Announcing the 2022 FOIA Fest Boot Camp Cohort

The Chicago Headline Club, the largest chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, is proud to announce the participants of the second annual FOIA Fest Boot Camp. 

This year’s cohort partners 15 early career Chicago area journalists with seasoned reporters who are skilled at using public records laws to aid their investigative journalism. This program would not be possible without their willingness to commit their time to this project despite crushing deadlines and a pandemic.

As part of the program, the journalists will get free access to FOIA Fest, the Headline Club’s annual conference to train journalists and members of the public to access public records through the Freedom of Information Act. Participants will also receive a stipend and a free one-year membership to SPJ and the Chicago Headline Club. The mentors and mentees will meet at least four times and use their meetings to help refine a story idea.

This Boot Camp is an adaptation of the informal mentoring relationships that are vital in journalism. Because that support is informal, we know journalists of color often don’t get the same mentoring chances — and subsequently investigative reporting opportunities — as their counterparts in majority white newsrooms. So this is an effort to formalize those relationships with the intention of making access to investigative reporting more equitable.  

The program was founded in 2021 by WBEZ’s Maria Zamudio and City Bureau’s Alejandra Cancino, who hoped to inspire newsrooms to create mentorship opportunities that would help support and retain journalists of color in the industry. The Boot Camp is led this year by Injustice Watch senior reporter Maya Dukmasova and Chicago Sun-Times education reporter Nader Issa.

Led by a volunteer board, the Chicago Headline Club has trained hundreds of journalists and members of the public through FOIA Fest. Planning for this year’s conference, which will be held virtually Feb. 24-26, is led by WBEZ data editor Matt Kiefer.  

Funding for FOIA Fest and the Boot Camp comes from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and The Driehaus Foundation. The SPJ memberships are sponsored by the Chicago Headline Club Foundation.

Meet the 2022 FOIA Fest Boot Camp Mentees

Justin Agrelo

Justin (he/him) is a freelance journalist in Chicago. As a City Bureau reporting resident in 2020, he covered the effects of COVID-19 on Chicago’s ongoing eviction crisis. His work can be seen in Mother Jones magazine, Slate and the Chicago Reader.

Debbie-Marie Brown

Debbie-Marie (they/them) was raised in New Britain, CT, and has BSJ and MSJ from Northwestern. Debbie-Marie studied African-American studies as an undergrad and is passionate about Black history in the United States in the Caribbean. Currently, they are responsible for reporting on Black Evanston and local reparations with Evanston Roundtable, as Evanston, IL is the first municipality to pass a reparations bill for Black people since Reconstruction.

Natalie Frazier

Natalie (she/her) is a community member, filmmaker and writer born and raised on the West Side of Chicago. She works with City Bureau to grow the nonprofit newsroom’s Documenters community and equip more Chicagoans with the tools they need to influence change in their own neighborhoods.

Jahlynn Hancock

Jahlynn (she/her) is a Chicago native. She is currently a graduate student at DePaul University and the designer and Editor-in-Chief of RISE Magazine, a partner with 360 Sports Academy and director of their content development. For fun, she likes to go to Target and go on adventures.

Matt Harvey Sr.

Matt (he/him) is a new dad, home chef and award-winning writer born and raised in Uptown whose work amplifies the voices and experiences of Black Chicagoans. Most recently he covers breaking news, music, sports and more for The TRiiBE.

Tonia Hill

Tonia (she/her) is a multimedia journalist from the South Side of Chicago. She is passionate about crafting narratives about the people and the places in Chicago that inspire her. Tonia produces and writes The TRiiBE’s TV show, “We Real Chicago,” highlighting Black Chicagoans in the arts and entertainment scene. When she’s not working on TRiiBE TV, she also reports on a variety of topics — including Luke James, local nonprofits, incarceration, cannabis and early Black Chicago history — for Before joining the TRiiBE, Tonia was a freelance producer at WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight.”

Leslie Hurtado

Leslie (she/her) is a producing fellow at WTTW Chicago and a multimedia freelance journalist who covers stories centered on race, class and immigration. Her focus is reporting stories that can heal those affected by issues created by government and political systems. Her work has appeared across different Chicago news organizations, including Cicero Independiente, City Bureau, WBEZ Chicago, WGN-TV, Borderless Magazine and more.

