Grammy Award-winning producer and journalist empowers students to find their own voice

By Natalie Maszera

PhotoCredit: The Recording Academy


He looks like a figure from the world of jazz. The black leather blazer sets the tone as he steps into a campus café. Glen-plaid pants blended with the colors of a pinkish sunset accentuate his stride. A black fedora and sunglasses punctuate his beat. Soon a conversation with Leo Sacks will take on a rhythm of its own.

As a producer for Sony Music’s Legacy Recordings, Sacks has helped some of our greatest musical creators preserve their legacies. His face alights as he recalls his work with legends, such as Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, the Isley Brothers, Earth, Wind & Fire and Gamble and Huff.

“It’s been a great privilege as a fan,” he says, “and an even greater responsibility as a historian.”

But Sacks has also had a long career as a journalist. He has worked “in the trenches” as a print reporter, broadcast news writer and producer at the highest echelon of the media. And now he is helping students at Rutgers to find their own voice as an adjunct professor in the Rutgers journalism and media studies program.
Sacks has taught two semesters of Writing for Media with a semester of Music Journalism in between.

“I may be learning more from my students than they’re learning from me,” he admits.

Sacks attributes his passion for teaching to the encouragement he received from his own professors at the City College of New York during the mid-1970s. “They nurtured my interests in all kinds of writing,” he recalls, “from reporting a news story to the art of interviewing, to the skill set required for a life in the newsroom. They taught me how to think critically. Most of all, they showed me that they cared about my journey and challenged me to go to any lengths to improve my writing. “Which is what I’m trying to do at Rutgers now,” he continues. “Pay it forward.”

Sacks came to Rutgers on the strength of a recommendation from John Pavlik, the former chair of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies. “We’re neighbors in a tiny hamlet along the mighty Hudson,” Sacks says.

“One day in our neighborhood café, we began a conversation. It may have been about the weather. But the greater probability is that John was wearing his Green Bay Packers colors in a New York Giants country, and I complimented him on his bravery. The point is that we shared a mutual admiration, and when I said that I dreamed of teaching, he encouraged me to apply to Rutgers.”

Sacks vividly recalls his first telephone conversation with Steven Miller, coordinator of undergraduate studies for the Department of Journalism and Media Studies. Miller was thrilled to know that Sacks had worked with the legendary soul musician and songwriter Bill Withers (“Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Grandma’s Hands” and “Use Me”). “Steve wanted to know why Bill walked away from music at the height of his fame,” Sacks says. “I knew I had found a long-lost friend in Steve.

“I was concerned about my limitations. Steve walked me through my fears. He gave me the confidence to express what I was feeling. He gave me the freedom to be vulnerable.”
According to Sacks, Miller quickly became a mentor, “someone who is simpatico, a true consigliere.”

Miller shares the same admiration for Sacks. “He’s one of a kind,” says Miller. “He has an ability to get people to express themselves, not only in their writing but also verbally. Every student has a song, and Leo can teach them to play as magnificently as Mozart.”

Ciana Davis, a senior in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, and a former student of Sacks, says, “He challenged me to find the words to say what I am feeling.”

Andrew Suydam, a junior in the Department of Communication, says that Sacks has helped him to feel more confident and determined. “He made me see that I’ve been writing too much from my head when I could be thinking with my heart.”

At age 60, Sacks acknowledges the references that have shaped him have “come from another lifetime. I’m merely teaching as I was taught: that there’s a cultural, political, historical, racial and socio-economic context to every kind of critical thinking.”

“Your life experiences are going to frame you as a writer, frame you as a journalist, frame you as a citizen,” says Miller. “We wanted someone who would share great passion and information. Leo does that.”

Sacks is an imposing figure in the classroom. Standing at 6 feet 5 inches, he prowls the area around the lectern like a caged lion. During a recent class, he grew frustrated when it became apparent that none of his students were reading The New York Times; a fundamental requirement for his class. He slammed his hand down abruptly on the table.

“Why aren’t you following my lead?” he demanded. “Our time is precious here. How can I teach you if you’re not fully engaged?”

“It was my own ‘teachable moment,’” Sacks reveals. “How do I manage my own personal expectations for each student? I can’t make them want the same level of excellence that I aspire them to reach.”

Sacks tells a story of a privileged yet troubled childhood. He was born and raised on Manhattan’s Upper West Side where his mother was a medical copywriter, and his father was a clinical psychologist who saw his patients in their home.

