Causey Luthern   Mendez Smith Umhoefer

On the Frontlines: Doing Journalism that Matters During Turbulent Times



  • Princess Safiya Byers, Comm ’20, Report for America Fellow, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
  • James Causey, Comm ’94, Reporter, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
  • Ashley Luthern, Reporter, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
  • Edgar Mendez, Grad ’14, Senior Staff Reporter, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service


  • Ron Smith, Prof St '05, Grad' 09, Editor, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service; and Instructor of Practice in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Diederich College of Communication, Marquette University
  • Dave Umhoefer, Director, O'Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism, Diederich College of Communication, Marquette University

Backed by Marquette University’s Diederich College of Communication, the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service and the O'Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism report on underserved communities and expose structural roadblocks to a better world. Join us for a conversation with the journalists who are making a difference in our communities.

More about this session

Princess Safiya Byers, Comm ’20, is a Report for America Fellow at Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. She was born and raised in Milwaukee and is a 2020 graduate of Marquette University, where she majored in Journalism and Africana Studies. Her commitment to her community has led her to nonprofit work with local youth and families. She was an intern with the Milwaukee Community Journal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service before joining the staff as a Report For America fellow. Princess covers housing, arts and culture, minority entrepreneurship, transportation, youth and homelessness.

James E. Causey, Comm ’94, started reporting on life in his city while still at Marshall High School through a Milwaukee Sentinel internship. He's been covering his hometown ever since, writing and editing news stories, projects and opinion pieces on urban youth, mental health, employment, housing and incarceration. As an O’Brien Fellow in 2019-20 he investigated solutions to Milwaukee’s socioeconomic problems in a series entitled “Milwaukee’s Promise” beginning in June 2020. He wrote "What happened to us?" which tracked the lives of his third-grade classmates, and "Cultivating a Community" about the bonding that takes place around a neighborhood garden. Causey was a health fellow at the University of Southern California in 2018 and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2007.

Ashley Luthern has covered public safety, crime and policing in Milwaukee since 2013 when she joined the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel staff. She was the Journal Sentinel's lead reporter on “Precious Lives”, a two-year collaboration between local media outlets exploring the causes and consequences of gun violence on youth in the city. That work was recognized with two first-place national awards from the Society for Features Journalism. During the 2018-19 academic year, she was an O'Brien Fellow in Public Service Journalism at Marquette University where she investigated homicide clearance rates and what justice means for victims' families. She lives in Milwaukee and loves sharing stories about its neighborhoods and the people in them.

Edgard Mendez, Grad ’14, was raised in a South Side (Milwaukee) neighborhood where he still lives. He is a senior staff reporter for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. Mendez is a proud graduate of UW-Milwaukee, where he double majored in Journalism and Sociology, and of Marquette University, where he earned a master’s degree in Communication. He won a 2018 Regional Edward R. Murrow Award and 2014, 2017, and 2018 Milwaukee Press Club Awards for his reporting on taverns, marijuana law enforcement, and lead in water service lines. In 2008, he won a Society of Professional Journalists’ regional award for columns dealing with issues such as poverty, homelessness and racism. His writing has been published by the Associated Press, Reuters, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and other media. He has also co-authored three articles published in scholarly journals.

Ron Smith, Prof St '05, Grad '09, is an instructor of practice in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Marquette University’s Diederich College of Communication and the editor/program director for the award-winning Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. Before his current role, Ron served as the managing editor for news at USA TODAY.  In addition, he was the deputy managing editor for daily news and production at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where he oversaw the breaking news hub, production desks and was the key point person for print story selections and workflow.  Ron has been blessed to work in outstanding newsrooms across the country, including The Oregonian, the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. Ron began his professional career as a reporter and editor for two weekly newspapers in the Los Angeles area before becoming a political reporter for a daily legal publication in downtown Los Angeles.  He’s also worked as an advertising sales director and as the interim student adviser for New Expression, a citywide teen publication written by and for Chicago youths that had a monthly circulation of 70,000.  He has edited several Pulitzer Prize-winning reports and is known for championing great journalism and the great journalists who produce great works.

In addition, Ron is active in the National Association of Black Journalists, the American Copy Editors Society and the Online News Association. A sought-after speaker, Ron has led sessions for Poynter, American Society of News Editors, National Association of Black Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association. He served as the co-leadership chairman for the American Society of News Editors and as an instructor for the organization’s Emerging Leaders Institute, which trains diverse mid-career professionals to be newsroom leaders. He "proceeds until apprehended” and is not afraid to roll up his sleeves to help others -- all while having fun along the way.

Dave Umhoefer is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of local and state government culminated in a 2008 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. In 2017 he was named director of the O’Brien Fellowship in the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University, where he also teaches investigative journalism. Dave was an O’Brien Fellow in 2015-16 as a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where he served as a reporter and editor for 32 years. He is a native of La Crosse, Wis.


Journalists who cover the heart of the matter

When the calendar flipped to 2020, life as people knew it began changing forever, personally and professionally. Journalists are among the countless professionals who faced unexpected challenges around every corner, and local journalism has been especially hit hard.

Yet everyday, readers benefit from the resilience, determination and commitment of journalists who honor their craft and deliver the important stories — those that matter.

BeyondMU — Lifelong Learning recently convened accomplished journalists who serve two recognized local media outlets backed by the Diederich College of Communication — Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, run by editor, Ron Smith, Prof St ’05, Grad ’09, and the O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism, directed by Dave Umhoefer.

Read the full story.



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