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Posted 10.11.02

Forum Special:
Whom Would You Add
to Lee Bollinger's Task Force?

Introduction by Jay Rosen
Replies by eighteen writers and journalists

I would choose Richard Jewell. The choice is a symbolic, not a practical, one.

No matter what you think of the Jewell case — unfortunate but innocent error, tragic consequence of having the First Amendment, stupid mistake by police under pressure, insanity in the press pack, media age nightmare fit for a Hitchcock film — think of Richard Jewell himself, the man who was named as a suspect in the Atlanta Olympic Park bombing by whispering cops who never charged him (because he was innocent); while the national news media, gathered en masse and citing confidential sources, ran wild over his private life, surrounding his home, digging into his past, trailing him when he drove to his mother's, conducting a 24-hour stake-out that lasted months and yielded not a single nugget of legitimate news… picture that very ordinary man, now famous for what he didn't do, at the table with reporters, editors, publishers, presidents and professors. Even if he said nothing, his presence might instruct the group in what we might call illegitimate news.

Remember that Richard Jewell was a security guard who discovered a backpack with a pipe bomb, alerted authorities, and helped evacuate people from the area, saving lives — for which he was immediately called a hero by the same news sources that later put him through "88 days of hell," as Jewell described it. Note the predictable appeal of the irony device — hero turns out to be a psychopath — which, in its milder forms, leads journalists to pump up the newsy figures they will later deflate, so that "the story," as it's insidiously called, can be kept moving. Recall the desk editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the one who ran with "the story" first. Before company lawyers shut her up, she explained that with every major news organization in town, her town, she was "not going to get beat on this story."

Armed with your knowledge of Times vs. Sullivan, (discussed at length in Lee Bollinger's writings) realize that today in Jewell's ongoing libel case against the newspaper, the judge has declared him a public figure (a security guard!) because he had earlier been visible in the news — a hero, they said — for his quick actions in discovering the pipe bomb. Reason it out: Declared a public figure by the press, wronged by the same press, which says its wrong-doing is covered by the First Amendment because Jewell is a public figure. Worth a look by the Bollinger Commission?

"Look, we were just doing our job," our journalists tend to say. One understands what they mean: Newsroom rules were followed, Generally Accepted Reporting Principles were applied. These rules include our ethics, so we're covered. Well, Richard Jewell was just doing his job, as a security guard, but also as an American citizen, the sort of citizen we may need around — you know, alert, responsible — not just at spectacle hour, where He Who Acts is hero because the cameras and story lines need a hero, but in ordinary life, should ordinary life actually become a battle front in the war on terrorism, and in the other war for civil liberties going on at the same time.

"I believe it was inevitable that news organizations would go with the story once law enforcement used a search warrant to investigate Jewell directly," wrote Poynter's Bob Steele. (I have to agree.) Think about the meaning of this statement in the national climate today. Anyone who wants to know why craft is not enough should realize that craft rules permitted and still permit the devastation brought down on Richard Jewell. That's why I'd have him in the room when the task force meets. His presence, his tale confound craft logic, which forces good people, smart people into other moral systems and vantage points. There the university's strengths become evident.

Task Forces are symbolic, as well as practical vehicles. Which means the names left out can also signify. That's why we asked a friendly bunch of writers, journalists, and journalism professors, from NYU and beyond, for one name missing among the list of 33 people who will chart directions for Columbia's School of Journalism.

We also asked them to explain why. Read on for what they told us…

Jay Rosen is chairman of the journalism department at NYU and the author of What Are Journalists For?

Forum Special:
Whom Would You Add to Lee Bollinger's Task Force?

