Dean’s Letter – June 2016

June 1, 2016

June 3, 2016

Warm greetings from North Gate Hall:

Under a blazing Berkeley sky we sent the Class of ’16 on its way a few Sundays ago. It was the biggest graduating class in recent memory (66 grads) as well as the most international (nearly 28 percent, from 12 countries.) It was a remarkably accomplished class too, judging from its success in producing first-rate journalism for news outlets nationwide. And it was a bold group intellectually, insistent on academic changes to bring greater scholarly depth to the curriculum and on a sharper institutional response to the ethnic and racial realities of the world in which they’ll practice.

Photo by Kyle Ludowitz (’17)

The keynote commencement speaker was Rebecca Solnit (‘84), journalist and essayist. Her extraordinary address was both subtle and provocative, miles from the pieties that most graduates swallow with their diplomas. Among other things, Rebecca offered a timely warning to the students to keep clear of the media herd, and to resist succumbing to the received wisdom and lazy stories that reporters too readily pass along, instead of insisting on the skepticism and intellectual challenge that is their professional birthright. You can hear speech (, and you can read her words.

Graduation capped a year of achievement by the J-School community. Among the recent highlights:

Second-year students Shaina Shealy, Lena Halteh and Zainab Khan created The Privilege Project, a New Media piece in which strangers were asked to interview each other about race, gender and wealth. The team launched a Facebook page where videos and other components of the project can be seen.

The White House Correspondents’ Association awarded a scholarship to Marcos Martinez-Chacon (’17), whose recent work has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, Univision, KQED, and CNN Expansion.

Jason Hanasik (‘17) was selected the first virtual reality intern at The Los Angeles Times, a mark both of the promise of VR technology as a newsroom tool and of Berkeley’s early prominence in this burgeoning field.

In faculty news, J-School lecturer and historian Adam Hochschild’s new book, Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), was published in March to strong reviews, including two in The New York Times. We were pleased to host a standing-room only event for him on April 28. Adam also wrote an introduction to a forthcoming new collection of Mark Twain’s nonfiction from Everyman’s Library.

Portrait by Jacqui Ipp (’16)

Retirements claimed two of our most esteemed instructors. Teaching Professor Joan Bieder, who taught television production for 26 years at the J-School, leaves this month. As associate dean, Joan has been a mentor to students and teachers alike, as well as an invaluable advisor and friend to me. Truly, the School is hard to imagine without her.

The managing editor of the School’s Investigative Reporting Program (IRP), Tim McGirk (’74) is retiring as well. A former Time magazine bureau chief in the Middle East and Latin America, Tim says he’s turning his attention to writing books. Fortunately, he has agreed to be around in the fall to teach a seminar in foreign reporting.

Prof. Mark Danner’s new book, Spiral: Trapped in the Forever War (Simon and Schuster), on a nation altered in fundamental ways by 9/11 and the 14 years of continuous armed conflict that ensued, will be published this month. Mark was also named a 2016 Andrew Carnegie Fellow, and awarded $200,000 to fund his Middle East reporting project, “Breaking the Borders.”

Lecturer Jeremy Rue (‘07) and Assistant Professor Richard “Koci” Hernandez celebrated the launch of their new book, The Principles of Multimedia Journalism: Packaging Digital News (Routledge), in which they chronicle and analyze the new, pioneering story forms that populate digital news platforms today.

Koci Hernandez and Jeremy Rue at Principles of Multimedia Journalism event April 4. Photo Martin Totland (’16).

The Investigative Reporting Program has been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, as part of the foundation’s commitment to support nonprofit reporting, nonfiction multimedia storytelling, and civic media. The IRP is one of 12 journalism grantees receiving unrestricted, five-year general operating awards.

The IRP also received two 2015 Sigma Delta Chi Awards for excellence in journalism from the Society of Professional Journalists. One award was for investigative reporting (television) for “Sea Dragon Down,” an investigation of the Navy’s most crash-prone helicopter that aired on NBC Nightly News. (For his work on the Sea Dragon story, which he began as a student here, IRP fellow Jason Paladino (’15) was also named a finalist for a Livingston Award for Young Journalists.)

The second of the IRP’s Sigma Delta Chi excellence awards was for investigative reporting for “Rape on the Night Shift,” which investigated the sexual abuse of women who work as office cleaners. The film, which aired on PBS Frontline and Univision, also won a 2016 broadcast/video award from the Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc.

Filmmaker Maggie Bowman and photojournalist Andrew Burton will be joining the IRP in August as 2016-17 postgraduate fellows. Bowman was the series producer of “Hard Earned,” a six-hour series on low-wage workers, which won a 2016 duPont-Columbia award. Burton is a documentary photographer with a focus on news, conflict, and environmental issues. The IRP fellowships are made possible by a core grant from the Sandler Foundation, along with donations from Margaret and Will Hearst, and George Zimmer.

