Alumni Tackle Hurricane Sandy

Alumni Tackle Hurricane Sandy

As Hurricane Sandy blasted through the region, CUNY J-School alumni proved their mettle in newsrooms across the city and beyond, documenting in multiple media the devastation, the individual tales of suffering and bravery, and New Yorkers’ grit in pushing forward.

Here is just a sampling of the pieces they produced – along with some of the stories behind the stories:

• Annais Morales ‘10, Elis Estrada ‘11, Jose Bayona ‘11 and Jenny Hamblett ‘11 spent a frantic week in the NY1 television newsroom covering the storm behind the scenes, putting their reporting, editing, fact-checking and producing skills to work. The work of the NY1 team, which includes anchor John Schiumo, an adjunct professor at the J-School, did not go unnoticed – The New York Times proclaimed NY1 was the station to watch throughout the storm.

“Anyone who thinks working in-house was better than being out in the elements – trust me it was just as grueling, “ said Morales. “We had no water, no food (NY1 is located in Chelsea, so no restaurants were open), very limited power, etc. Big shout out to everyone who worked during this event. It was a chance for a us to show off all the great things we learned at the CUNY J-School.”

• Alums Eleanor Miller ‘10 and Kerri MacDonald ‘10, stationed in Hong Kong with the International Herald Tribune, were trying to catch up with storm news on BBC World News when across the miles came the voice of NBC’s Katie Honan ‘10, just hours after Sandy struck.  MacDonald, a news picture editor, made sure storm photos ran on the front page for several days.

“It was a bizarre experience to watch the news unfold from the other side of the world, especially in a region where major storms seem to hit every other day. It seems that people here are baffled that a major American city could be so unprepared for this sort of thing,” MacDonald wrote.

•Honan, the social media editor for, grew up in the Rockaways and was devastated by what she was seeing on news feeds and in person. So in addition to fulfilling her regular duties at NBC, she turned her personal Twitter account into a center for information and news that became a must-read for hard-pressed Rockaway residents. Her reporting came in 140-word spurts, supplemented by contributions from friends and strangers.  “I think I’ve been helping many people with my info and for that I am grateful,” she said.

Joining Katie for long hours in the WNBC/NBC newsroom were Christina Diaz ‘11, Alcione Gonzalez ‘11, cutting video and making calls to confirm information being broadcast around the clock, and website reporter Mathew R. Warren ‘08.  Meanwhile, NBC Local Integrated Media’s national web team, headed by Daniel Macht ‘07, put in long hours helping the web teams of affected local markets in writing or editing their stories, and updating the national Sandy story for  Emily Feldman ‘09 contributed a story on the city subways for Joining them on NBC’s national web desk were Patrick Hickey ‘11, Debra Pangestu ‘11, Cathy Rainone ‘07 and Dmitry Kiper ‘08.

•Rebecca Harshbarger ‘08, working for the New York Post, chronicled the looting in the Rockaways and Coney Island in the hours after the storm receded. Her Post colleague Jessica Simeone ‘09, zeroed in on a crime spree that beset the Lower Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn communities most crippled by the storm, the chaotic evacuation of patients at Bellevue Hospital, and the heartbreaking story of the Staten Island mother whose children were pulled from her grip by powerful currents and drowned.

• Alva French ‘11 was in the AP’s Washington office, when the storm struck. She edited and scripted countless updates from ravaged communities all the way north to New York and Connecticut, while producing four-to-five video stories daily.  AP’s W. 33rd Street headquarters did not have power, so the DC office became Storm Central.  Videos Alva produced chronicled curious New Yorkers flocking to beaches as the storm bore down, the National Guard searching for survivors in a New Jersey town and the long bus lines.

• A large cohort of J-School alums covered the storm for – among them Tuan Nyguen ‘11 and Andrea Swalec ‘10, who spent two days chronicling the storm damage and recovery in the Rockaways, walking through the charred debris in Breezy Point and talking with people who were seeing their destroyed homes for the first time. They found the owner of a popular restaurant that had burned down and discovered  the family not only lost their business, they lost their son to the 9/11 attacks and had witnessed the plane crash that occurred two blocks away a couple months later.

“What we think will stick with us about reporting on the disaster is New Yorkers’ remarkable resilience and fighting spirit, no matter what tragedy strikes. We were grateful to be able to put our CUNY J-School skills to use at such a critical time,” Andrea wrote.