ROY PETER CLARK picks Robert Maynard Hutchins (dead) and Stuart Adam (alive).
I nominate Robert M. Hutchins, Chancellor of the University of Chicago in the 1940s. President Lee Bollinger clearly has a Hutchins complex, so why not just exhume the old boy and sit him at the table? The Bollinger Commission Report can then become an act of both composition and decomposition. If that plan is not feasible, I nominate Stuart Adam, Canada's greatest journalism educator. In his work as a journalism educator and academic administrator at Carleton University in Ottawa, Stuart has managed to transplant a host of cemeteries in the quest for curriculum reform. More importantly, his scholarship is powerfully relevant: a vision of how to imagine journalism as a liberal art; a catalogue of journalism's most important intellectual competencies; even a critical evaluation of Pulitzer's ideas on the development of journalism education. Add him.

Roy Peter Clark is senior scholar at the Poynter Institute.

TED CONOVER picks Michael Lewis, Columbia's interlocutor
Certainly somebody by now has suggested Michael Lewis; if not, please allow me to. I don't know him, but his "J-school Ate My Brain" (The New Republic, July, 1993) would seem to articulate all of a thinking person's strongest reservations about journalism school. This handy page also includes the Columbia dean's response to it, and Lewis's response to that — both very enlightening.

Ted Conover is the author, most recently, of Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, his account of almost a year spent as a prison guard. It won the National Book Critics Circle award in 2001.

JIM EGGENSPERGER: go West Coast, Hispanic or conservative

If I were to add one more person, generically, it would be an Hispanic member from the West Coast. The list, typically, is weighted severely in favor of major organizations from the East Coast. Specifically, I would name a more conservative voice, Chris Matthews or George Will.

Jim Eggensperger, a 1972 product of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, is assistant professor, journalism and mass communication at Iona College in New Rochelle, NY.

ROY GUTMAN picks Gilles Peress (images) and David Rieff (words)

The list includes some truly distinguished people, but the two individuals I wish to suggest for the open slot would add some qualities that I believe are not there: a depth of hands-on knowledge about international stories, starting with the worst places on earth; a passion about getting to the heart of the story, and a willingness to take risks, intellectual and physical, to get the job done. They are: Gilles Peress, the Magnum Photographer, and David Rieff, the essayist.

A great journalism school should do everything it can to encourage the strongest possible investigative reporting on domestic affairs, but it must also train reporters for covering the world we live in. This is the age of the sole superpower; we have been caught by surprise by the events of 9/11, and it is no wonder, because the focus of our news media has been largely on ourselves. We should learn the lesson and train everyone to cover the real world. Columbia does this perhaps better than any other journalism school, but I believe a complete program should be designed from the ground up. My suggestion: train reporters for the most complex and probably worst possible story they might ever have to cover: war and civil disturbance. If they can figure out how to take on such daunting topics, then they'll have the confidence to be able to do anything.

Gilles Peress is not only a great photographer and artist; he has also gone where no one else wants to be, to most every hell on earth. And he has recorded the scene lyrically and unforgettably, but with the aim of exposing it so that others will change it. David Rieff is a chronicler of our time, again looking at the moral failures of the international community in the 1990s, the attempt of humanitarian aid groups to fill it, and the continuing hypocrisy of the US and other governments. He is a tough critic, but one whose counsel and cautions you will want to have. To arrive at the strongest possible programs, you should have the strongest possible critics. Rieff is as good as they get in this department.

Roy Gutman is a Newsweek correspondent and currently senior fellow, US Institute of Peace. He was a foreign affairs reporter for 30 years, formerly with Newsday and Reuters. His books include: Crimes of War What the Public Should Know (co-edited with David Rieff); A Witness to Genocide, the Pulitzer Prize Winning dispatches on the Ethnic Cleansing of Bosnia; Banana Diplomacy: the Making of American Policy in Nicaragua 1981-1987.

RICHARD HALLORAN: may we have one from California, please

The most striking aspect of the Columbia Task Force is that it is a roundup of the usual suspects from the Eastern Establishment or New York-Washington axis. Only two members come from the Middle West, one from Michigan, the other from Chicago. There seems to be no one from the West Coast or, for that matter, the Deep South, the Southwest, or the Rocky Mountains. As one transplanted from the East, I'd suggest adding at least one journalist from California, the most populous state in the US and almost a nation unto itself. We're part of America, too.

