The culture of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism is revealed in our heritage. It also offers some insight into our future.
While the University has offered a journalism major since 1937, the professional school was launched in 1968.
Holding the powerful accountable
1968. A tumultuous year marked by political unrest, violence and fading trust in the country’s leadership and institutions. Citizens were demanding the truth.
And Berkeley was the epicenter of many dramatic events. “We frequently had to evacuate the building because it was full of tear gas,” recalls Edwin Bayley, our first dean.
Berkeley was the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, a catalyst for the decade’s upheaval. The police car from which philosophy major Mario Savio spoke on October 1, 1964 was parked outside Sproul Hall, then the home of Berkeley Journalism.
A heritage of fresh thinking
In 1981, the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism moved to its current home in North Gate Hall, which had housed the College of Architecture since 1905. It was the informal home of the Bay Region Style, a movement noted not for rigid principles, but by using the “local truth,” ignoring rules as the space and environment require. For example, the north windows break the roofline, violating the traditions of “correct” architecture for a simple reason – the spaces inside needed light.
It’s a perfect metaphor for aspiring journalists – sometimes, to shed light, you need to re-think traditional standards.
Embracing this principle is central to our heritage:
We focus on practical skills rather than traditional theory.
Our instructors traditionally are celebrated journalists who act as mentors for their students.
We established the Investigative Reporting Program (IRP) in 2006 under Lowell Bergman, the first non-profit newsroom at a university.
In 2007, the IRP hosted the first Logan Symposium in Investigative Reporting, the only one of its kind.
Building on our heritage of encouraging students to publish their work, we launched three hyperlocal news sites in 2008.
These examples underscore why our history matters today. From the start, we’ve been dedicated to helping journalists tell important stories, pursue and disseminate the truth, and act as a catalyst for justice, human rights and meaningful change.
And our heritage is very much alive. We have seen an explosion of new platforms for journalists and storytellers, from streaming outlets for documentaries to all manner of podcasts. In response, we have created new curricular innovations, and also launched initiatives like the Advanced Media Institute offering digital media training to mid-career journalists.
Which shows that our history does not bind us – it frees us to innovate, to get better, to enable like-minded journalists to tell the stories that can change the world.
Marlon Riggs was born in Fort Worth, TX in 1957. His parents worked for the military, so he traveled extensively. He confronted prejudice in the deep south, but also found greater tolerance in Bavarian state of Nurnberg, where he created an interpretive dance about American slavery and was President of the Varsity Club. He eventually graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, then earned a graduate degree at UC Berkeley. While in the Bay Area, he worked on many independent documentaries, eventually winning a National Emmy Award for the film Ethnic Notions, as well as the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award.
Why are we telling this story? Because we hired Marlon Riggs in 1987 to teach documentary filmmaking. As a non-traditional member of our faculty, Marlon Riggs exemplified everything about our School, as both a student and an instructor, and as a courageous storyteller who used his craft to confront injustice. Sadly, he died of AIDS in 1994.