Journalism Speakers Forum

Spring 2021

All sessions at 7 p.m. at

Made possible with funds from the Norman Eberly Professor of Practice in Journalism

  • March 9"In Search of the Elusive" / Lynn Johnson
    Lynn Johnson headshotABOUT THE TALK: Lynn Johnson will share her experiences documenting the human condition around the world and how she approaches finding and then telling the stories of people and communities in often difficult circumstances.
    ABOUT LYNN: Lynn Johnson photographs the human condition. A regular contributor to National Geographic, Johnson is known for finding beauty and meaning in elusive, difficult subjects — threatened languages, zoonotic disease, rape in the military ranks, the power of cannabis. At National Geographic Photo Camps, she helps at-risk youth around the world find their creative voices. At Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, she developed a mentoring program that challenges master’s students to push past their comfort levels in pursuit of the story’s truth, frame by frame. Johnson has also worked for LIFE and Sports Illustrated and published 37 feature stories in National Geographic Magazine. She is the recipient of numerous awards including the Robert F. Kennedy Award and was a Pulitzer finalist on two occasions.
  • March 16"Telling Stories with Comics" / John Derf Backderf
    John Derf Backderf headshotABOUT THE TALK: A deep dive into Derf's process, from conception to research to writing and drawing his award-winning graphic novels.
    ABOUT JOHN: Comics creator Derf Backderf was born and raised in a small Ohio town outside of Akron, the son of a chemist and homemaker. At age 8, he discovered comic books at the town’s corner drug store and that was pretty much that. After a brief stint at art school, he dropped out and worked on the back of a garbage truck, an experience that was the basis for his comix project, TRASHED. He attended Ohio State University on a journalism scholarship and was a political cartoonist for the student paper, The Lantern, for three years. Derf began his professional career as a political cartoonist for a paper in South Florida, but was fired after two years for, as the editor put it, “general tastlessness.” In 1990, his freeform comic strip THE CITY debuted in the Cleveland Edition, beginning a 24-year run. THE CITY appeared in nearly 150 weekly papers around the country, including The Village Voice, and won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for political satire in 2008. When weekly papers began to fail, Derf abandoned strips for books. His first graphic novel, PUNK ROCK & TRAILER PARKS (SLG Publishing, 2009), a bawdy fictional account of the punk rock scene in Akron, Ohio, was cited by Booklist as "one of the stand-out graphic novels of the year." It became a bestseller in France after its 2014 release and was awarded the Prix Bulles Zik literary prize. Derf's most famous graphic novel is MY FRIEND DAHMER (Abrams Comicarts, 2012), the haunting account of his teenage friendship with the future serial killer. It has been hailed as one of the finest graphic novels in recent memory by Slate, Publishers Weekly, USA Today, Kirkus Reviews, Le Monde, El Mundo, The Guardian and many more. Time magazine listed it as one of the five best non-fiction books of the year.
    His next graphic novel, TRASHED (Abrams Comicarts, 2016), inspired by his garbage truck career, won an Eisner Award and was named book-of-the-year by the Green Party of France. TRASHED is also in development as a film project. His latest book is KENT STATE: FOUR DEAD IN OHIO (Abrams Comicarts, 2020). The Library Journal calls it “Incendiary. Required reading for all Americans.” It was named book-of-the-year by Publisher’s Weekly and Forbes magazine. KENT STATE was awarded the French critic’s prize and has been nominated for an Angoulême Prize. Backderf has also been nominated for multiple Eisner and Ignatz Awards, as well as Harvey and Reuben Awards. The Derf Collection, comprised of 34 years of original art and papers, was established in The Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum at Ohio State University in 2009. Derf lives in Cleveland, for reasons he can no longer remember.
  • March 23"Lies My Profession Taught Me" / Ken Armstrong
    Ken Armstrong headshotABOUT THE TALK: Here’s what journalism used to instill in people just starting out: Compete! Always compete! (It makes our work better.) Never let people know what you’re working on before you publish. (Because, you know, the competition might find out.) Stay in your lane. (Whatever your specialty, do that.) Oh, and every story needs a nut graph. It’s all rubbish.
    ABOUT KEN: Ken Armstrong is a reporter at ProPublica. Before that he worked at the Marshall Project. Before that he worked at newspapers in Seattle, Chicago, Virginia, Alaska, New York, California, Idaho and Colorado. He’s won Pulitzer Prizes for investigative reporting (2012) and explanatory reporting (2016), and shared in two staff Pulitzers for breaking news (2015, 2010). He’s done some radio (This American Life), some Netflix (consultant/producer for “Unbelievable,” a dramatized series based on a story he co-wrote), some magazine work (The New Yorker), the occasional book and a little teaching as a visiting professor at Princeton. At the Chicago Tribune he co-wrote a series on the death penalty that helped prompt the Illinois governor to halt executions and later empty death row. His weirdest job? Selling snails in Germany. Worst job? Selling vacuum cleaners in Indiana. After graduating from Purdue he went to law school, dropped out, joined the Peace Corps, and dropped out of that. Journalism used to welcome dropouts, so he went into journalism. In 2009 he received the John Chancellor Award from Columbia University for lifetime achievement, and in 2018 he received an honorary doctorate from Purdue, which he rushed to accept before the university could discover its mistake.
  • March 30"How to Tell a Story When You Don't Know Who's Listening" / Leon Neyfakh
    Leon Neyfakh headshotABOUT THE TALK: The hardest part of communicating with a wide audience — whether you're working in print or audio — is making yourself legible to people with varying levels of preexisting knowledge. If you want to tell a story that is both surprising and clear (but never confusing or boring), and you want to reach a diverse range of people, you have to make certain guesses about what will strike people as novel vs. familiar, what they will need help understanding, and what common reference points you can assume. In this talk, podcast producer Leon Neyfakh explains his approach to walking this tightrope.
    ABOUT LEON: Leon Neyfakh is the host of Fiasco, co-creator of Slow Burn, and founder of Prologue Projects, an independent podcast studio. Prior to working in audio, he was a reporter for Slate, the Boston Globe, and the New York Observer. He is the author of the book, "The Next Next Level."
  • April 6 — TBA
  • April 13"Both Sides of the Camera" / Rosalind Pichardo and Tony Heriza"
    : Community activist and educator Rosalind Pichardo and documentary filmmaker Tony Heriza will talk about the relationship of journalists and documentarians to their subjects when telling the stories of marginalized communities. What is the role of the journalist? What is their responsibility? How does it feel to have your life reported, photographed and documented? Reporters need to consider their purpose when choosing to tell these stories and how should the consent of a subject be addressed? What is the intersection of truth and fairness and responsibility?
    Rosalind Pichardo headshotABOUT ROSALIND: Rosalind Pichardo is an activist, educator, and survivor whose life has been deeply and irrevocably touched by gun violence. She survived an attempted homicide in the early 90s, and shortly after, her boyfriend Talvird Jackson was murdered. She later lost her twin sister Kathleen in 2001 to suicide by a firearm, and her brother Alexander Martinez to murder in 2012. In response to these personal tragedies and the rising homicide rates in her community, Rosalind founded Operation Save Our City in 2012. She works primarily with the mothers and sisters of homicide victims to advocate for justice in police work and criminal investigation, and for the legislation of stronger gun control laws. Rosalind and members of the group go door-to-door when a crime remains unsolved, handing out flyers and gathering anonymous tips, and provides weekly support groups.
    Pichardo works at Prevention Point Philadelphia as the Community Engagement Team's Lead Educator, and has reversed more than 560 opioid overdoses on the trains and streets of Philadelphia. She also works for the DEA as a Facilitator of Art and programming for the Youth suffering from trauma.
    Tony Heriza headshotABOUT TONY: Tony Heriza is a writer, teacher and documentary filmmaker with a lifetime commitment to the power of media to spark social change. He is a member-owner of New Day Films, a filmmaker-owned distribution cooperative. Until 2017, he was the Director of Media Production at the American Friends Service Committee, where he facilitated national and international communication projects, including digital storytelling workshops on a range of social issues. Continuing that work, he recently led a storytelling project with Iraq war vets and Iraqi refugees exploring their recovery from the trauma of war. He is currently working on a new documentary about art as a healing intervention in opioid addiction. Tony has taught media production at Rutgers University and the University of Pennsylvania and has twice been chosen as a filmmaker envoy for the State Department’s American Film Showcase.
  • April 20 — TBA


