Knight-Wallace Fellows 2023-2024
About the Knight-Wallace Fellowships for Journalists
The Knight-Wallace Fellowships provide accomplished journalists an academic year of study, collaborative learning and access to the resources of the University of Michigan to pursue ambitious journalism projects, tackle challenges facing the journalism industry and participate in weekly private seminars with journalism leaders, renowned scholars, media innovators and social change agents. This cohort marks the 50th class of fellows in the program’s history.
Knight-Wallace Fellows and Their Journalism Projects
Elizabeth Aguilera is an independent multimedia journalist focused on environmental health and equity. She is an editor-at-large for Zócalo Public Square and a mentor and editor for Next Gen Radio. She also writes for the Association of Health Care Journalists. Aguilera previously worked at CalMatters, where she covered children/youth and health care and co-hosted a political podcast. She has also worked for Southern California Public Radio, The San Diego Union-Tribune and The Denver Post, covering various beats from urban affairs to immigration to community health. Aguilera co-founded the Migratory Notes newsletter, which analyzed immigration news and was published weekly for four years. She is a Los Angeles native and a graduate of Pepperdine University and the University of Southern California.
When Climate Change and Environmental Racism Converge: Who Will be Left Behind?
As communities and media organizations deepen their focus on the effects of climate change, more reporting, advocacy and action are beginning to be directed toward environmental racism, the disproportionate placement of hazardous materials near marginalized communities. Aguilera will focus on the convergence of climate change and environmental racism in devastated areas of the U.S. She will investigate potential public policies and programs that could help residents when increased heat, fire, drought and sea level rise affect their ability to live. She will also examine what happens when wealthier residents move elsewhere due to climate change– and leave the most vulnerable behind.
Roberson Alphonse is head of national news at le Nouvelliste, Haiti’s oldest and largest daily newspaper, where he has covered topics including the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, the mismanagement of international aid, gang violence, and the introduction of cholera to Haiti by U.N. Nepalese peacekeepers. Alphonse is also the director of information at Radio Magik9, where he hosts a popular daily program. He survived an assassination attempt in October of 2022 and was able to flee to Miami. He has continued hosting his radio show from the United States and was a candidate for the 2023 UNESCO Guillermo Cano Prize for Press Freedom.
Twitter: @ralphonse76 Instagram: @robersonalphonse
Helping Haitian Journalists Navigate an Increasingly Volatile Press Environment
Haiti is a resilient country with vast potential and deep-rooted struggles with poverty and violence. Gangs have strengthened their territorial hold on Haiti’s capital city, the judiciary strains to function, and murders– including multiple recent murders of journalists– frequently go unsolved. Alphonse’s research will seek out training methods and international partnerships that could bolster protections for journalists and help nurture a culture of media safety in Haiti and elsewhere.
Rustin Dodd is a senior reporter at The Athletic, where he has written enterprise stories about subjects such as the impact of opioid abuse on professional baseball, the culture of baseball in Japan and the analytics revolution in Major League Baseball and the National Football League. He is the co-author of “Kingdom Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs, and How a Once Swingin’ Cow Town Chased the Ultimate Comeback.” The book chronicles the story of star Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes alongside the story of Kansas City itself–its love affair with football and its reckoning with its own history of segregation and housing discrimination. Dodd previously worked as a sportswriter at The Kansas City Star. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas.
Twitter: @rustindodd Instagram: @rustindodd
America’s Love Affair with Sports Gambling and the Implications for Sports Media
The rise of legalized sports betting in the United States has had a sweeping impact on the sports world—and the sports journalism industry. Gambling sites have poured millions of dollars into advertising campaigns and partnerships with media outlets. Dodd will probe how the recent betting boom has changed sports fandom, the ethical dilemmas faced by news outlets that promote gambling and the societal costs of easy-access mobile betting, particularly for vulnerable populations.
Sharif Hassan is originally from Afghanistan and working in exile in Canada following the Taliban takeover of his country. He is rebuilding his career as a general assignment reporter with the Canadian Press News Agency, where he has covered issues ranging from mayoral races, to crime, to Ukrainian refugee experiences. For nine years, he worked for The Washington Post in Afghanistan on social, political, economic and security-related stories. During his time at The Post, he received a Fulbright Scholarship to attend City University of New York, where he earned his M.A. in journalism. In August 2021, Hassan moved to The New York Times, where he was part of the team that earned the Overseas Press Club Award for its coverage of Kabul’s fall to the Taliban. He continued working with The Times until July 2022.
