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Maura Stephens is an independent journalist, writer, educator, theater artist, and environmental, peace, justice, indy media, and human rights activist. After having left Ithaca College after 19 years, she is currently a visiting professor at the UN-mandated University for Peace. She also leads workshops on advocacy journalism, independent media, media literacy, organizing, food security, and other topics to interested groups and communities.
Her response to those who insist wrongly that journalists must be "impartial" and "balanced" is simple:
Now is the most critical time in human history for journalism, not only in the United States but also in every corner of the globe. Journalism is, and should reclaim its position as, a noble profession. It cannot be so unless it is adversarial toward those in power and empathetic toward those who are weak. We do not serve the profession or the public if we act as if there is no such thing as right or wrong. We are not truly journalists if we fail to advocate for people, the planet, and all the other voiceless species that share it with us. We must not be beholden to governments or corporations, only to the truth and to justice and parity. We are not scribes for politicians, nor for tycoons. Our professional obligation is to provide megaphones for the unheard, even as we challenge the powerful. Truth and justice together are the two key components of good journalism. There is no "balance" when one side has all the tools and all the money. Maura has written about these things often and will be doing more of the same in greater depth in future.
Maura writes for independent media and speaks on varied subjects including journalism and media, human rights, Iraq, sustainability, organic farming, food production, food security, Burma, Ireland, international affairs, corporate malfeasance and control, social justice, theocracy, entrepreneurship, urban lot reclamation, writing, editing, publishing, education, organizing, and health policy.
Since 2008 her primary concentration has been climate change, the environment, and energy, including the dangers of fracking, the intensely violent industrial activity that is sweeping the planet along with its myriad related infrastructures and industries. This industrial onslaught is hastening catastrophic climate change while fracturing Nature and human communities.
Maura is currently working on two exciting book projects with working titles of Five Noble Professions, and How to Restore Them (no doubt by now you can guess at least three of them?) and No B.S.: People Without a College Degree Who Are Changing the World for the Better. If you know of an admirable person who might make a good profile for the latter, please send Maura your recommendation.
A determinedly independent writer, theater artist, and educator, Maura majored in theater arts and creative writing in college. She began her professional career as a New York City actor, working off-off-off Broadway and even a little off-Broadway, and further studying at several studios.
Later she learned the craft of journalism during 19 years in various editorial positions at Newsweek and Newsweek International, while simultaneously operating an organic farm called Isle of Ewe in central New York State.
For many years her climb up the ladder at the magazine was a journalistic dream, and would prepare her well for running later editorial ventures. Learning from great editors including Lynn Povich (author of The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace, the book on which the too-short-lived Amazon Prime series Good Girls Revolt was based), she worked on stories as varied as the wars in Lebanon and Central America, the "troubles" in Northern Ireland, South African apartheid and its dismantling, the quincentennial of the arrival of Europeans in the "New World," the Japanese stock market, and the early years of the AIDS epidemic.
In her free time she also ran a small editorial direction business, with a clientele that primarily included nonprofit agencies and civic organizations. In this full-service business, with her clients and some freelance help she designed, wrote, edited, and produced such publications as educational booklets, annual reports, white papers, and public relations materials; she also edited master's theses, doctoral dissertations, and other academic papers.
During her years on the farm, she grew or traded with neighbors for almost all her family's food (except rice, spices, and tropical fruits). Splitting her time between a place where all the cuisines of the world were available (NYC at Newsweek) and the farm, where she had all sorts of northeastern-US fruits, vegetables, grains, and forest foods to choose from, she became an accomplished and innovative chef. When she had to leave the farm to live in cities for a while, she studied horticulture and landscape design at Philadelphia's stunning Morris Arboretum (through University of Pennsylvania) and later the New York Botanical Garden.
At NYBG she had the good fortune (and timing) to be an original shaper of Bronx Green-up. BGU helped urban residents reclaim trash-strewn, dangerous, abandoned city-owned lots and turn them into urban oases of crops, flowers, trees, songbirds, beneficial insects, and tranquility; to grow and preserve food; and to bring neighbors together for exercise and community-strengthening, rewarding collective work. The program became a model for other city programs around the country, and it still thrives.
After leaving Newsweek, Maura cofounded an innovative and financially successful early Internet "e-zine,” raising launch funding via venture capital investments. She also benefited from the professional expertise, enthusiasm, and investments of members of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), a service of the Small Business Administration. She describes the experience as the "equivalent of earning an MBA." The e-zine was a pioneering one, offering some of the 'Net's first video panning, among other innovations.
