By AnnMarie Hartnett

Longtime Journalism and Media Studies Professor Richard Heffner was not simply “teaching” about media history; he was a piece of history himself.

Prof. Richard Heffner Photo © Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Prof. Richard Heffner
Photo © Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Heffner, who died in December of a sudden cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 88, interviewed the likes of Edward R. Murrow, Martin Luther King and Gloria Steinem and never cowered from discussions of provocative and controversial issues.

His platform was the television show “The Open Mind,” the half-hour public affairs show that originated in 1956 with Heffner in the host’s chair. Originally seen on WNBC, “The Open Mind” moved to Channel 13 when Heffner helped negotiate the establishment of Channel 13 (it had been a failing commercial station in Newark) and became the station’s first general manager in 1961.

He had an impressive list of other accomplishments that included writing a book, The Documentary History of the United States, and serving as chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America’s Classification and Rating Administration for 20 years – the folks that label movies with a G, PG, R or X and other sub-categories.

During his tenure he introduced such ratings as PG-13 and NC-17. Heffner also led the rating board’s move to evaluate films for excessive violence along with sexual provocation.

“Parents were more concerned about the human body and sexuality in the 1960s,” Heffner told The Associated Press in 1986. “Today, the threat to family is violence and drug use. We’re tougher on violence and a mite less involved with the view of the human body.”

The Los Angeles Times called Heffner “the least-known most powerful person in Hollywood.”

However, Heffner was first and foremost a scholar with a passion for teaching. In fact, he had just finished his grades for the two courses he was teaching when he died.

He joined the faculty of Rutgers in 1964 and last held the title of University Professor of Communications and Public Policy. He commuted to New Brunswick once or twice a week from his home in Manhattan.

Heffner’s wife has been quoted saying that she always knew her husband would be a teacher until the day he died. Decades of J/MS students learned an immeasurable amount from this sweet, humble, dedicated and inspiring person.

Mass Communication and the American Image and Communication and Human Values were among the courses he was famous for on campus. Both of these conceptual courses integrated all of his areas of expertise and motivated students to look at media in a broader perspective in their relationship to history and politics.

Ron Miskoff, one of the teachers of Media Publishing and Design, took Mass Communication and the American Image with Heffner in the 1960s.

“I went to see him in his office one day, and on his wall was a picture of the presidential candidate, Bobby Kennedy, who had been assassinated about six months before. The inscription read something like, ‘Thank you for being there in our darkest hour.’ It was signed by Kennedy’s wife, Ethel.”

Claire McInerney, acting dean of the School of Communication and Information, describes the reaction to his death: “We were shocked because he was an active teacher. We were extremely saddened. Words seem inadequate to describe it. Heffner’s experience in the fields of media, politics and history often provided the backbone for his classes.”

According to McInerney, “The Open Mind” showcased Heffner’s skills as a communicator. “He was someone who listens, someone who asks good questions and someone who has something to say,” noted McInerney. “He had opinions about things, informed opinions, but then he was open to hearing other peoples’ opinions.”

She noted that Heffner was an extremely respected and beloved staff member at SC&I who will be missed.

“He lived what he proposed,” said McInerney. “He lived his life according to how he thought people should be in the communication field.”

She added that it was a great fortune for Rutgers to have Heffner on staff as long as it did. “It was a very great loss to us in the school, but we all learned lessons from him that will carry forward.”

As a tribute to Heffner, the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences will be setting up a lecture series in his memory. It seems a fitting tribute to a man who dedicated his life to learning and educating others.

“There has been a fund established for the lecture series, and it will be titled the Richard Heffner Lecture Series,” said McInerney.


Bjoern Kils captains his New York Media Boat in the waters of the Hudson River. Photo by Lisa Marie Segarra

Bjoern Kils captains his New York Media Boat in the waters of the Hudson River. Photo by Lisa Marie Segarra

By Lisa Marie Segarra

In the world of broadcast journalism, getting the perfect shot can be critical. That couldn’t be truer out on the water, where one J/MS alumnus pilots a boat that allows reporters and film crews to see New York City from an entirely different angle.

Bjoern Kils, J/MS 2002, owns the New York Media Boat, a 26-foot, ex-military special ops craft that plies New York harbor and surrounding waters.

“We take photographers on board, we take news crews on board, and I also do a lot of maritime photography out here myself,” said Kils.

His clientele includes CNN, Fox, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg, which use the boat to shoot footage from the harbor.

Kils also creates sailing-based photography packages for international clients like Hugo Boss and Maserati.

“A lot of these bigger New York media outlets come to us because this boat is cheaper to run than a helicopter, and generally we can stay on scene longer,” noted Kils. “We can also get to many places that are harder to access by car.”

A car could never have saved the life of a crew member of a tugboat sinking in the waters off Queens, as Kils and the New York Media Boat team did in January.

“I was doing some commercial work off East Rockaway, out in the Atlantic with this boat,” said Kils. “It was very bad conditions, very foggy with 6-foot waves. We were out there, and all of a sudden I hear on the radio that there is a mayday call, a tugboat was taking on water, and it was sinking.

“So the Coast Guard relayed the coordinates, and we figured out the position with the help of our navigation systems on board, and we responded to this tugboat that was going down. By the time we got there, there was only about two feet of tugboat left. The boat was going down fast, and there was a person laying across the bow. It was a pretty hopeless situation for the guy, but we were able to go in there and pull him on board and rescue him.

“We dropped him off at the pilot ship out there. The pilots also had three of the other crew on board. It was great. We were able to save this guy’s life.”

Although he always loved being on the water, Kils never thought he’d make his living this way. He grew up in northern Germany on the Baltic Sea and moved with his family to the United States in 1994, when his father was recruited by Rutgers Institute of Marine and Coastal Science.

At Rutgers, beside journalism, Kils had a minor in marine science. He began working at News 12 News Jersey following graduation. Beginning as a freelancer working overnight in the master control room, he eventually got promoted to an editor and cameraperson. Kils also worked at the assignment desk and ran the satellite truck.

