Dean’s Letter – June 2015

June 1, 2015

June 9, 2015

Warm greetings from North Gate:

Whether you’re student, teacher, or staff, the end of the school year comes like the sprint at the end of a distance event, and you wind up feeling much the same mix of pride and exhaustion. This year’s harvest of student work—presented, for the first time, in two different venues across campus over graduation weekend—was especially exhilarating and gratifying.

It showcased not just our students’ flair for exploiting the expressive possibilities of a full range of media platforms, but their boldness in venturing into unfamiliar realities and telling undertold stories well—a harrowing police killing in Cleveland, a father-son sustainable fishing operation in the Northwest, an eloquent homeless man in San Francisco, elderly dementia in Oakland, a damaged hero of the Iditarod in Alaska, a rhino poaching patrol in Kenya.

In her commencement address last month, former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson counseled graduates not to undervalue the power of storytelling, urged them to be adaptable, and most important, reminded them that career setbacks—even those as great as losing the top editorial job at the country’s premier news organization—are surmountable. Jill Abramson, the first woman to be The Times’ editorial chief in the paper’s 160-year history, is teaching at Harvard now and is forming a new long-form start-up with journalist and media entrepreneur Steven Brill. “Keep chasing stories,” she told our grads. “Keep up your passion for digging. That’s what’s pulled me through.”

That helps explain the success of our four alums who won Pulitzer Prizes a few weeks ago: Heartiest congratulations to Seattle Times deputy managing editor Jim Simon (‘84), business reporter Angel Gonzalez (’03), and reporter Alexa Vaughn (’11), who shared in the Times’ Pulitzer for breaking news for covering the disastrous 2014 mudslide in Washington State that killed 43 people. Gregory Winter (’00), an editor on The New York Times’ foreign desk, was part of the team that won the international reporting prize for coverage of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

At North Gate Hall, the spring brought a wave of events, including our marquee gathering, the 9th annual Logan Symposium in Investigative Reporting in April. More than 300 journalists and media people attended the invitation-only conclave, hosted by the J-School’s Investigative Reporting Program and its director, Prof. Lowell Bergman.

Among the issues that dominated the agenda: whether news organizations should confine their efforts to work that promises to have discernible impact; how new Internet players such as BuzzFeed and the Marshall Project are re-imagining investigative reporting; the influence of race on newsroom story selection; and how to turn investigative stories into Hollywood movies. Panelists included Neil Barsky, chairman of The Marshall Project; Joie Chen, anchor at Al Jazeera America; Trymaine Lee, correspondent at MSNBC; Hari Sreenivasan, anchor at PBS “Newshour Weekend;” John Temple of First Look Media; Richard Tofel, president of ProPublica; Anna Werner, CBS News correspondent; and Emmeline Yang, senior VP at George Clooney’s Smokehouse Pictures. The symposium was sponsored by the Reva & David Logan Foundation, Margaret and Will Hearst, Google, and others. Videos of the panels can be viewed on the IRP website.

The IRP is continuing its investigation into the gambling mecca of Macau and the U.S. casino companies that do business there. It recently collaborated with NBC News on a story on billionaire gaming magnate and influential Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, which aired on “Meet the Press” in May. The IRP also has been collaborating with The Guardian on a series of stories on Adelson, including this one co-authored by Lowell Bergman and alum and former IRP fellow Matt Isaacs (’99) and freelancer Simon Marks.

Following up on the award-winning collaboration that produced “Rape in the Fields/Violación de un Sueño,” the IRP, PBS “Frontline,” Univision, The Center for Investigative Reporting, and KQED are teaming up again–this time to examine rampant sexual abuse of immigrant women in the janitorial industry. “Rape on the Night Shift/Violación de un Sueño: Jornada Nocturna” is scheduled to air on June 20 on Univision, and June 23 on PBS “Frontline” (check local listings). The documentary is produced by the IRP’s Andres Cediel (’04) and Daffodil Altan (’04) with Lowell Bergman as correspondent. These current and former J-School students contributed research, production, fact-checking and translation to the project: Gabriela Arvizu (’16), Leah Bartos (’11), Steve Fisher (’14), Emily Gibson (’15), Noelia González (’16), Romin Lee Johnson (’16), Faviola Leyva (’16), Daphne Matziaraki (’16), Nadine Sebai (’16), Débora Souza Silva (’14), Zachary Stauffer (’08), Dan Steiner (’16), and Melina Tupa (’16).

During the spring term, the School hosted two prominent news execs who are among the growing ranks of women journalists in senior leadership positions. New York Times Op-Ed Editor Trish Hall, a Berkeley undergrad alum, came in March and explained how the paper assigns and edits. She offered insight into what makes a good Opinion piece and how The Times tries to strike a balance in editorial perspectives.

