Announcing the FOIAFest 2021 Boot Camp cohort

The Chicago Headline Club, the largest chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, is proud to announce the participants of the inaugural FOIAFest Boot Camp. 

Our inaugural cohort partners 15 early career journalists from Chicago with seasoned reporters, who are skilled at using public records laws. 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 FOIAFest, the Headline Club’s annual conference to train journalists and the 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 the support is informal, we know that journalists of color often don’t get the same mentoring opportunities as their counterparts in majority White newsrooms. So this is an effort to formalize that relationship with the intention of making it more equitable.  

The Boot Camp coordinators, Maria Zamudio and Alejandra Cancino, hope the program inspires newsrooms to create mentoring opportunities that would help support and retain journalists of color in the industry.

“When I envisioned this program, I wanted to empower journalists and disrupt the system,” said Maria Ines Zamudio. “I’ve been listening to both journalists of color and White journalists who want to diversify the field of investigative journalism. I wanted to show everyone has the power to make it happen.”

Led by a volunteer board, the Chicago Headline Club has trained hundreds of journalists and members of the public through its annual FOIAFest conference. Planning for this year’s conference, which is being held virtually on Feb. 19-21, is being led by Sun-Times education reporter Nader Issa.  

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

Meet the inaugural 2021 FOIAFest Boot Camp cohort:

Meet the 2021 FOIAFest Boot Camp Mentees

Maxwell Evans

Maxwell covers Hyde Park, Woodlawn and South Shore for Block Club Chicago. He previously wrote for Gongwer News Service, Capital News Service and City Pulse, all in Lansing, Mich. Hailing from Kalamazoo, Mich., Maxwell studied journalism at Michigan State University and served as city desk editor for the student newspaper The State News.

Kiran Misra

Kiran Misra is a freelance journalist currently reporting as the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ inaugural Richard C. Longworth Media Fellow and as a staff writer at South Side Weekly. She primarily reports on the mechanisms behind systems of political power and the people who are most impacted by them, covering issues of criminal justice, politics, and identity. She also serves as a Government Partnerships Officer for the United Nations World Food Programme. Her reporting has been featured in outlets including The Guardian, Slate, SELF, Chicago Reader, Injustice Watch, Belt Magazine, and more

Alex Arriaga

As a reporter, Alex Arriaga’s work has primarily focused on elections and politics, immigrants and labor. Currently she’s completing a residency with City Bureau, where her work on the census, elections and civic participation centers Chicago’s immigrant communities.

Abel Rodriguez

My name is Abel Rodriguez, I’m a latino reporter out of Cicero, IL. My reporting is focused on Chicago’s West and South Sides as well as in suburban Cicero and Berwyn.  I’ve reported for The Real Chi and Cicero Independiente, a bilingual nonprofit newsroom, and have covered several beats including, politics, environmental and police misconduct. When I’m not reporting I like riding my bike around town and taking photos, sometimes doing both at the same time. I graduated from Dominican University in 2019.

Samantha Callender

Samantha Callender is a multimedia journalist whose work ranges from beauty and lifestyle journalism to pieces highlighting social issues in multicultural communities. Samantha strives to find intersects between entertainment and social matters, believing that pop culture has the power to not only entertain the masses, but to educate them as well. Her goal when storytelling is to write pieces that serve as a catalyst to prompt dialogue and activism. Her work can be seen on VIBE, The Source, Essence, The Root, and Cosmopolitan Magazine. Catch her at @OnYourCallender

Jessica Villagomez

Jessica Villagomez is a general assignment reporter for The Chicago Tribune reporting on public health and inequality in Chicago. She is a proud alumna of Northwestern University and DePaul University where she now serves as the advisor for DePaul’s Spanish student newspaper, La DePaulia. She has been published in PBS Newshour, In These Times Magazine, NPR’s Latino USA and HOY.