Megann Horstead

Megann (she/her) is a 2015 graduate of North Central College, a private school based in Naperville. She currently works full-time as a multimedia journalist. A majority of her work previously involved freelance writing/reporting for newspapers, radio and online.

Marie Mendoza

Marie (she/her) is an associate producer for Motive, WBEZ’s investigative podcast. She’s a graduate of Northwestern University, where she got her start in radio at WNUR 89.3 FM. She’s previously worked at Latino USA and Young Chicago Authors. She’s reported on issues ranging from gentrification in Humboldt park to the street vendor community in Chicago. Outside of journalism, she loves daydreaming, admiring dogs and indulging in way too much reality TV.

Jesus J. Montero

Jesus (he/him) is a multimedia journalist, Chicago native and first-generation college graduate. He graduated from DePaul University in 2020 with his master’s in journalism. He was the president and founder of NAHJ DePaul and advised the creation of two Spanish reporting newsrooms. He has worked at NBC News as an NAHJ Fellow for Dateline with bylines in the Chicago Tribune, Latino Rebels and the Pulitzer Center. He is an INN award-winning contributing reporter at Cicero Independiente.

Taylor Moore

Taylor (she/her) is a reporter in Chicago who has written for The Guardian, VICE, CityLab, Columbia Journalism Review and the Chicago Reader. By day, she is a program coordinator for the International Women’s Media Foundation, where she helps manage reporting grants, fellowships and awards.

Adora Namigadde

Adora (she/her) is a metro reporter for Chicago Public Media. Before moving to Chicago, Namigadde worked for WOSU Public Media in Columbus, Ohio, where she reported radio and television stories. Prior to WOSU, she was a live morning reporter at 9&10 News in Cadillac, MI.

Katie Prout

Katie (she/her) is a staff writer for the Chicago Reader who writes about life at the intersection of place, race, addiction, and class. She received her BA from Kalamazoo College and her MFA from the University of Iowa. Her essays and journalism have been featured in Lit Hub, The New Republic, Belt, Longreads, and elsewhere.

Amy Qin

Amy (she/her) is a freelance reporter based in Chicago. Her work has appeared in Block Club Chicago, Injustice Watch, and the South Side Weekly.

Isra Rahman

Isra (she/her) is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She is a former City Bureau fellow currently working on a piece about food apartheid on the West Side. She’s also part of a team of reporters at the Invisible Institute researching and building community around police misconduct in downstate Illinois. She is interested in storytelling that focuses on policing, space-making and capturing community experiences through multimedia journalism.

Meet the 2022 FOIA Fest Boot Camp Mentors

Tony Briscoe

Tony (he/him) is a reporter for ProPublica. He previously worked at The Chicago Tribune as an environmental reporter, writing extensively about issues facing the Great Lakes and the impacts of climate change in the Midwest. His reporting on the Illinois EPA’s environmental justice program revealed lapses in state outreach efforts to low-income and minority communities, leading to reform in community engagement practices. Briscoe placed second in the environmental writing category at the 86th National Headliner Awards for his series exploring how global warming is jeopardizing the Great Lakes. He was awarded the 2019 and 2020 Peter Lisagor Award for best science and environmental reporting in Chicago. A graduate of Michigan State University, Briscoe began his career as a breaking news reporter at The Detroit News.

Alejandra Cancino

Alejandra (she/her) is the Deputy Editor at City Bureau, a nonprofit journalism lab reimagining local media. Cancino leads a team of reporters and the organization’s Civic Reporting Fellowship. Previously, Cancino was a senior investigative reporter at BGA where she exposed systemic failures in local government and focused on the intersection of government and business and before that she covered manufacturing, economic development and labor as a business reporter at the Chicago Tribune. She was a 2015 Associated Press-NORC journalism fellow at the University of Chicago, where she audited classes and wrote national stories focused on aging and long-term care. Her work has been recognized with several local and national journalism awards.

Angela Caputo

Angela (she/her) joined the APM Reports staff in 2018. Before that she was an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune and covered urban affairs and education for The Chicago Reporter and the Daily Southtown. Caputo is a former board member of the Chicago Headline Club and co-founded FOIA Fest.

