Welcome to the Spring 2022 Semester: An AJO Newsletter


February 9, 2022


Education, Journalism, Media


Dear AJO Community,

If you judge a graduate journalism program by the quality of its faculty, AJO is hard to beat.

That’s because AJO students learn from some of the nation’s finest journalists. As a matter of fact, we only hire working professionals. Who better to shepherd students through their journalism careers than those who have succeeded in theirs?

Have a look at some of the talent we have assembled to teach, work with and mentor AJO students this spring semester.

This spring semester, our students are:

  • Drafting feature stories under the tutelage of a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who writes for The New Yorker

  • Taking class with a famed “immersion” journalist who has published his adventures in the New Yorker and penned several best-selling books
  • Traversing ethics with a former New York Times reporter and Foreign Policy columnist specializing in reporting on human rights
  • Scouring the past for “forgotten history” to turn into gripping narrative stories with a bestselling author, New Yorker contributor, and Emmy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker

  • Exploring the intersection of fact and fiction with a crime journalist who is also a well-known novelist

  • Digging deep with investigative reporters from CBS News and Insider

  • Running a broadcast newsroom with a senior producer at CNBC

  • Recording and producing podcasts with audio journalists from NPR, Vox and NBC News

  • Training in multimedia production with video producers from The New York Times and NBC News

  • Shooting and editing photographs under the tutelage of a senior editor at National Geographic

Prof. Adam L. Penenberg

To be sure, professional expertise isn’t limited to AJO faculty. All of our staff – writing tutors, Click editors, video and podcast technical support, and our Student Success Coach work or have worked in media. They pound beats at Dow Jones and Bloomberg, shoot and edit video segments for ABC News, transform data into beautifully told stories at Insider, and perform various roles at sundry news organizations.

Since we designed this program to prepare students to thrive at the highest levels of journalism, perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that AJO grads are landing fantastic jobs. They are joining the staff at Jezebel; writing for the U.S.-based edition of The Sun, the U.K tabloid; anchoring on-air newscasts at local news stations; and reporting on their local communities for local newspapers. Students also continue to freelance and, often with the help of their professors, have, in recent months, published in the New Yorker, New York Times, Rolling Stone, National Geographic, CNN, CBS News,  Teen Vogue, Refinery29, SF Gate, Capital & Main, Observer,  Al Jazeera, Bustle, the Guardian, and others.

Case in point: Just last week I came across a story in the Guardian about a man who had served eight years in prison for a murder he did not commit until his twin brother confessed to the crime. I thought, What a fantastic piece by a talented, well-trained journalist.

Then I noticed the name on the byline: Ari Schneider, an AJO graduate who was a member of our inaugural cohort of students  in 2019.

I tweeted at Ari to congratulate him, and he replied:

Not bad for an online journalism master’s program that launched only two-and-a-half years ago.

AJO continues to adapt and grow. Based on demonstrated student interest we launched a new elective – photojournalism. We embedded an automated chat bot on our AJO homepage, began offering podcast masterclasses to the general public, and have been hiring editorial staff to assist in every aspect of reporting, writing, and publishing student stories. One of the moves I’m most proud of has been the addition of Betty Ming Liu, who came onboard this fall as a Student Success Coach. Her role is simply that: to help students be the best they can be. Betty assists and advises on everything from drafting strategies for academic achievement to improving time management and coping with anxiety.

What began as an idle comment in a private Slack channel quickly morphed into a plan for AJO’s first in-person conference this summer. Exclusively for AJO students and alums, this conference, to be held at NYU’s Carter Journalism Institute, will feature presentations by working journalists, story pitch slams, writing and reporting workshops, visits to newsrooms, group meals and discussions with high-profile journalists, faculty, and fellow students, and much more. While free for AJO, students will provide their own transportation to New York City and pay for their own housing, with the chance to stay in NYU housing. It is our hope that this conference will become an annual event.

In this newsletter, you’ll find an interview with AJO Student Success Coach Betty Ming Liu as well as a Q&A with Ari Schneider, who gives us the backstory on his Guardian feature. You’ll meet some of our new instructors and catch up with students’ comings and goings, as well as find links to stories they have published.

