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SPJ 2022 Diversity Fellows announced


Lou Harry, SPJ Manager of Publications and Awards, 317-920-4786,
Zoë Berg, SPJ Communications Specialist, 317-920-4785,

INDIANAPOLIS — The Dori Maynard Diversity Leadership Program 2022 Diversity Fellows are Stephanie Casanova, Jordan Gass-Pooré, Wilton Jackson, Lori Lizarraga, Narda Pérez, Leslie Rangel, Michelle Watson and Saraya Wintersmith. This program aims to open minds and open doors in newsrooms around the country by giving fellows the opportunity to see first-hand how the Society of Professional Journalists works and what it has to offer.

The fellows will attend MediaFest22 in Washington, D.C., Oct. 27-30, where they will have access to networking events, meet SPJ leaders at the national and local levels and interact with other leaders in journalism who are making an impact in areas of diversity, equity and inclusion.

“The Diversity Leadership Program fellowship is named after the late Dori J. Maynard. She was a strong champion of diversity in journalism,” said SPJ National President Rebecca Aguilar. “I am confident she would be proud of the SPJ Diversity Leadership program we have today that provides journalists of diverse backgrounds the tools and know-how they need to survive and thrive in the news business."

Maynard was an SPJ Foundation Board member beginning in 1999. In 2001, she was named an SPJ Fellow of the Society. Maynard was well-known for tirelessly working to ensure diversity in the newsroom. She challenged the news media to look at themselves and what she called “distorted coverage of communities of color” when covering America’s ongoing racial struggles and the impact it has on the country.

“It's encouraging to know that we continue to advance Dori Maynard’s vision for diversity and inclusion by selecting this year’s journalists to participate in the SPJ Diversity Leadership Fellowship,” said SPJ Diversity & Inclusion Committee Chair Eleanore Vega. “We have eight excellent fellows from all over the country who will benefit greatly from this program.”

Stephanie Casanova is a criminal justice and breaking news reporter at the Chicago Tribune. Starting her career in 2014, she's been a reporter and copy editor for local newspapers in South Dakota, Kansas and Arizona. Casanova has participated in SPJ's Future Leaders Academy and mentored college students in SPJ's Student Leadership Institute. She is a Maynard 200 alumni, a Maynard Institute for Journalism Education training program for journalists of color that focuses on making newsrooms more equitable, diverse and anti-racist. Casanova is a Spanish-speaking bilingual journalist passionate about inclusive storytelling and reflects the diversity of the communities she covers.

Jordan Gass-Pooré is an award-winning podcast producer and investigative journalist with more than a decade of journalism experience. Presently, Gass-Pooré is the creator, producer, reporter and host of “Hazard NJ,” a limited-series podcast about the impacts of climate change on hazardous Superfund sites in New Jersey. “Hazard NJ” is a production of NJ Spotlight News, the news division of NJ PBS, and is the outlet’s first podcast. Prior to this, she was a producer with CNN’s podcasts, “Chasing Life” and “Coronavirus: Fact vs Fiction,” both hosted by Sanjay Gupta.

Wilton Jackson II is a writer for Sports Illustrated who covers breaking news in sports and writes features and columns. Previously Jackson was a breaking and trending reporter for The Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi. He covered crime, education, business, features and COVID-19. He also covered college and high school sports in the Jackson metro area. Jackson is also an adjunct journalism professor and has a master’s degree from Louisiana State University. He is a member of SPJ, the National Association of Black Journalists, where he has served in previous leadership roles, and a proud member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.

Lori Lizarraga is an Ecuadorian-Mexican-American journalist and a Murrow and Emmy-awarded reporter. Her news journey began in her home state of Texas and has since taken her to California, Colorado and on international assignment to Ecuador. In 2021, Lizarraga’s reporting on diversity in the news forced into effect new standards of immigration coverage in newsrooms across the country. She is now based in Philadelphia where she continues her work as a community journalist and podcast producer.

Narda Pérez is an audience development strategist at The New York Times' Wirecutter, where she focuses on social strategy. She graduated in 2019 from the University of Texas at Arlington with degrees in broadcast communications and public relations. Before Wirecutter, Pérez was on the audience team at The Dallas Morning News. She has previously served on the board of DFW Hispanic Communicators, the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Leslie Rangel is the co-anchor of “Good Day Austin” at Fox 7. The award-winning journalist is a former crime reporter at KXAN News has also worked at KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City and KFDM News in Beaumont, Texas. Rangel has been recognized for her work by the Texas Associated Press of Broadcasters. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in broadcast journalism and in Spanish language teaching. She is also a registered yoga teacher.

Michelle Watson is a national news editor for CNN's national newsgathering team. Before joining CNN's national desk, Watson worked to vet and research stories for The Row, CNN's editorial judgment body. Since joining CNN in 2017, Watson has played a role in many major stories for CNN, including the network's coverage of the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Irma after it made landfall and the tragic shooting deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. She also worked with CNN's political team fact-checking the 2020 presidential election.

Saraya Wintersmith covers Boston City Hall for GBH News. Before that, she covered the Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan neighborhoods, focusing on how people live and the issues that shaped those communities. Prior to joining GBH News, Wintersmith worked as a statehouse reporter, producing radio and television stories for WCVE-TV, now VPM Media Corporation, in Richmond, Virginia. Wintersmith holds a journalism degree from Howard University.

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