Center for Public Integrity invests in future with new hires

Data journalism, audience engagement and immigration to receive enhanced focus from investigative news organization

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The Center for Public Integrity has taken advantage of fresh investment and unprecedented interest in Washington, D.C.-based investigative reporting to hire a spate of new journalists, beefing up coverage in existing departments and adding positions in new areas.

The jobs address needs in data reporting, audience engagement, national security and the environment, among other areas. The Center has also created a new beat covering immigration.

The positions have been made possible in part through support from the Democracy Fund, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the MacArthur Foundation, the Grantham Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the California Endowment, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Wellspring Philanthropic Fund,  as well as from numerous individual contributors.

“We’ve brought on board some tremendously talented individuals as well as invested in and repositioned some folks who have been with us for years,” said John Dunbar, the Center’s CEO. “We’re extremely grateful to our donors and to our readers who have made this possible.”

Chris Zubak-Skees is the Center’s new data editor. Zubak-Skees was previously CPI’s news application developer. Projects he contributed to have won Loeb, Goldsmith and Philip Meyer awards. Zubak-Skees graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology with a degree in journalism and a computer science minor. He previously served as a reporting fellow at the Sunlight Foundation. 

Also joining the data team is Joe Yerardi, a former Center intern who most recently worked for inewsource, based in San Diego. He also has worked as a data editor at the San Antonio Express-News and as a database analyst for Investigative Reporters and Editors. Yerardi will be combining traditional reporting techniques with data analysis, visualization and programming to craft investigative stories. Yerardi earned undergraduate degrees in history and journalism at New York University and his master’s in journalism at the University of Missouri. 

Nesima Aberra has come aboard as the Center’s new audience engagement editor. In that capacity, she’ll be responsible for outreach on myriad platforms, and will shepherd the Center’s social media efforts. Aberra recently completed her graduate degree in international media at American University. Her previous experience includes reporting at Vox, strategic communications at Neimand Collaborative and nonprofit marketing at the Mission Asset Fund. Originally from Arizona, Aberra received undergraduate degrees in journalism and global studies from Arizona State University.

Rachel Leven worked most recently for Bloomberg BNA’s environment desk, where she covered issues ranging from coal mining to environmental justice. Prior to that she was at The Hill, where her work earned a Society for Professional Journalists investigative reporting award. She received a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

Jeff Stern has signed up as a reporter with CPI’s national security team. He’s the author of two books, “The 15:17 to Paris” which is being made into a motion picture, and “The Last Thousand,” which tracks a coed school in Kabul as foreign troops depart. Stern has also written for The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Esquire, Slate, Time, Newsweek and The Huffington Post, and has reported from numerous outposts overseas. He is a 2007 public policy graduate from Duke and received a master’s degree in international policy studies from Stanford in 2012.

Susan Ferriss will bring years of expertise to the Center’s new immigration portfolio. Ferriss, who joined the Center in 2011, previously was a decorated immigration reporter at The Sacramento Bee, and was stationed in Mexico City for nearly a decade as the Latin American correspondent for Cox Newspapers. Susan was also co-author of “The Fight in the Fields,” a history of Cesar Chavez and the farmworker movement. Her work has been honored by the Education Writers Association, the Overseas Press Club and Columbia Journalism School. She was a Knight Fellow at Stanford University and is a graduate of both the University of California, San Cruz and UC Berkeley.

Jared Bennett will take over a reporting slot in the Center’s “No Way Up’ project focused on inequality and barriers to economic advancement; he had previously worked as the Center’s digital editor. Bennett has a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Geneseo State University and a master’s in multimedia journalism from Emerson College. He previously served as a digital producer at Boston’s WBUR. 

Kristian Hernández is the Center’s latest American University fellow; he will be working part-time on CPI’s state government project while obtaining a master’s degree in journalism from AU. Hernández previously covered crime and immigration at The Monitor in McAllen, Texas. He earlier worked for Hispanic Link news service and Homicide Watch D.C., and he interned at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Scripps Howard Foundation. Hernández is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso.

Ryan Barwick is the Center’s new Soles Fellow, which honors former University of Delaware professor James Soles, an inspiration to Center founder Charles Lewis. At Delaware, Ryan worked as executive editor of the student newspaper, The Review, and also interned for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Barwick graduated this spring from the University of Delaware with a degree in American History and English. 

The new hires follow closely on the heels of three additions this summer to the Center’s federal politics team, which specializes in accountability and transparency in Washington, and shines light on the effects of big money in American elections. Lateshia Beachum joined the team in June after serving as a Kellogg Investigative Reporting Fellow at the Center; Ashley Balcerzak arrived in July after working at OpenSecrets.org, and Sarah Kleiner came aboard in July as well, after serving most recently as an enterprise reporter at The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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