He stayed with News 12 New Jersey until 2007. He then got an offer to work for MedPage Today, an accredited medical news service, to build up the company’s video department. There, Kils shot medical conferences and expert interviews as he traveled throughout North America and Europe.

During that time, he got the idea to start the New York Media Boat by working on his own photography.

“I had a smaller boat here in the harbor, a 12-foot boat, with which I was doing a lot of photography, especially of sail boats and anything that was going on in the harbor, really,” he recalled.

“There was a lot of stuff happening. I saw the demand for photographers wanting to come on board and TV crews, and then I upgraded the boat.”

Kils cites his experience, including the skills he learned and the J/MS classes he took, as contributing reasons for starting the New York Media Boat.

“Rutgers was great,” he stated. “Steve Miller always stands out as one of my favorite professors. He always encouraged me to think beyond the classroom and do independent study projects and such. And here I am with the New York Media Boat, and I think this is in part thanks to Professor Miller.”

Now the New York Media Boat has another sideline: taking tourists and photography clubs out on the water. Embarking from a dock off the West Side Highway at North Moore Street, Kils’ Adventure Sightseeing Tours business lets visitors see the major sights in New York City from the water.

In fact, Adventure Sightseeing Tours now ranks fifth of 477 New York City activities listed on Trip Advisor. Seagoing tourists could have no better captain than Bjoern Kils.


Karen Rouse Photo provided by Karen Rouse

Karen Rouse
Photo provided by Karen Rouse

By Matt Taylor

After 20 years working as a journalist, Karen Rouse, J/MS 1993, has found the story of her career.

A senior writer and traffic beat reporter for The Record (Bergen County), Rouse received attention and acclaim for researching and reporting on a cover-up involving at least 15 executives and managers from NJ Transit who were aware of the fact that many locomotives and passenger cars were left in low-lying rail yards during Hurricane Sandy, resulting in more than $120 million in damages.

The exposé was hailed by many as the one of the biggest New Jersey stories of the last two years (except for Bridgegate). However, the former Scarlet Knight saw things a bit differently.

Karen Rouse exposed a $120 million scandal at NJ Transit resulting from Superstorm Sandy. Credit:

Karen Rouse exposed a $120 million scandal at NJ Transit resulting from Superstorm Sandy. Credit:

“When you’re a reporter,” Rouse began, “you’re just doing the story of the day. You don’t necessarily think it will be huge.”

Rouse’s investigative work involved suing NJ Transit for the release of public documents, where she learned that the agency had a plan for relocating its equipment to higher ground but that the plan was ignored. Gov. Chris Christie had offered the explanation that a rogue, low-level employee moved the equipment to the low-lying areas on his own, but that explanation later proved unsatisfactory.

Rouse pressed agency officials who admitted NJ Transit moved trains into the rail yards because it never expected them to flood, and that data available showed the chances of flooding were small.

Because of her dogged pursuit of the story, legislative hearings are to begin shortly into the NJ Transit mess, and NJ Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein resigned earlier this year.

While Rouse is proud of her work on the piece, it’s the smaller, more personal stories she’s done throughout her career that she cares for the most.

“It’s always important to write about people — that’s what’s important to me,” said Rouse, who specifically mentioned an article she wrote recently about a community of immigrants bonding over a game of cricket in North Jersey. It has become a favorite piece from her career.

Since graduating, Rouse remarked that the newsroom has become “a totally different world” than the one she originally entered. Yet the changes in the field have not slowed her career down in the slightest. She wrote for papers in Fort Worth and Denver before returning to New Jersey and getting a position at The Record six years ago. She has covered a variety of topics, including education, business and state government.

Rouse credits Rutgers, where she double majored in Journalism and Media Studies and Political Science, with giving her the necessary building blocks to be a successful reporter, saying that she “loved “ her four years on campus.

“Rutgers is beneficial because it’s a huge university,” she said, praising the diversity of the campus. “It really gets you ahead when you [graduate]. It’s a real plus for Rutgers students.”

Rouse still looks back fondly at her time in J/MS as well as at the faculty who taught her. She specifically mentioned Professor Ronald Miskoff as one of her biggest influences and as someone whom she has kept in touch with since graduating.

“At this point, he’s a friend,” said Rouse, who believes that Miskoff’s investigative journalism class was one of the most influential courses she took while attending Rutgers. “He’s done so much for me.”

Having a passion for jour­nalism is, in Rouse’s eyes, an important quality to have, and she encouraged all current J/MS students to “really pursue a career in journalism” if they believe it is their calling.

By Jack Bratich

Jack Bratich. Photo supplied by Jack Bratich

Jack Bratich. Photo supplied by Jack Bratich

Chair, Dept. of Journalism and Media Studies

Greetings, Alums!

As I wind down my second year as department chair, I want to let you know about the many exciting changes afoot.

First and foremost, I’m thrilled to announce that Phil Napoli joined the department as full professor in January 2014. Dr. Napoli comes to us from Fordham University, specializing  in Media Business, Policy, and Audience Studies. Phil was a faculty member in the Communications Department in the late 1990s, so some of you might have even taken a course from him!

Our Women, Media and Technology Initiative is moving along well. In partnership with the Institute for Women’s Leadership, we co-sponsored a number of spring public events: the amazing Gloria Steinem Lecture, a screening of the documentary “Pink Ribbons, Inc.” (along with discussion with the researcher and producer), and a symposium on Social Media and PsychoSocial WellBeing.

In addition, we have created a joint summer internship program for J/MS and Women and Gender Studies majors who are interested in working for media organizations devoted to the advancement of women and representation in the public sphere.

We also hosted a superb set of distinguished speakers from the profession.  Lincoln Caplan, Todd Brewster, and Richard Reeves all brought their experience and wisdom to campus to discuss the future of journalism. We were truly enriched by their insights. gavel

As I have noted in previous Letters from the Chair, the department is undergoing significant curricular reform. We are examining how our courses and pathways need updating in order to respond to (and predict) changing contexts. What are the fundamental courses that students need to succeed in this world? How do we preserve the foundational values and virtues of journalism amidst these rapid transformations? These are the questions guiding curricular reform. Expect some new exciting announcements by this time next year.