And in April, we welcomed San Francisco Chronicle Editor in Chief Audrey Cooper, the first woman to hold that job in the organization’s 150­-year history. At 37, Audrey is also the youngest woman ever named top editor of a major U.S newspaper company. Cooper is prioritizing investigative journalism again at the paper, and promises to forge a closer relationship with the J-School.

Also in April, the School hosted a private screening for students and alumni of “3-½ Minutes,” co-produced by the new head of our doc program, Orlando Bagwell, along with David Ecklesand Minette Nelson. The riveting documentary, which premiered at Sundance, explored the trial in Jacksonville, Fla., of a middle-aged white man charged with opening fire on the young black passengers of an SUV who had annoyed him by playing loud music. It explored the brutal dangers of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law by weaving the shooter’s trial with a chorus of opinion, and with slain teenager Jordan Davis’s parents’ wrenching experiences in and out of the courtroom. The film will air on HBO this fall, following its theatrical release.

In cooperation with the School of Public Health, the J-School hosted a series of events sponsored by Kaiser Permanente and focused on medical costs and affordability in the age of health care reform. The series was orchestrated by Dr. David Tuller, the lecturer who coordinates the joint MPH/MJ degree program at the J-School, and videos of the sessions are now online. The California Wellness Foundation and Berkeley Wellness also contributed valuable support.

As you can see, we’re continuing to rebuild the School into a top destination on campus and in the Bay Area for conversation and debate about media, politics, and culture, and we’re grateful for the role many of you continue to play in this renaissance. While it is an honor to bring the world to campus, which is part of the School’s civic duty as a public institution, we can’t allow this to happen at the expense of core curricular obligations. If you attend free events at the J-School–and if you don’t, but are glad we make them happen–I hope you’ll consider donating to our events fund or asking the organizations you’re affiliated with to help sponsor them.

Fifteen potential new J-Schoolers from around the country attended the annual Spring Welcome Week as Rodgers Fellows. Funded by renowned media executive and Berkeley alum Johnathan Rodgers (’67), the Rodgers Fellowships, now in their 15th year, are intended to increase diversity at the School by paying the expenses for a select group of admits to take a close, in-person look at Berkeley, so they can kick the tires and understand why they should come here. The program has compiled an enviable record of success, in that recipients nearly always decide to pursue their education with us, and we’re glad to have this help in winning them away from our rival J-Schools.

Beyond that, the reason students of promise continue to come here to burnish their skills is apparent from the richness of intellectual and cultural opportunities the School offers. Award-winning science writer Rebecca Skloot spent two days at the School, at the invitation of Knight Chair in Science Journalism Michael Pollan, discussing the path she took to researching and writing her bestselling book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” which explores the extraordinary and troubling tale of an impoverished black woman from southwestern Virginia whose cells, taken from her while she was undergoing treatment for a lethal cancer in the 1950s, became an immensely valuable biomedical resource.

We were also happy to host Paul Greenberg, author of “American Catch,” who came to North Gate to lead a discussion on the global politics that shape the fishing industry.

First-year student Gabriel Sanchez (’16) was invited to the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner after winning a $5,000 scholarship, funded by the press group. He attended the gala, which gave him a chance to brush shoulders with some of Washington, D.C.’s most influential journalists and politicians.

Zhao Qi, an accomplished documentary filmmaker from China and visiting scholar at the J-School, screened his award-winning video “The Chinese Mayor.”

In faculty news, Jon Else is now director of photography on the film version of Prof. Pollan’s “Cooked,” and is continuing work with Pete Nicks (’99) on “The Oakland Police Project.” Jon has also signed with Viking/Penguin to write a book about the making of Henry Hampton’s legendary PBS series, “Eyes On The Prize.”

Prof. Michael Pollan was awarded a Radcliffe Institute fellowship for the coming academic year, which will take him to the Harvard campus in Cambridge, Mass. Lecturer Jennifer Kahnwill have a comparably appealing fellowship at her alma mater Princeton for the fall term.

Prof. Mark Danner can be seen in HBO’s new documentary “Regarding Susan Sontag,” discussing her extraordinary work and their long friendship.

Lecturer Mark Schapiro‘s book “Carbon Shock: A Tale of Risk and Calculus from the Front Lines of the Disrupted Global Economy,” which investigates the actual costs of fossil fuels, continues to gain widespread acclaim. It has been excerpted in such publications as Yale 360, The Nation, The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian and elsewhere. In February, Mark was invited to testify before the Vermont State Legislature on a bill that would establish a state carbon tax. Parts of his book were entered into the record, and Schapiro took questions on the economic consequences of imposing a carbon tax to shift the responsibility for climate harm from the public to fossil fuel companies.

