Newhouse alumna becomes Fortune’s first female editor in chief

Alyson Shontell
Alyson Shontell ’08

When Alyson Shontell ’08 was approached about becoming the new editor in chief of Fortune, she wasn’t looking for a new job. 

She was less than a week away from her second child’s birth and loved her job as editor in chief of Insider. However, as she heard more about the role and new challenges she would face, Shontell got more enthusiastic about the opportunity. 

It was exciting not only to lead a legacy print publication like Fortune into the digital era but also to become the first female editor in chief in the publication’s 92-year history. 

“I was excited about my other job, but I’ve been doing it for five years, so it was just a new chance to take what I had learned and apply it in a great way to really help another organization,” Shontell says. “That was extremely compelling, and having the chance to join Fortune is an incredible opportunity, so who could ultimately say no to that?”

Shontell has made a career of searching out opportunities to develop and use her skills in new ways and saying yes to the more compelling and sometimes riskier career choice. 

She came to Syracuse with a passion for the magazine world but chose a dual major in psychology and advertising. While at the time it was her dream job to work at Condé Nast, she thought if she could use an advertising degree to get an understanding of the business aspect of media, she could work anywhere in the media industry.

Amy Falkner, associate professor of advertising and senior associate dean of academic affairs, remembers teaching Shontell in achallenging class on media sales. While most of the students who took the class were seniors, Shontell was a junior. Falkner says Shontell stood out immediately for her leadership abilities, creativity and eagerness to learn. Those qualities and Shontell’s natural “nose for business” were a rare combination to see in a student, Falkner says. 

“I could see this kid is doing something different. I don’t know what her path is, but it’s not going to be an agency in New York City on Madison Ave, it’s going to be something different,” Falkner says. “When you have the smarts and can earn the respect, that helps you lead. If you also have a leadership style that people gravitate to, then that’s the package, and that’s what she has.”

From the beginning of her time at Newhouse, Shontell was determined to develop a successful career. She applied for a very competitive internship at Condé Nast the summer before her senior year. She didn’t have any connections at the company, so she designed her résumé, portfolio and cover letter to mimic a Condé Nast magazines in order to stand out. She got the internship and thought she was going to stay at Condé Nast and work up to her dream job. 

However when her mentor at Condé Nast, Julie Hanson, outlined the business problems print publications were facing and offered Shontell a position at a digital media startup, Shontell took a leap of faith and said yes. The risk paid off. Shontell was the sixth employee of what is now known as Insider.

“Being on the ground floor of a budding industry like that at a startup where I could really help figure out what this new media could look like became a far bigger opportunity than I could have ever imagined,” Shontell says. “As the company scaled, my career scaled with it… suddenly I was the foremost expert in digital because nobody had more experience in it than I did.”

Shontell spent her first two years at Insider working on the business side of the startup before shifting to reporting. She quickly developed a beat covering Silicon Valley and worked as a senior technology correspondent for almost four years before becoming an executive editor. 

When the founder and first editor in chief of Insider left for a job at CNBC Digital, Shontell knew that other journalists with prestigious awards and longer careers would be applying to fill his position, but she didn’t let that dampen her ambition.

“I always knew I wanted to run a newsroom. So when I saw that seat open, I did an assessment of myself, looked around the room to see who else might be in the running and figured, why not throw my hat in the ring? I wasn’t the perfect candidate, but then, who would be? Sometimes you wait until you feel like you checked every box, but I figured, what do I have to lose?”

Shontell was chosen to be the editor in chief of Insider after only a year and a half as an executive editor, making her both the youngest and first female editor in chief of an international business publication. In her time in that role, the newsroom changed drastically and faced a lot of challenges, including introducing a subscription service, doubling the staff and expanding coverage. Now she is leading Fortune through one of its biggest changes from a print-first publication to a digital-first publication with a print component. 

“I am compelled by the idea of revitalizing such a storied brand,” Shontell says. “They do incredible journalism at Fortune, they always have, and it’s why they have the reputation that they have, but I know that there are things that I bring to the table that could significantly help bring it into the digital era.”

Shontell knows the change will be a challenge, but she is excited for it. As for being the first female editor in chief at Fortune, Shontell says it just motivates her more to succeed.

“I am the first, but I am certainly not the last,” Shontell says. “There are many others that will come after me.”

Falkner has been following Shontell’s career closely since she left Newhouse and has always had confidence Shontell was on the path to something bigger.

