Read on to learn more about the journalists leading breakout sessions on the first day of the TNG Student Media Conference. Click here for bios of our second-day session leaders. Read more about the event and find links to register here.
Monday, June 21
Louis Aguilar has been writing about the epic nature of his native Detroit since 2004. That’s when he joined The Detroit News as a business reporter and later became an investigative reporter.
In March 2020, he became senior reporter for BridgeDetroit.
His reporting has won dozens of national and local awards. In 2010, he was selected as a Kresge Fellow for the Literary Arts.
He is a former staff writer at the Washington Post, Denver Post, Westword (Denver’s alternative weekly) and Colorado Springs Gazette. He wrote a national column on U.S. Latino issues for the former Knight Ridder news service.
He briefly ran a Latino film festival in Washington D.C. and created Latino programming for the Smithsonian Institution. In 2009, he wrote “Long Live the Dead: The Accidental Mummies of Guanajuato”, a book examining a Mexican city’s complicated relationship with its 112 mummified citizens. In 2011, he wrote, directed and produced a multimedia live performance based on the time spent by the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Depression-era Detroit.
He is former national board member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Locally, he served on the board of the Matrix Theatre Co. in southwest Detroit. He was on the advisory committee for the Detroit Institute of Arts’ 2015 exhibition “Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit”.
Christine MacDonald has been a reporter for more than 20 years, covering schools, Detroit City Hall and most recently on the Detroit Free Press investigative team.
Walter T. Middlebrook
Walter T. Middlebrook, a former assistant managing editor at The Detroit News who led an award-winning metro news desk and investigations team, is the Foster Professor of Practice at The Pennsylvania State University.
A senior editor and newsroom manager, his four-decade career also includes editing and working with staff and freelance writers producing stories and special sections in opinion, features, fashion, entertainment, news and business for such publications as The New York Times, Newsday/New York Newsday, USA Today and the St. Paul Dispatch and Pioneer Press. He was among the staff at Newsday that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for spot news.
Middlebrook, who also has taught at Michigan State University, Hofstra University and at the Maynard Institute Editing Program for Minority Journalists, was named a Lifetime Achievement award-winner from the Detroit Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
He sits on the boards of the Rosa Parks Scholarship Foundation and the Daily Collegian at The Pennsylvania State University and the Board of Student Publications at the University of Michigan. He is a lifetime member of the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. A graduate of Boston University, the Memphis, Tenn., native is an Eagle Scout.
Since 2001, Rod Beard has worked in various roles with The Detroit News, beginning with high school sports and advancing to cover the Michigan basketball beat for five years and most recently the Pistons beat, since 2015.
During his career, he’s helped cover the Lions, Tigers, Michigan and Michigan State, Red Wings and everything in between.
Angelique S. Chengelis
Angelique S. Chengelis is the University of Michigan beat writer for The Detroit News. She has been at The News since November 1990 and has covered auto racing and every major sporting event that has come to Detroit.
Chengelis took over the Michigan football beat in1992. Her first job was at The Knoxville Journal where she primarily covered Tennessee women’s basketball.
A Cincinnati native, Chengelis is a University of Cincinnati graduate.
Tyler Davis is sports assistant editor for the Detroit Free Press.
Casey Harrison is a Web Producer for The Detroit News. He joined The News’ online desk in 2019 shortly after graduating from Michigan State University. While most of his job duties entail editing, social media management and website curation, he has also reported for The News on topics ranging from sports to breaking news.
At Michigan State, Casey worked at The State News – the school’s independent newspaper – for four years mainly covering MSU men’s basketball and serving one semester as sports editor. He also interned for MLB.com in 2018 and covered the Cleveland Indians. Casey has lived in Metro Detroit most of his life and is originally from Sterling Heights. He graduated from Henry Ford II High School.
Tanya Wildt is web editor for the Detroit Free Press. She preps and edits digital content for Freep.com and its social networks. She has worked at the Free Press since 2012, when she came on board as a web producer.
She previously worked for Heritage Media in Saline, copy editing and reporting for the Ypsilanti Courier and Manchester Enterprise.
She also spent some time covering sports and news at the Daily Telegram in Adrian while a student at Adrian College.
Wildt serves as treasurer of the Detroit News Guild.