I continue to write columns on media ethics distributed by McClatchy–they’re archived on my site, “Unsocial Media,” and just published an 11,000-word chapter in a new book, “After Snowden: Privacy, Secrecy, and Security in the Information Age” (St. Martin’s Press.) The book was conceived by a terrific writer, editor, and agent, Ron Goldfarb. It’s a wide-angle look at the transformative impact of Edward Snowden’s leaks, with authors including my friend Hodding Carter III, and David Cole, Barry Siegel, Jon Mills, and Thomas Blanton. My own contribution looks at the plight of sources and, among other things, deplores the media’s chronic failure to demand that the First Amendment protections that journalists claim be extended to their most indispensable allies, their sources, without whom press freedom is meaningless.

In April Prof. Ken Light, who holds the Logan chair in photojournalism, launched a Kickstarter campaign to crowdsource funding for his new book, “What’s Going On? Photographs from 1969-1974; Images of America in the Age of Protest.” The book will be published in October, and an exhibit of Ken’s photos will be on view in The Reva & David Logan Gallery at the J-School in the fall. Ken also recently completed a 3-1/2 day assignment for The New York Times on the California drought, and one of his pictures ran on the section front of the Times’s SundayReview.

Prof. Cynthia Gorney leaves the School’s full-time faculty in July, when she becomes a Professor of the Graduate School, with plans to return in the future to teach occasional classes. She returns to life as a traveling magazine writer on the staff of The National Geographic. In March Cynthia spent a month in Saudi Arabia for a major piece on the changing realities for women there.

Back at home, we continue to work on curricular improvements. Recognizing the challenges our students face in handling the increasingly complex and potentially deceptive flow of numerical data, we’re rolling out our first mini-class in statistics, to be taught this fall by UC Prof. Philip Stark, chair of the University’s statistics department. We hope it will foster the skepticism and critical sophistication necessary to understand and deconstruct numbers-based evidence, increasingly marshalled in public policy debates.

Former School director Rob Gunnison is teaching a summer course with 10 students focusing on California state politics, which includes an internship for each of them in Sacramento.

Jim Wheaton, longtime School lecturer in journalism law, was named attorney of the year by California Lawyer magazine. Jim recently completed a unique libel training program, now in its 7th year and co-taught with Lowell Bergman, on helping students prepare for and survive depositions with adversarial lawyers.

Meanwhile, our students have been raking in awards and recognition. The Berkeley Food Institute (BFI) chose two of them as winners of the BFI Food Reporting Contest. Jennifer Chaussee (’15) and Mark Andrew Boyer (’15) received cash awards of $1,000 each.

Two student stories from lecturer Cassandra Herrman‘s long-form television class were broadcast publicly: Sally Schilling (’15)’s “The Medicaid Bill That Doesn’t Go Away When You Die,” aired on the PBS “NewsHour” in March, and Le Zou (’15)’s “The Left-Behind Children,” on Chinese children who are born in the U.S. and sent back to China as infants to live with their grandparents, aired on KQED in May. A different version of that story, featuring a kindergarten in China’s Fujian province that accommodates some of those foreign-born children, was broadcast nationally on the PBS “NewsHour” in May.

“Policing While Black in Oakland, California,” by Brittany Johnson (‘15), was aired on AJ+ in May. The story had a remarkable reception, picking up more than 400,000 views online and some 3,000 “likes” on social media.

Two recent New Media grads, Yolanda Martinez (’15) and Sarah McClure (’15), were invited as among “the best and brightest young journalists in America” to attend the 2015 New York Times Student Journalism Institute in Tucson, Arizona. During the two-week workshop in May, students were taught and supervised by reporters and editors from The Times. Here are links toSarah’s and Yolanda’s projects.

A point of pride for us is how quickly our graduates get scooped up after gradation. Justin Richmond (’15) is at NPR’s “Morning Edition” in Los Angeles; Jennifer Chaussee (’15) at Bloomberg News in New York; Alexandra Garreton (’15) now works with producer David Weinberg on a KCRW initiative funded by the Hilton Foundation called “The Vulnerable Populations Project.” Sukey Lewis (’15) has joined the Greater Good Science Center to produce a national special on “The Science of Gratitude,” and Max Levenson (’15) is working on a podcast, The Hash.