He says his heart is heavy when he reflects on his adolescence and a “more tumultuous time in my 20s.”
“I wasted a lot of years rebelling against my father by hurting myself,” Sacks admits. “It took me years to realize that he only wanted the best for me. How I used marijuana and Jack Daniels as a means to escape. Until there was no place left to run or hide. Now I’m the father of a 7-year-old who’s charming and delightful but also absolutely willful. So the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

“My dad was a habitual clothes horse,” he says, “and he was always late for his appointments. Which meant, as the oldest of his three children, I had to make small talk until he came home. ‘So how was your day, Mr. Jones?’ I’d say. It was surreal.”

Sacks had his favorite patients, including the parish priest whose romantic feelings for his secretary gave him heart palpitations; the Holocaust survivor who couldn’t stop his compulsive eating; and the scion of a construction company who turned his back on the business rather than tell his father he was gay.

“Life was entertaining and inscrutable,” he says.

“My mother would put the well-thumbed Webster’s Dictionary beside me that she kept in the kitchen,” he recalls. She would have him circle every word on the front page of The New York Times that he did not know. “Now look them up!” he remembers her saying.

As his love for music grew, and he began to write about music for his high school newspaper, his mother would edit his copy. “It didn’t matter that she was unfamiliar with the music,” Sacks says. “She was connecting with the passion in my voice.”

That passion led to his first professional job writing about the music industry for Cash Box and subsequently for Billboard, the “bible” of the music business. But he felt restrained by the formulaic demands of writing for a trade publication. So he began to write freelance articles for People, Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle. He became a freelance reporter for the Post. That led to new writing and producing jobs at CNN, CBS News and Reuters International Television; freelance work as a contributor to The New York Times Book Review; and steady work as the weekend news editor for “NBC Nightly News” from 1992 through 1997. (He returned briefly in 2013 to write about the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin trial, and the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.)

At Sony, Sacks has worked with America’s most celebrated artists. He has compiled and produced lavish boxed sets and packages for legends Aretha Franklin (“Take A Look: Complete On Columbia”), Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye, Earth, Wind & Fire and Gamble and Huff (architects of the “Sound of Philadelphia”).

He compiled and produced “Bill Withers: The Columbia & Sussex Albums,” which received a Grammy Award for Best Historical Recording in 2014. Afterwards, he co-produced a tribute concert for Withers at Carnegie Hall. He currently juggles his teaching duties with his responsibilities as an A&R consultant for Sony Masterworks, the pop division of Sony Classical, where he is in charge of finding and developing new artists. He recently brought the folk duo Tall Heights and the Accidentals, an Americana trio, the company.

Sacks is currently directing and producing his first documentary called “A Taste of Heaven” about the short, turbulent life of the New Orleans gospel artist Raymond Myles, who was murdered in 1998 on the brink of music stardom.

“Raymond had the gift of greatness,” he says, “but he was also the victim of his own human nature.”

Sacks says that teaching at Rutgers has been one of the most enriching and fulfilling experiences of his lifetime. “It’s a privilege to shape hungry hearts and minds,” he concludes. “My premise is that if you can learn to write a strong sentence, you can re-write that sentence for any platform. I can only hope that I might be making a difference in a student’s life because–well, I’m always starting on new chapters of my own. I just have a rearview mirror to guide me.”


JMS and Dance graduate Selena Watkins returns to campus as an adjunct dance professor at The Mason Gross School of the Arts.

By: Alanna Doherty

Photo taken by Louis Harned.

In a Brooklyn dance studio, Selena Watkins travels across the room to Caribbean music, with a bandana in one hand and sweat glistening from her body. In her class, Socanomics, 25 students are behind her, meticulously watching her every move. She is no doubt the leader of the class, as she wears palm tree print on her pants and holds a stage presence that commands attention.

She begins by leading a group of women in a warmup that consists of isolations and stretching. She then accelerates into more dynamic movement, with body rolls, hip movements, plyometrics and dance choreography.

Inspired by her dance major and her parents’ Antiguan roots, Watkins created her own genre of high intensity dance workouts, called Socanomics. The workout focuses on strengthening and toning the entire body while having a blast. “I created Socanomics organically, from being so exposed to my Caribbean culture that celebrates dance and music and freedom of expression,” Watkins said.

As an entrepreneur, Watkins uses the writing, public relations and communication skills she learned at Rutgers to effectively market her brand on digital platforms. On Instagram alone, Watkins’ network stands at over 12,000 followers and counting.

Her first few jobs, after graduating from Rutgers in 2010, reflected a more traditional route for JMS students. She interned at New York’s Hot 97, where she worked as a producer and blogger for several on-air personalities. She attributed her success to the spark and direction provided to her by JMS.

At the same time, Watkins was increasingly intrigued by a career in dance and fitness. After earning her personal trainer certification from the Athletics and Fitness Association of America, she worked at gyms in the New York area, teaching kickboxing, sculpting, body-toning, water aerobics, Les Mills Pump and cardio dance.