Strengthening Reporting on Canada’s Environmental and Sustainability Challenges
Canada is facing numerous environmental challenges with implications that are both local and global. Environmental topics have long interested Hassan, and he has reported briefly on air pollution and the intersection of drought and war in Afghanistan– but he has not had the opportunity to broaden his knowledge of this important topic. Hassan’s research will take a deep dive into environmental and sustainability challenges in North America. This will enable him to report on these challenges with expertise and cross-regional context.
Peter Hoffman is an independent documentary photographer focused on critical engagement with environmental and climate issues. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, Bloomberg Businessweek and others. His personal project work has been featured in Fast Company, CNN, National Geographic and Time. In addition to his primary photographic practice, he has worked on community art initiatives and as a co-founder of the independent publishing imprint Sleeper.Studio. He has also lectured on photojournalism and art photography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Peter established his career as a photographer in Chicago and now calls Ann Arbor home.
Southeast Michigan’s Watersheds: A Microcosm of Larger Environmental Issues
Over 90% of U.S. counties have encountered a federal climate disaster in the last ten years. A local story about the details of a storm runoff or a toxic chemical spill is effectively a national story. At the same time, over 80% of the U.S. landscape is unbuilt– yet often has hidden stories to tell. Hoffman will combine photography and narrative storytelling to explore the challenges of stewarding southeast Michigan watersheds– the primary, and often compromised, source of drinking water for numerous communities.
Yunhee Kim is the politics editor for the Munhwa Ilbo, a daily newspaper in Seoul, where she has covered three presidential elections and numerous general and local elections, as well as multiple corruption scandals. She and her team received the Korean Association of Newspapers Award in 2022 for uncovering corruption in a housing scheme that encouraged government employees to relocate from Seoul to Sejong City, a new administrative area. Kim majored in Russian Language and Literature at Seoul National University.
Strengthening Korean Presidential Election Coverage in a Hyper-Polarized Political Climate
Political polarization has reached troubling levels in South Korea, fueled by bitter campaigns, disinformation and manipulation of the press. Trust in the press is at an all-time low, and political journalists are the target of abuse and harassment. Kim’s research will focus on similar trends in American politics and journalism and how American news organizations are developing strategies for bolstering journalistic integrity and public trust.
Mila Koumpilova is a senior education reporter in Chalkbeat’s Chicago bureau, where she has reported on topics including the pandemic’s impact on vulnerable students, federal COVID-19 relief spending, and enrollment challenges. She previously wrote about immigration and higher education at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. She has covered education at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota. Her work has also appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune and other outlets. The first Bulgarian-born and bred North Dakota Rookie Reporter of the Year, Koumpilova has received recognition from the Education Writers Association, among others. She is a graduate of the American University in Bulgaria and the Missouri School of Journalism.
Out of School, Out of Work: Seeking Solutions to America’s Youth Disconnection Problem
In education, “opportunity youth” is a term used to describe teens and young adults in the U.S. who are not in school, college or the workforce. Researchers estimate that the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the number of these disconnected young Americans to nearly 5 million. Through multidisciplinary research, data analysis and immersive reporting, Koumpilova will explore how U.S. cities can strengthen programs that aim to re-engage these young people — a goal that policymakers and experts see as key to fighting poverty, racial inequities and gun violence. Koumpilova is especially interested in how giving youth a more active role in reengagement programs might improve outcomes.
Efrat Lachter is an investigative correspondent for Israel’s Channel 12 News and the weekly newsmagazine “Friday Studio.” A recipient of the 2022 Shimon Peres Center for Peace Award, she has directed and produced more than 200 documentary segments on topics including human trafficking in Sudan and Israel, modern-day slavery in Malawi, orphans in Ukraine, internal political corruption in Israel, and a women-and-children-only village in the Kurd-controlled area of Syria. As the first female war correspondent in her newsroom, much of her work has illuminated the lives of women in conflict zones. Lachter studied political science and communications at Tel Aviv University and journalism at the Koteret School of Journalism in Tel Aviv. She previously worked as an investigative journalist for “Uvda,” Israel’s version of “60 Minutes.”