  • Regina Boone, photojournalist, Richmond Free Press (Sept. 8, 2020) LINK
  • Eric Maierson, Emmy Award-winning video editor and producer (Sept. 15, 2020) LINK
    (Links to the videos Eric discusses in his talk can be found in the chat.)
  • Erin Clark, Pulitzer Prize-nominated photojournalist, Boston Globe (Sept. 22, 2020) LINK
  • Jason Hehir, Emmy Award-winning director/producer (Sept. 23, 2020) LINK
  • Madeleine Baran, investigative reporter, "In the Dark" podcast (Sept. 30, 2020) LINK
  • Lisa Wilson, editorial director, The Athletic (Oct. 1, 2020) LINK
  • Tara Pixley, photojournalist/filmmaker (Oct. 6, 2020) LINK
  • Kainaz Amaria and Gene Demby, visual editor, Vox (Amaria); cohost/correspondent, NPR (Demby) (Oct. 7, 2020) LINK
  • Susan Snyder, higher education reporter, The Philadelphia Inquirer (Oct. 14, 2020) LINK
  • Nancy Armour, columnist, USATODAY Sports (Oct. 19, 2020) LINK
  • Daniella Zalcman, documentary photographer (Oct. 28, 2020) LINK
  • Michael Santiago, photojournalist, and Alexis Johnson, Pittsburgh-based journalist (Nov. 11, 2020) LINK
  • Tom Brenner, Washington, D.C.-based photojournalist (Nov. 18, 2020) LINK
  • Dan Victor ('06), The New York Times (Feb. 10, 2021) LINK 
  • Andrew McGill ('10), POLITICO (Feb. 17, 2021) LINK
  • Ariel Cobbert, photojournalist (Feb. 23, 2021) LINK
  • Ben Garvin, documentary filmmaker/journalist (March 2, 2021) LINK