Despite the pandemic, AJO continues on our mission – to educate the next generation of journalists to change the world for the better. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need great journalists. For that reason alone, there has never been a better time to be one.


Adam Penenberg
Founder & Director, American Journalism Online Program at NYU


The Sun is shining down on AJO, with half a dozen of our students or graduates working as reporters for the US edition of the famed British tabloid. Illustrating the power of the AJO network, AJO alum Nikki McAleese (‘21) started a freelance gig there in September 2021 and a few months later was promoted to full-time SEO Reporter. Caitlin Hornik (‘22) followed suit in October, successfully pitching and publishing several freelance pieces, and was recently hired to work full-time on the news desk.

Wait! There’s more! By the first of this year, Kenley Stevenson, Kaylee Pugilese, Tyler Baum, and Esmerelda Baez had all published articles in the Sun and are now frequent contributors.


AJO Alum Pens Major Feature for The Guardian

On January 28, The Guardian published a feature story by AJO ‘21 graduate Ari Schneider about a unique criminal justice story: a man in Illinois was convicted of murder – and then his twin brother confessed to the crime. We asked Ari how the story, which took him more than a year of reporting, came together.

AJO: How did this story come to you?

Ari: I spend a lot of time skimming random court records looking for potential stories. Sometimes I filter by keyword — whatever random word is on my mind. I was working on an unrelated story that happens to have twin characters (coming soon?). I think I searched the word “twin” and found the opinion from Kevin Dugar’s appeal last year.

I never would have found the story or even known how to report or write any of it without the skills I learned at NYU AJO.

AJO: What were the challenges involved in reporting and writing?

Ari: The hardest part was tracking down sources who knew Kevin back in the early aughts. Also, corresponding with people in prison is slow and often unreliable. When it came to writing, I had a hard time cutting the length. The final story is about 3000 words shorter than my earliest draft. There were many details I loved that had to be cut for brevity and flow.

AJO: Why do you think this story is important?

Ari: There are unfortunately many wrongful conviction stories in America. But I felt like there was a lot that set this one apart from the rest. The relationship between the twins is obviously interesting. What I found truly shocking was how the system could allow someone with an identical twin to be found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” based on eyewitness testimony. There’s so much doubt. There were many issues with the investigation, but I tried to focus on the most blatant failures of the justice system — the fallibility of eyewitnesses, the clear racism Kevin faced, and the absurdity of the appeals process.

AJO: Did your time at AJO impact your ability to find and execute work like this?

Ari: Much of this story was pieced together with old police records and without the investigative reporting class I wouldn’t have known how to navigate record requests. The ethics class taught me how to approach the sources I needed with care. The longform class taught me how to structure a narrative spanning over decades. I could go on. The short of it is that I never would have found the story or even known how to report or write any of it without the skills I learned at NYU AJO.


Betty Ming Liu

Last fall, Betty Ming Liu was appointed as AJO’s very own Student Success Coach. A veteran journalist, professor, and life coach, Betty has a unique set of skills perfectly matched to helping students manage not just their coursework, but all the other stresses that come with being a graduate student and a journalist.

On Wednesdays, Betty offers group coaching (12-12:45pm EST), and is also available for 1:1 sessions to help students discover answers within themselves. These meetings can help with everything from work-life balance, transforming trauma and childhood triggers, to building better nut grafs. She is a kind of hybrid mentor-coach with her own special mojo here exclusively for AJO students.

We asked her to share some tips for the coming term.

Betty writes:

“You are brave enough to be vulnerable. It took guts to step out of The Life You Were Living to attend AJO. You dared because this felt like the one chance to really chase and fulfill your journalistic dreams. This leads to Success Tip #1: Ask for what you want.

Even though you always loved writing and/or research, you did it in related, practical fields. Some of you come to us from other professions or have other advanced degrees. And while these various paths could be interesting, you were antsy. Surely, there had to be more. This leads to Success Tip #2: Listen to your body.

Now that you’re here, you’re excited about learning and connecting in new ways. The setting feels different from what you’ve had up until now because you’re with people who are also a bit crazy and intense about journalism. Success Tip #3: The family you were born into is your family of origin. But now, you can also have a family of choice, based on a community of your own creation.