Twitter: @Efratlachter Instragram: @efratlachter
Exploring Ways to Preserve Journalistic Integrity in Unstable Political Atmospheres
In May of 2022, following a heartbreaking reporting project in Ukraine, Lachter traveled to Russia. What she had witnessed with her own eyes in Ukraine was met with disbelief by everyday Russians, many of whom asked if she had met Nazis across the border. Lachter realized that Russia was an extreme manifestation of what is happening in many countries, including her own: after political leaders labeled journalists as enemies of the people, the media environment became hostile to basic journalistic integrity. Lachter’s research will explore how journalists can help preserve democracy and maintain journalistic excellence in unstable and dangerous political contexts.
Victor Kai Shing Law is a senior reporter for AM730, a Hong Kong local newspaper. He was previously a reporter for the Apple Daily newspaper, which was forced to close in June 2021 amid a government crackdown on independent media. Law then joined Stand News, which met a similar fate after its editors were arrested on accusations of sedition. He and his colleagues won several press freedom and human rights awards for their coverage of construction scandals and violations by government officials in the period from 2019 to the forced media closures in 2021. Law holds a B.A. in journalism and mass communication from Hong Kong Shue Yan University.
Charting a Future for Hong Kong’s Independent Media in a Time of Growing Censorship
Until recently, Hong Kong was a thriving international media hub. After the shutdowns of Apple Daily and Stand News, journalists have continued to report the news through creative and experimental channels. Law will examine the vision and mission of these new independent media, as well as the challenges they face. He will explore innovative news strategies and distribution services that could broaden the reach of Hong Kong’s independent media.
Kyrylo Loukerenko is executive director and co-founder of Hromadske Radio, an independent public broadcaster based in Ukraine. The station provides non-partisan news and opinion and has managed to remain on the air throughout the war, maintaining operations for a website, six radio frequencies, a mobile app and social media accounts. Loukerenko previously worked as a producer and special correspondent for the BBC’s Ukrainian service in London and Kyiv, as well as an editor and correspondent for various Ukrainian TV channels, concentrating on documentaries and investigations.
Twitter: @K_Loukerenko Instagram: @k_loukerenko
Looking Back and Looking Ahead: Strengthening Ukrainian Public Media
The Russian military assault on Ukraine was supported by an intense, Moscow-led disinformation campaign that did not reach most of its goals. A major factor in Russia’s disinformation failure was the unified response from the Ukrainian media. Ukrainian outlets created a more coherent and detailed picture of events on the ground, showed commitment to fact-checking, countered false claims with verifiable evidence and responded to breaking news with both speed and professionalism. Loukerenko’s research will analyze the 2022-2023 media response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and give recommendations for future media development.
Jaime Lowe is the author of three books: “Breathing Fire: Female Inmate Firefighters on the Front Lines of California’s Wildfires;” “Mental: Lithium, Love, and Losing My Mind,” a memoir about bipolar disorder and lithium; and “Digging for Dirt: The Life and Death of ODB,” a biography of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, a founding member of the American rap group, the Wu-Tang Clan. Lowe is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine. Her work has also appeared in The Atlantic, the Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Daily Beast, Gawker, The Village Voice, LA Weekly and ESPN.com. She reported an hour-long episode about PTSD and sexual assault for “This American Life” and has contributed to “RadioLab.” Lowe taught writing at Walkill Correctional Facility and The New School and is a recent MacDowell fellow.
Twitter: @kicklikeagirl1 Instagram: @jaimeroselowe
High-Risk Healthcare: How Doctors and Patients Navigate Pregnancy in the Post-Dobbs Midwest
All pregnancies can be dangerous — and occasionally fatal — for both women and the fetuses they hope to deliver. That’s why many obstetricians consider abortion to be essential medical care. Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Lowe embedded with the maternal-fetal medicine department at the Cleveland Clinic to chronicle the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision on doctors and patients. Lowe will expand on this subject by reporting on the evolving law and availability of reproductive healthcare in the Midwest.