On a related but more pertinent note, as our times change, so do the media platforms that reach us. With this in mind, I want to announce that this issue of Alum-Knights will be the final one of this form. We are proud of what Alum-Knights as a semiannual newspaper has done for over 20 years.

Under the capable leadership of Ron Miskoff and Elizabeth Fuerst over its most recent era, it has kept our alumni informed about current student accomplishments, faculty activi­ties, and each other’s lives. It has also given students indispensible experience working together with current technology to produce a quality publication.

Those dimensions of Alum-Knights will not go away. We will still be reaching you with all the latest info about J/MS events as well as teaching students to collaborate in an intensive setting. The depart­ment has been exploring alternative ways to bring you all of this while recognizing the new environment and new media needs.

We will be turning Alum-Knights into an annual publication, available after each spring semester. We are still working on the details of what exactly it will look like, but I can assure you it will be worth the wait!

We are looking to make RU J/MS even more of a central hub for student media in the region. With your continued support, we can make this a reality!

By Nyasa Jackson

Dr. Philip Napoli Photo by Nyasa Jackson

Dr. Philip Napoli
Photo by Nyasa Jackson

Dr. Philip Napoli isn’t a Rutgers graduate. Yet he is a figure poised to make a difference in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies as its newest faculty member. He joined the department in January as a full-time professor teaching Mass Media Management and Communications Law.

Napoli’s scholarship is in audience research, and he has published three books to date. The most recent is Audience Evolution: New Technologies and the Transformation of Media Audiences (2011).

He often shares his knowledge in formal and informal testimonies in front of the U.S. Senate, the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commiss­ion.

“Those can get you nervous,” he said with a chuckle. “You get invited to come down to D.C., and they ask you a bunch of questions, and you offer the best answers you can. You’re only picked to be the expert if someone has vetted you and decided they think what you say is going to be okay.”

Most of Napoli’s expertise was developed at the Fordham University School of Business, where he taught for the last 15 years. But actually, this isn’t his first gig at Rutgers. In 1997, Napoli joined SC&I as an assistant professor in the Communication Department. It was his first teaching position after earning his doctorate from Northwestern University. Napoli wasn’t sure if he’d find any job after graduation, and the opportunity to join the Rutgers community “was fantastic,” he said. “To be near New York, to be at a really good school with good faculty, very strong research orientation. All those things were just what I was looking for.”

What made him return to Rutgers after all these years? For Napoli, it was aligning himself with people who shared the same interests as he. At Fordham he was teaching courses such as Issues in Information Policy and Mass Media in America.

“It was okay for a while,” recalled Napoli.

However, Napoli continued, “It became really important to be somewhere that had a Ph.D. program, because I didn’t have a chance to teach and work with doctoral students. I was in a business school, and so there weren’t a lot of colleagues who shared my interests. And that got old after a while. I wanted to be around people who do the kinds of things that I do and think the kind of things that I think are interesting.”

It feels as though he never left. Sure, some of the infrastructure has changed since he was last here, but Napoli appreciates Rutgers’ welcoming him back with open arms.

“Oh yes!” he said enthus­iastically. “It’s just so neat to see people whom I was pals with my first go around — Steve Miller, Jack Grasso (professor of Communications), Jon Oliver (assistant dean for IT). It’s like going back home in some ways.”

He added that sometimes people leave places and “bridges get burned. But they didn’t get too upset at me for leaving, and they were nice enough to have me back.”

In the classroom, his passion for teaching is very evident.

His Mass Media Management course focuses on “issues with business models and strategy and how different industry sectors adapt to new technologies and monetize content,” Napoli explained. “It is very practical stuff, I think.”

The subject matter is similar to the material he taught at Fordham. His research is grounded in media regulation and policy. He also delves into audiences and “how media industries deal with audiences, how audiences are measured, how audiences are bought and sold, how they are valued.”

Although Napoli is the professor, he learns just as much from the students as they do from him.

He said, “It’s much more of an exchange. It ends being a natural outgrowth of my research, and I can tell people things that I am learning and get their feedback.”

It wasn’t until Napoli com­ple­ted his undergraduate work at UC Berkeley that he decided wanted to be a college professor. He has always loved writing. So he studied film and rhetoric in hopes of becoming a screenwriter. He then realized, “I don’t have any ideas about movies, but I had ideas for four books, 10 articles. These ideas just keep coming.”

Many people aren’t lucky enough to do what they love. Napoli isn’t one of those people.

“To be honest, I can’t imagine doing anything else,” he said. “You do exactly what interests you. It barely feels like work.”

He is currently in the process of developing two books. The first idea is “to do a book on the politics of policy research,” he disclosed. “I’ve seen how research gets used and sort of misused, exploited, stifled. It’s interesting to see all the ways and how politicized our policy process has become.”

His second book idea may explore “the implications of these new tools that have been developed to sort of predict audience media production.”

With such a busy life, what does Napoli do in his free time?

“Racquetball,” he said.

He doesn’t have much time for extracurricular activities with his career, wife and son Donovan, but he is faithful to racquetball.

He wakes up at 5 a.m. every day to play and even won the Rutgers tournament at the Werblin Recreation Center this winter.


Professor Hann chats with a journalism student. Photo by Nicole Reeves

Professor Hann chats with a journalism student. Photo by Nicole Reeves

By Nicole Reeves

If J/MS students in Professor Christopher Hann’s Magazine Writing class have any aspirations of making it as a professional writer, they have come to the right place to learn.

Hann, who has had an impressive career as a news reporter, freelance writer and editor, has been sharing his expert knowledge with J/MS students since the summer of 2006, when he first started teaching Magazine Writing. Hann is also a professor of News Reporting and Writing, although this is the first time he is teaching both classes in the same semester.

When bringing his knowledge to the classroom, Hann looks to prepare his students for the professional arena.

“I try to make it as real life as possible,” he said, “to give students a sense of what it’s like to do this work in the real world.”