This foundation allowed Watkins to create the ideal environment in her Socanomics class, where women with various cultural backgrounds and body types could come together and express themselves. Watkins explained, “I fused my skills and education in dance and in fitness to create a space for women of all shapes, sizes and cultures to get fit in a way that they will enjoy.”

Watkins further proved her versatility by choreographing and dancing for the NBA Brooklyn Nets Dance Team. She has also danced with numerous celebrities, including Rihanna, Pharrell Williams and Janelle Monae. In 2012, Watkins was crowned Miss Black USA. In 2016, she reached a new level of celebrity when she won the title of Women’s Health 2016 Next Fitness Star for Women’s Health magazine, appearing on the cover and in a full spread about her fitness regimens.

This accomplishment propelled her success and awarded her with the opportunity to create dance-inspired workout videos with Women’s Health. The exposure also boosted her social media presence. Her social media accounts include hundreds of short workout tutorials, images and her own motivational quotes.

The opportunity to teach an Urban Fusion class at the Mason Gross School of the Arts presented itself in the spring of 2017. To educate her students on the foundations of urban music and dance, Watkins decided to combine aspects of her Socanomics class with the existing class curriculum.

Watkins hopes to further expand her network and make Socanomics a global brand. Recently, she started her own company, Body by Watkins, in which she produces handmade, African-inspired waist beads. Her mission for this company is an extension of what she preaches daily, which is to inspire all women to embrace their femininity, explore self-love and exhibit true confidence.


Click here to see Watkins and her students in action! 




How this JMS Professor is Creating a Safe Space for Students to Voice their Opinions

By: Safaa Khan

On Tuesday November 8, 2016 – election day – Professor Vyshali Manivannan cancelled all of her classes. “My classes often have recent or first-time voters, and I want to give them the day to experience and celebrate their newfound civic responsibility—in addition to making it easier to simply get out there and vote,” she explained.

As a Ph.D. candidate and instructor for the Journalism and Media Studies program, she understands the need for guidance and well thought-out discussions intended help students grow. While her courses usually consist of slide shows, class discussions, and projects, they are vastly different than most lecture-style courses as they are meant to get students thinking about social and ethical issues within the consumerism and media world.

“I have always believed that teaching is not about learning by rote, or being assessed based on the regurgitation of facts, but about active, embodied learning—not learning what to think but how to think, and how to internalize new habits of critical inquiry, thought process, and writing. It’s like my father, who was a physics professor, used to say: that good teaching isn’t about being ‘a sage on the stage’ but being ‘a guide on the side,” said Manivannan.

The role of an educator is intensifying and becoming more and more personal, she says. Professors like her are utilizing current events as teaching elements, and are allowing students to question today’s political and social climate to create real-life case studies. “I personally have never pretended that the world is separate from the classroom, or that we check our bodies at the door when we enter academia. I’m deeply affected by the social and political climate, and I expect my students are, too. Learning is more than just a cerebral activity, and the world takes a toll on the body and therefore the mind. In all my classes, I find I am teaching more than just one subject; I am encouraging my students to develop and (most importantly) be able to clearly, logically articulate a political consciousness, no matter what their political leanings.”

Following the results of Brexit, a new movement spread throughout the United Kingdom in which people wore safety pins. As a sign of solidarity, the safety pins were meant to let people from minority and marginalized groups know that the wearers stood by them as allies. After the United States 2016 Presidential election, people in the U.S. hopped on this bandwagon as well.

Professor Manivannan came into class the following week and told her students about the movement and how she’d decided to participate: she had a safety pin tattooed on her collar bone.

“I think I needed, for myself, a signifier that I belonged to a collective that did not want this, that was willing to stand up against it and unite to protect the vulnerable and disenfranchised. I wanted something that would permanently signify to those in need that I am willing to stand up for them.”

Being so distraught by the negative repercussions of the election results, she saw the need for an outlet that would allow students to talk it out. “My attitude as a professor is that if something needs to be addressed, it will be, and we’ll catch up on course material later. In this particular climate, where profoundly disheartening news breaks every morning, I make time in my classes for students to voice what they’ve seen, articulate how they feel, and discuss ways of resisting or speaking back. My classes are already about dissecting, challenging, and articulating problems with or reasons to support the dominant ideology, so spending class time going over the news doesn’t seem too far off from my underlying course objectives.”

Her tattoo is a symbol of both the movement and the spirit of her classroom: a safe space for students to question societal issues, come to realizations, and simply present their thoughts to the rest of the class.

“Despite being in a large lecture hall, I felt really comfortable raising my hand and sharing my thoughts, even on controversial issues,” says  JMS student Shazia Mansuri. Professor Manivannan never chose a side but always pushed us to challenge our ideas further and think critically about our opinions. It was really meaningful to be part of a classroom environment where everyone felt comfortable sharing their own lived experiences, because they were vital to the class curriculum.”