Iuliia Mendel is a Ukrainian journalist, political commentator and opinion writer for The Washington Post. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Politico Europe, VICE, the Evening Standard, World Affairs Journal, Kyivpost, Spiegel Online and CNBC. After several years as a television journalist, and a fellowship with the World Press Institute in Minnesota, Mendel served as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s press secretary from June 2019 to July 2021. Her 2022 book, “The Fight of Our Lives,” covers Ukrainian politics, the Russian war against Ukraine and her work with President Zelenskyy.
Twitter: @IuliiaMendel Instagram: @iuliia_mendel
The War for Hearts and Minds: Populism’s Battle with the Media
As a journalist and later as press secretary to President Zelenskyy, Mendel met many political leaders– including Vladimir Putin, Alexander Lukashenko, Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump– with populist platforms that simplified complex issues and appealed to citizens’ strongest emotions. She found that populism today is often based on disinformation that is easily amplified by social media and new technologies and easily exploited by populist leaders in both democratic and autocratic contexts. Mendel’s research will seek solutions to protect and empower truth-seeking journalists around the world in a climate of growing populism.
Kwan Ling Mok is a visual journalist and filmmaker. She worked as a senior video and feature journalist at Hong Kong’s Ming Pao Weekly and Stand News. Her short film “Far from Home,” about a family’s tumultuous experience during the 2019 protest movement, was banned after she refused demands from authorities to make 14 cuts to the 25-minute film. The film was shortlisted in the Fresh Wave International Short Film Festival in 2021. She and her team received the 2022 Human Rights Press Awards for the short documentary “Eulogy for Apple Daily.” She holds a B.A in comparative literature from the University of Hong Kong.
Trauma and Protest: How Can Hong Kong Recover from China’s Crackdown?
Recent government crackdowns on civil liberties in Hong Kong have prompted massive waves of public protest– as well as growing recognition of widespread social trauma and PTSD among protestors. Mok will study historical instances and patterns of collective trauma and examine how journalism, especially visual journalism, can both document trauma and can foster individual and societal healing.
Josh Raab is a media strategist and former director of Instagram and TikTok at National Geographic, where he managed teams that oversaw 40 accounts with 325M+ followers. Previously, Josh worked at Time as a senior multimedia editor. He has also been an adjunct professor at the International Center of Photography. Josh started as a photographer covering the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and Hurricane Sandy, then transitioned into editing by founding Jay Peg’s Photo Pub., an online and print publication for emerging photographers.
Twitter: @JoshRaabPhoto Instagram: @joshbraab
Rewarding “Undelightful” Content: Helping Journalism Survive an Algorithmic Future
Josh will focus on reverse-engineering artificial intelligence by studying user behavior. He will explore how journalistic videos that have inherently negative subject matter, such as climate change and conflict, can break through the algorithmic noise to reach younger audiences and combat misinformation on social platforms that often prioritize entertainment. Josh is eager to partner with the many researchers at the University of Michigan who specialize in AI, media ethics, social computing, user behavior, data science, misinformation and related fields.
Tamanna Rahman is a United Kingdom-based investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker who has directed and reported for the BBC, Channel 4 and VICE. Her BBC documentary about racism in the U.K. earned her the Royal Television Society’s 2010 Young Journalist of the Year award. Since then, she has investigated military spending, child peer-on-peer abuse, loyalist murder gangs in Northern Ireland, and the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, a massacre of more than 8,000 men and boys during the Bosnian war. Rahman’s 2021 documentary, “Dirty Secrets: Women Fight Back,” exposed post-#MeToo sexual abuse in the U.K. and U.S. music industries.
Global Food Security: Pricing, Supply and the Role of Commodities Traders
While food production has risen steadily for decades, comfortably beating population growth, food is becoming increasingly unaffordable– which can mean starvation and environmental devastation for poor countries. Global consumer concerns are exacerbated by corporate exploitation, market manipulation and financial speculation. To lay the groundwork for a complex and multifaceted investigative documentary, Rahman plans to meticulously map food production and trade flows, examining the risks and long-term implications of a handful of unregulated companies and commodities traders controlling the main flows of food around the world.