Richard Halloran writes a weekly column entitled "The Rising East" about Asia, and articles on Asia for American and Asian publications. He was with The New York Times from 1969 to 1990, mostly as a foreign correspondent in Asia and military correspondent in Washington, D.C. Earlier, he wrote for the Washington Post and Business Week.

TIM HAMLETT: a foreigner, any foreigner
I would like to nominate a foreigner — almost any foreigner. It is really no wonder that the American media ignore the rest of the world when a leading university sets such a deplorable example. Most countries in the world have journalism of some kind and provide professional education at a variety of levels. In considering afresh what a leading journalism school ought to be doing, it should be a basic first step to find out what happens elsewhere. Columbia University is in New York for heaven's sake. Can we have a little cosmopolitanism?

Tim Hamlett is associate professor, department of journalism, Hong Kong Baptist University.

DAVID HOLMBERG picks Amy Wilentz, novelist with sensibility
There are no journalists who are also novelists on that Columbia panel, and I would suggest Amy Wilentz. Her novel on the Middle East, "Martyr's Crossing," is excellent, and she'd bring a distinctive political-literary sensibility to the task.

David Holmberg is a former New York Newsday reporter and Village Voice senior editor.

DANIEL LAZARE: throw them all out and fight corruption
First of all, I'd take a page from Ben Hecht by asking everyone who's been nominated thus far to write 5,000 words on the subject of "Excellence in Journalism and American Values." As soon as they turned their essays in, I'd throw them in the waste basket and throw the journalists themselves out the door. I'd then recruit a small number of journalists who have some idea as to: (a) why America's semi-official press is now the worst in the world, (b) how bribe-free reporters have nonetheless wound up corrupted to the depths, and (c) what a journalism education can do to turn this dismal state of affairs around. Here are a few names: Noam Chomsky, Eric Alterman, Paul Krugman, Alex Cockburn.

Daniel Lazare writes for Harper's and is the author of The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution is Paralyzing Democracy.

SUSIE LINFIELD picks Ryszard Kapuscinski, Polish poet of catastrophe
True, he'd have to be brought over from Poland, but Lee Bollinger would find that the price of the ticket was well worthwhile. In a series of illuminating, startling books — including The Soccer War, Shah of Shahs, Another Day of Life and The Emperor — Kapuscinski has plumbed the nature of late 20th century civil wars, coups and revolutions in the most troubled of places (Ethiopia, Iran, Angola, Congo, El Salvador, to name only a few). His works are lyrical, spooky, hilarious, bewildering; he is a poet of historic catastrophe, and historic irony too. (And sui generis: Kapuscinski has created a journalism that others are imitating, but can't.) Kapuscinski knows the immense suffering of the poor and colonized world — which means he also knows not to sentimentalize it.

Kapuscinski recently spoke at NYU, and he noted that students all over Eastern Europe are flocking to journalism schools; our much-maligned profession is apparently a hot ticket in the former Soviet bloc. I suspect Kapuscinski may be doing a bit of teaching himself — and he'd have something to teach Bollinger's taskforce, too. Kapuscinski's next book will be a study of Herodotus, which would indicate a rupture with his past work and a retreat from the modern world — or then again, maybe not.

Susie Linfield teaches in the Cultural Reporting and Criticism concentration in NYU's department of journalism and is a book critic for the Los Angeles Times.

SUSAN OLDER picks Bill Clinton, to whom journalism was done
Hands down — he's the best, most logical choice. Clinton is smart. He has insight into the world journalists will cover in coming decades. He is extremely well-educated — academically and in the global school of hard knocks.