From 1997 until mid-2010, Maura was publishing editor of ICView, the magazine of Ithaca College (IC), where she also guest lectured in classes from anthropology to writing, hosted 42 research-writing interns, served on committees, and programmed the visits of filmmakers, writers, scientists, humanists, and artists in various disciplines. During her editorship she ran stories on such disparate topics as race and racism, being gay on campus, non-state-sponsored terrorism, the mysterious higher ed tradition of tenure, U.S. imperialism, human rights, and attempts to preserve a vanishing culture in Mongolia.
In 2010 she became associate director of Park Center for Independent Media, home of the Izzy Awards and the I. F. Stone Hall of Fame, working with founding director Jeff Cohen, media critic, author, and champion of independent media; and administrator extraordinaire Brandy Hawley. They are both at left in the photo at left, with 2016 Izzy Award winner Jamie Kalven, Maura, David Sassoon of Izzy Award-winning Inside Climate News, Izzy Award winner Brandon Smith, and
I. F. Stone Hall of Fame inductee Amy Goodman, host and executive producer of the daily radio and cable show Democracy Now!.
Among the many independent journalists and media luminaries PCIM has hosted are author and investigator David Sirota (top left), then of International Business Times, author and journalist Naomi Klein (below left), people's pundit and humorist Jim Hightower (bottom left), international journalist Sharif Abdel-Kouddous, journalist and podcast host Farai Chideya, Dan Ellsberg of Watergate whistleblower fame, feminist author Susan Faludi, documentary filmmaker Josh Fox, Democracy Now! cohosts Juan González and Amy Goodman, attorney/investigator Lisa Graves (then) of the Center for Media and Democracy, Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, media watchdog Janine Jackson of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR.org), author and The Intercept journalist Jeremy Scahill, Robert Scheer of Ramparts and TruthDig, cartoonist Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins), journalist and immigrants rights activist José Antonio Vargas, and sports policy correspondent of The Nation Dave Zirin.
If you'd like to get your news from a much more reliable source than what comes disguised as news from corporate-controlled mainstream media (including so-called "public" media), you'll want to check out PCIM's list of selected U.S. indy media.
As a journalism educator, Maura most often teaches Participatory (aka Citizen or Community) Journalism. Other classes she's taught have been Magazine Writing, Magazine Editing, News Writing, Multimedia Journalism, Independent News, Media Entrepreneurship, Democratic Social Justice Movements, Democracy in Action, Sustainable Business Practices, Sustainable Households, The Sustainable Campus, and community education courses on various other subjects.
Weeks before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, Maura and her husband, playwright-director-photographer-teacher George Sapio, first visited that country. They fell in love with the people and their culture and published a book, Collateral Damage, about them. Subsequently Maura worked to help Iraqi people who were endangered and misplaced because of this misguided invasion and subsequent occupation. It took four calamitous years for Maura to get the first Iraqi translator who'd worked for the U.S. military out to safety with his family; she was then able to help relocate another 48 families, with varying degrees of success. With Rosemary Nuri she founded Iraqi Refugees Assistance Connection, dedicated to helping imperiled Iraqis find safe haven and new communities. Both women continue to help Iraqis who made it to the USA, as well as others at home and in Syria and Jordan who are now suffering under ongoing violence, the predictable result of the hubristic, inhumane way the Iraqi people have been treated from within and without over the last several decades. Now, of course, Syrians and others from around the region so disrupted by the policies of the United States and its allies are in dire need of resettlement but being turned backs wherever they flee. And the U.S. is in its 18th year of war on Afghanistan, wars that have continued under three presidents. This did not have to be.
After publishing a story about IC janitor Han Lin (left, center) and his brave, inspirational fight for freedom in his homeland, Maura was invited to become a cofounder as well as chief policy strategist and US spokesperson for the International Campaign for Freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma, in which capacities she volunteered several years. Maura is pleased to have been called an "honorary Burmese" and to have many Burmese colleagues around the globe. (The courageous Han Lin passed away in 2008, but his friends and comrades continue the struggle.)
Aung San Suu Kyi was "freed" in November 2010 after a lengthy incarceration, but many more political prisoners still languish in Burmese jails. Aung San Suu Kyi is now a member of the Burmese Parliament and the de facto head of state. But she and her people now face a new series of challenges since the USA decided in May 2012 to lift sanctions on the country, freeing the junta to continue egregious human rights abuses unchecked . . . and freeing multinational corporations to rush in and begin their own regime of abuse. The persecution, slaughter, and displacement of the Muslim Rohingya people is a stain upon her rule, and is one of many human rights crises weighing upon the consciences of good people of the United States.