Joshua Sharpe is a journalist with the San Francisco Chronicle whose reporting has helped free two innocent people from life in prison. He is writing a book for W.W. Norton and Company titled “The Man No One Believed,” which chronicles the still unfolding aftermath of Sharpe’s investigation of a 1985 double homicide inside a historic Black church in rural Georgia. Sharpe’s reporting uncovered new evidence related to a purported white supremacist who has allegedly bragged about the murders. That prompted state police to reopen the 36-year-old case and led to the release and exoneration of another man, wrongfully imprisoned for 20 years. A native of South Georgia who grew up in the Okefenokee Swamp, Sharpe learned journalism and criminal justice reporting on the job.
Identifying Patterns and Remedies in Wrongful Convictions
Sharpe will research wrongful convictions, post-conviction relief and the unseen ways that such cases damage lives. He will track and research multiple active cases while taking criminal justice courses to deepen his knowledge of what prosecutors and investigators are taught, as well as the roles and limitations of emerging technologies, which are often a factor in wrongful convictions. Sharpe will approach his research with an eye toward future reporting, as well as avenues for empowering other journalists to take on such work.
‘Fisayo Soyombo is the former managing editor of Sahara Reporters and founder and editor-in-chief of Nigeria’s Foundation for Investigative Journalism, which focuses on reporting social injustices and fraud. Soyombo is currently a fellow of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford. He is best known as the Nigerian journalist who “broke into prison.” Posing as a criminal, he spent five days in a police cell and eight days as an inmate at Ikoyi Prison in Nigeria. Soyombo’s resulting article led to sanctions against some of the prison wardens and sparked ongoing conversations about corruption and abuse within the Nigerian prison systems.
Twitter: @fisayosoyombo Instagram: @fixayosoyombo
Reverse Prison Break: Contextualizing Nigeria’s Criminal Justice Reform Needs
While writing an expanded version of his 2019 investigation of the Nigerian criminal justice system, Soyombo will simultaneously explore related themes– prison reform movements around the world, restorative justice approaches and diverse strategies for preventing and responding to inhumane and corrupt practices within prisons. He is particularly interested in understanding the social and commercial history of the prison industrial complex in the U.S. and putting Nigeria’s criminal justice challenges in a broader context.
Ben Steverman is a reporter for Bloomberg News based in New York, where he covers wealth, taxes and inequality. Some of the major topics he has covered include the U.S.’s wide and persistent racial wealth gap, the pandemic’s effects on inequality, and the tax loopholes and philanthropic strategies deployed by the ultra-rich. His work examines how policy choices can widen or narrow social, economic and racial disparities. Previously a personal finance reporter and editor at Bloomberg, he also covered the financial crisis for McGraw-Hill’s Businessweek before it was acquired by Bloomberg. Steverman started his career as a local news reporter in Illinois and at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
Strategies for Reviving American Nightlife and Community in a Digital Age
Among the stark social changes wrought by the pandemic was the disappearance of personal interaction at bars, restaurants and clubs. More than just a loss of fun, the loss of nightlife unmoored multiple levels of social connection, identity and belonging– especially for marginalized populations. Steverman’s research will examine the broad social costs of the decline of American nightlife– which was struggling well before the pandemic– and what can be done to revive nightlife and help mend the country’s fraying social bonds.
Doris Truong is senior director of teaching and diversity strategies at the Poynter Institute of Media Studies, where she works with journalists worldwide. She specializes in leadership — especially around recruiting, hiring, onboarding and retention. She previously worked at The Dallas Morning News and The Washington Post in roles ranging from copy editing to oversight of breaking-news operations. She served as national president of the Asian American Journalists Association and a board member of the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Truong is an alum of the Maynard Institute and the Dow Jones News Fund. She is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and a native of western Colorado.
Twitter: @DorisTruong Instagram: @doristruong
Helping Journalists Mitigate Unconscious Bias in Their Reporting
It’s natural to develop affinity bias if surrounded by people who are similar in a cross-section of identity traits. Journalists need to connect with people who are not necessarily like themselves — and have the empathy to tell their sources’ stories accurately and humanely. Truong’s interdisciplinary research will examine ways to help journalists better understand their own gaps in life experience around issues including race, gender, socioeconomics, sexual orientation, and stage of life to strengthen newsgathering and news judgment.
Read the 2023-2024 Knight-Wallace Fellowship class announcement»