The safety pin movement quieted but Vyashali has no regrets about her tattoo. “It shows others that I will stand up for them. If I ever had any doubts, the tearful impromptu discussions I had with strangers on the subway, who saw the safety pin tattoo and flashed me a thumbs-up or commiserated with me or hugged it out before getting off at their stop—that sense that I was not alone in my convictions made it worth it.”

This athlete takes advantage of his skills on and off the court.

By Elizabeth Sarofiem

Photo Credit: Hitatchi Sunrockers

Professional basketball player and class of 2015 JMS graduate Kadeem Jack is finding creative ways to bridge his two passions. Although most professional athletes wait until their career in sports is over to pursue other endeavors, Jack seems to have found the perfect balance for both his athletic and journalistic careers to flourish simultaneously.

As a JMS student at Rutgers, Jack excelled on and off the court, receiving both academic and athletic awards while at Rutgers. Jack notes Rutgers JMS Professor Steven Miller encouraged him to take his journalistic endeavors as seriously as he took basketball. He also stuck with the journalism major, despite the fact that it wasn’t the obvious choice. “Typically athletes are steered towards majors where there are a lot of tutors, but I knew that with or without a tutor, if I wasn’t interested in what I was learning, I would probably fail.”

Jack was also the shining star of the Men’s Basketball program while at school. When Jack went undrafted after his final year at Rutgers in 2015, he didn’t give up. “I knew if the first avenue didn’t lead me to where I wanted to be, I would just have to work even harder to get there,” he says. Kadeem spent the next four months training and after several invites to practice with different NBA teams, Jack signed with the Indiana Pacers in October of 2015. Kadeem is of only 13 alum in Rutgers history to play in the NBA. “I felt like I could breath, but not all the way. To everyone it seemed as though I had made it but I knew I only had one foot in the door.”

Jack was right to tread lightly. Unfortunately, two months into his contract, and one day before final rosters were set, he was waived from the Indiana Pacers and assigned to their developmental team, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Jack was later traded to the Reno Bighorns, the developmental team of the Sacramento Kings, where he would finish his first professional season of basketball. The summer after his first season, Jack signed a ten-month contract overseas in Japan with the Hitachi Sunrockers. It’s his biggest contract to date.

Jack is currently working on two projects that foster his writing abilities, too. One is a poetry book that Jack says he has been curating and editing for more than seven year. His poetry is reflects the social issues he has experienced, with themes of love, failure, and introspection. Kadeem uses writing to escape the stressful and demanding nature of his day job. “Writing to me is just like playing basketball. It’s full of passion and art. Some days are better than others, but every day is worthwhile”.

Jack is also working on is his first journalistic project, a travel blog documenting all of the places he’s travelled for his sport. Jack admits that initially the constant travel was draining and he considered it the worst part of his job. However, he eventually acknowledged how fortunate he was to have the opportunity to see so much of the world and chose to allow his travels to inspire him. “Basketball has taken me to nearly every state and five other continents … I realize that for most people seeing that much of the world at this young an age is a dream at most.” The blog, which isn’t live online yet, will focus on photojournalism and videography, with profiles of people Jack meets. “It’s a little bit of everything, I try to capture the culture, the food, the sights, but most importantly the people.”

Equipped with a Polaroid, his iPhone, and a leather-bound journal, Jack’s old soul bridges people from around the world. “I actually grew up in Trinidad, and when I moved to New York I felt like I was in an entirely new world. I remember thinking why hadn’t anyone told me this is what other people lived like. Ever since I had a passion to travel and experience other ways of life,” he says. And yet despite his rather intimidating stature (he’s 6-foot-9-inches), Jack has found that his aura draws people to him. He recalls that during his time in Japan, despite his inability to speak Japanese, people almost always approached him. In many ways, the novelty and fandom that comes with being a basketball player helps Kadeem gather content for his projects.

Not only is Jack pursuing journalism alongside his basketball career, but he is also in the process of starting a nonprofit organization targeted towards young children from underprivileged communities. Although still in its early stages of development, the organization, Life Against the Grain, focuses on guiding children towards careers and helping them find their passions. Jack says his own life inspired the organization, “Growing up I had two choices for success: play basketball or rap,” Jack says. “I want kids to know that there are so many more paths. Even though I’m a basketball player, I think what I’m doing journalistically proves to these kids just that.” The first event is scheduled for late July in New York City.

Self-motivated alumna Laura Reilly sets ambitious goals and paves the way toward them—with a few drinks along the way.