“Some people say, ‘Why me?’ or, ‘Why did I get this?’ Others say, ‘Why not me? Of course I can do this.’ That’s a big difference, right? That’s Alyson: ‘Why not me? I can do this,’” Falkner says. 

Elizabeth Kauma is a senior in the magazine program at the Newhouse School.

Class Notes: December 2021

90s

Rich Hollenberg ’93, sportscaster at ESPN, launched his new media coach business.


00s

Annette Borger G’01, president of Integral Communications, Inc., received a 2021 League Excellence Award from the League for Innovation.

Weijia Jiang G’06 received an Exceptional Journalism Award from the Women’s Media Center.


10s

Brian Dawson ’11 was part of the National Geographic team that worked on the nominated documentary “The First Wave,” which looks at healthcare workers fighting COVID-19 at one of New York City’s hardest hit hospitals.

Drew Jordan G’14, motion designer with The New York Times, was part of the team that worked on the nominated film “Day of Rage,” a documentary about the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot.

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye ’16 was named editor of Indian Country Today, becoming the first woman chief news executive for the 40-year-old newspaper and website.

Lauren Anderson ’17 joined CNN+ as a producer.


20s

Ricky Sayer ’21 accepted a position with LEX 18 News in Lexington, Kentucky as a reporter/multimedia journalist.

Two documentaries on Oscars shortlist have Newhouse alumni connection

This year’s list of Academy Award nominees for Best Documentary Short includes two films worked on by Newhouse School alumni.

Drew Jordan G’14, motion designer with The New York Times, was part of the team that worked on the nominated film “Day of Rage,” a documentary about the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot.

Independent filmmaker Brian Dawson ’11 was part of the National Geographic team that worked on the nominated documentary “The First Wave,” which looks at healthcare workers fighting COVID-19 at one of New York City’s hardest hit hospitals.

Jordan is a graduate of the master’s program in multimedia, photography and design, and Dawson is a graduate of the bachelor’s program in photography.

Jessica Merten G’21

Jessica Merten graduated from the Newhouse School with a Media and Education Master in ’21. While at Newhouse, she developed her passions for content creation while working on her capstone about disability representation in children’s media. Now, she works as both a professor and a content creator part time.

“Newhouse showed me that you cannot limit yourself to one passion because you never know where you will end up.”
Jessica Merten ’21

How did you obtain your current position, and what positions did you hold before it?

After searching for what seemed like forever, applying to job after job, I found my Brand Content Marketing Internship on LinkedIn. Even though I graduated with a Media and Education Masters, I have always wanted to work with branded content, so I thought, why not? I obtained my other positions as a Social Media Marketing and Strategist for Tasia Valenza and an adjunct professor at Marist College teaching a Digital Toolbox class through recommendation from one of my Newhouse Professors. Making connections with your professors can lead to amazing things!

What’s an average day like for you on the job?

I currently work from home, so each morning I wake up and go get a coffee. I then sit at my desk and usually start with a one-hour meeting with my coworkers discussing what needs to be done. I am either planning, creating, or editing. What I love about my day is if I am at a standstill, I can rely on my coworkers to help me with ideas and suggestions.

Collaboration in my position is key! After I finish up that job, I meet with my other boss to discuss the social media posts for the week. I create, edit and post daily for her as well! Then it is time to relax!

How do you feel Newhouse prepared you for your current job?

Newhouse not only got me one of my positions, but the level of education I got through Newhouse prepared me for any situation. I love the variety of content I learned to create through Newhouse. I am able to create branded content, then flip the switch and create social media posts for an entirely different industry. On top of it all, I still put work into my Capstone project for children’s media. I obtained the skills to work in almost any part of the industry through Newhouse.

Did Newhouse open your eyes to new professions or aspects of your field you may have not considered when applying?

I came into this school wanting to be a film teacher. However, as I took more classes and discussed with more professors, I found that I have more passions than just teaching. I love social media, so why not work there? I am passionate about disability representation in children’s media, so why not pursue that? Newhouse showed me that you cannot limit yourself to one passion because you never know where you will end up. And no matter where you end up, you will end up successful.

What unique features of your graduate program drew you to it in the first place?

My program was the only program like it in the country. Newhouse itself is a well-known school that has unlimited capabilities. The professors are professionals from the industry who want to help and love their students. The connections and education you receive from Newhouse are unobtainable at any other university.