Susan J. Demas
Susan J. Demas is the Editor-in-Chief of the Michigan Advance, a nonprofit politics and policy publication based in Lansing. She is a 20-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more.
Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive.
She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.”
Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.
Suzette Hackney became a national columnist for USA TODAY and joined the Editorial Board in 2020. Previously, she was a columnist and the director of Opinion & Community Engagement for The Indianapolis Star.
Before joining the IndyStar in 2015, she worked as a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, and as an editorial writer and columnist for the Toledo Blade.
She has been recognized for her work with a National Headliner, a national Edward R. Murrow, numerous National Association of Black Journalists Salute to Excellence awards and the Association for Women in Communications’ Clarion.
She was also a finalist for the Scripps Howard Walker Stone Award. Her work has also appeared online in The Washington Post and Politico.
She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Michigan State University, a Master of Fine Arts degree in nonfiction writing from Butler University and was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan.
Nancy Kaffer is an award-winning columnist and member of the editorial board at the Detroit Free Press, where she writes about politics, policy and the complicated relationship between the two, from Detroit’s historic municipal bankruptcy to education to the Flint water crisis.
Kaffer’s coverage of the Flint water crisis earned her the 2015 Scripps Howard Walker Stone Award for Opinion Writing and the Shorenstein Center’s 2016 Nyhan Prize. Previously a staff writer for Crain’s Detroit Business, Kaffer wrote about small business, retail, city government and Michigan’s second-stage economy.
She has also worked at publications including metro Detroit alt-weekly Metro Times and the Hattiesburg (Miss.) American, where she covered k-12 education and post-Katrina recovery in Mississippi’s strange and fascinating Pine Belt.
Kaffer is a founding member of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee for the Detroit News Guild. She served as a recruiting lead for the TNG Student Media Conference.
Christine Ferretti is the Assistant City Editor for The Detroit News, overseeing reporters covering the city of Detroit as well as Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. Prior to this role, Christine served as a Detroit City Hall reporter and breaking news editor.
Beginning in 2013, she reported on the city of Detroit’s financial crisis from its time in receivership throughout its landmark bankruptcy case and its operational restructuring.
Christine joined The Detroit News as an editorial assistant in 2003 after graduating from Madonna University in Livonia with a degree in journalism/public relations. She has previously covered suburban crime and politics, business, environment and breaking news.
Sarah Rahal is a city reporter at The Detroit News. Aside from her city beat, Rahal has been focused on daily coronavirus reporting in Michigan and immigration topics. She most recently partnered with Bridge Magazine to write a series on a national caregiver shortage during the pandemic.
Rahal joined the breaking news desk in 2017 after graduating from Wayne State University with a bachelor’s in journalism and a minor in new media studies. She is a graduate of the Journalism Institute for Media Diversity, an honors program at the university.
As a native of Dearborn, she also represents Arab Americans in newsrooms as president of the Michigan chapter of Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) .
Rahal is a founding member of the Diversity Committee for the News Guild of Detroit. She is a marketing lead for the Student Media Conference.
Ever since I was a little girl, I loved writing. Words give me the power to express myself. My pencil is my canvas, my ticket to creativity, curiosity, and freedom. Or, I suppose, in 2021, my pencil is my keyboard. I would enter any writing contests I could, starting with Reflections in K-12. During that time of year, my heart always beat a little faster. I couldn’t wait for the “big” show.
By the time you meet me, I’ll be 32. The truth is, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Here’s something I’ve always known: I’ll be happy as long as it involves writing.
Fast forward to around 2010, and I was a happy-go-lucky clerk at Family Video. Rich Luterman, Fox 2’s Chief Meteorologist, was a happy-go-lucky customer. Day after day, I tried to work up the courage to ask him about internships. One day, I heard a little voice come out of me: “Mr. Uh … Luterman. Do you think maybe I can intern at Fox 2 or maybe come in for a tour?”
I had no broadcast media experience. I worked my tail off for 2.5 years so they would keep me around as a writer. Fast forward to today, and I’ve found a home at WXYZ-TV for 5 years. My experience at both organizations helped shape me into the evolving news producer I am today.
Every day is a new day. It’s a chance to grow, a chance to take a step back and see things differently, to appreciate what you have. I hope I can be a small part of your journey, a small paragraph in your novel of life. You’re in charge. Be kind along the way. Never forget to ask: Do you think maybe I can intern?