At the same time, being in grad school is tough. You’re meeting so many smart, accomplished, talented classmates in a competitive, NYU environment. Sometimes, you wonder if you can really succeed. Which leads to Success Tip #4: Recognize that feelings of Imposter Syndrome are normal, especially if you’re on a path that looks very different from what’s considered “normal” in your family, community or culture.

Thankfully, you know how to ask for help. In fact, many of you have said you’re pretty amazed by the amount of support AJO offers its students. Even if you were raised to believe that you can solve your own problems, you have reached out to support staffers like me, and to each other. In asking for help, you invite yourself to transform long standing traumas, triggers, and outdated beliefs. Success Tip #5: Your physical and emotional safety is top priority.

Those of you who have visited my Zoom office have mentioned how good it feels to be seen and heard. It’s a relief. It’s also exciting to lighten your load by discovering new options for reinventing yourself and developing your stories. Suddenly, work takes on elements of play! Things start to shift. Which leads to Success Tip #6: Create open spaces in your schedule, where you can relax, reflect, rest, and recharge.

I’ll end with a quick Success Tip #7: At AJO, every Wednesday is Wellness Wednesday (WW). Please join me for 45-minute group coaching at 12 p.m. EST. Or, sign up for a 45-minute one-to-one coaching. You can find more info by joining my #student-success channel. See you there and welcome to Spring 2022!”


“We love chatting with students and learning about their experiences in the program,” says Program Administrator Lydia Page. “Through these conversations, we learned that many students were hoping we would offer an elective photojournalism course.”

So, Page and program director Adam Penenberg got on it. They contacted alumna Adriana Letorney, founder of Visura, a platform for photojournalists, who connected them with Whitney Johnson of National Geographic. Johnson, together with documentary photographer Anderea Bruce, created a course that will teach students the basics of photojournalism. Students will produce weekly assignments under the pressure of deadlines, and during the final weeks of the class create a narrative photo essay that they will present to a panel of photojournalists.

Meet the instructors below!

Prof. Andrea Bruce

Andrea Bruce is a documentary photographer whose work focuses on people living in the aftermath of war. She concentrates on the social issues that are sometimes ignored and often ignited in war’s wake. Her clients include National Geographic and The New York Times as well as many publications around the globe. Andrea was a 2016 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University where she studied political theory and democracy. Before that she was a staff photographer at the Washington Post.

Prof. Whitney Johnson

Whitney Johnson is the Vice President of Visual and Immersive Experiences at National Geographic. She leads the visual and immersive teams, overseeing photography, video, audio, and XR. She joined National Geographic in 2015 as the Deputy Director of Photography for the magazine. From 2007 to 2015, Johnson was on the staff of The New Yorker, first as a picture editor and later as the Director of Photography. There, she championed photojournalism and transformed visuals into contemporary media.


This semester we welcome two new professors to AJO’s investigative journalism course.

Prof. Camila DeChalus

Camila DeChalus is a Senior Reporter at Insider where she covers issues related to Congress, the Justice Department, and the federal courts. Previously, she worked at CQ Roll Call where she covered the Department of Homeland Security and immigration policy. During her time at CQ, she traveled to the southern border and interviewed key lawmakers on Capitol Hill about immigration issues such as the border wall, DACA and TPS.

Asked what she’s looking forward to most this semester, Prof. DeChalus said: “I am really excited to teach students how they can find and investigate great story ideas. I really want students to hone their journalism skills and spot stories that go underreported.”

Prof. Graham Kates

Graham Kates is an investigative reporter for CBS News. His work covering criminal justice, immigration, politics, and tech has also been featured on NBC News, The Nation, The Crime Report, Salon and other sites. His previous writing on food and travel, as well as photography, has been published by Zagat, Yahoo!, Serious Eats, Fodor’s and Cruise Critic, among others.

Asked what he’s looking forward to most this semester, Prof. Kates said: “I’m excited to see all the hidden or neglected things my students uncover.”