Alice Yin

My name is Alice and I am a journalist at the Chicago Tribune, where I report on Cook County politics and the upcoming Obama Presidential Center. Previously I worked at the Chicago Sun-Times and the Lansing, Michigan, bureau of the Associated Press. A Bay Area native, I graduated in 2017 from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism with a degree in journalism and economics. After my first encounters with Lake Michigan and the “L,” I fell in love with the city and never looked back

Diane Bou Khalil

Diane Bou Khalil is an engagement reporter at Borderless Magazine. She grew up in Brummana, Lebanon and is fluent in Arabic. Before joining Borderless, Diane interned with the magazine and worked at the World Relief refugee agency. She studied sociology at Northeastern Illinois University and will graduate with a Master’s in international studies from DePaul University in 2022. Her interests are in immigration and culture. She also enjoys painting, watching comedies and catching up with loved ones.

Corli Jay

Corlicia Tolliver (Corli Jay) is a freelance journalist in Chicago. As a City Bureau reporting fellow in fall 2020, Corli reported on the City’s budget process. She likes to do work that focuses on policies that impact Black communities as well as Chicago’s local music scene. Corli’s work can be seen in publications such as Chicago Reader and South Side Weekly.

Nereida Moreno

Nereida Moreno is a producer on WBEZ’s Reset and formerly produced The Morning Shift. She previously reported for the Chicago Tribune’s metro desk with a focus on immigration and Latino communities. Prior to that, Nereida was a breaking news reporter with the Southern California News Group. She covered crime and public safety issues in her native San Bernardino, Calif. before moving to Chicago in 2016.

Alina Panek

Alina Panek is the weekend assignment editor and nightside desk associate for CBS 2 Chicago. She is an early pandemic journalism graduate of Denison University. She won a President’s medal for her leadership, academic success and contribution to cross-cultural engagement, which includes editor of The Denisonian. In journalism, her passion lies in investigative, particularly on the health and education beat. Alina’s day job is Project Coordinator with Report for America. Born and raised in Chicago, and 70% vegetarian, she can’t deny her love of Al’s Italian beef.

Grace Asiegbu

Grace Asiegbu is the inaugural Community Engagement Resident at the Chicago Sun-Times. Working under the tutelage of longtime columnist Mary Mitchell, she specializes in engagement through community reporting and outreach. In her spare time, she loves to sing, ask questions, watch trash reality TV, stan Beyoncé. Her email is and her Twitter is @_uzunma

Rita Oceguera

Rita Oceguera covers immigration, policing and class equity as a reporter and fellow for Reporter for America. She graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, studying investigative journalism and anthropology. Before joining the team, Rita worked at The Chicago Reporter as the bilingual community engagement reporter, focused on creating relationships with the Latino community living in the suburbs. She will continue this work at Injustice Watch, providing a suburban context to city issues that Latinos and immigrants face

Pascal Sabino

Pascal Sabino is the West Side reporter for Block Club Chicago and a corps member for Report for America. His reporting covers the North Lawndale, Garfield Park and Austin neighborhoods. He has a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Politics from Pomona College in California. Pascal is a visual artist and enjoys watercolor painting, collage, making short films and documentaries. He is a proud father to over 40 plant babies.

Samantha Smylie


Samantha Smylie is currently the state education reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago. Before joining Chalkbeat, she worked at the Hyde Park Herald covering housing, education, retail and development in the Kenwood-Hyde Park and Woodlawn neighborhoods on the city’s southeast side. She was a reporting fellow for City Bureau where she covered civic education in Chicago. Later on, she participated in ProPublica’s Data Institute. She has had bylines in Block Club Chicago, the Chicago Reader, and South Side Weekly.

Meet the 2021 FOIAFest Boot Camp Mentors

Jason Grotto

Born and raised in Chicago, Bloomberg News reporter Jason Grotto specializes in quantitative analysis, using databases, statistics and mapping to ferret out corruption, negligence and bad public policy. Previously, he worked as an investigative reporter for ProPublica, the Chicago Tribune and the Miami Herald. His project exposing widespread inaccuracies and disparities in Cook County’s property tax assessment system was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for local reporting and received the Gerald Loeb Award for local reporting in 2018. He has also reported on the pension crisis in Chicago and Illinois and led another Gerald Loeb Award-winning investigation on Chicago Public Schools’ disastrous use of auction-rate securities. He has uncovered fraud in federal poverty programs, problems in Iraq war contracting and flaws in the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation.