Hann loves to share anecdotes with his students about the experiences he has had as a writer and speaks fondly of his time as a journalist.

“My favorite part is having the privilege of telling stories of really interesting people doing really interesting things,” he said. “Journalistic privilege gets you into places and through doors that would not open otherwise.”

A graduate of Ohio University, Hann began his career working as a reporter for a small newspaper called the News-Review in Roseburg, Oregon. Although he was nervous at the thought of picking up and moving to an unfamiliar state, Hann learned a great deal from the experience.

“There’s no better way to learn about a place than to be a newspaper reporter in that place,” he said.

Originally from Bridgewater, New Jersey, Hann found his way back to the Garden State after spending three years on the West Coast.

He got a job as a police reporter at The Times of Trenton.

Hann was assigned to make police checks by calling local police stations twice a day. The experience was difficult, as he was working a Wednesday-to-Sunday shift and was not on the same schedule as the rest of the world.

Craving the active reporter lifestyle, Hann left the Times after about a year and began working at his hometown’s paper, the Courier News, where he was a reporter for 10 years.
He also started freelance writing for New Jersey Monthly, where he later became senior editor.

Following his nine years as editor, Hann became a freelance writer, working for an assortment of publications, including the New York Times, Entrepreneur Magazine, Art and Antiques Magazine and various college alumni magazines.

“The thing you have to remember as a freelancer is you have to do every story well because you’re never guaranteed that they’re going to call back,” Hann said. “It’s something that helps keep you sharp.”

Professor Teresa Politano and her class on a field trip. Photo by Craig Donofrio.

Professor Teresa Politano and her class on a field trip. Photos by Craig Donofrio.

By Craig Donofrio The long, serrated knife, guided by the baker’s steady hand, saws through a crusty baguette and casts golden crumbs onto a sun-splashed butcher’s block. Warm, natural light and a complex array of earthy, yeasty aromas fill the glass-walled room, and nearly 20 Rutgers journalism majors eagerly await a slice of baker John Ropelski’s fresh, hand-crafted bread.

Teresa Politano

Teresa Politano

This type of full-sensory, hands-on experience is what Teresa Politano is serving to her Rutgers journalism students this semester, and she is teaching them how to use those nuanced details and personal observations to craft engaging, front-page food stories. “Talk about the bread, the smells in the bakery and the rolling pins on the wall,” Politano said, referring to the class trip to &Grain, an artisanal bread bakery in Garwood.

“Be descriptive in your reporting,” she said. “You were there.” Politano, who has been teaching part time for J/MS since 1999, is hosting a new special topics course this semester about food journalism. Judging from just a few of Politano’s past and present credentials — book author; restaurant critic and food writer for the Star-Ledger and its monthly magazine, Inside New Jersey; a James Beard nominee for food writing; former managing editor of the Home News Tribune — she is perfectly suited to mentor aspiring food writers. According to Politano, mentoring is a significant part of the class philosophy.

“The class features one-on-one workshops to improve reporting and writing,” reported Politano, “and we’ve launched a magazine-format class blog. We have several key guest speakers and field trips throughout the semester.”

During the field trip to &Grain, owner and head baker Ropelski provided Politano’s students with more than just lessons in bread making. He also explained some of the hardships in starting a business and some of the mistakes he made along the way. For example, Ropelski said the desire for high visibility and a street corner space pushed him to design a window-lined, glass-walled room that was not exactly ideal for temperature-sensitive bread yeasts.

Those hardships and mistakes were not lost on Politano. She coached her students to use those details to develop a different angle for their food stories. “This story could be about entrepreneurial secrets and problems revealed,” she said. “One issue with covering food and restaurants is that it’s often said it’s a hard business, but it’s not always explained why or shown to the reader.” Another issue Politano picked up on was the economics behind Ropelski’s bakery.

At one point during the class at &Grain, Ropelski mentioned that customer satisfaction and positive reviews don’t always equate to financial success. Ropelski looked pained to admit that some days’ lack of traffic have even caused him to question his bakery venture altogether. Back in the J/MS classroom the following week, Politano explained to her students that a good reporter has to be ready to ask difficult and uncomfortable questions during interviews.

“Giving examples of mistakes that were made by an owner or talking about the financial struggles behind the business gives context and intrigue to the story,” said Politano. Providing context and setting food stories within larger issues are some things Politano learned early in her journalism career. After graduating from Duquesne University, Politano attended a Washington, DC journalism semester at American University. According to Politano, words of wisdom from a Washington Post reporter during a conference there opened her eyes to the fact that well-conceived and well-written food stories could be front-page news.

“Food is also part of politics and economics,” Politano said, “It is a cultural story, an entertainment story.” The major news outlets and media organizations of the past often overlooked this connection, added Pol­­i­­tano. Things have quickly changed, however, and the media now serve a constant buffet of dedicated food channels, “foodie” blogs and even “food porn” photography. For Politano, this explosion of food culture interest and content creation is all related to “access” in the digital age: easy access to digital food content has sparked popular culinary awareness in the same way that better access to fresh produce and rare ingredients has enhanced chefs’ creativity in the modern age. Politano points to one obvious sign that indicates interest in food culture and food writing is spreading to a younger audience. The food journalism course reached its maximum number, about two dozen students, within a few hours of registration. “Young people are just naturally curious,” said Politano, explaining why food culture is appealing to younger audiences nowadays and why it’s an exciting time to teach.

The food journalism class blog, called The New Jersey Food Journal (, is where a lot of the student writing can be found. Politano said the class is “very selective” in what it posts in the way of restaurant reviews, profiles, photography and even some personal essays related to food. “We’re not going to race to post just because we can,” said Politano. “I want my students to think like they’re submitting to the New York Times.” 

Professors Ron Miskoff and Liz Fuerst review the iBook. Photo by Fatimah Foster

Professors Ron Miskoff and Liz Fuerst review the iBook. Photo by Fatimah Foster

Click on “Video” in navigation buttons to see a video on this topic.

By Fatima Foster

When the planes struck the Twin Towers in New York City on a beautiful sunny day in September 2001, many lives were lost, and many families’ futures became cloudy. Those who perished left behind children really too young to lose a parent.

