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June 13, 2014

Dear friends of the J-School:

“All I want from you is world peace, economic fairness, and I’m going to toss in racial decency, so get on that please,” The New York Times’ media writer David Carr told our graduates on a brilliant May morning in the School’s well-loved courtyard, and with that modest to-do list the Class of 2014 set forth to meet its future.

David Carr’s speech – funny, smart, altogether riveting – was one of a series of notable events held at North Gate Hall in the past semester.

Thanks to the late philanthropists Reva and David Logan, and their sons Daniel, Richard and Jonathan, the Gallery of Documentary Photography named for their family opened in April under the direction of Professor Ken Light. Its inaugural show, featuring an exclusive exhibit of work by celebrated Chicago street photographer Vivian Maier, drew over 300 people its opening night.

The Reva and David Logan Foundation’s support reaches well beyond ensuring the gallery’s curation in perpetuity, and includes the recent donation of Reva and David Logan’s extensive collection of photographic books to the Bancroft Library, and the endowing of a chair held by Ken Light, the second J-School chair the foundation has endowed.

Carrying on the J-School’s 40-year tradition of reporting in the public interest, “Rape in the Fields,” the powerful PBS “Frontline” documentary on sexual victimization of immigrant farmworkers, has received wide national acclaim. The film debuted last fall, simultaneously with a Spanish-language version co-produced with our partner, Univision, and a sequel is in production. The work was a collaboration of news organizations, led by our Investigative Reporting Program (IRP), headed by Prof. Lowell Bergman and a team of J-School alums and students. It was honored with both an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award and a Robert F. Kennedy Award, the country’s most prestigious prize for social-justice journalism.

Two other professors also received high honors. As he continues work on his history of the Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, Adam Hochschild was elected a fellow of theAmerican Academy of Arts and Sciences, and received the Fred Cody Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Northern California Book Awards.

And Professor Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food,” is currently the subject of a two-hour documentary, funded by the National Science Foundation, that will air on PBS later this year or early in 2015.

Our annual Logan Symposium in Investigative Reporting, a three-day conference produced by the IRP, brought 300 journalists from more than 60 news outlets, including The New York Times, New Yorker, NPR, the BBC, CBS “60 Minutes,” KQED, NBC Bay Area, ProPublica, PBS “Frontline,” Al Jazeera America, and Wired. Their representatives were among the attendees who offered counsel and mentoring to more than 50 of our students, part of the J-School’s push for enhanced career services.

Attorney and lecturer Jim Wheaton launched the School’s Free Speech Legal Clinic, with seed money from the First Amendment Project. The clinic assists students and faculty on legal matters including public records, Freedom of Information requests, documentarians’ rights and responsibilities, privacy, and source protection.

Lowell Bergman is keynoting the national Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in San Francisco in June, where Bloomberg Journalism Chair Paul Grabowicz will moderate a panel on creating interactives for investigative stories.

A Fragile Trust,” the documentary by alum and lecturer Samantha Grant on Jayson Blair, the ex-New York Times reporter at the center of a spectacular press scandal, had both a theatrical run and a national broadcast on PBS. Sam has also launched “Decisions on Deadline,” a browser and tablet-based game that teaches journalism ethics, and has secured funding from the Ford Foundation via ITVS for her next feature, “Girls in the Forest,” about a revolutionary girls high school in the heart of the Paraguayan jungle.

Student work from the May issue of Brink magazine, our annual showcase of narrative writing, was snatched up by other media outlets: Vanessa Rancaño’s profile of a temperamental chef, “Table for One,” was picked up by San Francisco Magazine. “Fever of Unknown Origin,”Brittany Patterson’s article about West Nile disease and climate change, appeared through a cooperative agreement called The Climate Desk on The Atlantic.com as well as on Mother Jones.com. And Anne Hoffman’s personal essay about the problematic sexuality of HBO’s ‘Girls’ was chosen as an Editor’s Pick on Medium.

Magazine program head Deirdre English and kdmcBerkeley’s Vicki Hammarstedt are pushing ahead with the development of Brink as an interactive iPad app, which should be launched this summer.

