Dean’s Letter – March 2015

March 1, 2015

March 10, 2015

Warm greetings from North Gate:

The academic year cycles through peaks and valleys, periods of intense activity and moments of repose. Right now we’ve entered a time when the School is truly busy—evening events with marquee speakers tumble over each other, students at their screens well into the night, curricular innovations catching fire, and the work of faculty, alumni and students drawing wide audiences and acclaim.

I’m glad for the chance to recap some of the more exciting things happening within the J-School community.

The latest work of filmmaker and J-School Prof. Orlando Bagwell, who joined the School this semester as head of our documentary program, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The film, “3-1/2 Minutes,” examines the 2012 killing of Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Fla., and the “stand your ground” law that the 17-year-old’s death helped bring to national prominence.

Prof. Michael Pollan, who holds the Knight Chair in Science Journalism, is winding up production on a two-hour PBS special, “In Defense of Food,” which will be broadcast later this year. Pollan has also just started work on a four-hour Netflix series based on his book “Cooked” produced by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney. Pollan’s riveting article, “The Trip Treatment,” in The New Yorker magazine in February, looks at current research into the use of psychedelics in treating anxiety, addiction and depression.

In addition, Pollan was recently awarded the Nierenberg Prize for Science Communication from the Scripps Institute in San Diego, which honors outstanding contributions to science in the public interest.

Lecturer and alum Dan Krauss’s (’04) feature documentary “The Kill Team,” about a soldier who starts out as a whistleblower and ends up the target of a war crimes investigation, was nominated for a Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary; shortlisted for an Academy Award; awarded top documentary of 2014 by the National Board of Review, and ranked at the top of the Truer Than Fiction category at the Independent Film Awards. The film aired nationwide on PBS’s “Independent Lens” in January.

Meanwhile at North Gate Hall, on a dark and stormy night last month, some 300 people ignored a rare Bay Area downpour to attend the opening of “The Haight: Love, Rock & Revolution,” an exclusive exhibit of photographs by the late Jim Marshall. A celebrated and prolific artist, Marshall, who died in 2010, defined an enduring style of pop iconography through his extraordinary pictures of the era’s greatest rock musicians. Curated by Prof. Ken Light, who holds the Reva and David Logan Chair in Photojournalism, the event featured Marshall’s friend and music journalist Joel Selvin and Marshall’s longtime assistant Amelia Davis in conversation about his work and his roguish lifestyle. There was also a psychedelic light show and Fillmore-style posters designed especially for the evening. The exhibit continues through May in the Logan Gallery of Documentary Photography in the halls of the J-School.

In cooperation with Marshall’s estate, the opening also launched fellowships in his name–the first program of student support exclusively for photography in the School’s history. That focus is fitting, since what was once a magical specialty wielded by a small tribe of highly skilled initiates has become an indispensable tool that nearly all our students must develop proficiency in using. Our goal is to raise $500,000 in fellowships. To contribute, click here.

In other events, more than 120 J-School students, alumni, faculty, donors and friends turned outFeb. 12 for a 15th anniversary screening of “The Insider,” the 1999 Academy Award-nominated film directed by Michael Mann and based on the true story of a thwarted CBS “60 Minutes” report about tobacco insider Jeffrey Wigand. Al Pacino portrayed veteran TV producer Lowell Bergman, and the movie was made during Bergman’s early years of teaching here.

The screening at North Gate Hall was followed by a panel with Jack Palladino, a private investigator who played himself in the film; Andrew McGuire, the original source in Bergman’s story; Dr. Stanton Glantz, a tobacco expert; and Bergman, now professor of journalism and director of the J-School’s Investigative Reporting Program.

The J-School has joined with the School of Public Health on a continuing series of events across the campus featuring experts on medical costs and affordability. Led by lecturer Dr. David Tuller, who coordinates the joint Masters in Public Health/MJ degree program, these public events are funded by the Kaiser Permanente National Community Benefit Fund. The California Wellness Foundation and Berkeley Wellness are also providing support.

The most recent event featured acclaimed food scholar and visiting professor Marion Nestle of New York University on the damage done by food marketing and what advocates are doing about it. Upcoming events include the health care and societal costs of the antibiotics crisis with best-selling author and J-School Prof. Michael Pollan and science reporter Maryn McKenna, and a conversation with author and cardiologist Dr. Sandeep Jauhar.

Historian and J-School lecturer Adam Hochschild recently moderated two author talks, the first with Cal alum Michael Meyer, author of “In Manchuria,” on “Covering China from the Ground Up—and Turning Reporting into Books,” and the second an evening with Karen M. Paget, whose most recent book is “Patriotic Betrayal: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Secret Campaign to Enroll American Students in the Crusade Against Communism.”