By: Joseph Miller

Photo caption: Reilly enjoys a cocktail at Mother’s Ruin, a bar, in New York City. Photo credit: Deanna DiLandro


Sitting in the back corner of a bustling, candlelit bar in SoHo, Manhattan, 22-year-old Rutgers alumna Laura Reilly sips from a fruity alcoholic beverage at a table with two of her coworkers after work. They swap drinks with one another to try a wider palette of cocktails, discussing the beverages in detail. Although they are merely out for fun after a hectic day at work, they are also busy taking mental notes on their drinks for potential future assignments.

For Reilly, work and alcohol are inseparable. As editorial assistant for SuperCall, a website dedicated to cocktails as well as cocktail culture, alcoholic beverages are a core part of her daily work. From industry news to recipes, drinking rituals, and remote distilleries, Reilly spends much of her day writing about a wide range of alcohol-related topics. Her office even contains a few bars filled with alcohol and kegs of beer, and new cocktail concoctions are presented for taste-testing. Given that this is her first full-time, paid journalism job, it may seem to many that she is living the dream. To Reilly, this is yet another stepping stone toward her dream job of travel writing.

Reilly’s first foray into journalism began in high school. Having spent most of her life in Hazlet, New Jersey, she was accepted into Monmouth County’s Communications High School, focused on journalism and communications. The school taught her not only writing skills, but also video and photo editing, which would later prove valuable in landing jobs. She showed promise at a young age as well, winning the Columbia Gold Circle Award for a story in 10th grade.

At Rutgers University, she double-majored in Journalism and Cultural Anthropology with a minor in Religion. Part of the graduating class of 2016, she says one of the most significant and helpful events of her college career was her internship at BBC Travel during her final semester. She worked as part of a small, Manhattan-based team—only three people, plus herself—so she had a wide range of tasks. She researched photography, picked photographs, wrote captions and copy edited. She also experienced a transitional period at the office, complete with a new editor and a revising vision. The transitions proved to be beneficial to her.
“That was cool, because I got to be a part of those decisions, giving my input and doing a lot of research on the competition,” she said about the changes in the office. “It was great.”

Prior to getting her job at SuperCall, Reilly worked as a bartender. She applied for a job at Thrillist Media Group as it was beginning a new venture into cocktail culture with SuperCall. In addition to her education at Rutgers, her previous bartending experience helped land her the job at SuperCall.

Photo caption: Reilly enjoys cocktails such as this one both on-the-job and in her free time. Photo credit: Deanna DiLandro

Her work at SuperCall entails a largely unstructured workday with writers managing their own time. Topics vary widely but are all in the niche of cocktail culture, with some pieces being more educational and others being more pop-culture related. Some of the stories involve travel destinations and cocktail culture from around the world, and Reilly always makes a conscious effort to combine her passion for travel journalism with her work.

“I still want to be a travel journalist, and I incorporate as much as I can at my job at SuperCall,” Reilly says. “Writing about liquor, there’s a bit of an intersection with writing about certain stuff around the world, around the country.” Reilly is able to write stories geared toward travel destinations, such as famous bars and breweries, combining SuperCall’s niche of cocktail culture with her passion for travel journalism.

Her job often allows her to go to bars and do some unique first-hand research for articles. Reilly recalled a fun experience last summer in which she and a co-worker went to a bar and tried nearly their entire menu of alcoholic milkshakes.

Reilly hopes to eventually dig deeper and expand beyond cocktail culture. “I want to start writing deeper about food, deeper about travel writing,” Reilly says. “But, for now, I love this niche. I’m really passionate about drinking as an activity and as a cultural standpoint.” Long term, she hopes to become an editor or producer. She would love to eventually have a television show about travel.

She might not have reached her destination yet, but she’s certainly calling the shots.


There are many ways to communicate. Nat Clymer prefers photography.

By Brittany Chan

Photo Credit Nat Clymer

In an era of selfies and snapshots, photography seems deceptively easy. What people often forget is that true photographers incorporate meaning in every little detail of their work. Good photos have a purpose that a hastily taken snapshot can’t replicate. This is a small part of what Nat Clymer, professor of photojournalism, tries to teach his student.

As a child, Clymer was the youngest of three. He picked up photography as a hobby when he was just 9-years old. By high school he knew he was smart, just not in the traditional subjects and his deviation from the family norm didn’t give him a negative perspective of the world. He was, he says jokingly, “the white sheep of a family of lawyers.” Clymer says he “flunked out” of Rutgers during his first for four years.

After his first year serving, he became designated as a Photographers Mate for the remainder of his four-year enlistment. During his time in the Navy, his job required him to take portraits, public relation’s photographs, photograph reenlistment ceremonies for hometown newspapers, as well as forensic photography at a naval base in Europe, and classified work for intelligence gathering and NCIS. These experiences that came with serving in the Navy became a part of who Clymer is today, by seeing and speaking with people from all over the world, as well as understanding where they came from, and who they were. He found the world to be a place filled with people who all have their own stories to tell.