Also in 2003, Maura was fortunate to hear the visionary Joan Bokaer speak. A longtime nuclear disarmament activist and national speaker, founder of Ecovillage at Ithaca, and gifted organizer and researcher, Bokaer launched TheocracyWatch to study and expose how the Republican Party politicized the radical religious right. Maura became engaged in this work as well, and served as TheocracyWatch vice president and active member of its speakers bureau for several years. Clearly the radical religious right wing of the GOP is as powerful as ever, or more so, having captured not only the three branches of the U.S. federal government, but also many statehouses as well.
In that momentous year, she also saw a film that would change her life further. Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home, by James LaVeck and Jenny Stein, did for her exactly what its marketing said it would. "Can a change of heart change the world? Two animal rescuers, five farmers, and a cow named Snickers will make you laugh and cry, expand your consciousness, and challenge your ideas about who animals are. Open your eyes. Trust your heart. Take the journey." It changed this "meat"-raising, carnivore gourmet cook into a lifelong vegetarian, and an even better cook. (Watch it free at that link, and see what it does for you. And learn more at James and Jenny's site about the myth of humane animal agriculture at HumaneMyth.org.)
Maura still works as a theater (and occasional screen) actor, director, producer, and voice-over artist. She has been a member of Wolf’s Mouth Theatre Company and other troupes and was a founding member of Icarus Theatre Ensemble (right, bottom, as Hazel Hall in Susan Mach's Monograms, w/Karim Muasher). In 2013 she played Theresa (written for her) in the world premiere of George Sapio's comedic drama Fault Lines, produced by Wolf's Mouth, and Fern Gold- Dumas in the Homecoming Players' concert reading of Joni Fritz's In the Car with Blossom and Len.
In 2017 she read the role of Marcia Dane for the workshop production of George Sapio's First Amendment Play The Final Word. The Ithaca Fringe Festival debuted in April 2014, directed by George Sapio. Its four years were a resounding success and a highlight of springtime in Ithaca. Maura is proud to have been on the board of the IFF. In 2019 Maura directed the Costa Rica national tour of Sapio's Fault Lines. See more about Maura's theater work on the separate theater page.
Maura’s community involvement has also included Ithaca Rape Crisis/Crime Victim and Sexual Assault Services of Tompkins County (its programs now merged into the Advocacy Center); the Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County; Finger Lakes Progressives; Sustainable Tompkins; the Sustainable Enterprise and Entrepreneur Network; Sustainability Center; Democracy New York; WRFI Community Radio for Ithaca and Watkins Glen, and several independent media and democracy alliances.
Since 2009 Maura has been busy working alongside thousands of grassroots activists in the Coalition to Protect New York, FrackBustersNY, You Are Here fracking infrastructure mapping project, Advocates for Responsible Climate Action, and other groups to oppose corporate activities -- including fracking and its related industries and infrastructures -- from poisoning the water, polluting the air, and destroying the health of people and our natural world, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and thus to hastening catastrophic climate change, and essentially ruining our chances for survival on the one and only planet we share.
Among the policies that Maura and her groups espouse is criiminalizing corporate activities that harm human and nature communities. FrackbustersNY and its sister organization, Sovereign People's Action Network (SPAN) coauthored a draft Public Law #1 that does just that--and mandates heavy fines and jail time for the executives and board members of corporations found guilty of these crimes.
It's critically important that more people begin paying attention to fossil-fuel extraction and all the destructive related corporate activities -- pipelines, compressor stations, removal and permanent contamination of freshwater from ground and waterways, radioactive waste dumping, export, and more. It's also critical that we all use less energy in our own lives and demand policies that help us do so (such as more mass transit options; incentives and assistance for insulating our homes; mandated renewable energy for heating, cooling, and electrifying in new construction; killing oil/gas industry exemptions from regulation; increasing funding and tax incentives for research and development of renewable energy systems; etc.).
Before we can accomplish these daunting tasks, of course, we need to get money out of politics (see MoveToAmend and FreeSpeechForPeople) and to restore Net neutrality, while strongly supporting -- and using -- independent media! Getting our news from independent, that is, non-corporate controlled, news organizations is simply the only way to be accurately informed. And media literacy -- the ability to tell junk from news -- needs to be taught from kindergarten on.
A lifelong learner, Maura studied theater arts and creative writing as an undergraduate and did her first grad studies in horticulture and landscape design at the University of Pennsylvania's Morris Arboretum and the School of Professional Horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden, and her second in communications at Ithaca College. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Goddard College, where she was mentored by Susan Kim, Deborah Brevoort, Rogelio Martinez, Richard Panek, and Paul Selig, among other great faculty members/writers. She was accepted into the interdisciplinary Ph.D. program at Union Institute and University, but alas, fracking got in the way of that dream. She is a three-time graduate of Democracy School.
But mostly she is fortunate to have learned so much as a journalist on the job, as an educator in the classroom and the field, and as a listener and observer of humans and the natural world.