The 2020 edition of the college's Lewis B. O’Donnell Media Summit will convene an all-star group to discuss “On the Front Lines with the First Amendment” on Wednesday, Oct. 28.

The centerpiece panel presentation will take place virtually at 3:30 p.m. via Zoom, and will feature Connie Schultz, a Pulitzer-Prize winning, nationally syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate; Oswego alumna Michelle Garcia, editorial manager of NBC News’ NBC BLK, which which tells stories by, for and about the Black community; Bret Jaspers, politics reporter for KERA Public Media in Dallas-Fort Worth; Steve Brown, investigative reporter at WGRZ in Buffalo; and Ava Lubell, a Legal Fellow at the Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic. Communication studies faculty member Michael Riecke will serve as moderator.

Student co-directors Mikayla Green and Benjamin Grieco noted that when they and the rest of the team were looking at themes for the 16th annual summit, they watched the world in which journalists operate change so much in a few months, as the press adapted to covering and telling the stories of COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, the upcoming election and so many compelling, fast-moving stories.

“We were told to aim high,” said Grieco, a senior journalism major and editor in chief of The Oswegonian. “Our guests don’t have to travel, which makes it easier. We could ask, ‘Do you have four hours to talk to these students who are really interested in what you have to say?’”

Especially with the summit coming just days before such a pivotal election, the virtual arrangement helped secure a high caliber of participants, they noted.

Distinguished panel

A popular panelist at a previous summit, Schultz also is a Professional in Residence at Kent State University School of Journalism. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for Commentary for columns that judges praised for providing “a voice for the underdog and the underprivileged.”  She also won the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Social Justice Reporting and the Batten Medal, which honors “a body of journalistic work that reflects compassion, courage, humanity and a deep concern for the underdog.” Schultz is the author of three books published by Random House, plus her first novel, “The Daughters of Erietown,” a New York Times bestseller.

Over the last decade, Garcia has covered major social movements across the United States including the fight for marriage equality, #MeToo and the Black Lives Matter movement, to name a few. The 2006 SUNY Oswego journalism graduate and former Oswegonian editor in chief was named to Folio’s list of 20 in their 20s, won a GLAAD Media Award with her staff about the advancement of the HIV treatment drug Truvada, taught at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and has coached several successful writers along the way. Previously, Garcia was an editor at Vice, Out, Vox, Mic and The Advocate. 

Jaspers’ stories have aired on the BBC, NPR’s “All Things Considered,” “Morning Edition,” “Weekend Edition,” and “Here & Now,” and APM’s “Marketplace.” He previously reported on politics and the Colorado River basin for KJZZ in Phoenix, and before that was managing editor at WSKG in upstate New York. Awards include three 2020 Regional Murrow Awards for reporting at KJZZ, one for Hard News, and two as part of KJZZ’s series Tracing the Migrant Journey. That series also won a 2020 Kaleidoscope Award for excellence in covering an issue of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender.

Brown has spent a lifetime in journalism after graduating from Canisius College in 1983. He has been honored with multiple award including six regional Murrow Awards, four of which he collected while working for 2 On-Your-Side. In 2019, he won a national Murrow Award for his short documentary about a man who sought to have the Catholic Church admit a priest was his biological father. Before coming in Buffalo, Brown spent 15 years as a correspondent for Fox News. 

Lubell provides pro bono legal advice to NYC metro area journalists on a range of First Amendment issues arising from newsgathering and publication. Previously, Lubell served as the General Counsel of Quartz Media, which focuses on global business news and has reporters based in cities around the world. She previously also worked at Slate as general manager and general counsel; as special assistant for briefing under New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and as the political director for the Women and Politics Institute at American University. She is an affiliate member of the NYC Bar Association Communications and Media Law Committee.

Keeping connections

The panelists traditionally visit classrooms on the day of the event, and that is something organizers plan to continue via Zoom rooms. 

“I remember being a freshman and knowing that someone will show up to your class and tell some really cool stories,” said Green, a senior broadcasting major and vice president of production for WTOP-TV 10. “I’m glad we can still do that.”

The popular Career Connectors component is still in the plan, this time in a virtual environment where current students can talk to recent graduates in the industry and network on a one-on-one basis.

This year's Career Connectors include Natalie Brophy '17, a reporter for Gannett/USA Today Network; Imani Cruz '17, talent and development, MTV Networks; Justin Dobrow '17, program operations manager, Peacock for NBCUniversal Media; Stephanie Herbert '18, media director for MOST (Museum of Science and Technology) in Syracuse; Allif Karim '18, sports director for WDVM-TV in Maryland; and Omy Melo '14, junior editor at Nickelodeon.

“As different as everything is this year, we do want to keep it familiar,” Green said. “But one way we can change it is to make it even more open virtually.”

“We don’t really want to change that tradition or standard,” Grieco added. “We’re trying to maintain that legacy. It may be virtual, but everything else is, so why can’t we keep doing the same things?”

Organizers expect student media WTOP and WNYO to broadcast the Zoom feed of the panel discussion as well.

Louis A. Borrelli Jr., a pioneer in cable television, online media and broadcast production services and a 1977 Oswego graduate, made a founding gift for the media summit in 2005. Two years later, 1976 graduate Al Roker, the national weather anchor and co-host of the third hour of NBC's "Today" show, provided additional funding to rename the summit in memory of longtime professor Dr. Lewis B. O'Donnell, a seminal figure in the college experiences of Borrelli, Roker and many others.

The annual School of Communication, Media and the Arts highlight is organized by a student team with journalism faculty member Brian Moritz serving as advisor.

For more information, visit MediaSummit.org.