Now, 12 years later, through a new book compiled by J/MS Professors Ronald Miskoff and Liz Fuerst, some of the children of New Jersey 9/11 victims and the parent of one victim share their stories of the day that changed their lives forever.

The electronic formatted book, entitled 9/11 Stories: The Children, is a work Miskoff calls a “follow-up story” to what may be the greatest and most heartbreaking story of the Millennium—9/11.

The book is an outgrowth of the 9/11 Project course that J/MS offered in spring 2011.

The class came about when Miskoff and Executive Director George White of the New Jersey Press Association had an idea to run a course where a group of journalism majors would interview the children of New Jersey 9/11 victims.

These interviews would then become the basis for press coverage of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 offered to New Jersey daily and weekly newspapers during late August and early September 2011.

The NJPA and its charitable arm, the New Jersey Press Foundation, gave J/MS a grant of almost $60,000 to run the course. Miskoff designed the course to teach the tenets of narrative journalism and had the hand-picked majors read masters such as Tom Wolfe and Buzz Bissinger. There were guest lecturers who had written books about 9/11, including Gov. Tom Kean, co-chair of the 9/11 Commission.

Fuerst was brought in as a writing coach. She did a lot of the arranging for the project and quickly learned the difficulty of the task.

“Many people did not want to talk to us,” she recalled. “I reached out to every contact I had. I would bring in a family and have two or three phone conversations to arrange interviews and by the fourth one they would say ‘I don’t want to do it,’” said Fuerst.

However, once lining up children, the professors matched them with the students in the class, who not only interviewed them for print but shot video and took still photographs. As expected, instant connections were made between the two because of similar interests and closeness in age, Miskoff noted.

The original idea of the NJPA was to have a book-on-paper written at the end of the course. However, as Miskoff explained, the project turned out to be too costly.

With inspiration from Jennifer A. Borg, Esquire, vice president and general counsel of North Jersey Media Group and former president of the New Jersey Press Foundation, the professors began to explore the idea of an electronic book.

The book, available now on iTunes for $1.99 and soon to be available as an ebook, contains all the stories of the children, along with 20 two-minute videos and lots of photographs.

“This story had everything—it had horrific murder, it had bewildered children, it had terror from the skies, it had high drama, it had legions of widows, it had mystery, it had greed, it had religion, it had the battle of technology and traditionalism, globalization and fundamentalism, it was a whodunit, it had politics,” noted Miskoff.

Through the stories and video content, he added, readers’ hearts will ache for the children who had lost parental love so young.

Fuerst’s account about working on the book proves the despair in the stories.

“I edited all the stories, and I cried more than a few times,” she said. “I actually remember my tears falling onto someone’s paper,” she said.

Added Miskoff, “Readers will see how the emotion of growing up without a mom or dad, combined with the constant reminder in the media of that terrible day, has had a severe and marked effect on many of the children.”

All proceeds from the book go to a 9/11 educational foundation.



Patrizia Di Maria, right, with ex-intern (now director) Lauren Quinn, a 2001 grad, producing the Lady Gaga show. Photo provided by Patrizia Di Maria

Patrizia Di Maria, right, with ex-intern (now director) Lauren Quinn, a 2001 grad, producing the Lady Gaga show. Photo provided by Patrizia Di Maria

By Sylvia Meredith

When Lady Gaga took the stage at the South by Southwest music festival and conference in Austin, Texas, in March, producing her concert was Patrizia DiMaria, J/MS 1998, a nationally recognized producer for music-related events.

South by Southwest is one of the largest music industry events in the world, and it is fitting that Di Maria was behind one of its most exciting acts. Her new company, Lady Pants Productions, takes live music and awards shows from ideation to delivery. It is already getting known for its creativity and attention to detail.

After a long and impressive resume of working with multiple television productions, Di Maria said she has successfully accomplished her dream of her very own production company. Lady Pants Productions was launched in September 2013, and its first job was the impressive, multi-million dollar televised event “VH1 You Oughta Know in Concert.”

Di Maria also produced the Vitaminwater company’s much heralded concert in Boring, Oregon, that featured Damien Dante Wayans, the comedian; and musical acts, such as Santigold. The concert tied in with Vitaminwater’s “Make Boring Brilliant” marketing campaign. Boring is a little town about half an hour away from the bustle of Portland.

From a very early age, Di Maria knew she was interested in writing and the arts. During her years at Rutgers she remained focused by solely working and interning, while working hard on her academics.

She noted, “Steve Miller allowed me the experiences of internships, where I learned what area I wanted to pursue.”

Professor Miller recommended her to intern under a former Rutgers grad, Amy Turco, for the live events team at VH1 in the spring semester of 1998.

After an exciting internship at VH1, she formed a career goal: to become a producer. Di Maria was fortunate enough to get hired at VH1 after her graduation. After working her way up to executive producer of live events and original programming, she left in 2010 to join Viacom as vice president of production in Special Events.

In 2012, she was recruited by the Madison Square Garden/FuseNetwork and worked there for a few years, when she decided to create her own company.

Jumping from Los Angeles, where Lady Pants Production is located, to New York, Di Maria is always on the go, tackling new and exciting endeavors. Along her career path she has worked with Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z, The Who, Beyonce and Green Day, just to name a few. She has produced countless events such as “VH1 Storyteller” and “Divas” for VH1, as well as live red carpets for the Grammys and Critics’ Choice Awards. She also produced internationally in 2007 for the Concert For Diana at Wembley Stadium in London.

The Austin, TX, Lady Gaga show she produced was a joint venture with Fuse and Doritos. Check it out on Twitter at #boldstage. Di Maria is also producing a show in Cannes, France, a week long media event called Cannes Liones. This is her third year producing this event on the behalf of Viacom.

Part of the event includes a dinner at a 15th-century chateau with a performance afterward. In 2013, the performer was Jen­n­­ifer Hudson. However, this year’s is confidential at the moment.

Although Lady Pants is still very new, Di Maria says she is “starting to create memories.”