Jenn Schanz joined the 7 Action News team in February 2019 as a reporter, and is currently weekend morning anchor.
Jenn graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from DePaul University in Chicago, Ill. While in college she interned for the Chicago Tribune and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Prior to joining WXYZ she reported in Lincoln, Neb. and Buffalo, N.Y. While in Buffalo, Jenn worked as both a general assignment and investigative reporter, focusing on stories related the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, and clergy sex abuse.
Jenn is the recipient of the Nebraska Broadcasters Association Gold Award, and was nominated for an Emmy for her role in a news special covering the June 2015 manhunt of escaped prisoners Richard Matt and David Sweat from an upstate NY correctional facility.
Jenn received a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for her work on “Inside The Epidemic,” a news special chronicling western New York’s ongoing struggle with opioid abuse. “Inside the Epidemic” also won a first place New York Associated Press award in the Documentary Category.
During her time as a reporter, she has also traveled to cover national stories such as the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando and the 2015 Papal visit to the U.S.
Three-time Emmy winner Sarah Smith is the owner and lead producer/writer of Zmith Productions. Her works include 10 seasons of Detroit Public Television’s Emmy-winning series Detroit Performs, Oakland Men’s Basketball’s Oakland All-Access show, four educational documentaries with REL Midwest and hype videos for University of Detroit-Mercy basketball teams and the United Shore Professional Baseball League.
Sarah has also worked on other local and national productions including: Arab American Stories, Vital Signs, A World Without Cancer with Dr. Margaret Cuomo, Learning in the Wild, STEM Heroes, and more. She has also created PSA campaigns for Detroit’s Early Learning Champions, Michigan Fitness Foundation, Michigan Lottery’s Partners in Education, DPTV’s Digital Adventure and more.
Sarah has also worked for ESPN’s College Football, World Cup, Horse Racing, and X Games coverage, as well as Fox Sports Detroit’s Tigers, Red Wings, Pistons and college hockey games. Sarah earned radio production experience during her time with Detroit’s number one sports radio station, 97.1 The Ticket.
Sarah graduated from the University of Michigan-Dearborn in 2007 with a degree in Journalism and Electronic Media.
Jordyn Grzelewski is an autos and business reporter for The Detroit News. She previously worked at The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer covering real estate, and prior to that worked at her hometown newspaper, the now-defunct (Youngstown) Vindicator.
She graduated from Miami University in 2014 with degrees in international studies and journalism.
Jordyn serves as secretary of the Newspaper Guild of Detroit and is a founding member of the Guild’s Diversity Committee. She is a communications lead for the TNG Student Media Conference.
Chanel Stitt is a business reporter at the Detroit Free Press, where she focuses on minority-owned businesses, nonprofits, and entrepreneurs. She started as the Freep/Detroit NABJ inaugural intern in June 2020, and was brought onto the team full-time in August 2020.
Stitt is also the vice president of print for the Detroit National Association of Black Journalists chapter. She is a founding member of the Guild’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee and is a recruiting lead for the TNG Student Media Conference.
Brian Manzullo is the Social, Search and Audience Editor at the Detroit Free Press, overseeing the search and social strategy for freep.com. He oversees a team of web editors who focus on on- and off-platform strategy to grow audience, including SEO, social media, newsletters, push alerts and more.
He has worked at the Free Press since 2012, when he started as a sports web editor, and previously worked at The Arizona Republic (azcentral.com) as an online sports producer.
Kyla L. Wright
Kyla L. Wright is the Detroit Neighborhoods Reporter at The Detroit Free Press. As a Detroit Native, Wright enjoys exploring not only the city, but its inhabitants that make Detroit, Detroit.
At a young age, Wright often received opportunities to be a spokesperson for many organizations that she was a part of, which is why she credits her hometown for assisting in her discovery of her passion for writing and public speaking.
Wright has traveled North America, Europe and Asia through a combination of journalism, ambassadorships and advocacy. Her speeches, keynotes and panels include visits to the Beijing Institute of Technology, the US Supreme Court, the Midnight Golf Program and Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan and more. Kyla’s speeches and research has focused on sexual assault awareness, college preparation, the importance of HBCUs and international travel among the African American community.