Prof. Ted Conover

This Spring, long-time NYU professor Ted Conover will be teaching Long-Form Narrative for AJO students. Conover is considered a “master of immersion.” He won a National Book Critics Circle Award for his book “Newjack,” about his year spent as a guard at Sing Sing prison, and is a Marshall Scholar. Conover’s work focuses on little-known social groups – including Mexican migrants and so-called hobos. He has written for The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair, among many others.

Prof. Eliza Griswold

NYU Distinguished Writer in Residence Eliza Griswold is back to teaching feature writing this Spring. Griswold, a contributing writer for The New Yorker, was the recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 2012, and won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 2019 for her book “Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America.” She is also a published poet.

Two new professors are also teaching features this spring: Lauren Wolfe and Laurie Gwen Shapiro.

Prof. Lauren Wolfe

Lauren Wolfe is a former columnist for Foreign Policy and currently a contributing writer for Washington Monthly. She is the author of a newsletter that pulls back the curtain on her long career in journalism, during which she has been a reporter for the New York Times and a senior editor for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Prof. Laurie Gwen Shapiro

Laurie Gwen Shapiro’s features have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, New York Magazine, Slate, and The Forward, among many others. Her documentary films have been honored with an Independent Spirit Award and an Emmy nomination, and her first book, “The Stowaway,” was a bestseller and Indie Next pick. Her next book is about Amelia Earhart.

Prof. Julia Dahl

Finally, Julia Dahl is teaching a new spin on the features course to students interested in interrogating the connection between fiction and journalism. Dahl, who holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the New School and an MA in journalism from American University, is the author of four novels and a former crime and justice reporter for CBS News. Students in this course will read and write fiction and non-fiction, and learn how reporting and news writing skills can improve their fiction, and vice versa.


Prof. Joel Marino

Almost 50 years ago, historian and broadcaster Studs Terkel compiled oral histories of Americans at work for his classic book “Working.” Inspired by this seminal work, AJO is proud to announce an exciting new book project.

Based on Terkel’s approach to “Working,” AJO seeks to document the rampant change characterizing today’s media profession by profiling journalists at work, especially those staffing jobs that didn’t even exist a decade ago or two ago – social media editors, SEO strategists, interactive graphics producers, newsletter writers, podcast producers, Python coders. These profiles will also show how traditional roles have been changing, too.

“We want to document today’s journalism as reflected through the kinds of jobs our profession offers,” says AJO Director Adam Penenberg. “It’s a resource we plan to share with everyone.”

Prof. Joel Marino is leading the project. He will be selecting five current AJO students or alums to help write these 750-800 word profiles. If you’re interested, fill out this form by Feb 11 and Prof. Marino will reply with details.


At AJO, we want to set you up for success, and that means helping you get published to bulk up your portfolio of clips. Keep an eye on some of our current students and recent graduates who are writing and reporting up a storm in nationally acclaimed outlets.

Is wood the new concrete?
By Barbi Walker-Walsh

‘Please just send me to a mental institution.’ Mom describes daughter’s struggle with social media
By John General

Austin Goodwin Uses Humor to Tell It Like It Is
By Sarah Parker

How to Track Your Daily Activity if You Use a Wheelchair
By Allison Wallis

For the low income, housing is scarce — a challenge state lawmakers hope to address this session
By Bobby Brier

Opinion | I’m a Black Ex-Felon. I’m Glad Kyle Rittenhouse Is Free
By David Ben Moshe

The top date spots on the North Fork
By Kenley Stevenson

Questions I’ve Texted My Dad, in Ascending Order of How Disappointed He Was to Receive Them
By Maeve Dunigan

The MCU Finally Introduced Peter Dinklage’s Rumored Infinity War Role
By Preston Moore

San Francisco tested a $1,000 guaranteed income pilot program. Here’s how it went for two artists.
By Natalia Borecki

Psychologist reveals how teachers should monitor children’s behavior to prevent deadly school shootings
By Caitlin Hornik

5 Things to Look Out for During NBC’s Annie Live
By Caitlin Hornik

The Brooklyn Museum’s New Andy Warhol Exhibition Will Take You to Church
By Alexis Schwartz

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