She added, “Who knows where it will take me? What I do know is I will enjoy the journey.”

Michele Lucarelli putting his specialty organic pizza in the oven. Photo provided by Michele Lucarelli

Michele Lucarelli putting his specialty organic pizza in the oven. Photo provided by Michele Lucarelli

By Alyssa Verhoof

Alumni of the Journalism and Media Studies Department are reporters, editors, PR people, teachers, lawyers and political operatives. But pizza chef?

Meet Michele Lucarelli, who was at J/MS in 2008 as an exchange student from Urbino University in Italy.

Lucarelli, a prolific food blogger and pizza maker since he was 17 years old, is actually a kind of “pizza celebrity” in Italy.

After returning to Italy from New Brunswick, he knew he wanted to turn pizza into something he considered to be “different,” so he began making pizzas that were organic. Instead of yeast he cooked the pizza with sourdough, and instead of using industrial and processed ingredients he determined only to use fresh and organic ones.

He uses a long fermentation style with the sour dough. It develops slowly over 48 hours in a controlled temperature, giving off a characteristic fragrance. The invention is known as “BioPizza.”

“It is a new way to think about pizza —combining pizza with a lot of excellence in our region,” noted Lucarelli.

He claims his tastes unlike any other type of pizza. “It is very healthy for you,” said Lucarelli, “and you can digest it very easily.” People who have gluten allergies say it is very easy to eat, he added.

The organic pizzas quickly became a hit in his region, and Lucarelli soon became well known for his culinary invention.

He has always had a love for journalism, food and traveling. He took the opportunity to study at Rutgers to challenge himself to learn a different culture. When he first began his studies in New Jersey, he said it was difficult, but over time he adapted to the New Jersey atmosphere and smell.

When Lucarelli arrived in America, he had a blog written in Italian about his travel experiences, and he blogged about his life in America. His J/MS courses helped him polish his writing skills and his English. He remembered Professor Barbara Reed for being inspiring and particularly helpful.

“In my time there I met a lot of wonderful people,” he said. “I really enjoyed the social environment and extra-curricular activities, like hosting international pizza parties.”

After the semester at Rutgers, Lucarelli returned to Italy to finish up his bachelor’s degree in Advertising and Communications.

However, Lucarelli was not 100 percent sure what he wanted to do with his degree. He knew though that he wanted to incorporate journalism and something that he loved, which was food.

He explained that he had discovered his passion for food and cooking when he became a pizza chef in his hometown when he was a teenager. “I just took the job because I needed money to pay my schooling bills,” recalled Lucarelli. “I didn’t know I had a passion for food and cooking until then.”

Lucarelli continued to work at the pizza parlor after he obtained his bachelor’s degree, but as his organic pizza became more popular, Lucarelli wanted to take a next step in the food industry and apply for a job as a head pizza chef.

Last July he was surfing the internet and noticed a job opening at a restaurant in New Zealand for a head pizza chef. Lucarelli decided to take the risk and apply. Two days later he received a phone call from the restaurant saying that it was extremely impressed with his resume and would love to hire him.

Lucarelli accepted the job offer right away, and four months later, in October, Lucarelli packed his chef hat and jetted off to New Zealand.

There, he is making new pizza converts every day and keeping up with his writing. Lucarelli has a new blog — in English ( — about the different restaurants and cafés all over southern New Zealand where he travels by motor bike.

The plan is to return to Italy at the end of this summer and keep up with his blog there. He has hopes to continue with his organic pizza business and take it to the next level.

Maybe even back to New Jersey.

By Ashley Deckert

Some people say that it takes a wrong turn in order to get on the right path. For alumnus Walter O’Brien, J/MS 2005, his wrong turn consisted of not completing his degree while at Rutgers in the 1970s.

But this mistake just happened to lead him into his dream career of managing multiple rock star bands. And, it was a fabulous career by any definition. O’Brien managed some of the biggest rock bands in history, 17 in all, including Anthrax, Pantera, Ministry, Metal Church, and Jimmy Buffet.

Walter O'Brien  Photo supplied by Walter O'Brien

Walter O’Brien
Photo supplied by Walter O’Brien

Ultimately, though, this was not a satisfying path for O’Brien. After more than 30 years in the music field, degree-less and at age 53, O’Brien sought change.

“I wanted to focus on my personal life out in New Jersey and on my own creative energy, instead of someone else’s,” he recalled. “That, and the fact that the rock star lifestyle isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

O’Brien returned to Rutgers to get his journalism degree and is now a breaking news reporter at, covering Somerset County.

No longer focusing on channeling the unique energies of others, O’Brien is currently exercising his own at The only difference apart from the years of yesterday, he said, is the idea of no longer calling the shots. Most of his work revolves around the reporting of breaking news — fires, accidents, road closings and anything that applies to the general public.

When asked about preference on which news to cover, O’Brien stated, “I think the best stuff for me is anything that tells a story that reaches people, especially those in need or in a bad situation.”

Given the bumpy ride he took while traveling around the world in his music management days, O’Brien is beyond content to be stationed in the Somerset County and Morristown areas, which are closer to home now.

Sometimes when he’s reporting the breaking news of the day, the music business years seem so far away — especially the 18 years dedicated to running his own artist management company, Concrete Management & Marketing Inc.

Managing “the lifestyles of the rich and the famous” wasn’t always smooth, O’Brien acknowledged. “Near the end, I used to describe my job as waiting around in the backstage of a big cement concert venue, waiting for the band to be drunk enough that they wouldn’t notice me when I made my way back to the hotel to try and sleep,” O’Brien said.

While growing up, O’Brien said that the Beatles’ music was in rotation, and everyone his age wanted a glimpse of fame as a musician.

“Everybody wanted to play guitar and ‘be’ Paul, John or George, or play drums and ‘be’ Ringo,” he recalled. “I wanted to be Brian Epstein. And, on a much smaller scale, I made it happen.”

There were moments derived from his musical years that will never compare to his present days. But, looking back now, he is happy to be no longer living them. “With Pantera, they would be upset with me if I wouldn’t drink with them every night, all night long,” said O’Brien. “It was one long party to them. While I did what I could to keep up, I never could quite party as hard as they did.

