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Ten Journalists Awarded Brechner Fellowships to Support Reporting on Issues of Government Secrecy

Ten journalists from across the country have been awarded grants to pursue in-depth reporting projects about government secrecy through the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida.

The inaugural Brechner Reporting Fellowships were created to benefit journalists who have lost jobs or experienced furloughs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, during which at least 30 local news organizations have shut down and hundreds of others have downsized.

“We’re incredibly excited to be able to help support the work of excellent journalists from a variety of backgrounds in markets from coast to coast as they pursue stories to shine a brighter spotlight on the importance of transparency,” said UF Journalism Professor Frank D. LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center. “In the midst of twin crises over the trustworthiness of police and the trustworthiness of public-health information, the common denominator is that the public benefits from transparency and accountability. These journalists will help tell that story in their communities.”

Each fellow will receive an award totaling $2,500 to support their pursuit of an in-depth reporting project, with no editorial control by the Brechner Center or the University of Florida. The work of the fellows will be made available to the media outlets of their choice throughout the coming year.

The subjects they have chosen to explore include: Secrecy in economic-development subsidies, access to public records from tribal governments, the influence of quasi-public school board associations, and the rights of corporate whistleblowers to speak to the media without retaliation.

The Brechner fellows are:

Matt Drange (Oakland, California)
Matt Drange is an investigative reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area, where his coverage focuses on the tech industry and its many intersections with government. Drange’s work has been recognized with numerous accolades, and in 2019 he received the Larry Birger Award as the best young business journalist in the country.

Mya Frazier (Columbus, Ohio)
Mya Frazier is an investigative and business journalist based in the Midwest. Her work has appeared in Bloomberg Businessweek,, Outside, Columbia Journalism Review, Guardian Long Read, The New Republic, Slate, The Atlantic, Harper’s, and Columbus Monthly. She is a former staff writer for The Cleveland Plain Dealer and American City Business Journals.

Gary Harki (Norfolk, Virginia)
Gary Harki is an investigative reporter at The Virginian-Pilot. He spent a year on fellowship at Marquette University investigating the jailing of people with mental illness. In 2019, he won the Al Nakkula Award for Police Reporting, which honors outstanding police reporting.

Courtney Mabeus (Leesburg, Virginia)
Courtney Mabeus has worked as a journalist for nearly 15 years. Her three-part series “No Turning Back” received a first place National Headliner Award as well as an award for excellence in feature writing from the Association of LGBTQ Journalists in 2019. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Carolina Public Press and she has most recently worked on staff for Navy Times and The Virginian-Pilot.

Sara MacNeil (Las Vegas)
Sara MacNeil is a reporter in Las Vegas, Nevada. She has reported in newsrooms in New Mexico, Louisiana and Alabama. MacNeil has covered everything from murder trials to elections to landmark legislation, with a readiness for accountability journalism.

Steve Miller (Dallas)
Steve Miller is an independent journalist based in Dallas. He has written for Real Clear Investigations, Miami New Times, The Daily Beast and Associated Press, among others, and is the author of six books.

Hilary Niles (Durham, New Hampshire)
Hilary Niles is an independent data journalism consultant, freelance investigative and multimedia reporter, and award-winning researcher. She chairs the Society of Professional Journalists’ Freelance Community, and serves on SPJ’s FOI Committee. Her reporting for the Brechner Fellowship will document efforts to establish a free press in Native American tribal nations.

Romina Ruiz-Goiriena (Miami)
Romina Ruiz-Goiriena is a multimedia journalist and Investigative Fellow at the Miami Herald after being awarded a grant in partnership with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Fund for Investigative Journalism. She has worked in newsrooms all over the world including Fusion, CNN, The Associated Press, El Mundo of Spain, France24 and

Dylan Smith (Tucson, Arizona)
Dylan Smith is the editor and publisher of, a nonprofit independent watchdog journalism organization. He’s the founding chairman of Local Independent Online News Publishers association, and an award-winning investigative reporter who keeps officials awake at night with records requests.

Alia Wong (Arlington, Virginia)
Alia Wong is an award-winning freelance reporter who covers education, families, race, and other social issues. She previously worked as a staff writer and associate editor at The Atlantic, where she developed its education section. She began her journalism career in 2012 as a watchdog education reporter at Honolulu Civil Beat.

Posted: June 4, 2020
Category: Brechner News, College News
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