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15 diverse news professionals to receive coaching for projects on revenue, readership and policy through the Emerging Leaders Council

May 26, 2022

The Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) welcomes the 2022 Emerging Leaders Council. Now in its fifth year, the Council recognizes executives and managers at INN member organizations who have the potential to reinvent news and lead our field for decades to come. The new cohort of 15 individuals will launch ambitious and transformative revenue, readership and policy projects with support from experts in leadership, audience and philanthropy — and join a highly supportive network of their peers.

“Everyone brings different skill sets and areas of expertise to leadership, and everyone has areas where they want to evolve to better serve their audiences and make their organization more sustainable, ” said Sara Shahriari, director of leadership and talent development at INN. “The magic of this group is how leaders and coaches — many of whom are also INN members — connect to create tangible positive impacts and elevate one another as leaders.”

The Emerging Leaders Council is for full-time staff at INN member organizations, and this year’s cohort is the largest yet.

“The nonprofit news field is growing, and it’s exciting to see the leaders shaping its future,“ said Courtney Hurtt, chief of growth programs at INN. “This program is a way to provide them with the support to grow as individuals who will not only make change within their current newsrooms, but also across the broader industry in years to come.”

The Emerging Leaders Council launched in 2017 to identify, connect, retain and support diverse leaders who will innovate and grow nonprofit news. This program uses 1-1 coaching and dynamic group conversations to advance leadership, management and business skills over the course of the four-month program. Participants then apply their skills by designing and launching a project for their news organization. Previous participants have launched successful fundraising campaigns, been promoted to more senior roles and built new equity initiatives in their organizations.

Read about 2021 emerging leader Yukari Kane’s audience engagement project here

Emerging Leaders Councils are made possible by the generous support of the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, Knight Foundation and INN’s general support funders.

About the 2022 emerging leaders

Miriam Valverde is a deputy editor at PolitiFact. Previously, she fact-checked claims about immigration, public policy and COVID-19 as a PolitiFact staff writer. Miriam led the development and launch of the Poynter Institute’s MediaWise en Español, a digital media literacy program that teaches Spanish speakers in the United States how to spot misinformation online. Miriam reported for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Bradenton Herald, the Boston Globe and a Boston Spanish-language publication, El Planeta. She graduated from Emerson College with a major in journalism and minor in business studies.

Angela Saavedra is the audience development leader at El Paso Matters, where she focuses on social, newsletter and digital strategy. She has worked as a photographer, social media strategist and multimedia journalist on the border of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. She is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso.

Kassie Kelly oversees The Texas Tribune‘s membership program, which has become a national model for membership across nonprofit news organizations. Kassie has a keen sense for connecting readers with the Tribune’s impactful journalism and moving them to give. Before the Tribune, she managed the membership program at the San Antonio Report, where she oversaw the program’s doubling in size, collaborated with the newsroom to expand audience engagement with editorial products, and contributed to grant writing, major donor engagement and corporate relations. She is a graduate of Trinity University, a small liberal arts university in San Antonio. 

Safeena Dhalla is the Director of Operations and Impact at The Narwhal, where she is focused on building an inclusive organization, developing new leaders, and growing the impact of The Narwhal’s journalism. Prior to The Narwhal, Safeena was the Head of Growth for MobSquad, a social impact startup tackling the US immigration crisis, where she sat on the executive leadership team and was responsible for the organization’s business development and growth. Previously, she managed global accounts such as Amazon and TripAdvisor in London, U.K., working with C-level leadership to set brand strategy and oversee large-scale production of award winning campaigns. Safeena holds a BCom with Honours from the University of British Columbia.

Emily Churchill serves as the director of operations at Religion News Service, where she manages audience development, membership, product and web efforts and works closely with the editorial team, including interns. She has worked at RNS since 2018. Prior to RNS, she worked at a number of think tanks and academic centers focusing on religion. Emily is a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Religion program and University of Virginia’s College of Arts and Science. 