“Here I am now, a journalist, and the first thing I had to do was take a drug test. It couldn’t be more opposite! But yes, I passed,” said O’Brien.

As far as finishing the long delayed degree, he claims it was at first just the desire to complete it, but now he’s appreciative more than ever for the knowledge it has bestowed upon him. “My degree from J/MS was a direct link to my second career,” said O’Brien. “I always did a lot of writing, but news writing is different in many ways ­— style and content wise.”

Networking while at J/MS eventually made way for O’Brien to score the reporting job he had hoped for. He worked for the Courier News and then went on to

“Second dream career accomplished,” O’Brien said.


Reuters’ office in Athens overlooking the Greek Parliament and Syntagma Square is Deepa Babington’s aerie. Photo provided by Deepa Babington

Reuters’ office in Athens overlooking the Greek Parliament and Syntagma Square is Deepa Babington’s aerie. Photos provided by Deepa Babington

By Andrea Pang

It was early morning on April 6, 2009, when international reporter Deepa Babington, J/MS 2001, was roused from her slumber in her home in Rome, Italy, by the precarious swaying of her bedroom lamp.

Moments later, Babington, who was then a foreign correspondent in Italy for the international news agency Reuters, was out of bed, scrambling in the pre-dawn gloom to get ready to head out and report on the source of those nighttime tremors—a 6.3 magnitude earthquake.

“I was in this giant rush where all I did was basically throw on the first thing I got out of my closet,” she said. “I took my laptop and just ran — just hopped in a cab and got to work.”

Deepa Babington tries camel liver for a story in Sudan.

Deepa Babington tries camel liver for a story in Sudan.

Clad in an old Abercrombie t-shirt, she and a fellow photographer bolted to the city of L’Aquila and were greeted with an “intense sight” of collapsed buildings and screaming people.

Together they witnessed the firsthand destruction of the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake — a disaster that claimed the lives of over 300 people, making it the deadliest earthquake to hit Italy since 1980.

“One of the great privileges of being a journalist is to be able to see things that you otherwise couldn’t unless you were one,” she said. “You really do get a chance to be at the front lines of history.”

For 14 years, Babington’s vibrant career with Reuters has led her to the front lines again and again. Today she is Reuters’ chief correspondent for the Greece and Cyprus bureau.

Since joining the news agency in 2000 as an intern, the 34-year-old journalist has traveled to a host of different countries, including Afghanistan, Lib­ya,­ Italy and Greece. Her assignments have taken her to the war zones of Iraq and to the basement of a hotel in Rome, where she met with former Libyan energy minister Shokri Ghanem after he defected in 2011.

“I’ve always wanted to be a journalist,” she said. “I think I was one of the lucky people who knew what I wanted to do before I got into college.”

In the summer between her junior and senior years at J/MS, Babington landed at Reuters as an intern.

After finishing her internship, she worked part-time for the news agency throughout her senior year.

Once she graduated, she joined the New York newsroom full-time in 2001.

“I was quite lucky that way,” she said. “But I’ve always had my sights on moving abroad… I wanted to become a foreign correspondent.”

That dream became a reality in 2006. After applying for a position in Italy, Babington found herself in Rome as a new foreign correspondent of Reuters — with zero fluency in the Italian language.

“When I actually moved [to Rome], it was the first time I’d ever been to Italy,” she said. “I didn’t know very much about the country. It was all very new.”

But she did not let her inexperience deter her. Her first few months in Italy were spent familiarizing herself with the country’s politics, culture and, of course, its language.

“Every morning I would get the Italian newspaper and take it to the local coffee shop near my house,” she said. “I’d sit there and read every article and underline the words I didn’t know. I’d have an Italian dictionary with me, and I’d go over them, just back and forth.”

Additionally, by working in the smaller Rome bureau, Babington had the opportunity to cover a wide variety of subjects — ones she was unable to do as often while working in New York.

“You really do have much more of an opportunity to go out and pick up whatever story you want,” she said. “And Italy is, of course, a natural place to write about all sorts of things, from art and architecture to fashion and food.”

When she first began, Babington was mostly doing specialized business reporting. Now, from wars to fashion shows, art to politics, the journalist’s experience abroad reflects more than just what is on her passport.

“I’ve really enjoyed my reporting trips to conflict zones, places like Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said. “They’ve always been intense experiences, and I’ve always found them to be very enriching and rewarding experiences.”

In late 2011, Babington was posted to Athens, Greece, and was tossed into the chaos of the country’s debt crisis.

“I basically only saw the inside of the newsroom and the inside of my apartment,” she said. “I would be in the office until 2 or 3 in the morning. It was a very intense first year.”

Although the crisis has somewhat abated since then, its effects can still be felt. As bureau chief, Babington focuses on reporting the social and economic impact it has left on the country.

“Now that we’re out of the eye of the storm that we were in in 2012, a lot of my job is to put together story ideas about how Greece has changed or not changed as a result of the crisis,” she said.

Instead of reporting, her duties today mostly consist of writing, editing and managing her team of eight reporters.

“I still love going out on reporting trips,” she said. “I love being able to go out and report on some part of the country that we haven’t written about before.”


Lisa Ferdinando is a petty officer 3rd class in the Coast Guard Reserve. Photo provided by Lisa Ferdinando

Lisa Ferdinando is a petty officer 3rd class in the Coast Guard Reserve.
Photo provided by Lisa Ferdinando

Before Alex Haley wrote Roots and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, he was Chief Journalist for the U.S. Coast Guard.

In fact, the Coast Guard’s highest writing honor carries his name.

The newest winner of the Alex Haley Award is a J/MS alumna, Lisa Ferdinando of Alexandria, Virginia, who graduated in 1996. A petty officer 3rd class in the Coast Guard Reserve, she was just named Public Affairs Specialist of the Year for producing high caliber journalism products that enhance the visibility of the Coast Guard.