Our alums continue to distinguish themselves. Among notable news of alumni, Jonathan Jones(’05) has won a string of accolades and prestigious awards for “Firestone and the Warlord,” a 90-minute documentary for PBS “Frontline” and ProPublica on Firestone Tire & Rubber’s operations during the Liberian Civil War. Jones and his team won a Robert F. Kennedy Awardand a 2014 IRE Award for best multi-platform story. The judges praised their work as a gripping story produced in one of the world’s most difficult reporting spots that made viewers care about issues they often neglect. It has also won an Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism and an Overseas Press Club citation in the Edward R. Murrow category. Leah Bartos (’11) served as reporter and researcher on the project.

Jonathan Jones began reporting the project as a postgraduate fellow at our Investigative Reporting Program (2008-2009), which included a three-week reporting trip to Liberia, funded by a core grant from the Sandler Foundation, along with donations from Scott and Jennifer Fearon, the Gruber Family Foundation, John Keker, the Herman Kroll Memorial Foundation, the Pearson Foundation (Financial Times/Economist UK), Steve Silberstein and Peter Booth Wiley. Jones’ story is a strong indication of the value of the IRP’s post-graduate fellowship program, which gives preference to J-School alums like Jones.

Former visiting scholar Myint Zaw (2007-2008) of Myanmar has won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for his work in Burma.

J-School lecturer Dan Krauss (’04) was recently accepted to the prestigious and highly selective Sundance Screenwriters Lab to hone his feature adaptation of The Kill Team, which he is writing and directing.

Rebecca Solnit (’84) has had an extraordinary year following the success of her 2014 national bestseller “Men Explain Things to Me.” Prospect Magazine recently called her “‘one of the key figures in “fourth-wave feminism,”’ and ranked her 14th among the most important thinkers in the world. Rebecca was also awarded the Lewis Mumford Award from City College in New York. Her essay, “Arrival Gates,” from Granta magazine (June 2015), was chosen for the Best American Essays series, and her latest book, “The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness,” a series of essays from a decade’s work for Harper’s, The London Review of Books, and The Nation, is on dozens of recommended reading lists. Rebecca is working on a forthcoming New York atlas for the UC Press, with a contribution by Heather Smith (’07), that will complete her atlas trilogy, which includes San Francisco and New Orleans.

Vanessa Rancano (’14) is one of three journalists nationally chosen for the prestigious year-long Kroc Fellowship at National Public Radio, which “identifies and develops a new generation of extraordinary public radio journalists.”

Lecturer Garance Burke (’04)’s national project for the AP on child abuse and state secrecyrecently won the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi award for national investigative reporting.

Brittany Patterson (’14)’s “Fever of Unknown Origin: How West Nile took us all by surprise,” published in last year’s student magazine Brink, has been awarded first place for best student article in the national Mark of Excellence competition of the Society of Professional Journalists. Her moving account about the spread of West Nile Fever in California and nationally is framed around her late grandmother.

Two of our recent new media alumnae, Lily Mihalik (’11) and Diana Jou (’11), were honored with the Scripps Howard Award for Digital Innovation. Diana, who’s with The Wall Street Journal’s Hong Kong bureau, produced a news package on Kowloon Walled City, a crazy labyrinth of interlinking high-rises in Hong Kong, that created a walled-off enclave.

Lily Mihalik (‘11), a designer and web producer at The Los Angeles Times, built an interactive piece that enables readers to split California into mini-states of their own, give the new states names, and see how others would split up the state.

As for coming events, here are a few save-the-dates for your calendars. Our annual two-dayNarrative Writing Conference, conceived and organized by Constance Hale (’90) will be held November 6-8.

And the J-School’s annual alumni gathering will be October 2. Our alumni relations directorLinnea Edmeier (’10) and I look forward to welcoming as many of you as can make it.

With money both a chronic need and an indispensable tool for the School’s continuing growth and enhancement, I’m glad to be able to tell you that this year has been a rewarding and eventful one for philanthropic outreach. I’m also happy we’ve been able to offer our thriving donor community fresh opportunities to support causes and programs that reflect the School’s core values: social engagement and professional excellence.

Thanks to a $100,000 challenge grant from production company Signifyin’ Works, through filmmaker Vivian Kleiman, we have just awarded the first Marlon T. Riggs Fellowship in Documentary Filmmaking to Romin Johnson (’16).

The Marlon T. Riggs Fellowship Fund, established last year, is the first endowment in the School’s history dedicated to student grants for documentary filmmaking. It is named for the late alumnus and professor who championed the teaching of documentary as a specialty at UC Berkeley. Marlon Riggs was black and gay, and an inspiring teacher and mentor. In his work and his life, he confronted homophobia and racism dead-on. We believe that promoting diversity in newsrooms and academia requires us to honor those who have cleared the path for the next generation. For us, doing so is a privilege and a duty, and we’re eager to see Marlon Riggs Fellowships figure prominently on the resumes of the prize-winning filmmakers of tomorrow.