Kyla is a 2020 graduate of Syracuse University with her M.A. in Magazine, Newspaper and Online Journalism and a Sports and Media Communications Emphasis, and a 2019 graduate of Hampton University where she received her B.A. in Journalism. She is a former ESPN Rhoden Fellow, NASA Intern and active participant in the National Association of Black Journalists. Kyla enjoys international travel, blogging and producing her YouTube talk show, Kyla’s Korner, and managing her own online magazine, Socially Driven.
Stephanie Steinberg is the founder and CEO of The Detroit Writing Room, an event and writing space in downtown Detroit that offers professional writing coaches. She’s the executive director of the nonprofit arm Coaching Detroit Forward that offers free writing and photography programs for Detroit high school students.
Stephanie has been a journalist for more than a decade and was previously the managing editor of SEEN Magazine. She also served as a features reporter at The Detroit News and a health and finance editor at U.S. News & World Report in Washington D.C. Stephanie is a University of Michigan alum, where she majored in Communication Studies and was the editor-in-chief of The Michigan Daily student newspaper.
She is the editor of the book “In the Name of Editorial Freedom: 125 Years at the Michigan Daily” that was published by the University of Michigan Press in 2015. Throughout her career, she’s contributed to various publications, including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, USA Today, CNN.com, The Huffington Post and others.
Melody Baetens is a 22-year veteran of The Detroit News’ arts and entertainment department. Joining the staff in 1999 as an editorial assistant, she began compiling the live music and nightlife calendars before she was of legal age to enter most clubs. I
In 2013, Baetens was promoted to features reporter, assisting in the coverage of Detroit’s restaurant revival and landmark events like the opening of Little Caesars Arena and Aretha Franklin’s 2018 death.
The Detroit-area native was named The Detroit News restaurant critic in 2019. Congruent with her journalism career, Baetens is a lifelong musician who toured the world with rock bands throughout the 2000s and spent the past 12 years co-owning Hamtramck live music venue Small’s Bar. She’s married to musician Dave Malosh.
Julie Hinds is the pop culture critic for the Detroit Free Press. She previously was the fashion writer for the Detroit News, where she also created and edited WPG: Without Parental Guidance, a page aimed at teenage readers.
She covered fashion and filmmaking at the San Francisco Examiner and was a film critic at the San Jose Mercury News. At the Free Press, she covers movies, TV and pop culture and has written about the Women’s Convention in Detroit, 50 significant movies set in Michigan, Comedy Central’s “Detroiters” series and the cultural impact of the pandemic, among other topics.
Stephanie Davis is an anchor and senior reporter at WWJ NewsRadio 950AM, the nation’s oldest all-news radio station.
Davis has covered stories of impact for more than a decade, including Detroit’s historic bankruptcy, the NFL Super Bowl in Detroit and the death of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.
She started her broadcasting career at WQBH, 1400AM, a station known for its community programming owned by the late legendary broadcaster, Martha Jean, “the Queen” Steinberg.
There she served as News Talk Director, leading a small team that provided content for hourly newscasts, daily features and a daily two-hour talk show called “Back to Back.”
A Detroit native, Davis is a graduate of Detroit Public schools and holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Communications and Broadcast journalism, from Bethune Cookman College and the University of Akron respectively.
Vickie Thomas is now an executive assistant to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and is the new director of communications for the city of Detroit. Thomas, an award-winning journalist, retired from WWJ-AM after more than 30 years at the news radio station.
Junfu Han joined the Detroit Free Press photo team in 2017, he was previously at the Observer & Eccentric, the Ann Arbor News and interned in Kalamazoo, Mich., Colorado Springs, Colo., Albuquerque, N.M., Waterbury, C.T. and etc.
Han came to the United States in 2008 from China to study photography at the University of New Mexico. He applied for an opening at the college newspaper, the Daily Lobo, at the beginning of the school year and found passion for visual storytelling through photojournalism.
Kimberly P. Mitchell has been a Detroit Free Press staff photographer since 2005.
Stevie Blanchard has served as administrative officer for the Newspaper Guild of Detroit for five years. Prior to working for the Guild, she worked at the Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO as a community service liaison and field organizer.
She has a bachelor’s in Sociology and Gender Studies from Northland College and did graduate studies in Sociology and Urban Labor at Wayne State University.
Blanchard co-founded the Guild’s Diversity Committee and serves as co-chair and secretary. She is the deputy director of the TNG Student Media Conference.