Tony Briscoe

Tony Briscoe 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 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

Matt Kiefer

Matt Kiefer is a data specialist with The Washington Post’s Lede Lab, where he researches and develops new processes for acquiring and analyzing public records. He was a 2020 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University, where he prototyped tools for monitoring civil and human rights. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, he started a collaborative research project to collect medical examiner records around the United States to support local newsrooms measuring the virus’s impacts on their communities. Previously, he was the data editor at the Chicago Reporter, a small nonprofit newsroom that investigates issues of race and income inequality. He is the creator of FOIAmail, an open-source software project that enables news organizations to distribute, manage and process large-scale public records request campaigns.

Adriana Gallardo

Adriana joined ProPublica in 2016 as an engagement reporter. Since then, she’s collaborated across the newsroom on investigative series covering women’s health, immigration, and sexual violence. Her community-sourced reporting contributed to several awards including a 2018 Pulitzer Prize finalist series for explanatory reporting (Lost Mothers) and the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for public service (Lawless). She is a bilingual adjunct professor at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY where she teaches advanced reporting on Latino communities. Prior to ProPublica, she oversaw a national reporting series at 15 public media stations. She’s traveled the country with the StoryCorps mobile booth collecting hundreds of stories archived at the Library of Congress. In her hometown Chicago, she spent over a decade working as a media educator, journalist and radio producer.

Francisco Vara-Orta

Francisco Vara-Orta is a training director at the Investigative Reporters & Editors, Inc. He has two decades of journalism experience, published by a variety of online and print news organizations, 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 – his beloved hometown.

Jared Rutecki

Jared Rutecki 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.

Alexia Fernandez Campbell

Alexia Fernández Campbell is an investigative reporter at the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, DC, where she writes about labor and inequality. She previously worked at Vox, The Atlantic, National Journal and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Mc Nelly Torres

Mc Nelly Torres 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.

Emmanuel Martinez


Emmanuel Martinez 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.

Vernal Coleman

Vernal Coleman 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.

Dan Mihalopoulos


Dan 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.

Angela Caputo


Angela Caputo 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 FOIAFest

Duaa Eldeib

Duaa Eldeib is a reporter for ProPublica Illinois. 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.

Topher Sanders

Topher Sanders 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.

Corey Johnson

Corey Johnson 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.

Meet the FOIA Experts

Natalie Moore

Natalie Moore covers segregation and inequality. Her enterprise reporting has tackled race, housing, economic development, food injustice and violence. Natalie’s work has been broadcast on the BBC, Marketplace and NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. Natalie is the author of The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation, winner of the 2016 Chicago Review of Books award for nonfiction and a Buzzfeed best nonfiction book of 2016. She is also co-author of The Almighty Black P Stone Nation: The Rise, Fall and Resurgence of an American Gang and Deconstructing Tyrone: A New Look at Black Masculinity in the Hip-Hop Generation. Natalie writes a monthly column for the Chicago Sun-Times. Her work has been recognized with local, regional and national awards. Prior to joining WBEZ staff in 2007, Natalie was a city hall reporter for the Detroit News. She has also been an education reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and a reporter for the Associated Press in Jerusalem. Natalie has an M.S.J. in Newspaper Management from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and a B.A. in Journalism from Howard University. She has taught at Columbia College and Medill.

Kristen Schorsch

Kristen Schorsch is a reporter on WBEZ’s government and politics team, where she covers public health and Cook County. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she has focused on the government’s response to the coronavirus, and disparities among hospitals and the patients they treat. Before joining WBEZ in 2018, Kristen spent 15 years in the print and digital worlds. She’s covered health care for nearly a decade, in addition to government, crime, courts, higher education and news of the weird (think coffin parties) for Crain’s Chicago Business, the Chicago Tribune, the Daily Southtown and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Kristen has won more than a dozen local and national awards for her work. Her stories have sparked policy changes and spurred investigations. Kristen is a former longtime board member of the Chicago Headline Club and co-founded FOIAFest. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois and is a proud Daily Illini alumna. Follow her @kschorsch.