Lakeidra Chavis

Lakeidra (she/her) is a staff writer for The Marshall Project. She has written on wide-ranging topics including the rise in Black suicides during the pandemic, the changing structure of gangs, the opioid crisis and victim compensation. Lakeidra previously reported at The Trace, ProPublica Illinois and NPR stations in Chicago and Alaska. Lakeidra is a 2021 Livingston Award finalist.

Vernal Coleman

Vernal (he/him) is a reporter for ProPublica. He joined its Midwest newsroom after a stint working at the Boston Globe, where he had been a member of the newsroom’s strike investigations team, specializing in data analysis for quick turnaround investigations. Before joining the Globe, Coleman was a watchdog reporter with the Seattle Times’ Project Homeless, where he wrote stories about the intersection of housing, mental health and local efforts to combat homelessness.

Duaa Eldeib

Duaa (she/her) is a reporter for ProPublica. Her work has examined the death of children in state care, the treatment of juveniles in adult court and police use of polygraphs in cases where suspects were wrongly convicted. Her reporting has sparked legislative hearings, governmental reforms and led to the exoneration of a mother who was convicted of murdering her son. In 2015, Eldeib and two colleagues at the Chicago Tribune were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting after revealing that youths were assaulted, raped and prostituted at state-funded residential treatment centers. Before joining the Tribune, Eldeib was a reporter at the Daily Southtown, where her stories uncovering theft and corruption at a regional office of education resulted in the arrest of the superintendent and spurred lawmakers to abolish the office. In 2014, she was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists. She has received numerous awards for her work, including the National Headliner Award for Public Service, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Investigative Reporting and the Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics.

Lauren FitzPatrick

Lauren (she/her) joined the Sun-Times Watchdogs in early 2019 after seven years as the Chicago Public Schools beat reporter. A Medill grad and Philadelphia native, she began working in Chicago in 2004 at the Daily Southtown.

Corey Johnson

Corey (he/him) is a reporter on the investigative unit at the Tampa Bay Times. While working at the Center for Investigative Reporting, he uncovered systemic weaknesses in earthquake protections at thousands of California public schools. That work was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and won the prestigious Gold Medal from the Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Scripps Howard Award for Public Service, and the Gannett Foundation Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism. His expose of California’s illegal and coerced sterilizations of imprisoned women spurred legislative hearings, a state audit, several criminal investigations and the creation of a law banning the practice. It was recently turned into a movie called Belly of the Beast. While at the Marshall Project, Corey and Ken Armstrong’s investigation of the harsh sentencing of juveniles, triggered the release of a Baton Rouge man who was imprisoned for life for throwing a single punch in a childhood fight. More recently, Corey’s stories have prompted the discovery of dangerous amounts of lead in the drinking water of Florida schools; kickstarted the FBI’s investigation of local religious leaders. Corey is from Atlanta, GA and is a proud graduate of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Fl.

Emmanuel Martinez

Emmanuel (he/him) is a data reporter for The Markup. Previously, he worked in the same position for the investigative news outlet and public radio show Reveal in the San Francisco Bay Area, using data, statistics, and programming to tell stories. His previous work examined access to homeownership and mortgage discrimination, where he analyzed 31 million housing records to prove that people of color were being routinely denied mortgages in 61 major U.S. metro areas. Emmanuel has also worked on a tool to help match unidentified bodies with missing persons’ reports, reported on why wildfires in the West are growing larger and sparking closer to homes, and dug into water shortages in California’s Central Valley, which produces a quarter of the nation’s food.

Dan Mihalopoulos

Dan (he/him) is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. He worked with ProPublica Illinois on “The Bad Bet” series, which prompted the state to increase funding for gambling-addiction counseling and won the National Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting in 2020. Dan joined WBEZ in 2018 from the Chicago Sun-Times. His stories for the newspaper’s “Watchdogs” team led to the resignation of Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool and resulted in a federal fraud case against the state’s largest charter-school network. He is a two-time winner of the Chicago Headline Club’s Watchdog Award for Excellence in Public Interest Reporting and was awarded the Headline Club’s 2018 Anne Keegan Award for his feature stories about immigrants. His work also received first prize for investigative reporting in the Education Writers Association’s national awards in 2014. Dan worked previously at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Chicago News Cooperative (Chicago section of the New York Times) and the Chicago Tribune, where he covered City Hall, the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and the 2004 Summer Olympics. Dan was born in Chicago, went to Maine West High School in Des Plaines and graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. His first language was Greek, and he speaks fluent Spanish.

