Military Veterans in Journalism announces the selectees from the 2023 edition of the contest.
Military Veterans in Journalism (MVJ) is pleased to announce the winners of the 2023 Top Ten Veterans in Journalism contest. Established in 2021, this annual competition acknowledges and celebrates the outstanding contributions of veterans who are excelling in the news media. Contest winners are selected from a pool of nominees by a panel of experienced journalists and editors, and their works represent a variety of mediums and topics across the news industry.
A committee of experienced industry professionals – including Barbara Starr, former CNN Pentagon correspondent and current Senior Fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center on Communication Leadership and Policy; David Kishiyama, retired LA Times editor and co-founder of AAJA; Zachary Fryer-Biggs, the managing editor of Military.com; and Kelly Kennedy, the managing editor of The War Horse – evaluated the nominated journalists and their pieces. Each nomination was carefully assessed based on the piece’s originality, newsworthiness and impact, journalistic quality, and the diversity of subject matters, sources and authors.
Winners of the contest are recognized for their achievements in shaping the media landscape with their insightful reporting and profound storytelling. This year’s winners have displayed exceptional skill, compassion, and a relentless commitment to shedding light on important issues. The work they have produced shows their unwavering dedication to their profession and the pursuit of truth.
The winners of this year’s Top Ten Veterans in Journalism contest are listed below in alphabetical order.
Alex Horton is a Georgetown University graduate with a BA in English, currently serving as a national security reporter for The Washington Post, where he focuses on U.S. military affairs. With prior experience as an Army infantryman in Iraq and a background in journalism with Stars and Stripes, Alex’s dedication and expertise have earned him numerous accolades, including the shared honor of the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, highlighting his outstanding contributions to the field of journalism and his commitment to informing the public on critical national security issues.
Winning Piece: The children of troops lost to Iraq War are all grown up
Allison P. Erickson is a former U.S. Army Medical Service Corps officer and accomplished journalist. She has covered military and veterans issues in Texas as a reporting fellow at The Texas Tribune. With extensive military experience and commendations such as the Purple Heart and Meritorious Service Medal, Allison brings a deep understanding of the challenges faced by service members to her work. She holds a master’s degree in creative publishing and critical journalism from The New School, and her reporting has been featured in respected publications like the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas Monthly, and The Point.
Brett Sholtis is an investigative reporter at LNP | LancasterOnline specializing in extremism, threats to democracy, and the influence of dark money on local politics. Previously, he worked as a health reporter at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based NPR affiliate WITF, where his notable contributions shed light on the failures of behavioral health and criminal justice policies for people with mental illness. Brett was recognized as the 2021-2022 Benjamin von Sternenfels Rosenthal fellow, a partnership between the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships and the Center for Investigative Reporting. He served as an infantry soldier in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and deployed to Kosovo in 2003. Brett’s dedication to journalism is inspired by his late brother, Bryan Reid Sholtis, who lived with serious mental health condition and passed away in 2011.
Cyrus Norcross is an award-winning freelance journalist from the Navajo Nation who has had articles and photos published with The Navajo Times, Source NM and Public Lands. His investigative work focuses primarily on the missing and murdered indigenous people of the Navajo Nation, but he also covers sports, tribal government, and art festivals, among other topics. His passion for journalism was ignited during his five-month stint at the Standing Rock protests in 2016, where he recognized the crucial need for Native American voices in the media.
Norcross served in the Army from 2007 to 2013. During this time, he deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times as an Army Ranger with the 75th Ranger Regiment. Norcross is currently balancing his freelance endeavors while pursuing his bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University.
Devin Speak is a journalist and photographer with a special focus on climate and human rights. After his time in the U.S. Coast Guard, he attended New York University where he graduated as the valedictorian of his class in Global Studies. He recently completed his internship with NPR and has since freelanced a story on plastic pollution plaguing the Long Island Sound. He hopes to continue an impactful career in human rights and climate focused communications.
Jennifer Brookland is a journalist covering child welfare for The Detroit Free Press and a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. Her reporting is opening windows into overlooked aspects of raising children – or being one – in Michigan. Jennifer previously worked as a military and veterans reporting fellow with the American Homefront Project and as a producer for North Carolina Public Radio. She also spent time freelance writing and editing for clients including the World Bank and the United Nations. Jennifer holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University and a master’s degree in international law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School. Prior to her career as a journalist, Jennifer served as a Special Agent in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, with posts in North Carolina, Maryland and the Horn of Africa.
Julia Kane is a journalist who writes about climate change and environmental justice. She earned her master’s from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where she studied investigative reporting and narrative writing. Prior to becoming a journalist, she served as an officer in the Coast Guard, spending four years aboard ships based in Honolulu, Hawaii and Key West, Florida, and two years as aide-de-camp to a flag officer in Alameda, California.
Konstantin Toropin is a reporter for Military.com specializing in coverage of the Navy and Marine Corps. He is also a Navy veteran, having served five years in the surface fleet as a signals intelligence analyst. Toropin has previously covered breaking national news for CNN, reporting on everything from protests to hurricanes from the field and the newsroom. His portfolio also includes investigative work on 2020 campaign and election claims and the effects of the pandemic on food processing plants. Toropin holds a bachelor’s degree from The Pennsylvania State University in journalism and a master’s degree in mass communication from the University of Minnesota.
Steve Beynon is an experienced reporter with Military.com known for his detailed investigations on critical issues impacting soldiers. As an Afghanistan war veteran with 15 years of service as a cavalry scout, he brings extensive firsthand experience to his reporting. Steve has also covered Capitol Hill, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and contributed to publications such as Politico, Military Times, Stars and Stripes, and the Cincinnati Enquirer. With a bachelor’s in journalism and environmental policy from the University of Cincinnati, Steve’s expertise and dedication make him a respected voice in the field.
Thomas Gibbons-Neff is a New York Times Ukraine correspondent focusing on enterprise, on-the-ground investigations and reporting from the war. Prior to his current position, he covered the Pentagon and other assignments, such as the 2017 Niger ambush, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the Syrian civil war, for the Washington Post. Gibbons-Neff is a Marine Infantry veteran and was deployed twice to Afghanistan – first in 2008 during George W. Bush’s presidency, then again in 2009 as part of Barack Obama’s troop surge.
These journalists have not only elevated the standards of the field but have also fostered public understanding and awareness of critical issues. Their collective efforts will inspire future generations of journalists, both military veterans and civilians.
“We extend our heartfelt congratulations to all the winners of this year’s Top Ten Veterans in Journalism contest,” said MVJ Executive Director Zack Baddorf. “Their remarkable achievements and dedication to journalism are a testament to their unwavering commitment to informing the American public through quality journalism. We are honored to have them as part of the MVJ community.”