on-air anchor and reporter.

Rivas now covers everything from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcements to staffing struggles at local hospitals. She has quickly become a recognizable face of a prominent local news station — something she had once only dreamed of.

Rivas spoke to The Click about what she’s learned since graduating, her love for investigative reporting, and how she sharpened her passion for local news during her time at NYU.

You’ve said that for you, journalism isn’t a job, it’s a calling. When did you first realize you wanted to be a journalist?

I’ve been a storyteller my entire adult career, but I didn’t have the realization that I wanted to become a journalist until I was hosting and conducting interviews. I am fascinated by people and felt compelled to share their stories in the most impactful way possible. Committing to NYU made it real.

How did you know that NYU’s AJO was the right program for you?

I spent a long time going back and forth about where to apply, but after meeting with the program creator, Adam Penenberg, I knew it was the right fit. I didn’t just want a degree, I wanted to better myself as a journalist, and this program delivered.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned throughout your time at NYU?

NYU prioritized instilling the highest of journalistic standards in their students during every single class. Don’t take your role as a journalist lightly. You have an obligation to tell the truth and do the right thing to the best of your ability in every story you write.

How has your AJO education helped you thrive in your role at News10 ABC?

The lessons I took from NYU directly influence my work as an anchor and reporter every single day. Although I work in broadcast news, writing is still the driving force of my work, and I have the program to thank for that. One piece of advice that stuck with me is that the goal is to reach people with your work, not to impress them. Lessons like that are at the forefront of every package I create and every script I scour for mistakes or misleading anecdotes before I anchor. I’m grateful for that.

Read more of Rivas’ Q&A HERE.


Michael Haley

Credit: Tyler Andrew

“I recently accepted a reporter position with Business Insider covering venture capital and tech startups. I could not be more excited!

In my role, I will be reporting on a wide variety of companies ranging from small startups still in stealth mode to large unicorn companies backed by millions of dollars from elite investment firms in Silicon Valley. Venture capital is a complicated industry full of ambitious entrepreneurial founders to wealthy, skeptical investors looking to find the next best prosperous unicorn to invest in. I am inspired to find the compelling stories in this constantly moving industry that BI readers need to know.

The NYU AJO program without a doubt prepared me for success! Learning from and alongside incredibly talented journalists at NYU challenged me to further develop the skills I need in order to succeed in this industry. From sharp, breaking news style stories to longer profile features to data driven investigative pieces, the AJO program took me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to write all different kinds of journalism. I’ll be forever thankful for the NYU AJO program and all the incredible professors and students I had the pleasure of sharing experiences with!”

Read more about Haley’s position HERE.


AJO is extremely fortunate to have a new set of luminaries joining our adjunct faculty this year. Please join us in extending a warm welcome to the newest members of the NYU family:

  • Adam Sternbergh, a novelist and editor at The New York Times Magazine; Feature Writing
  • Allison Wright, the executive editor and publisher of the Virginia Quarterly Review; Feature Writing
  • Brooke Jarvis, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and frequent writer for The New Yorker; Feature Writing
  • Claire Tighe, an award-winning podcast producer for NBC News and MSNBC; Podcasting
  • Emily Canal, a senior reporter at Insider covering entrepreneurship; Media Startups and Innovation
  • Jason Gerwitz, the vice president of news at CNBC; Broadcast Newsroom
  • Jessica Huseman, formerly of ProPublica and currently the editorial director of VoteBeat and a contributor to CNN; Investigative Reporting

Get acquainted with the rest of our faculty here.


Offices of The Washington Square News at NYU [Credit: Sarah Parker]

In the fall of 2020, four AJO students worked closely with Professors Joel Marino and Liza Hogan on a series of articles on the Washington Square News walkout, hoping to explain why 43 out of 47 staff members had resigned from NYU’s student-run newspaper.

Over the course of four months and six published articles on The Click, the team balanced classwork and jobs while chiseling away at what would become the defining story of their graduate careers  — an invaluable crash course in both investigative reporting and teamwork, with reporters collaborating from various corners of the globe.

As the story continues to unfold, we asked the team involved to reflect on what they’d learned, and how the experience prepared them for post-graduate life.

Joel Marino
Reporting the News Adjunct Professor/Editor, Strategy and Careers at Business Insider

“I just finished up working with Theresa Boersma and Lilian Manansala on our last story, which is a roundup of everything we know about the saga so far, and what remains to be answered. This has been a hard project at times because of the intricacies of the event and lack of clarity from sources (or outright lack of responses), but I keep reminding the team that we always learn best from obstacles and mistakes — if these investigations had been a cakewalk, they wouldn’t have been worth it.”

Lilian Manansala
Current Student/WSN Reporter

“Perhaps one of the most critical things I learned is that the further you dig, the more you realize how little you actually know, and most importantly, how complicated a situation and people’s lives can be. Going into the story based on the original WSN statement, I already had my opinions formed, thinking that the reporting would yield what I already knew to be true. But I was wrong and I am appreciative to have had that experience early on. It was an invaluable lesson in how to keep myself and my opinions out of the stories I report.”

Read the full story here.


Credit: Bob Eckstein

Credit: Bob Eckstein

The AJO Awards recognize excellence in reporting, writing, and news production across genres. As the media landscape evolves, we want to celebrate great journalism no matter what form it takes — whether a newsletter, a Twitter thread, or a TikTok video.

Our goal is to shine light on journalists and publications that live outside the mainstream and don’t fit into the categories honored by many long-standing media awards.

We invite you to nominate your favorite outlets and works of journalism published in 2020. You can nominate anyone — even a colleague or yourself. Nominations must be received by Feb. 15, 2021.

Submit here.


At AJO, our goal is to get you prepared for the real world. We not only train ethical and sharp-witted journalists, but we set you up for success: whether that’s landing your dream internship, getting hired for your first reporting job, or getting published to build up your portfolio of clips. Need proof? Keep an eye on some of our current students and recent graduates who are walking the walk, writing and reporting up a storm in nationally acclaimed outlets. Proud is an understatement.

Megan Thee Stallion helped me survive sexual assault
By Audra Heinrichs

‘Dollars over lives’: Inside NYC’s defiant COVID-19 party scene
By Hannah Sparks

This Black Woman Entrepreneur Created a Wellness Brand Geared Towards Travelers
By Dana Givens

The Secret World of “Fit Models,” The Men Behind the Mannequins
By Lindsay Rogers

Who Is 22-Year-Old Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman?
By Mónica Marie Zorrilla

How Trolls Are Weaponizing “Data Voids” Online
By Ari Schneider

I ditched my microwave three years ago and never looked back
By Michelle Eigenheer

Poems Edgar Allan Poe Wrote While Lost in a Corn Maze
By Maeve Dunigan

This newsletter was compiled by AJO student Emily Leibert.

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