What’s unusual is that Ferdinando has been in her position only about a year, and the Haley Award is customarily given to public affairs specialists with much more seniority.

“It’s like a dream come true,” said Ferdinando, who writes features for Coast Guard publications and blogs and takes photographs. “This is the highest Coast Guard award in public affairs. It’s just an incredible honor.”

Photo of Coast Guard tallship Barque Eagle helped ’96 alum win the Haley Award. Photo by Lisa Ferdinando.

Photo of Coast Guard tallship Barque Eagle helped ’96 alum win the Haley Award. Photo by Lisa Ferdinando.

Her reserve work mostly takes place on the weekends, but Ferdinando’s fulltime job is also with the military. She is a civilian employee of the Army News Service, where she covers stories that are of interest to military people, their families, and retirees.

Some of the topics she writes about are difficult ones: suicide prevention, battle buddies recognizing warning signs of emotional distress, and preventing sexual assault.

Journalism training for this Mullica Hill native began at Rutgers, where she wrote for The Daily Targum. “I knew I wanted journalism as a career,” Ferdinando recalled. “I’ve always been a news junkie. I’ve always been curious as to what is going on in the world.”

After grad­uating she snagged her first job as a news assistant at the United Nations, then worked for ABC Radio in New York before getting a coveted position in the White House radio press office. She and her co-workers were re­sponsible for then President Bill Clin­ton’s weekly radio address.

When the ad­min­is­tration changed, she found a po­sition writing for Voice of America, the official external broadcast institution of the United States government. During the 12 years she spent there, Ferdinando wrote about events on Capitol Hill and traveled widely throughout the United States, covering politics and political conventions.

After that stint she jumped to the Army News Service and made the decision to enlist in the Coast Guard Reserve.

“I felt that there was more I could do in my life,” she said. “I wanted to expand the community service I had been doing. I wanted to make a commitment month to month and year to year.”

Although she was older than the average age at Coast Guard boot camp, she found that that didn’t matter. Ferdinando took to military training and culture right away. The Coast Guard also sent her to media school at Fort Meade in Maryland to take a refresher course in feature writing. She said she is not afraid of being deployed – if it comes to that.

Now she drills at the U.S. Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore. She is rarely without her camera. On a recent Sunday the yard was foggy, and Ferdinando noticed the 1936-era Coast Guard tallship Barque Eagle looming out of the mist.

The dreamy pictures she shot that day were part of her portfolio for the Haley Award.

Majestic and ethereal, the photographs may have just clinched the award for her.


One of Hollie Gilroy’s duties at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission is to publicize the agency’s clean-up of the Passaic River system. Photo provided by Hollie Gilroy

One of Hollie Gilroy’s duties at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission is to publicize the agency’s clean-up of the Passaic River system.
Photo provided by Hollie Gilroy

By Tiffany Lu

It isn’t a glamorous name, but today’s “sewerage commission” is essential to the workings of government as a means to improve the environment and routinely clean up polluted waterways. Its partners are schools and environmental groups. Its outreach involves not only the media but every resident who lives within its service area.

In Northern New Jersey, the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC) is responsible for the environmental health and livelihood of more than 1.4 million residents in 48 different municipalities. Hollie A. Gilroy, J/MS 1985, is public affairs director for the agency.

At times one can find her in the office in Newark, but often she is out on the Passaic River and tributaries and in Newark Bay, making sure community-based river restoration programs are in place and showing the media how the PVSC’s surface skimmer vessel removes debris and litter from the water. Gilroy has had an illustrious career in the world of public communications.

Before beginning work for PVSC last year, Gilroy served New Jersey government for three years, holding chief communications jobs at the Department of Community Affairs and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. At PVSC, she draws from all her past experience as she writes aggressive press releases that support the PVSC policy and reforms agenda. She also communicates with a variety of people, including elected officials, key stakeholders, educational groups and internal employees.

“Each day is different, ranging from writing press releases to conducting tours to administrative work.” Gilroy said.

She also administers the commission’s award-winning outreach program for schools district-wide that teaches students about environmental awareness. This allows Gilroy to work with local schools as well as environmental groups.

Gilroy has come a long way since she attended J/MS and worked as a part-time writer for the Courier News in Bridgewater, and even farther since she was the managing editor of her community college paper.

Yet Gilroy still uses the skills she learned from her stint in newspaper reporting and time in J/MS to keep on her toes in the world of public affairs.

“Having worked on newspapers, you learn how to research a subject, identify opinion leaders and synthesize a story or argument,” she said. “From reporting, my strengths in the field include meeting tight deadlines and compiling and writing succinctly to highlight the most important facts and themes.”

These skills are what helped Gilroy win numerous professional awards. They include “Communicator of the Year Award” in 1998 from the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations, and “Woman of Influence in Communications” in 2006 from the Women’s Fund of New Jersey. After J/MS, Gilroy’s interest in the field and the financial incentives led her to pursue a master’s degree from Seton Hall University in Public and Corporate Communications. “I was able to put my strategic communications skills and my government rel­ations skills to good use,” Gilroy said. “Because I have both skill sets, I’ve been able to craft some unusual and exciting job opportunities.”

She began her career by working at Rutgers, a trade association, and two prominent lobbying firms, later serving eight years as the director of communications for the HealthCare Institute of New Jersey, a trade association for the research-based biopharmaceutical and medical technology industry. There she worked with the late Congressman from New Jersey, Bob Franks, who had become the institute’s president.

Whenever she is asked how to break into the public communications field, her advice for prospective graduate students is to “go get some real world experience first.” A higher degree is costly and time consuming, so it is better first to go into a field and know the inner-workings of it, according to Gilroy.

“Some valid work experience makes you better prepared to tackle the rigors of graduate study — with passion and commitment,” she said.

Her particular passion — in addition to being a public spokeswoman for government — is horses. Off the job, Gilroy is a frequent lecturer and experienced horse racer. She is also an American Sailing Association-certified sailor, having earned her USCG license by sailing a Hunter 36 yacht around the Caribbean in 2001. She lives in Edison with her husband, Michael Skowronski, and her son Max.