After being discharged from the service, he went back to Rutgers and finished up his undergraduate work majoring in Human Communications and Shakespearean Literature.  Upon graduating he had no idea what he was going to do so several friends told him about a job that had opened up for a photojournalist at a weekly paper in Somerville so he applied for that job until he could figure out what he was really going to do for the rest of his life.  It was during this phase of his life that he first began to realize that he loved meeting all different types of people from all strata of society and he began to focus more and more on the portraiture that he had to take for the newspaper work

His work in portraiture has aided his main priority in life, “meeting and seeing all kinds of people.” But his view of the world clashed with his job in newspapers. Although this position allowed him to meet different kinds of people, the newspaper industry “saw the world in a cynical and negative light,” he said. Instead of embracing people, they aimed to expose them. “This wasn’t my style.” Clymer’s style, he says, comes from a mix of his experiences in the military, and his optimism and his interest in photography born during the Watergate era – when photography was seen as a powerful tool to promote change. He had a passion for photojournalism, but he wanted to promote positivity, not negativity, so he left the newspaper and started his own photography business doing it the way he believed photography should be used and seen.

Clymer has an underlying objective to connect with his subjects on a personal level. This helps people drop their “photo mask,” [what they think they should look like when they are being photographed] so their personality shines through. He tries to create portraits that show the subject as their true self, to provoke emotion from the audience. By intertwining his passion for photography, as well as his love of all different types of people, he creates an atmosphere that allows his subjects to feel comfortable, in order to capture the emotional elements that a photo should incorporate to tell a story.
Clymer also spends some of his time as a volunteer photographer with a national non-profit, Flashes of Hope, which provides families of pediatric cancer patients with free black & white portraits of their children.  He opened the first Chapter in the New Brunswick area where he puts his passion and communication skills to the test. Similar to all of his shoots, he wants to get the children to open up so he can capture the moment. These are about kids being kids, not kids being cancer patients.

In one classroom exercise, Clymer challenges his students to close their eyes and imagine California’s Pacific Coast Highway. Students who have never been there are still able to build an image in their minds, based on all the things they’ve seen before. Every day, we see tens of thousands of images, whether it is in passing, while reading a magazine or newspaper, or while watching television. This short glimpse alters our thoughts without us even realizing it. He believes all images need to be examined with a keen eye, in order to understand the purpose and meaning behind the picture.

He emphasizes that our generation today is focused on things that do not matter, such as how many Facebook friends we have and how many ‘likes’ on a photo we get. He says, “these have no bearing on life.” He incorporates this lesson in his photojournalism class by making his student think about the world around us, which is how a photographer thinks when taking photographs, “you can’t just look at your phone and expect to be a human being—you have to talk and expose yourself to other people to create friendships and networks.”

Young adults these days are going towards a career that they ‘believe’ will bring success.  Although he never expected to become a photographer, he notes that he had to be open to anything, and follow what he enjoyed. As a professor, his main goal is to help students find their passion, whether it is in photography, writing, etc. Clymer states, “It is really important to see passion. To find your passion, you need to know what passion looks like.” In taking Professor Clymer’s photojournalism class, I know what true passion looks like. You can see it in the way people speak, the way their eyes light up when they talk, their eagerness to share and educate, and how their personality reflects their passion.


Photo Credit Matt Rainey

To view Nat Clymer’s professional photographs or inquire more information on his work, please visit his commercial website at and his artwork website at




The Sports Specialization: Spring Training for JMS Grads

By: Cletis L. Fox

Being born into a New York Giants season- ticket holding family, Johnny DiNapoli, ‘16 has always been a diehard sports fan. As a freshman taking the infamous Expository Writing course, DiNapoli penned a paper on Yankee Stadium that pointed him towards the Journalism and Media Studies (JMS) major. Now he’s in the early stages of a flourishing career in sports journalism.

“Sports are a very serious subject and have a large part in our media and society,” says Steve Miller, director of the JMS undergraduate program. So it’s not surprising that Rutgers developed a specialization in Sports Journalism for interested JMS majors. Within the specialization, students can learn many different facets of the industry including, but not limited to, writing, television production, and photography. Miller sends daily emails with internship opportunities to JMS students and SC&I offers up to three credits for both paid and unpaid internships.

Toward the end of completing his degree and specialization, DiNapoli interviewed for a writing position as a Media Relations Intern at Fox Sports in New York City. His soon-to-be bosses were impressed by the fact that he went to Rutgers and by the amount of writing he had done in class. After accepting their offer, DiNapoli was soon working twice a week with publicists and the head of communications for Fox Sports New York City.

