Livingston Award Showcase: The Impact of Journalism

Three Livingston Award recipients reflect on the effect their winning work has had on policy and people’s lives.



Closeup of armed security guard's gun in holster“Hired Guns” Spurs Reform in California Law

By Shoshana Walter, 2015 co-winner for national reporting

When we first began reporting on the armed security guard industry, we hoped the investigation would be eye-opening.

As a nation, we have become increasingly reliant on armed guards. They are often a go-to solution after mass shootings, robberies and street violence. But few people are aware of the poor regulation and oversight of guards with guns – a patchwork system of state laws that require little training and vetting, and too often leave guns in the hands of guards ill-equipped to use them.

The “Hired Guns” project not only opened eyes, it prompted change. In September, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed reforms into law. The new regulations make California’s oversight of the security guard industry one of the strongest in the country.

Among a raft of changes, the law requires armed security guards to pass a mental-health evaluation, a standard for police officers across the country. It also calls for state regulators to take action against an armed guard if he or she is discovered to be mentally unstable, violent or a threat to public safety. Previously, regulators rarely investigated security guard shootings, choosing instead to act only after a criminal conviction. The new regulations also require inspections of firearm training facilities, a move that could eradicate fraudulent programs that allow guards to purchase certificates without actually learning how to use their guns.

We are proud to have received a Livingston Award for this project. The only thing more rewarding is knowing that the stories had an effect on public policy, and will hopefully improve public safety for years to come.

Shoshana Walter and Ryan Gabrielson won the Livingston Award in the national reporting category for the Center for Investigative Reporting series, “Hired Guns,” an investigation of the haphazard system of lax regulation, weak screening standards and little to no training for armed security guards. Walter and Gabrielson compiled data on every state and uncovered cases where violent felons, mentally ill individuals, and former police officers with civil rights violations were able to obtain jobs as armed security guards.




US Lawmakers React to Mike Baker and Daniel Wagner’s Clayton Homes Investigation 

By Mike Baker, 2016 co-winner for national reporting

After we published our initial Clayton Homes stories in the spring of 2015, lawmakers in Congress cited our work during debate over a plan that would weaken consumer protection laws. The New York Times referred to our investigation in two editorials, using the findings to argue that the protections for mobile-home buyers should remain in place. So far, they have. And the first question Warren Buffett faced at his annual gathering of Berkshire Hathaway shareholders was about our Clayton findings.

After our later coverage exposed how Clayton preys on minority customers, members of Congress called for the Justice Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to investigate. U.S. Representative Maxine Waters said she was “appalled” by the “sleazy and deceptive practices” identified by the article. The CFPB said in February it was “evaluating actions” to take in response. The Justice Department is also reviewing the matter. Lawmakers have since asked the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to examine how Clayton treats its employees and customers.

Mike Baker of The Seattle Times,and Daniel Wagner of The Center for Public Integrity and BuzzFeed News, won the Livingston Award in the national reporting category for “The Mobile-Home Trap, an investigation into the predatory practices of Warren Buffett’s mobile-home empire. The series revealed how Clayton Homes, a part of the Berkshire-Hathaway conglomerate, and its lending subsidiaries target minority homebuyers and lock them into ruinous high-interest loans.



St. Petersburg, RussiaKremlin Denies Role in Russian Trolling

By Adrian Chen, 2016 winner for international reporting

The Internet Research Agency’s (IRA) English-language activities appeared to halt immediately after my feature was published. The write-up also forced the Kremlin to publicly address the agency for the first time. At a press conference in June, a spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin denied any knowledge of, or involvement with, the agency. Since then, Lyudmila Savchuk, one of the subjects of my story, sued IRA for labor violations and was awarded one ruble in damages. It was a symbolic judgement, but a small victory for Savchuk, as it proved the agency’s existence and her employment there.

Adrian Chen won the Livingston Award in the international reporting category for his New York Times Magazine feature, “The Agency,” a story about the Internet Research Agency, a social media trolling organization located in St. Petersburg, Russia that was responsible for spreading pro-Kremlin propaganda and manufacturing false stories of environmental disasters in the U.S.

Lynette Clemetson Interviews Molly Ball


By Lynette Clemetson

Molly Ball ’10, has emerged as one of the most prominent political reporters of the 2016 election season. As a staff writer for The Atlantic, her unsparing analysis of the campaigns, keen observations of society and dry wit have made her a must-read for political junkies. They’ve also made her a favorite of cable news programs and Sunday morning political shows. In addition to following her richly textured stories from around the country and her quick takes on the news of the day, Ball’s tens of thousands of social media followers also delight in her frequent selfie posts, where she makes fun of her glamorous TV makeup then notes that it is time, once again, to “Face the Nation.”
And yet, Ball didn’t grow up watching “Face the Nation,” or any of the other political shows on which she is now a regular. Her family didn’t own a TV.

I asked her about that, as well as a few other things, when she visited Wallace House in September to deliver the 31st annual Graham Hovey Lecture. Her topic, of course: Election 2016 – The Great Disruption of American Politics.