(Adam Hochschild reviewed Paget’s book in the current issue of Harper’s. Their talk will be aired on C-Span’s “BookTV.”)

On March 18, lecturer Deirdre English, head of the Clay Felker Magazine Program, moderates “The Journalism of Well-Being: Reporting on Mindful Work and Positive Psychology” with New York Times reporter and J-School alumnus David Gelles (’08) author of “Mindful Work: How Meditation is Changing Work from the Inside Out,” and fellow alum Jason Marsh (’05) founding editor-in-chief of Greater Good, the online magazine published by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center (GGSC).

As you 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 our civic duty as a public institution, we can’t allow this to happen at the expense of core curricular obligations. If you routinely attend free events at the J-School, I hope you’ll consider donating to our events fund or asking your organization to help sponsor them.

Prof. Jon Else, who stepped aside in January as head of our documentary film program, is executive producer on alum Peter Nicks‘s (’99) new feature documentary for PBS—an inside look at the Oakland Police Department—and doing camerawork for the Los Angeles Philharmonic on a big-screen photo/video presentation of Olivier Messiean’s symphony, “Des Canyons Aux Etoiles,” at Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Lecturer Jennifer Kahn (’00), a frequent contributor to the New York Times Magazine, has been awarded a Ferris-McGraw Teaching Fellowship at Princeton for the fall semester 2015. Previous recipients of the prestigious award include James Gleick, Jane Kramer and David Remnick. She will be teaching science writing in the Humanities Department, and returning to the J-school in the spring.

Jason Paladino (’15) helped author a sensational investigation into a U.S. Navy helicopter with one of the military’s highest rates of deadly crashes. The story was a collaboration between the J-School’s Investigative Reporting Program, the Norfolk, Va.-based Virginian-Pilot and NBC’s “Nightly News.”

Ted Andersen (’16) and James Reddick (’15) were awarded Overseas Press Club Foundation Scholar Awards at the Foundation’s 2015 scholars luncheon in New York City. Andersen and Reddick were among 15 aspiring foreign correspondents selected by a panel of leading journalists from a pool of 175 applicants from 50 colleges and universities. In his winning essay, Andersen wrote about the economic and environmental problems posed by the 172-mile Nicaragua Canal. Reddick’s essay was about his experiences as a journalist in Beirut when the Arab Spring erupted in 2011.

Amina Waheed‘s (’13) thesis documentary “Walah’s Corner Store,” was a unique look at the racial balance between two very different communities in Englewood, Ill., one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side. Her film, on 69-year-old Abu Muhammad, aired on Al Jazeera English’s “Witness” program in February.

Also in February, lecturer Dan Krauss (’04) along with fellow alums Carrie Lozano (’05), andPeter Nicks (’99) took part in a panel discussion in San Francisco hosted by the International Documentary Association titled, “The Documentary Filmmaker as Journalist.” Lecturer Andres Cediel (’04) moderated the discussion. Lecturer and attorney James Wheaton, president of the Environmental Law Foundation and founder of the First Amendment Project, offered his perspective on the legal challenges that documentary filmmakers face today.

Prof. William Drummond‘s San Quentin News Editing Project was the subject of a movingmultimedia package in the Los Angeles Times that was pegged to an unusual and imaginative task Drummond assigned to the state prison inmates who study journalism with him and his J-School students: To write their own obituaries. The obits that resulted, Times reporter Chris Megerian wrote, “were reflective, outlandish, candid, evasive, aspirational.” The San Quentin project, now in its third semester, gives student journalists hands-on experience working with prisoners who publish the only newspaper of its kind in the country.

The Investigative Reporting Program is now accepting entries for its 9th annual competition for year-long fellowships in investigative journalism. Applicants are urged to present detailed proposals for work on underreported subjects that would serve the public interest. The fellowships are open to all working journalists, with preference given to J-School graduates. The deadline is March 27. The fellowships are supported by a core grant from the Sandler Foundation, and by donations from Scott and Jennifer Fearon, Margaret and Will Hearst, Peter Wiley, George Zimmer and The Financial Times Foundation.

The IRP has been on a publishing tear. A remarkable investigation in Mexico’s leading news magazine Proceso by 2014-15 IRP Fellows Anabel Hernandez and Steve Fisher (’14) revealed that the Mexican military and federal police were directly involved in the capture and disappearance of 43 students in Iguala last September. Their scoop received intense media coverage, and led to a proliferation of broadcast camera crews and trucks at North Gate forHernandez‘s appearances on CNN, Telemundo, NBC News and other outlets.