Patrick Wall ‘11 was the first to start covering the hardships facing residents of public housing on the Lower East Side and Chelsea. Jeanmarie Evelly ‘09 described the exodus of downtowners northward after losing power and water in the storm: “They came in a steady stream on the sidewalk along First Avenue, a line of people heading uptown clutching barely powered cellphones, lugging rolling suitcases or backpacks carrying their laptops, iPads and other gadgets.”

When Nick Rizzi ‘11 was at the J-School, he had one of the longest commutes from his home in Staten Island,  But when Sandy struck, he was perfectly situated to churn out story after story for DNAInfo about the tragic impact on his home borough. Sharing a byline on many of those stories was colleague Ben Fractenberg ‘09.  Paul DeBenedetto ‘11 was stranded in Nevada for the storm’s duration, but was able to contribute remotely, working the phones on a handful of stories.

Sherry Mazzocchi ‘10 freelanced several pieces from the Washington Heights area, including an account for DNAInfo about floodwaters hip deep outside the historic Dyckman House. She also contributed photos and interviews with storm refugees to the Manhattan Times.

•At the Five Towns, Stephen Bronner ‘07, kept his Long Island community informed by the minute on everything from where to find a shower to how to apply to FEMA aid. Igor Kossov ‘09 reported on storm-related stories while stringing for Newsday.

•WENY-TV News, the ABC/CBS station serving Elmira, Corning and Ithaca, N.Y., sent Walter Smith-Randolph ‘10 to the city two days after the storm hit his hometown.  “I was a one-man band covering a natural disaster,” Walter said. “It was tiring and it was a lot of hard work but at the end of the day, I was happy I got to come home and report on a city I know so well. I doubt I would have been able to do so if I didn’t gain these skills at the J-School.”

Among the stories he filed were profiles of the damage to his Queens neighborhood and to the Rockaways, and the blackout in lower Manhattan.

“Lugging equipment through the city, finding people to talk to and knowing lay of the land really helped in meeting daily deadlines,” Walter said.  “I also think I made quite an impact with my reporting. A lot of people commented on my station’s Facebook page about how great it was to have a local angle tell a national story.”

•At Crain’s New York Business, Andrew Hawkins, ‘07, dug into the transportation implications of the storm, its impact on the regional economy and the flood of insurance adjustors into the storm-soaked region.

•At The Bronxville Daily Voice in Westchester, Paul Bufano ‘11 kept residents updated on everything from gas shortages to the cancellation of Halloween events to where residents could recharge electronic devices to when garbage would next be picked up.

•At The New York Times, Samantha Stark ‘10 produced a video showing Red Hook residents preparing for the storm, with most determined to ride it out.

“One of the main ways I got my news during the storm was looking at my old classmates’ Facebook and Twitter feeds! Made me feel so proud,” Samantha noted.

Times colleagues Nadia Sussman ‘10 and Channon Hodge ‘11 worked nonstop to produce live video updates, often several each day –  the first time The Times has produced live video updates during such a large breaking news event.

•Across the river in Newark, Eliot Caroom, ‘08, reports the Star Ledger was posting a story on 1 million New Jerseyans out of power when the lights went out in the newsroom.

As the paper’s utility reporter, Eliot said, “I’ve gone from huge power switching stations on the banks for the Passaic River in Newark to downed 2-inch-thick transmission lines in mountainous Warren, N.J.  While I have worked long days, it’s been a rush.  There’s been a huge amount of camaraderie here at the Ledger as we moved from hotel to hotel, publishing remotely.”

•Henry Stewart ‘07, donned a bicycle helmet for protection from falling trees as he photographed the destruction in Bay Ridge for Brooklyn Magazine just before, during, and after the storm.

•Colby Hamilton ‘11 and Dan Tucker ‘11 took to the air on WNYC to give updates.

•Mirva Lempiainen ‘09 provided storm coverage for several papers in Finland, while Ines Bebea ‘10, working for France24 in Paris, tracked down Danny Gold ‘10, and put him on the French airwaves directly from a shelter on Staten Island.  Gold had spent the week on friends’ couches and in hotels while working 14-hour days freelancing the storm for The Wall Street Journal.  How did she know he was there? His tweets.

•Daily News staffers Shane Dixon Kavanaugh ‘10, Barry Paddock ‘07, and Mark Morales ‘09 shrugged off being flooded out of the Daily News’ South Ferry headquarters and kept right on with their reporting, sharing the byline on this story about the storm’s destruction. Mark’s striking photo of a Far Rockaway resident protecting his home with a bow and arrow and the accompanying story he co-wrote on the crime spree following the storm in the Rockaways became the News’ most-read story of the day.