Lynette Clemetson: Many people feel they are getting to know you this election cycle through your television appearances, as much as through your writing. And yet you have a very distant relationship with TV. What’s the importance of television for you as a journalist?

Molly Ball: My parents are retired college professors. My mother felt very strongly that television rots children’s brains. So I was the freak in school who didn’t know what any of the television shows were. The downside of that is that to this day I am culturally illiterate. I’ve never seen an episode of “Happy Days” or “Saved by the Bell.” But the upside is that my consciousness of stories and of narrative was formed by reading books.

Television is not my job. I don’t get paid for it. I just want to have interesting conversations with people. I’m just trying to get my head around what’s happening in this country. America is a puzzle that I’m always trying to solve. I do that by flying around the country and talking to people and seeing things happen, by being a witness to events and then trying to tell that story to other people in a way that makes them think or sheds light on things. The medium really doesn’t matter when that’s what you’re trying to achieve. It can be Twitter, it can be, it can be “Meet the Press” or it can be an article in a print magazine. Which does still exist.

Clemetson: Speaking of print, you have different audiences with different habits there, too. Do you approach the print and digital versions of The Atlantic differently?

Ball: I think I write in the same voice in both publications. What I love about The Atlantic is that since it was founded in the 1850s, it’s been the magazine of the American idea. I like stories that are about ideas, not just about personalities or events. Not “This happened and that happened,” but “What does it mean? Why is it happening? What’s the context, the history, and what does it tell us about the bigger picture?”

Inside The Atlantic, we refer to things as “Atlantic-y.” You know it when you see it. It’s that combination of smart and fun, high and low, in a way that is both enlightening and shareable, which has the great virtue of working really well in our current online marketplace. It doesn’t matter if the thing is a listicle or a photo meme or a 300-word blog post or a 3,000-word story. It’s just about having that sensibility.

Clemetson: How did the Knight-Wallace Fellowship help shape your career?

Ball: The fellowship changed my life. I was stuck. Stuck in a newspaper business that no longer had any sort of upward mobility, at least not for me. I had been banging my head against the wall trying to move up for so long. I thought maybe I should take the hint the world was trying to give me and just get out of journalism altogether, which would have been both heartbreaking and difficult, since I didn’t know how to do anything else. This has been the only thing I knew how to do since I was 12 years old and started a newspaper in my neighborhood in Colorado.

The journalism business had been saying no to me for years and years. And suddenly, at Wallace House, I was in this place where the answer to everything was yes. And it absolutely restored my soul and showed me there was a path forward in journalism.

Clemetson: Was that path immediately clear for you?

Ball: I still didn’t know what that path was when I left the fellowship. Nine months after I left Las Vegas and moved to Ann Arbor, I still didn’t have a job anywhere. But the fellowship restored my sense of possibility and my confidence that I belonged.

My husband and I moved to Washington, D.C., in June 2010 with no jobs, an infant, and a small amount of savings. Politico hired me in late September. I was dying to cover the midterms because I knew the Harry Reid race backwards and forwards. The Atlantic hired me a year later.

Clemetson: Has this election cycle revealed anything to you about yourself as a writer, and as an observer of people?

Ball: There have been times in this campaign when I’ve actually felt that my reporting skills were atrophying because to write an amazing story about what’s happening right now in American politics you don’t need any kind of clever angle. All you have to do is point and go, “Holy crap, look at this.” But it’s a great story. And I feel like I’m learning a lot about America – not all of it happy. Those are the best stories, the ones that make you rethink your assumptions and question all you thought you knew about how this thing works. And having the tools and the confidence and the support to just go out and tell the story the way it needs to be told is an incredible privilege at a time like this.

Clemetson: Campaigns can make journalists cynical. You actually seem excited.

Ball: I’m more excited about journalism than I’ve been in a long time because the election is such a great story. There’s so much texture to it. There will be so many aftershocks. There are so many strands to pull out and explore. And they are going to last for so long after this election.

Four years ago, I was trying to find interesting angles on Mitt Romney, which was sometimes a challenge. I was looking ahead to the rest of my career, thinking, “Am I just going to be writing the same stories every four years until I die?”

But no, because it turns out this thing is always changing. And that’s really exciting and cool. The story most people want to read about an election is who’s going to win. But most of the time that’s the least interesting story. The more interesting story is what is happening out there in America. Who are these voters? What are they thinking? What does it reveal about our national character and society? And the extent of the disruption in this campaign makes me think that we are really at a turning point in American political history, and I don’t think any of us know where it’s going to end.

Rio Olympics Medal Moments

Six Knight-Wallace alumni share with us their own gold, silver and bronze moments covering Rio 2016.