He has experienced first hand, from the other side of the fence, the problems with journalism. I'd venture to say that he has been covered more doggedly by the press than any living person.

I took one look at the Bollinger task force list and it was obvious who was missing. Among the names of exalted journalists and academics who've earned the honor of serving on this selection committee, there is not one person from the other side. Not one person who has equally impressive credentials, but an alternative perspective. Not one person who has actually been "covered" by the working press.

Susan Older was among the founding editors of USA TODAY, editor of Inter@ctive Week, editor-in-chief of United Press International and executive editor of Globalvision News Network. Currently, she runs Real World Media and freelances from her home in New York.

GENEVA OVERHOLSER: Make it a national commission and add the public

Journalism's sickness — its failure to serve democracy's need for substantial information — is making the nation sicker. This is a serious problem. My hope, admittedly grandiose, is that Lee Bollinger — son of an editor, himself an FOI lawyer and distinguished university president of evident depth and breadth — might himself be willing to lead an examination of journalism's afflictions and what we might do about them. He might, for example, lead a commission. Why not get together with Vartan Gregorian (a panel member) and establish a powerfully visible national commission that finally starts to take contemporary journalism's failures seriously?

Of course, maybe Bollinger, who does after all have a university to run, just wants to figure out what the Columbia journalism school ought to be. But he might consider this alternative: a rich, deep-digging, broad-ranging and inclusive discussion, involving business executives and politicians and all kinds of Jane and John A. Publics, as well as journalists of all kinds. That panel would also provide some very interesting answers to Columbia's questions.

Geneva Overholser writes regularly for Columbia Journalism Review about newspapers. She is a member of the University of Missouri journalism faculty in Washington. Among positions she has held are editorial writer for The New York Times, editor of The Des Moines Register, and ombudsman for The Washington Post. She also served nine years on the Pulitzer Prize board.

KIM PEARSON picks Keith Hefner, who gives the mike to young people
The person I would add to the Bollinger task force has successfully taken journalism education into the community: Keith Hefner, founder of Youth Communications, Inc. Since 1980, Hefner has been bringing young people into journalism by giving them the tools to tell their own stories, through their own news media. Many of his youthful protégés — students from a variety of backgrounds — are working journalists today. I worked with Keith briefly when I was a graduate student at NYU, and his example continues to influence my approach to journalism education today.

Kim Pearson has taught journalism, professional writing and humanities courses at The College of New Jersey since 1990. In 2000, Pearson was named the CASE New Jersey Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

MITCHELL STEPHENS picks Bernard Cassen of Le Monde Diplomatique
American journalism was born out of European journalism. Many of the most influential forces in American journalism (James Gordon Bennett, Sr, for example, or Joseph Pulitzer) grew up abroad. Some of the most important forms of American journalism (NPR is an example) are based, in part, on borrowed ideas (BBC, CBC). The stream of people and ideas continues to flow. But not, as a rule, through American journalism schools. Have any of the twenty-eight individuals on Columbia's committee practiced or taught journalism in another country? The committee might benefit from the perspective of a journalist or journalism educator from outside of the United States who is familiar with American practice but also comfortable with other models of journalism. (Journalism schools should be experimenting with other models before, not after, the profession does.) One particularly engaged and committed possibility: Bernard Cassen, the director of Le Monde Diplomatique.

Mitchell Stephens is a professor of journalism and mass communication at New York University. He is the author of A History of News and the rise of the image the fall of the word.

CAROL STERNHELL picks Barbara Ehrenreich, chronicler of the invisible
Barbara Ehrenreich holds a graduate degree in biology, not journalism, but she's exactly the sort of journalist I'd like to produce here at NYU. This brilliant feminist reporter, essayist, and social critic--author or coauthor of more than a dozen books, including the recent Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America — writes about the people and issues most likely to be ignored. She didn't set out to be a writer; she writes to change the world. How would she change J-school? I'd love to find out.

