Pelham Examiner becomes nonprofit to ensure future, names nine-member board including Freeman, Bushong, five founders

The Pelham Examiner has become a nonprofit organization in a move made to ensure its long-term future as the community newspaper published for the Town of Pelham by people under the age of 18.

The name of the new nonprofit is the Hudson Valley Local News Lab. However, the paper will continue to operate under the Pelham Examiner flag, delivering the local news, features, sports, business and entertainment coverage it has for almost four and a half years.

The primary goal of the conversion is to allow the paper to raise funds through donations, sponsorships, grants and events to support its ongoing operations. Monies raised will pay for the paper’s technology costs, as well as permit the hiring of a head of development and a treasurer/bookkeeper. Long-term, the Lab will seek to generate funds so it can recruit a paid executive director to serve as the mentor-at-large to the staff of 42 reporters and editors. (Rich Zahradnik, who is the current executive director, has been their mentor since the paper’s founding in May 2018. He will not be taking compensation while he remains involved with the paper.)

The Lab will also explore ways the model of a newspaper run by people under 18 can be extended to other communities that do not have sources for local news.

“Local newspapers are meant to last as institutions in their communities,” said Zahradnik. “That has become harder and harder. Since 2005, 2,500 newspapers closed in the U.S., most of them local weeklies and small dailies. The creation of the Hudson Valley Local News Lab will make it possible for the Examiner to continue serving the residents of Pelham for many years to come.”

Plans for the Lab’s fundraising efforts will be announced in the coming months. It is awaiting approval of its 501(c)3 status from the Internal Revenue Service.

The Lab has a nine-member board of directors that includes members of the community, Examiner founders and one representative from the current staff. (The list of the directors with their biographies is below.)

“I would like to thank the eight talented, experienced people who have agreed to join our board,” said Zahradnik. “I would also like to thank the team at the law firm of Davis Polk that handled our nonprofit conversion on a pro bono basis. And last and never least, all of us at the Pelham Examiner extend our gratitude to our readers. They are why we do this.”


The Pelham Examiner, published in Pelham, New York, went online in June 2018 after students who had written for the News of Pelham—a paper that published for three years until it closed in May 2018—and others recruited at the time met during that May to discuss starting a newspaper to replace the News of Pelham. The members of the group determined they had enough people to make a go of it as the staff of a local paper, voted on a name, set up the website, began writing and editing stories and publicly announced the Examiner’s existence on June 23, 2018, the Monday after graduation that year. Before conversion to a nonprofit, the Pelham Examiner was a New York State corporation whose shareholders were current and past staff members. Attorney Nathan Pereira, a Pelham resident, handled the original incorporation of Pelham Examiner Inc. on a pro bono basis, for which he has the Examiner’s thanks.

Since its founding, the Examiner has won eight awards for its journalism from the New York Press Association, the nation’s largest state trade group for professional newspapers: 2018 awards, 2020 awards, 2021 awards. The NYPA has more than 800 member newspapers, and the Examiner is the only one that is run, edited, written and reported by people under 18. The staff numbers 42 reporters and editors, while 45 former staffers are in college.

Pelham Examiner metrics:

Stories, announcements and press releases published: 5,013 (this is the 5,012th)

Average weekly readers of the website: 3,500

Subscribers to the daily email newsletter: 1,275

Facebook followers: 1,025

Instagram followers 1,212

Members of the Board of Directors

Gabby Ahitow

Gabby Ahitow, a junior at Pelham Memorial High School, is in her second year as assistant managing editor of the Pelham Examiner. She previously served as news editor and is a founder of the paper. Gabby is co-editor-in-chief of the Pel Mel, the student newspaper at PMHS, previously serving as editorial page editor and managing editor.

Clayton Bushong

Clayton Bushong is a multi-concept operator and owner of a number of restaurants and eateries in Westchester County, including Cantina Lobos—named “Best New Restaurant” by Westchester Magazine the first year it was open—as well as Sweet Lincoln Ice Cream & Candy and his now-defunct venture Sound Chicken, which was dubbed “poultry perfection” in early reviews. Clayton is also the director of programming and operations at the Picture House Regional Film Center, where he guides the artistic vision of the Picture House and, with his extensive knowledge of film, film criticism and film professionals, provides the organization with a leading voice for cinema in Southern Westchester and beyond.

Clayton has an extensive background in community building, volunteering and activism. As then-co-president of the Pelham Chamber of Commerce, Clayton conceived of and oversaw the highly successful Wolfs Walk Street Festival, which attracted thousands to downtown Pelham. He also launched the chamber’s first podcast, “Inside 10803,” which amplifies the voices of local businesses, nonprofits and current issues. At the beginning of the pandemic, Clayton devised and branded a comprehensive community-wide campaign “Pelham Strong,” which spurred widespread volunteerism to support Covid-19 relief efforts. Clayton holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Russian language and history from the University of Montana.