Under the direction of lecturer Tim McGirk (’74) of the IRP, Alexander Mullaney (’15) andSyeda Amna Hassan (’13) report in an article for National Geographic on how a Pakistani doctor fueled suspicions about efforts to fight polio. (It was the second of four articles on the forces behind polio’s resurgence in the shadow of war.)

Upon returning from Liberia after reporting on the Ebola crisis for NPR and after many years filing award-winning reports from the Middle East, lecturer Kelly McEvers is teaching “Telling Stories on the Air” in the School while guest-hosting NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

Lecturer Ben Manilla‘s syndicated radio program “Philosophy Talk” will be recording two live episodes in Berkeley on March 15. Guests will include celebrated philosopher of language John Searle and renowned cultural critic Judith Butler, both UC Berkeley professors. And “Philosophy Talk” will be taping an exclusive radio conversation with Edward Snowden at Stanford on May 15.

Our students have also been busy on other fronts. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the J-School has launched the Unity Film Series, a student-led initiative spearheaded by Niema Jordan (’15). It’s being produced in partnership with the student chapters of the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and the Asian-American Journalists Association.

The series kicked off with “Mississippi: Is This America?,” part of the celebrated 14-part series “Eyes on the Prize” produced and directed by the J-School’s newest faculty member, Orlando Bagwell. The series will showcase a different film followed by a discussion with the filmmaker on the first Wednesday of each month.

Our visiting scholars are also in the news. Zhao Qi, a distinguished documentary filmmaker from China, won a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival for “The Chinese Mayor.” The work beautifully captures the clash in China between progress and tradition, and whatVariety called “a fascinating verite portrait of the collision between progress, politics, corruption and citizens’ rights in a rapidly changing People’s Republic.”

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

The J-School’s annual alumni gathering will be October 2. I look forward to welcoming as many of you as can make it.

The IRP will host its 9th annual invitation-only Logan Symposium in Investigative Reporting at UC Berkeley, April 24-26. Among the issues to be discussed this year: bulletproofing your story against litigation; race and class in the newsroom; and the challenges of measuring a story’s impact. The Symposium is sponsored by the Reva and David Logan Foundation and by Margaret and Will Hearst, with additional funding by Google, Univision, Fusion and others.

On a more somber note, we are still reeling from the death of New York Times media writer David Carr last month. David was an immense talent, and a friend of mine. Among journalists he had the rare ability to inspire both deep admiration and genuine affection. He spoke at our commencement in May and was glorious. If you haven’t seen his address to the Class of 2014, it’s a treat. Have a look.

The news business also recently lost Bob Simon of “CBS News,” whom Prof. Lowell Bergmanin a published tribute called ‘The Man’ at “60 Minutes,” and Dori Maynard, a lifelong powerhouse of Oakland journalism and a tireless champion of diversity in newsrooms.

As I step into my third year as dean, I can tell you we continue to make strong progress on many curricular fronts. We road-tested a new approach to teaching basic reporting to supplement our J200 local news sites, and under the tutelage of lecturers Marilyn Chase (’73) on health care andEdwin Dobb on environmental reporting offered courses that married instruction in journalism fundamentals with a targeted focus on specialty areas. Students and teachers alike reported success, and we’re going to do it again this fall.

We’re also offering students who already have solid newsroom experience a summertime alternative to traditional internships, if they have projects they want to undertake or educational options that would broaden their competencies—my own favorite is intensive language immersion, since too many of our students are graduating into a globalized news environment with no fluency beyond English.

And we’re beginning work, under the leadership of lecturer and former Time correspondentDavid Thigpen, on an innovative project to create an undergraduate minor in journalism at Cal. The idea is to enable Berkeley students to acquire basic proficiencies across media platforms, to develop communicative skill, and to understand the basics of ethical reporting and responsible narrative—regardless of whether they intend to be lawyers, doctors, or bench scientists. The minor would be taught during summers and, if we’re successful, would generate revenue for the School to meet some of our more pressing needs.

Speaking of money, if keeping the J-School financially sustainable in the years ahead is something you’re passionate about, I urge you to make an investment in the School. Let me float a rather sobering statistic to our alumni community. According to campus statistics, just 15% of J-School alums have made donations in the last 10 years.

So here’s a challenge: If you’re inspired to help after reading about what we’re doing at the School, perhaps you can join this effort to reach a goal of two hundred alums contributing $100apiece, earmarked for student financial aid, before the IRS tax deadline on April 15. Each new, tax-deductible, contribution will be acknowledged at the alumni reunion in October.

Best wishes,

Edward Wasserman, Dean


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