In April, the IRP hosted the 10th annual Reva & David Logan Symposium on Investigative Reporting, drawing more than 300 journalists and others from around the world. Speakers included Martha Mendoza of the Associated Press, who discussed her Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation “Seafood from Slaves.” Other speakers were Jane Mayer, The New Yorker; filmmakers Alex Gibney and Charles Ferguson; Jill Leovy, The Los Angeles Times; Tabitha Jackson, Sundance Institute; Terrence McCoy, The Washington Post; and Jason Mojica, Vice News. We were honored by the appearance of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, recently released from an Iranian prison.

At the symposium, The MacArthur Foundation was recognized for its support of investigative reporting and given the conference’s annual Markoff Award.

From left, Lauren Pabst of the MacArthur Foundation, IRP director Lowell Bergman, MacArthur Foundation’s Kathy Im and MacArthur board member Paul Klingenstein.

Photography Prof. Ken Light‘s new book, What’s Going On: 1969-1974, won Best in Show at the 2016 international Photo Independent Art Fair.

Lecturer, alum, and frequent New York Times Magazine contributor Jennifer Kahn’s (’00) TED talk, titled “Gene Editing Can Now Change an Entire Species–Forever,” is now online, and as of this writing has drawn more than 580,000 hits.

Two J-School teachers, Mark Danner and Adam Hochschild, had articles in the May 26 issue of The New York Review of Books.

Journalism law lecturer James Wheaton was named one of California’s Top 100 Lawyers by The Daily Journal, a statewide legal newspaper.

PBS re-aired “Eyes on the Prize,” the 14-part public TV documentary series that is widely regarded as one of the most influential visual retellings of the Civil Rights movement, to mark the 29th anniversary of its inaugural release. J-School documentary professors Orlando Bagwell and Jon Else, who played pivotal roles in its original production, reflect on its making in an interview with Alex Kekauoha (‘16).

Professors Orlando Bagwell and Jon Else. Photo by Alex Kekauoha (’16).

In audio storytelling news, lecturer and veteran producer Ben Manilla, head of our growing audio journalism program, will speak at the nationwide Podcast Movement conference July 6-8 in Chicago.

Lecturer Mark Schapiro’s latest book, Carbon Shock (Chelsea Green Publishing), was published in paperback, reflecting updates and revisions since the recent Paris climate conference. It describes the ways in which the economic and political order is undergoing significant shifts in response to the rising pressures of climate change, and has a new title to reflect this volatility: The End of Stationarity: Searching for the New Normal in the Age of Carbon Shock.

North Gate Radio, a program produced by student reporters in the Intro to Radio class, has been airing live shows every Thursday on KALX. Give a listen.

In alumni news, Alexis Bloom‘s (’01) documentary, “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds,” debuted at the Cannes Film Festival! A reviewer described it as “as an intimate, sometimes painfully honest examination of fame, family, aging and mother-daughter dynamics.” HBO will air it in 2017.

“Extremis,” by lecturer and alum Dan Krauss (’04), won Best Documentary Short at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film is about end-of-life care, and the judges commented that “it respects the conflicting perspectives at a morally wrenching crossroads.” This is Dan’s third film to win the Tribeca grand jury award. The first was his J-School thesis, “The Death of Kevin Carter” (2005), and the second was “The Kill Team” (2013). “Extremis” also screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and will premiere on Netflix in September. Meantime, the film is continuing to make the festival rounds, including screenings next month at AFI DOCS in Washington, D.C., and the Sheffield Doc/Fest in England.

In case you missed it, Jason Spingarn-Koff (‘01), former curator of Op-Docs at The New York Times, has been named director of original documentary programming at Netflix.

Mike Milano’s (’15) film “Cleveland,” which started out as his master’s thesis, was recently selected as one of seven films for BritDoc’s Good Pitch New York program. Amid a string of killings of civilians by police, “Cleveland” paints a picture of a city on the brink, and goes behind the front lines in the battle over policing and deadly force. It received support from the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program. The Sundance Institute and the MacArthur Foundation Short Film Fund in partnership with New York Times Op Docs also provided funding, and commissioned a short film from Mike about the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, which will appear on The New York Times site.

Emily Taguchi (‘06) worked on “Growing Up Trans,” a PBS Frontline documentary that was named a Peabody Award finalist.

Carrie Ching (’05) created an animated video depicting the unseen victims of offshore finance for The Panama Papers project with International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reporters, editors, and artist Arthur Jones. It had almost a million views in its first 24 hours on YouTube.

Mario Furloni’s (‘11) short film, “Someone is Happy Somewhere,” screened at the San Francisco Film Festival. A second documentary, “The Return,” for which Furloni was co-producer and director of photography, won the Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Yousur Alhlou (’14) and visiting scholar Stefania Rousselle (’09) of The New York Times received an Overseas Press Club of America Award for their reporting on the Paris attacks.

Gabriel Sanchez (‘16) was one of 10 Berkeley semi-finalists in the UC-wide Grad Slam. He presented his work investigating deaths and lapses of care in California prisons.

