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Newhouse School awards first fellowships for freelance legal reporting

October 09, 2008

Wendy S. Loughlin
(315) 443-2785

Wendy S. Loughlin

Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications has announced the first round of winners in the Carnegie/Newhouse School Legal Reporting Fellowships. The new fellowship program supports freelance journalists reporting on legal issues, awarding four of them $3,000 each and providing Newhouse journalism students as paid research assistants.

"We were impressed and gratified by the response from so many journalist applicants," says Mark Obbie, director of the Newhouse School's Carnegie Legal Reporting Program and an associate professor of magazine journalism. "Proposals came from around the country, focused on a wide range of legal issues and offered a rich variety of enterprising projects that will benefit both the public and our students."

The four fellowship winners for the 2008-09 academic year are:

  • Jim Edwards of Jersey City, N.J., who is researching a Web-based project to survey judicial conflicts of interest;
  • Chandra R. Thomas of Atlanta, whose project focuses on the mass incarceration of the untreated mentally ill;
  • Anita Wadhwani of Nashville, who is working on a prospective series that examines the way family courts handle allegations of domestic violence in child custody disputes; and
  • Sharon Weinberger of Washington, D.C., whose project will examine a legally murky intersection between ethics and fraud in military contracting.

The fellowships are open to freelance journalists working in any medium who can demonstrate the need for a grant to subsidize their reporting and research expenses. The winners were chosen by a panel of experienced journalists and legal experts at the Newhouse School and the SU College of Law.

In addition, six Newhouse journalism majors have been chosen to serve as the legal reporting fellows' research assistants. They will be paid a stipend to perform research and reporting work under the supervision of the working reporters and Newhouse School faculty.

"This was our chief motivation in creating this program," Obbie says. "Teaching is our highest priority-and, in this case, teaching quality legal reporting. By pairing our students with professionals, we give our students practical experience that goes beyond what they can do as reporters and editors on campus."

The student research assistants are:

  • Melanie Hicken, a senior newspaper journalism, history and political science major from Stevenson Ranch, Calif.;
  • Timothy Martinez Jr., a senior newspaper journalism and political science major from Alhambra, Calif.;
  • Jamie Munks, a senior newspaper journalism and political science major from Granby, Conn.;
  • Kristen Putch, a senior newspaper journalism and history major from Ilion, N.Y.;
  • Cynthia Schweigert, a senior broadcast journalism and political science major from Cuba City, Wis.; and
  • Claire Zillman, a senior newspaper journalism and history major from Maywood, Ill.

Obbie says the school will decide in early 2009 whether to continue the program in the 2009-10 year with a new round of applications and awards.

The Carnegie/Newhouse School Legal Reporting Fellowships are part of the Newhouse School's Carnegie Legal Reporting Program. Supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corp. of New York and its Carnegie Journalism Initiative, the program provides a number of services designed to teach students about the workings of the American legal system and the role of the news media in covering the law. Additional funding for this year's fellowships is provided by SU's Institute for the Study of the Judiciary, Politics and the Media.

For more information, contact Obbie at (315) 443-2848 or mjobbie@syr.edu, or see http://newhouse.syr.edu/legal.

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