Under the leadership of development chief Marlena Telvick, we hope to hit our initial $500,000 target for the Riggs endowment by the end of the University’s fiscal year on June 30. Our eventual goal is $2 million. The Ford Foundation has generously contributed $200,000, and dozens of supporters–notably David Eckles and Minette Nelson and their foundation, The Filmmaker Fund, and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker–have made generous contributions. If you want to join them, click here.

In addition to tuition bills, our documentary students also are faced with the production costs of their films, which run to hundreds and even thousands of dollars. With a $150,000 gift from David Eckles and Minette Nelson and their foundation, The Filmmaker Fund, we have launched a new evergreen effort, called the Fine Cut Fund, to support documentary and multimedia projects produced by both 1st and 2nd year students. The fund will defray the hard costs of filmmaking—travel and shooting expenses, outlays for equipment and research.

Our goal is to grow the total amount in the Fine Cut Fund to a half-million dollars by this time next year. To donate, click here, and help us keep Berkeley a pre-eminent leader in training the next generation of visual journalists.

We are also pleased to announce the first recipient of the Jim Marshall Fellowship in Photography: photographer and documentary media producer Gina Pollack (’16). The fellowship is named for one of the Rock Era’s premier chroniclers and was established in 2015 by Prof. Ken Light and photographer Amelia Davis, Marshall’s heir and long-time assistant. It’s the first permanent academic honor created in Jim’s name, and we’re proud to be doing it in the Bay Area where he did so much of his iconic photography. Special thanks to the Toyota Foundation for their generous sponsorship this year. Our goal is to raise between $500,000 and $1 million to support training in the visual arts. For information on how you can help, click here.

A third new annual student award, the Free Speech Fellowship, has been given to Gabriela Arvizu (’16). It’s funded by the Yellow Chair Foundation, the philanthropic organization headed by Angela Filo (’99), and it’s the latest in a long series of immensely valued gifts made in support of programs at the J-School by this prodigious alumna, herself a world-class photographer, in support of photojournalism, student services, and New Media programs.

Last year, the Heising-Simons Foundation, led by alumna Liz Simons (’82), created fellowships to enable two second-year J-School students to work with the Daily Californian staff and strengthen ties between the School and the undergraduate news organization. This unique program starts again in the fall, and the fellowships have been awarded to Alice Kantor (’16) and Sasha Lekach (’16).

To meet our need to fund student travel throughout the year, we are proud to have contributions from media entrepreneur Simone Otus Coxe, and distinguished magazine journalist Maureen Orth, both long-time friends of the J-School. We still are $15,000 short. For those who wish to help, find out more here. (Those tracking California politics should check out Simone’s new startup, CALmatters. It’s profiled in a recent Columbia Journalism Review too.)

In somber news, we mourn the passing of Bay Area media legend Nan Tucker McEvoy, whose million-dollar gift funded the complete renovation of the J-School’s TV and documentary filmmaking labs in the late 1990s. McEvoy, who was 95, died in San Francisco in March. The lab she underwrote also houses the North Gate Studios, which enables live feeds and recorded interviews for television and radio broadcasters worldwide, from PBS to the BBC, and which we’re eager to continue building into a serious revenue-generator for the School.

In May, the J-School received a generous donation, facilitated by Chris O’Dea, manager of our documentary and television lab, of a DaVinci Resolve color correction panel from Blackmagic, a leading innovator and manufacturer of creative video technology. The company’s president, Dan May, was kind enough to hand-deliver this gift, which will help our students in the final color correction process of their documentary thesis projects.

The School continues to campaign zealously and effectively for the money we need both to operate and to build our programs. We inhabit a technological environment that needs continual modernization and a news industry whose uncertainties obligate us to try to graduate our students with as little a debt burden as we can–which means, they need generous financial aid to more than offset the fee increases we’ve had no choice but to impose. Right now, we’re looking ahead to our 50th anniversary in 2019, and gazing enviously at the hundreds of millions of dollars in gifts going to Yale and Harvard and the other opulent private universities that soak up so much philanthropic giving. Our day will come, whether it’s from a reawakened base of committed alums, or a strongly principled giver who wants to put her or his name on one of the world’s outstanding schools of journalism in exchange for a bequest that retires our legacy deficit and positions us for breakthrough growth. And we look forward to your help in getting there.

Best wishes,

Edward Wasserman, Dean


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