In this position, DiNapoli was responsible for putting together twice daily reports of when Fox Sports was mentioned by other sports news outlets. These lists were compiled and distributed to all Fox Sports’ offices in every media market, including the headquarters in Los Angeles. DiNapoli was also responsible for creating content for the company’s website. This included writing stories and media releases regarding programming and company news. He also created biographies for on-air personalities such as Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe, who appear on the hit show Shannon and Skip Undisputed.

“I’m really glad I learned the writing skills I did at Rutgers,” he says. “Every job you have, you’re always going to be writing and you’re always going to have constant communication with people.”

DiNapoli specifically mentioned the JMS course Public Relations and Information, where he learned how to write press releases, feature stories, and boilerplates. DiNapoli also praised the course Multimedia Sports Reporting taught by Part-Time Lecturer Michael McCarthy, who also writes for Sporting News and is a frequent contributor to Fox Sports. The two ended up coming into contact during DiNapoli’s time at Fox Sports.

“During the World Series, I was on a conference call with MLB players John Smoltz, Alex Rodriguez, and Frank Thomas when Professor McCarthy gets on the phone and starts asking the players questions about the Series,” notes DiNapoli, “It was so cool to hear a professor I had last semester in the action doing real sports reporting.”

DiNapoli is currently interviewing for full-time positions and feels confident that his time at Rutgers will serve him well. With his passion for sports, JMS degree and Sports Specialization, he might just be the next Bob Costas. .

How the JMS department and alumni united to honor one of their own.

By: Bryan Alcox

Miller (left) and Sullivan (right) recording “You’d Be Laughing Now,” with an image of Carr on the music stand. Credit: Donna Dior

Sean Carr was a devoted insurance reporter in Washington, D.C. when he passed away in 2014, at age 43. Throughout his life and career, Carr displayed a passion for reporting and exposing wrongdoing, and that passion was palpable in both his work and his character. “Certain people, reporting is in their blood,” said Tim Sullivan, a friend of Carr’s. “Certain people, it’s the total summation of their character, and that was Sean.”

Carr was a graduate of the Rutgers journalism program, where he met Sullivan as a peer. In their time at Rutgers, the two also forged bonds with their professor, Steven Miller, that lasted long after Carr and Sullivan graduated. Because of the close relationship, both Sullivan and Miller were affected by the loss of their friend.

Receiving the news, Jennifer Baljko, a fellow journalism student and classmate of Carr’s, stated she “felt his loss immediately.” Baljko, considering the difficulty her own family had paying college tuition, reached out to Sullivan and Miller alongside Carr’s wife, and all were in support of memorializing Carr through a scholarship.

As a result of the collaborative efforts from so many of the JMS department members, along with the help of the Rutgers Foundation, The Sean Carr Memorial Scholarship was established. “All this is indicative of how much Sean was loved,” said Miller, “and how much Sean contributed to everybody and everything.”

Carr’s contributions can be traced back to when Sullivan began writing at Rutgers in 1990, at the Cook College newspaper, The Green Print. Carr was a news editor, and became the editor in chief a year later. “He totally took me under his wing,” said Sullivan. The two forged a friendship as Sullivan began to study journalism, and both spent time at Rutgers exploring their journalistic capabilities. Sullivan recalled, for example, a collaborative investigative reporting piece on police harassment, wherein he and Carr sought out to expose RU Police Department officers with complaints against them. “There’s something very special about the people you meet in college, because the years are formative,” said Sullivan, reflecting on the effect Carr’s mentorship had on him. “Not only did he make me a better writer, he made me a bolder person.”

After finishing at Rutgers, Carr remained brave in his reporting. “It was fun listening to him question officials,” said Baljko, who also crossed paths with him professionally at The Home News Tribune in East Brunswick during the 1990s. “What I respected most was that he wouldn’t let people weasel out of answers. He had a way of getting underneath an issue, and getting people to talk to him.”

As an example, Sullivan recalls a story Carr managed to break not long after their time at school together, about a local school board committing ethics violations. Later on, during his time in Washington, Carr studied insurance as it applied to a variety of issues, from healthcare to climate change, and communicated the impact they had on both a small scale and large. Furthermore, Sullivan also recalls work Carr did surrounding problems that eventually led to the 2008 financial crisis, exploring concepts such as bad derivatives and unsecured loans. “He was smart enough to see the problems early,” said Sullivan.

Carr’s work stood out, and his death prompted those close to him to reflect on the now empty gap he had filled in the field of journalism. “Something’s been forgotten,” said Miller, also reflecting on the overall state of the field. “Journalists are supposed to serve the public, and not their pocketbook.” Miller, now the director of undergraduate studies for the JMS department, noted the importance of ethical journalism in a period when journalists face intense financial and social pressure. In order to effectively keep a democracy alive, journalists must seek out and distribute information that can be difficult to obtain. “Sean, to us, exemplified that,” said Miller. “He never stopped going after the story, and if you’re not going to honor that, what else are you going to honor?”