Cassie Young is from Columbus, Ohio and has master’s degrees in social work and public policy from Ohio State University. She has worked in the child support program for a decade, running research trials to improve government programs to work better for people. She co-founded and runs Grey Matter Media and Matter News, as well as Cloud City, a multimedia festival business. 

Will Schick is the editor-in-chief of Street Sense Media, a weekly “street paper” based in Washington, D.C. He previously served as an accountability reporter for both Street Sense Media and The D.C. Line in 2021 as a Poynter-Koch Media and Journalism Fellow. He has an MFA in creative writing from American University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in journalism at New York University. Prior to becoming a journalist, Will served for 11 years in the Marine Corps. 

Tanner Curl has been executive director for MinnPost since July of 2020, leading the organization’s strategy, management and revenue development. Previously, he served as MinnPost’s development director and oversaw the dramatic increase of the organization’s philanthropic revenue. Before MinnPost, Tanner worked at the Loft Literary Center, a nonprofit based in Minneapolis, where his focus was on individual giving and events. Tanner has been active in the arts and serves on the board of Umbrella Collective, a nonprofit theater. He lives in south Minneapolis with his wife and daughter.

Bevin Christie is News 414’s project manager. She is a social entrepreneur and community organizer, with a background in education and workforce development. Throughout her career, Bevin has partnered with a variety of industries, public/private schools, community based organizations and the Milwaukee community to build upon a belief that a culture of healing, diversity, equity, and inclusion is key to Milwaukee being a better place to thrive not just to survive. 

Dan Weissmann is the creator and host of An Arm and a Leg, a podcast about why health care costs so much and what we can maybe do about it — the winner of a 2022 Ambie Award — produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News. In 2021, An Arm and a Leg launched the First Aid Kit newsletter, summing up practical lessons from the show’s reporting. Previously, Dan was a staff reporter for public radio’s Marketplace and Chicago’s WBEZ. His work appears in outlets like 99 Percent Invisible, Planet Money, Reveal, Code Switch and NPR News.

Shazdeh Omari is director of development at Global Press. She previously worked for a decade at the Committee to Protect Journalists and, prior to that, as copy chief for The Village Voice in New York. Omari was born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Karachi, Pakistan, where she learned to read, speak and write Urdu.

Deana Balinton is the Civic Partnerships Manager of El Tímpano, an award-winning civic media organization designed for and with the Bay Area’s Latino and Mayan immigrant communities. Deana was born and raised in the East Bay, where she has spent the majority of her career in the nonprofit field. Prior to joining El Tímpano, she was Northern California Area Manager for Self-Help Federal Credit Union. Deana sits on the Board of Directors of a local community health nonprofit. She is married to her partner of 20 years and has two children. In her free time she coaches high school basketball.

Ryan Sorrell is the founding editor of The Kansas City Defender. He has a diverse background including working at one of the nation’s most esteemed Black think tanks, one of Chicago’s top B2B Tech PR agencies, a top 3 global PR firm, and founding the largest Black digital media platform in Missouri and Kansas. During his professional career he worked on brands such as Facebook, Samsung, Amazon and Google. He has engaged in a number of public talks including; NPR, PBS, a KC Art Institute Lecture, University of the Arts London as well as the T-Mobile Speaker Series.

Keri Mitchell launched Dallas Free Press in early 2020 with the belief that all neighborhoods deserve reporting and storytelling that values their community and holds leaders accountable. She cut her teeth at daily newspapers in the exurbs of Houston, then spent 15 years dedicated to community and civic journalism at Dallas’ Advocate magazines. Dallas Free Press was named “2021’s ‘New Publisher of the Year’ by Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers for ‘being truly rooted in community and public service … starting from a place of community listening, meeting real information needs and centering equity.'”

Jacob Fries is executive director of InvestigateWest. Previously, Fries spent more than a decade leading the Inlander, a Spokane-based weekly paper covering the Inland Northwest that’s become a regional powerhouse for narrative and accountability reporting. A Pacific Northwest native, he also worked as a reporter at the Tampa Bay Times and the New York Times, and his work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Seattle Times, the Denver Post, and the Boston Globe

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