Ben Manilla produced a thoughtful series for NPR on the Science of Gratitude. It was reported and hosted by alum Caitlin Esch, with assistance from students Lynne Shallcross and Greta Mart.

And five documentaries from Claire Schoen’s advanced radio class have been accepted by the nationally syndicated weekly radio program, “Making Contact” which airs on over 140 public stations. Students will also be cutting their documentaries down to shorter features for secondary distribution.

Ken Light recently had one-man shows of photographs at the Southeast Museum of Photography and the University of Texas at Dallas.

Under James Fahn’s direction, the School’s Earth Journalism Program led a dozen students overseas on reporting trips to cover global environmental issues and also brought veteran Kenyan TV journalist, Rosalia Omungo, to the J-School for a semester as a visiting scholar.

Thanks to a grant from Purnendu Chatterjee, the celebrated Indian journalist Kalpana Sharmajoined us to teach a semester-long International Reporting class on India. Students covered how Indian feminists are confronting violence against women, how the Indian diaspora in the US views the elections, the impact of global warming on fishing communities in Chennai, the obsession with fair skin, the absence of toilets and how they affect women’s safety and how immigrants to new cities in India survive. Sharma also led five students on a reporting trip to India shortly before the May vote.

The year was marked not just by accomplishments, but by transitions as well. Jon Else, who’s credited with turning our documentary program into an industry powerhouse, is stepping aside to devote himself to making his own films, but will be on hand through 2016. A search is on for his successor.

Former Dean Neil Henry, an elegant writer and masterful classroom mentor, announced his retirement.

Susan Rasky, the former New York Times political reporter and 20-year veteran of the J-School, renowned for her sharp opinion writing and beloved for her warmth, died of breast cancer in December. We have so far raised $8,500 of the $30,000 we hope to have for the Susan Rasky Scholarship Fund for Journalistic Excellence.

The School’s documentary program has just received a $100,000 matching grant from production company Signifyin’ Works to fund fellowships in honor of our late alumnus and Professor Marlon Riggs, who died in 1994. Riggs, maker of such works as “Tongues Untied” and “Ethnic Notions,” was known for his pioneering films that confronted racism and homophobia, which gave him a leading role in the culture wars of the early 1990s. We’re hoping to triple the initial grant. Contact Jon Else or Marlena Telvick for details.

More good things are coming. Our radio program continues to grow, we’re test-driving a promising new direction in J200 instruction built around reporting on topical specialties, we’ll be modernizing our newsrooms into flexible workspaces suited to collaborative interaction, the digital team of Paul Grabowicz, Richard Koci Hernandez and Jeremy Rue are pushing the envelope of online story-telling, and we’re lining up a dazzling series of speakers and special events for the coming term.

Plus, under the leadership of Chuck Harris and Linnea Edmeier, and with design work by Koci Hernandez, a top-to-bottom redo of the School’s website is nearing completion for an August launch.

As we reach the end of our fiscal year, we offer thanks to those of you who have stepped up to support our unique brand of journalism – high-impact work, conducted in the public interest, at a public university. But we still need major funding to do right by this fall’s incoming class – our largest ever – and are looking for support to make badly needed renovations to our TV/doc labs. All told, we need to raise at least $2.5 million per year just to meet our current operating budget. So we gently ask those of you who currently don’t to consider supporting us.

Finally, save the date of October 25 for a special J-School event commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Free Speech Movement – and lifting the curtain on a big campaign to raise an endowment suited to the School’s extensive financial needs, a campaign pegged to the School’s own 50th birthday in 2019.

In closing, it was another strong year for the J-School, and there are many more to come. My appreciation goes out to the many alums who gave selflessly of their time to judge the more than 200 entries submitted in the annual Spring Awards, and to our faculty and staff who make all of this possible.

I invite any of you who want to talk with me to call me (510-642-5492) or drop me an email,ed.wasserman@berkeley.edu.

Warmly,

Edward Wasserman

Watch The New York Times’ David Carr’s commencement address from May 17, 2014.