At the end of the summer of 2016, as Miller and Sullivan discussed how they could make appeals for the scholarship fund, Miller wrote the lyrics for a song in Carr’s honor, called, “You’d Be Laughing Now.” Sullivan and Miller were soon in agreement that a song would be the ideal way to crystallize Carr’s memory. “Music is very therapeutic,” said Sullivan, expressing the significance in the choice of medium. “Sean was a really big music fan, and he and I went to a lot of concerts together.”

Sullivan pulled in Donna Dior for the project. She’s the other member of his duo, The Monarchy. Miller played guitar. As a means of extending the goodwill imparted by the song, they created the Sean Carr Memorial Scholarship Fund GoFundMe page. There, anyone who wishes to contribute to the scholarship fund can, in turn, receive a recording of the song.

The GoFundMe page was just one in a series of efforts to contribute to the scholarship fund. After the Rutgers Foundation helped secure the fund’s founding donors, Miller also organized a fundraising concert by The Monarchs at the Cook Campus Center. Miller also took part in the concert that night, playing guitar for “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd, as a dedication to a drunken night in college when Carr told Sullivan he wanted the song played at his funeral.

Ultimately, the money raised for the scholarship will promote Carr’s core values. “I would hope that anybody that is a part of Sean’s scholarship finds the same pursuit of the truth that he did,” said Sullivan.

“I also hope the scholarship instills a sense of community and connectedness between Rutgers alum and undergraduates,” said Baljko. “I think this scholarship is a way to give back and help a few students out.”

The scholarship has already made a difference. Two have been distributed to date, a third is being awarded soon, and people are still donating to the fund. “This is a way for Sean, and what Sean did,” said Miller, “to live forever.”

If you would like to make a donation to the Sean Carr Memorial Scholarship fund, please visit

Nine days in Italy’s Most Beloved Cities

by: Grace Ibrahimian

Carly Parker has always wanted to go to Italy, so when the opportunity presented itself to take a trip as a part of her classwork while earning credits, she knew that she could not pass on the opportunity. Parker is a Junior and is a JMS student. She took part of the trip going to Italy as a part of the new class Writing the Mediterranean , however, due to religious reasons she had to travel a day earlier than the rest of the class. While wandering around Rome with nothing but a map, r came across a coffee bar. Being adventurous and feeling courageous, she decided to go behind it because she knew that there was scenery. “After going behind the coffee bar, I saw the entire city from the view of the mountain that the bar was on. You could see the beautiful Italian mountains.” Parker described her most memorable moment. Writing the Mediterranean is a once in a lifetime opportunity for JMS student.

The class is taught by Assistant Professor of Practice Mary D’Ambrosio and it is a three-credit course. It was offered in the spring 2017, While the class is not exclusive to Journalism and Media Studies majors, they get priority upon a first come first serve basis. Writing the Mediterranean is a journalism course with a reporting and writing trip to Italy’s most famous areas; Rome, Florence and the region of Tuscany, where the students can practice their reporting, interviewing, and writing skills, and it is scheduled during spring break of 2017.

The course is a part of a bigger study abroad program at the School of Communication and Information (SC&I) at Rutgers University. The program consists of five courses, with many destinations. The trip to Italy for “Writing the Mediterranean” is notably short. While most study abroad programs involve a semester or year abroad, the trip for this course lasts just nine days. Students also meet twice a week, students particularly love writing travel stories about the food, culture, and art of the region, but some have also written about politics or the environment. “The Mediterranean is my specialty. I was born there and I wrote there.” says D’Ambrosio. She feels connected to it, and is even writing a book about the Albanian Migration to Europe caused by the collapse of the Communist regime of Eastern Europe. She’s eager to pass on her knowledge to her students and offer them the same opportunities that she’s enjoyed in her career.

Students fly out together but go off on their own to complete their reporting during the day. Students are in charge of all aspects of their work, with many projects incorporating photos and videos. In the evening, students can explore the city and enjoy a few dinners where everyone meets up, including D’Ambrosio. There are plenty of other study abroad opportunities at SC&I, too. Global Journalism students travel to Bologna, Italy during the Summer, as a part of their studies in foreign correspondence as well as another course that takes you to Guatemala. Students have translators and they shoot photos as well as videos for their individual stories .

To follow the students along on their journey, you can check out their Facebook page, “Writing the Mediterranean: Italy 2017” as well as you can read their stories on the school’s biannually published magazine, Kairos, published in the fall and spring. .

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.


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.” 

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.