What are some obstacles or misconceptions about your field that students ought to be aware of?

People say that you will never make it in the film industry and it is almost impossible to get into. However, this is not true! There are limitless possibilities of how you can succeed in this industry, especially with the help of Newhouse professors. The media industry is booming and is not going to stop. You will get a job, you will succeed, and you will end up in your dream position. All you have to do is keep up your good work and passion.

What moments in your career have been most exciting or defining thus far?

One of the most exciting parts of my career is seeing content I wrote, filmed, and edited published on my company’s site. I have made content and posted it on my website, but seeing my content on a page which people are constantly visiting is a feeling like no other.

What advice do you have for current or incoming students?

Take advantage of every opportunity Newhouse has to offer. Work on student films and the Orange TV Network, and take what classes interest you. Take advantage of the small amount of time you have at Newhouse, it will get you far in the future. Take any one of Shaina Holmes’ classes, they are work but they are fun and so worth it. Chase Clifford-Manley is also amazing not only as a professor, but as a mentor. Finally, Professor Comstock will help bring your short films to their best.

From student manager to ESPN reporter: alumnus reunites with famed former Orangeman Carmelo Anthony

Dave McMenamin
Dave McMenamin ’05

Newhouse alumnus Dave McMenamin ’05 was a student manager for the Syracuse men’s basketball team in 2003, the year famed player Carmelo Anthony led the Orange to the NCAA national championship.

The pair crossed paths again in September, when Anthony signed a one-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, which McMenamin covers for ESPN. “The fun part about this season so far for me is that I’m getting to know Carmelo as a man, not a kid,” McMenamin says.

We sat down with McMenamin to talk about the ’03 championship campaign, his journey to ESPN and the things he loves most about his profession.

How would you describe that historic 2003 season?

I was a sophomore, and I was one of the junior-level managers. The younger managers are involved in some of the menial stuff, like rebounding and setting up the Gatorade, the water, the towels and things like that. But part of being a rebounder means that you’re sticking around before and after practice, and Carmelo is one of the guys on that team who put in a lot of extra work. In that year when he was a freshman, we did get to know each other a bit. We shared sweat equity. As the season progressed, he would stay and work on his three-point range, which obviously was telling because back in 2003, you didn’t see many stretch fours [a power forward who has the ability to shoot from the perimeter] in college basketball or in the NBA. Certainly, that became such a big part of his game. It was incredible as it unfolded. Think of the history of Syracuse: There’s only been one national championship in basketball, and I got to be a part of it.

How did you end up at ESPN?

I spent several years with NBA Entertainment. Before the 2008-2009 season, they spun off to create a content partnership with Turner [NBA Digital]. There were several meetings with people coming up from Atlanta to the NBA.com offices in Secaucus, New Jersey, and we had many brainstorming sessions. In one of them, they asked me, “What do you think we could do to make the site better?” And I said, knowing [that] the Lakers have been one of the most popular teams and Kobe Bryant was the most popular player, “It’d be smart to have someone [in LA].”  They come back up from Atlanta about a month later and they say, “Well Dave, that’s a good idea. We’re gonna have someone out in LA, and that person’s going to be you.” I had spent my entire life as an east coast guy. I’d only made one trip to California before this job opportunity came up.

I did a year with the Turner version of NBA.com in 2008-2009. The Lakers won the championship. That also coincided with the recession. It was a really rough time for the company, the country and the economy. There were layoffs; the one-man LA office that I had opened up was shut down. Fortunately for me, I had interviewed with ESPN back in 2008. I didn’t get that opening, but they became aware of who I was, and about three or so months after I was laid off from NBA Digital, they were starting to hire for ESPN Los Angeles. Because I [already knew] some folks at ESPN through that original interview process, I was able to get an interview for ESPN Los Angeles. I’ve been working with ESPN ever since.

What is your favorite part of your job?

[Using the platform] to connect with [the players] in a way that they trust me enough to open up some side of their life that they normally wouldn’t. There are people who will have dedicated their lives to basketball, and they have the same passion for the game that I do. I’ve been very fortunate to be covering two of the most passionate guys who have played the game in Kobe [Bryant] and LeBron [James]. Those guys recognize the job I did to a point where they would trust me with telling their story. That’s the part I love about the job.

Cole Weintraub is a first-year student in the broadcast and digital journalism program at the Newhouse School.