First-year students Dayton Martindale and Matt Beagle were among 12 young journalists chosen by FASPE (Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics) to participate in a two-week program in Europe this summer, which uses the conduct of media professionals in Nazi Germany to study contemporary journalism ethics.

First-year student Melissa Batchelor Warnke reported for The San Francisco Chronicle on UC Berkeley’s handling of sexual harassment.

Five first-year students–Angélica Casas, Akira Olivia Kumamoto, Mariela Patron, Mahlia Posey and Paayal Zaveri–were awarded NBC Diversity Fellowships to work at NBC News, CNBC, The Today Show and MSNBC over the summer.

Clockwise from top left: Mahlia Posey, Paayal Zaveri, Mariela Patron, Angélica Casas and Akira Olivia Kumamoto.

The roster of notable student work goes on: Brett Murphy (’16) reported on the rise of bee thieves in California for The Guardian … Ted Andersen (’16) laid out for the Columbia Journalism Review why the undercover Planned Parenthood videos aren’t journalism … Shaina Shealy (’16) reported for PRI’s The World on an ultra-orthodox Jewish midwife who worries what will become of the Palestinian babies she delivers … Joint journalism and public health student Chloe Lessard (’17) reported on G-protein coupled receptors in the Spring 2016 issue of The Berkeley Science Review.

Commencement keynote Rebecca Solnit (‘84) covered the civil lawsuit over the death of Alex Nieto, a San Francisco native who was shot by police, in her piece “Death by gentrification: the killing that shamed San Francisco,” for The Guardian.

The J-School is the proud recipient of new Google Digital Media Travel Fellowships. Students from the School’s New Media program will be selected to attend top-tier conferences around the country, including the Online News Association (ONA), Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), and SXSW Interactive conferences.

Don’t miss some of the J-School’s finest minds: Adam Hochschild, Mark Danner, Deirdre English, Kara Platoni (’99) and Mark Schapiro at the Bay Area Book Festival in downtown Berkeley June 4-5. I’ll be there as well on Sunday, talking to Ben Ehrenreich about his new book on life in the Palestinian Occupied Territories.

I’ll also be moderating a Commonwealth Club panel on June 29 at 7 p.m. on the plan of media organizations in the Bay Area to join together for a day of coordinated coverage of the region’s homeless. In launching the initiative, Audrey Cooper, editor in chief of The San Francisco Chronicle, promised: “You will not be able to log onto Facebook, turn on the radio, watch TV, read a newspaper, log onto Twitter without seeing a story about the causes and solutions to homelessness.”

A final calendar reminder: A memorial service for former Dean and Professor Ben Bagdikian will take place on Saturday, July 2, at 2 p.m., at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, 1 Lawson Road, Kensington, CA 94707. Donations in his memory may be made here.

In closing, I wanted to remind you of some innovative moves we’ve been making. The J-School re-entered the field of undergraduate education in May with the debut of UC Berkeley’s first summer-only undergraduate minor. The launch was overseen by lecturer and former Time magazine correspondent David Thigpen (and supported with a timely gift from the Heising-Simons Foundation, headed by journalism alum Liz Simons.) It is a first step toward positioning the School as a source of degree-level instruction in advanced communications competencies, regardless of whether students intend to become professional journalists.

The idea is that the technical skillset that journalists must master–interviewing and document searches, lucid exposition through words, audio, pictures & sound, data visualization–is something of enormous value to people in many lines of work. So we invited undergrads–whether they intend to be scientists, lawyers, public servants, or entrepreneurs–to give us a rigorous summer of effort in exchange for “communication skills for a lifetime.” The minor has been extremely well received, with more than 170 students enrolled across the five courses that constitute the minor.

At the same time, we’re preparing a proposal for an online Master of Digital Communication degree, which will offer mid-career professionals a similar opportunity to modernize their own expressive skills in whatever field they work in. It too will extend the School’s expertise in ways that are both socially beneficial and, for the School, revenue-generating.

I’ll close by again acknowledging the vigor and dedication that keeps this extraordinary institution growing and thriving. Revenue remains a constant challenge.

No one really enjoys a fundraising pitch (or radio pledge drives!) but here are some numbers to chew on: Campus used to fund 50% of our costs; that amount is just 12% today. Roughly 70% of our students receive aid. The $7,500 professional school fee (PDST) approved in 2014 becomes effective this fall, raising the tuition cost to in-state students by 43%. East Bay rents have risen some 40% in the past two years alone.

We have some extraordinary donors helping us, and we’re asking them to do more. They can’t do it alone. If you’ve meant to invest in the J-School but haven’t yet, this would be an excellent time.

Wishing you all the very best,

Edward Wasserman, Dean


About this communiqué : News from the Desk of Edward Wasserman is a quarterly email newsletter sent to alumni, donors, students, faculty, media partners and others in the J-School’s broad community. Should you wish to follow ongoing developments, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter @ucbsoj.

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