Carol Sternhell, associate chair of the Journalism Department at NYU, was previously an editor of the Harvard Crimson, a copy editor for Newsday, and a reporter for the New York Post. Her literary criticism has appeared in The Village Voice, The Nation and The New York Times Book Review.

RANDALL SCOTT SUMPTER: be brave, go less East Coastal
Lee Bollinger is brave to reignite a debate that dates from the 1880s and predates formal, college-level instruction in journalism. He might profit by making his list less a creature of the East Coast media and his own institution. Why not add an experienced professional from a non-East Coast, mid-size media market or a dean from another top 10 college of journalism?

Randall Scott Sumpter is associate professor, department of journalism, Texas A&M University.

MICHELLE WELDON: where are the women? In journalism school!
After 24 years in journalism, I should not be surprised that only nine of the 29 names listed here belong to women in the profession. But in a discussion of the future of journalism education, that's disturbing. More than 65 percent of the students here at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University are women. It is time to close the gender gap and invite more women to the round table.

I also see on the list veterans of traditional print and broadcast outlets, without a nod to on-line journalists and other media innovators. At the annual Journalism & Women Symposium, I talked with journalists from all across the country, many outside traditional print and broadcast outlets, doing solid work and well invested in the future of the profession.

Michelle Weldon is a lecturer at the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University, and author of I Closed My Eyes, (Hazelden, 1999) and Writing to Save Your Life (Hazelden, 2001). A Northwestern instructor since 1996, Weldon writes regularly for the Chicago Tribune and other publications. She is also a graduate of Medill.

SARA WHITELY BURKE picks Amy Goodman, host of the left's Democracy Now
Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, her public radio program broadcast on over 120 stations. Why? Bollinger's list cries out for a gadfly who can articulate the perceived complicity of j-schools and the mainstream — or corporate-dominated — media. Amy Goodman is the most prominent figure in the "independent media" movement, which has grown out of the Pacifica network, the only American media network which does not take any advertising or corporate underwriting. The mission of Democracy Now is to promote perspectives its producers believe are locked out of the mainstream media, which — in the view of many activists and academics — broadcasts only the perspectives of a minority elite, in order to (as Noam Chomsky says) manufacture consent to that minority opinion. Amy Goodman's intelligent and consistent philosophy of journalism deserves to be included in a task force whose mission is so pertinent to the future vitality of journalism and journalism studies.

Sara Whiteley Burke is Editor of GlovesOff.net, a web-zine devoted to "bare-fisted political economy" launching its first issue in the fall of 2002. She also consults for Global Beat, a web publication of NYU's Center for War, Peace and the News Media and for Media Action International in Geneva on a pilot publication, The Afghanistan Monitor. She has a background in documentary journalism.

ELLEN WILLIS picks Donna Gaines, cultural journalist and chronicler of teens
My nomination is Donna Gaines, author of Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia's Dead End Kids, a now canonical book about the teen suicides in Bergenfield, New Jersey, in the `80s and their larger implications. Gaines's numerous articles, on subjects ranging from youth culture, the suburbs, and rock and roll to pornography, technology, talk shows and guns have appeared in the Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Salon, and Newsday, among other venues. She has also taught at Barnard College. Gaines is an eclectic cultural reporter and critic whose work integrates finely observed journalistic ethnography with critical analysis and a distinctive and passionate individual voice. She represents the best of what the alternative press has had to offer in the way of unconventional approaches to cultural journalism, a perspective conspicuously missing from Bollinger's relentlessly mainstream committee. She is also a sociologist, with PhD, who has self-consciously set out to bring her academic knowledge to bear on her journalism, and so has valuable insights to contribute to any discussion of the role of journalism within the university.

Ellen Willis is director of the Cultural Reporting and Criticism concentration in NYU's Department of Journalism and a commentator on social and cultural issues. Her most recent book is Don't Think, Smile! Notes on a Decade of Denial (Beacon Press).

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