Class Notes: November 2021

00s

René Marsh G’03 wrote a children’s book, “The Miracle Workers: Boy vs. Beast” in memory of her son Blake Vince Payne, with all proceeds going to pediatric brain tumor research.


10s

Elissa Candiotti ’18 joined CNN as a producer.


20s

Talia Trackim ’21 joined the Washington Post as a news designer.

Class Notes: October 2021

80s

Jim Weiss ’87, CEO of Real Chemistry, a global health innovation company, won best Agency Entrepreneur of the Year in the 2021 Medical Marketing and Media Awards.


00s

Talia Parkinson-Jones ’00 joined “Today with Hoda and Jenna” as an executive producer.

Erica Matson ’09 was producer on the documentary “E-Ternal: A Tech Quest to Live Forever” which won the Wall Street Journal’s first-ever Emmy for Outstanding Science, Technology or Environmental Coverage.


10s

Devon Heinen ’11 won second place in the Society for Features Journalism’s Excellence-in-Features Awards for “Nobody To Call: The Plight of Indigenous Suicide in Alaska” feature for New Statesman America.

Perry Russom ’13 was hired as a correspondent for “The News with Shepard Smith” at CNBC.

Kayla Burton G’19 joined the NFL Network as a journalist.

Brenda Koopson ’19 reported on “Covid-19 and Crime: Justice for Emma” which was nominated for an Emmy.

Christopher Lucey ’19 is associate producer on “MLB Tonight” for the MLB Network which won a sports Emmy award for Outstanding Studio Show.


20s

Tara Arya G’21 is a production assistant for the Golden State Warriors. 


From ‘Gossip Girl’ to ‘Bel-Air’: Alumna navigates Hollywood

JaNeika James
JaNeika James G’05

JaNeika James G’05 always loved television, but never considered that writing for television could be a career. Then she came to Newhouse to earn a master’s degree in television, radio and film.

Now, James is a showrunner for two television series from Netflix; the co-author of “Living Double , a book she wrote with her twin sister, JaSheika, about being women of color in Hollywood ; and co-executive producer on “Bel-Air,” a reboot of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” which NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock just won the rights to.

We talked with James about writing a book with her sister, her favorite part of working on “Gossip Girl” and her best advice for female writers of color wanting to break into the entertainment industry.

Why did you decide to write “Living Double?”

JaSheika and I had never thought about how our experience becoming television writers could really help other young people who were like us women, people of color. We were always obsessed with TV when we were growing up, but we didn’t have any connections. We didn’t know that writing for television was something that you could actually do. We didn’t know all of the positions that are involved in bringing something to life, in film or TV. We had no awareness of what that world actually looked like. I know that there are a lot of young people who are like us, who love television, and if they have the opportunity to be a part of it would absolutely do it. They just have no idea how to get there.

The book was an acknowledgement of the road that we traveled and giving some insight for other young people who can be inspired and encouraged to keep on their own road when they’re pursuing this as a passion.

JaSheika James and JaNeika James
JaSheika James and JaNeika James

What has been your favorite part of working on “Gossip Girl”?

I really appreciated how the showrunner, Josh Safran, was very committed to making this new version of “Gossip Girl,” one that was more inclusive. Not only are the two leads black women, but [there are] stories that are inclusive of LGBTQ+ kids. [We] were able to tell the stories in a very nuanced way, but in the “Gossip Girl” soapy, luxurious fashion. I hope that people are enjoying [that it maintains] the fun, soapy tone that it had on The CW back in the day, but also really embraces diversity in the storytelling as well as the cast.

What is the best way for aspiring writers who are women of color to enter the industry?

I think that it’s important for us to understand that your path is your path and there is no one particular way to get into this business. I can tell you several different ways. You can be an assistant. You could be an intern. I think that the best advice is to not think that there’s one particular path that is specific to your success. The biggest thing that is specific to your success is having the vision and the desire [to do what you] want to do. I don’t think people realize the power [that comes from saying what] you want to do. Declare it  and everything else will fall into place by faith.

Elizabeth Kauma is a senior in the magazine, news and digital journalism program at the Newhouse School.

Military visual journalism alumni win BEA Award for documentary

When Laiqa Hitt ’20 and Jared Bunn ’20 arrived at the Oncenter Crouse Hinds Theater in March 2020 to film their documentary about ballerina Caroline Sheridan, they found chaos. Dancers were crying while lights were hastily coming down. Sheridan informed them that New York State had just cancelled all live performances, including the ballet, due to a mysterious new virus: COVID-19.