Francesca Di Cristofano

Back in 2018, Francesca Di Cristofano went around her classes at Pelham Memorial High School asking people to sign up for what she thought would be a small student-run paper. She became a founder and the first managing editor of the Pelham Examiner. Francesca went on to attend Brown University, where she currently studies neurobiology and works in a cancer research laboratory. Although she is now applying to graduate programs in the biomedical sciences, Francesca still feels deeply connected to the Examiner. As a director of the Hudson Valley Local News Lab, she is excited to see the paper continue to grow. Francesca was on the board of Pelham Examiner Inc., the Lab’s predecessor organization, and serves as corporate secretary of the Lab.

George Freeman

George Freeman is executive director of the Media Law Resource Center, which was founded in 1980 by leading American publishers and broadcasters to assist in defending and protecting free press rights under the First Amendment. Today, MLRC is supported by leading publishers, broadcasters, cable programmers, internet operations, media and professional trade associations and media insurance professionals in America and around the world. George was previously of counsel to the law firm of Jenner & Block. He is a former assistant general counsel of the New York Times Company, where he was at the forefront of numerous high-profile cases for the company and its affiliated businesses. George is a well-known speaker on media and First Amendment issues. He was the William J. Brennan Visiting Professor at the Columbia Journalism School and also taught at New York University and CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism.  He has led or participated in many media groups and is the founder and co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Forum on Communications Law annual conference. He is a graduate of Amherst College and the Harvard Law School.

Ben Glickman

Ben Glickman is a senior at Brown University concentrating in political science. He has served as editor-in-chief of the Brown Daily Herald and held editing and writing roles throughout college. His bylines have also appeared in the Providence Journal, the Provincetown Independent and the Financial Times, where he recently completed a summer internship covering retail and consumer companies. Ben is a founder of the Pelham Examiner and held the post of executive editor during the paper’s 2018-2019 publication year. He served on the board of Pelham Examiner Inc., the Lab’s predecessor organization.

Charlotte Howard

Charlotte Howard, a junior at Boston University, is the managing editor of Off the Cuff, a fashion and arts publication where she works with local artists and musicians in the Boston area. She is a staff editor of BU’s satirical paper, the Bunion. She not only writes but talks about BU in her free time as an admissions ambassador, otherwise known as a tour guide. Charlotte is a founder of the Pelham Examiner and held the positions of assistant managing editor and executive editor. She served on the board of Pelham Examiner Inc., the Lab’s predecessor organization.

JoEllen Scully

JoEllen Scully worked from 1994 to 2000 at New York’s High School for Leadership and Public Service, which had a collaboration with Syracuse University. She taught mathematics for seven years and was the college advisor for two. JoEllen also worked in real estate with Billie Jean LLC, managing and handling the bookkeeping for 13 properties in Chicago and Arizona. She served on the board of Pelham Examiner Inc., the Lab’s predecessor organization, holding the role of company secretary during its existence.

Ella Stern

Ella Stern is in her last year at George Washington University studying journalism and political science. She has worked in the GW admissions office all four years and now serves as a senior fellow. She is also heavily involved with GW’s chapter of the Association of Black Journalists, which she serves as president. Outside of school, she has interned at strategic communications groups in Washington, D.C., learning about the importance of strong media relations to democracy as a whole. She credits the Pelham Examiner for her earliest interest in journalism and is extremely proud to see its continued success as the Hudson Valley Local News Lab. Ella is a founder of the Pelham Examiner, served as its first politics editor and was on the board of Pelham Examiner Inc., the Lab’s predecessor organization. She is a vice president of the Lab.

Rich Zahradnik

In 2010, Rich Zahradnik quit a 27-year-year journalism career to write novels. As the Yiddish saying goes, “We plan, God laughs.” Because somehow, he ended up back in the news business. He has been in-house journalism mentor to the staff of the Pelham Examiner since it started in 2018, following stints as volunteer Youth Beat editor at the News of Pelham and creator/advisor of the online school newspapers at Colonial and Hutchinson elementary schools. Rich is the author of the thriller “The Bone Records” and four critically acclaimed mysteries, including “Lights Out Summer,” winner of the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America. In journalism, he worked as a reporter and editor in several different media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine and wire services, holding positions at CNN, Bloomberg News, AOL and The Hollywood Reporter. He was also co-founder of the Peekskill Herald, an award-winning community weekly. He is executive director and board chairman of the Hudson Valley Local News Lab, and was president and director of Pelham Examiner Inc., the Lab’s predecessor organization. Rich is a graduate of George Washington University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and political science.