Jared Rutecki

Jared (he/him) is an investigative reporter and data coordinator with the Better Government Association, a nonprofit newsroom in Chicago. He manages the BGA databases, and creates stories on state and local government matters, including topics such as pensions, payroll and public safety. On average, he sent more than 1,500 successful public-records requests every year since 2016. He previously worked as a web producer at The Columbus Dispatch for nine years. He began his career as a web producer at ThisWeek News. He received his B.A. in journalism from Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio and his M.S. in journalism with an emphasis in new media from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.

Topher Sanders

Topher (he/him) covers race, inequality and the justice system for ProPublica. In 2019, he was part of a team that was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for Public Service and won the Peabody and George Polk awards for their coverage of President Trump’s family separation policy. In 2018, he and reporter Ben Conarck received the Paul Tobenkin award for race coverage and the Al Nakkula award for police reporting for their multi-part investigation “Walking While Black,” which explored how jaywalking citations are disproportionately given to black pedestrians. His reporting has won a number of other national awards including a NABJ Award, an Online Journalism Award, the John Jay College/Harry Frank Guggenheim award for excellence in criminal justice reporting and he is a two-time winner of the Paul Tobenkin award for coverage of racial intolerance and discrimination. In 2016 Sanders co-founded the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit working to increase the number of investigative reporters and editors of color. He is a graduate of Tuskegee University and started his journalism career at The Montgomery Advertiser in Montgomery, Alabama.

Cheryl W. Thompson

Cheryl (she/her) is an investigative correspondent and senior editor for NPR who oversees investigations for its member stations. Before coming to NPR in 2019, she spent 22 years as an investigative and beat reporter with The Washington Post. Her work has prompted policy changes and state and federal investigations that resulted in the conviction of several elected and appointed officials. She has won dozens of awards, including an Emmy, IRE, National Headliner, three Salute to Excellence awards from the National Association of Black Journalists, and a SPJ Washington Dateline award in 2019 for an investigation into the 50-year-old unsolved murders of six little black girls in the nation’s capital. Thompson also was part of the Post team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting; was a reporter on the newspaper’s year-long police shooting series that won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting; and was the reporting coach on the NPR podcast “No Compromise,” that won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize. In 2018, she was elected the first Black president of Investigative Reporters and Editors, a 6,000-member organization dedicated to improving investigative journalism. She served three terms in that role and was named board chairman in June 2021. Thompson also is an associate professor of journalism at George Washington University.

Mc Nelly Torres

Mc Nelly (she/her) is an award-winning, investigative journalist and editor at the Center for Public Integrity. Previously, Torres worked as an investigative producer for NBC6 in Miami. In 2010, Torres co-founded the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting ( Before that her consumer stories at the Sun-Sentinel won state, regional, and national awards. She covered education for the San Antonio Express-News where her work contributed to the conviction of a school building architect accused of bribery. In South Carolina, she garnered local and state awards for her investigative work on the state’s hog farm permitting process. She has also been a contributor to the Center for Investigative Journalism of Puerto Rico and to the Investigative Editors Corp. Torres was the first Latina to be elected to the boards of directors of the Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Florida Society of News Editors. She’s currently serving on the national board of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Torres has earned over a dozen awards throughout her career, including an Emmy for her work at NBC, an Edward R. Murrow Award, and several awards from organizations such as the NAHJ, the Education Writers Association and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Francisco Vara-Orta

Francisco (he/him) brings nearly two decades of newsroom experience to his role as IRE’s first director of diversity and inclusion. Vara-Orta joined the IRE staff in February 2019 as a training director. While working as a trainer, he has conducted sessions on managing data and investigative reporting for journalists across the United States and internationally. He has worked for a variety of online and print publications, including Chalkbeat, Education Week, the San Antonio Express-News, Austin Business Journal, Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Times. He earned a master’s degree in investigative/data journalism at the University of Missouri and a bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.