Laiqa Hitt
Laiqa Hitt ’20

“We were like, ‘We need to film this. We need to document what is happening right now,'” Hitt says. “All our plans derailed, but I just looked at Jared and said, ‘We just can’t stop filming. I don’t know where this is going, but I just feel like this is special, and it’s going to be an amazing story.'”

The documentary that resulted from that film, “Panacea,” has since won one of the most prestigious student awards, the 2021 Best of Festival Award for Student Documentary from the Broadcast Education Association (BEA). It has also been featured in over 16 film festivals worldwide.

“Panacea” follows Sheridan’s determined attempt to organize and perform one last dance with her company before they went into quarantine at their homes across the world. 

Jared Bunn '20
Jared Bunn ’20

When Hitt and Bunn first met Sheridan in Fall 2019, there was an instant connection and, Bunn says, they knew they wanted to make a documentary about her. As students in Newhouse’s military visual journalism program, they decided to produce the documentary as part of their senior capstone project. 

The original idea was to create a documentary about Sheridan’s path to professional ballet, but a new story emerged when COVID-19 hit, shutting down public venues like theaters nationwide. The last-minute change meant that Hitt and Bunn were up the entire night before their project due date reshaping the documentary, but they didn’t intend to stop there. Bunn says they spent an extra 2,000 hours editing the piece even after turning it in, because they just knew it could be something bigger than a class project.

Panacea poster with a black and white shot of Caroline Sheridan dancing and multiple film festival laurel graphics

“Our goal was to tell [Sheridan’s] story to as many people as possible, because it needed to be told,” Bunn says. “It is a showcasing of a young woman’s tenacity and dedication and love for the arts and justice. How she pursued and persevered to just make something that was for her and for her friends. It was really beautiful.”

Despite Bunn being stationed in Colorado and Hitt training in California before being stationed in Japan, they continued work on “Panacea.” When they settled on a final version, they began the process of submitting it to film festivals.

“We submitted for the first festival, IMD Independent Shorts Awards, and I remember we were like, ‘It would be cool if we got one,'” Bunn says. “Then we got selected for five different categories and won two of them. After that it became—I don’t want to say an addiction, but it [was] like we have to submit to these.”

That drive to submit “Panacea” wherever they could paid off. The film won numerous awards, including the BEA award, and the pair is now working toward a distribution deal to allow the general public to see the film. They both say their time at Newhouse was essential to their ability to produce a documentary of this caliber. 

“[Jared] and I had always been partners throughout every class,” Hitt says. “Looking at the first project we did and then ‘Panacea,’ the difference is night and day. In just a year.”

Television, radio and film professor Tula Goenka was Hitt and Bunn’s capstone professor and the executive producer of “Panacea.” Goenka says that Newhouse’s unique environment gives students the opportunity to make ambitious projects like this.

“Creating ‘Panacea’ would cost a lot of money, because you need the equipment and you also need money to live on, but as students you are in a creative and educational bubble. You can experiment with storytelling and with the forms,” Goenka says. “It gives you the opportunity to do it right.”

Hitt and Bunn agree that without the resources Newhouse gave them, “Panacea” wouldn’t have happened. They are both grateful, because it has changed their lives. But, Hitt says, it won’t be the last of their collaborations. 

“He’s literally one of my best friends,” Hitt says of Bunn. “I think he and I have a lot of future projects ahead of us.”

Elizabeth Kauma is a senior in the magazine, news and digital journalism program at the Newhouse School.

Alumna named NABJ Journalism Educator of the Year

Sherri Williams

Newhouse School alumna Sherri Williams G’10, G’15, a journalism professor at American University’s School of Communication, has been named the 2021 Journalism Educator of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). Williams is an assistant professor in race, media and communication. She earned a master’s degree in magazine, news and digital journalism and a doctoral degree in mass communications from the Newhouse School.

NABJ’s Journalism Educator of the Year designation recognizes the service, commitment and academic guidance of an outstanding journalism professor who has helped increase the number of Black journalists in newsrooms. Williams was awarded in part for partnerships she developed with national media outlets that allowed for students work to be published and amplified. Among those was a partnership with The Nation for the Vision 2020: Election Stories from the Next Generation project, which included Newhouse students.

Williams’ work focuses on how marginalized groups, especially women of color, are portrayed in the media. She teaches courses in journalism, storytelling and the portrayal of race, gender, class and sexual identity in the media.