Linda Robertson ‘07
Wayne Drehs ‘10
Sarah E.T. Robbins ‘12
Marcelo Barreto ‘99
Vahe Gregorian ‘04
Baris Kuyucu ‘07




Linda Robertson ’07

Sports Columnist, The Miami Herald


The Olympics have become so commercialized, bloated and pre-packaged for TV, that the soul of the Games gets lost among the VIPs. One of the highlights for me was reporting from inside Rio’s favelas, home to one third of the population in a city where extreme poverty is juxtaposed with extreme wealth. I watched the opening ceremony at an outdoor pub in Chapeu Mangueira, where residents expressed more enthusiasm for the Games than well-to-do cariocas. I wrote a story on Brazilian athletes who grew up in favelas and, with the help of some teenage street vendors, tracked down the childhood home of a judo gold medalist, Rafaela Silva, in the notorious City of God, where my driver had to declare solidarity with the drug gang that oversees the favela so he wouldn’t be harassed or shot. Silva’s relatives then took us around the neighborhood carrying a poster of her, and their friends offered us grilled kabobs while proudly posing for photos with the poster.


The media’s depiction of Rio was distorted even before the Games when certain outlets fanned panic about the Zika virus, which helped scare a few golfers away – or enabled them to use Zika as an excuse for not competing. Fear of terrorism has become de rigueur, as we saw before the Athens Olympics, when we were issued gas masks, and the Sochi Olympics, when a Chechen “Black Widow” had supposedly breached the security wall. Yes, Rio is a troubled, polluted city and no, it wasn’t ready for the Games, but things came together adequately. Press coverage became less sensational and more accurate as the Games progressed, even to the point that U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte was roundly criticized for exploiting Rio’s crime-ridden image to turn a drunken episode at a gas station into an armed robbery yarn. After three weeks, I had zero mosquito bites, only to return to Zika hysteria in Miami.


Had Dante created another circle of Hell, he might have called it the Mixed Zone. This is the area athletes pass through once they leave the field of play to meet the press, where we actually get to speak to Michael Phelps, Simone Biles and Usain Bolt. It’s a gauntlet of TV cameras first, followed by print media. For reporters, the Mixed Zone is akin to a rugby scrum. Lots of jostling and grappling to get in position to ask or shout a question to Neymar or Farah, or to hear the often unenlightening, unquotable answers. In Rio, there was some use of risers and microphones for athletes – which we’ve requested for years so your head doesn’t wind up in another reporter’s armpit and your ribs don’t get bruised by elbows – but alas, it remains an uncivilized way to conduct interviews. For the record, the magnetic Bolt consistently gives the best answers.

(Linda Robertson, sports columnist at The Miami Herald, covered her 13th Olympics, with Lillehammer still ranked Number 1, and Atlanta remaining in last place.)




Wayne Drehs ’10

Senior Feature Writer, ESPN The Magazine and


In 16 years of working at ESPN, I’ve never interviewed an athlete more gutted after a defeat than defending Olympic wrestling champion Jordan Burroughs. Rio was supposed to be the Games that catapulted Burroughs to the level of a Michael Phelps or Simone Biles. Instead, he put everything he had into his training and preparation and didn’t even reach the podium. Afterwards, he had every reason to walk past reporters and decline their interview requests. But instead, Burroughs stood there for a good 10 minutes, tears streaming down his cheeks, answering question after question after question, trying to put into words what it felt like to know that he had failed to reach his Olympic goals. His first two words: “I’m sorry.”


Perhaps no moment of the last year better revealed the transformation that Michael Phelps has undergone outside the water than the fact that he wasn’t with teammate Ryan Lochte on the night of Lochte’s gas station adventure. Four years earlier, Phelps admits, he would have been there. But instead, when Phelps checked out of the Olympic Village late that night, he headed to a hotel where he was fast asleep with his fiancée, Nicole Johnson, and their three-month-old son, Boomer, while Lochte and three other U.S. swimmers were out on the town. “And there was nowhere else I wanted to be,” Phelps said.


The fact that a country with a struggling economy and soon-to-be-impeached president could pull off the Olympics without any major catastrophes proves, in many ways, how indestructible the Games truly are. Government corruption, human rights abuses, polluted water, escalating violence – none of it matters. The show must go on. In the end, that’s what the Olympics are – a global reality show. The host city provides the backdrop, consequences be damned. Ultimately, Rio’s legacy in the months and years to come will likely be to reveal how much this needs to change. The question is whether or not anyone will care to listen.




Sarah E.T. Robbins ’12

Senior Producer, BBC News


“Brazil is not for beginners,” they say. The best coverage of the big picture during the Olympics came from journalists who have spent significant time in the region. The South American bureaus of the BBC, The New York Times, and NPR produced crucial reports examining how Rio organizers missed the opportunity to improve the city for all of it’s residents and accounts on the rise in violence in Rio’s poorest neighborhoods, even as the military secured tourist areas.


Sports reporters have to tighten the screw at the right moment, and sports news isn’t always about sports – although there were plenty of great sporting moments at the Rio Games. Key stories about Rio’s doping lab, an alleged ticket-touting scheme and a deep investigation into the Lochte story uncovered important details that many journalists missed.


After Usain Bolt won the 100-meter dash, a photographer told me that he usually shoots fashion in Finland and was “surprised by all the elbows” from colleagues seeking to capture an iconic image of the World’s Fastest Man. Potential lesson for covering future mega-events: send news junkies.




Marcelo Barreto ’99

Chief Editor and Anchor, SporTV News (Brazil)


Carrying the Olympic torch. I always dreamed of doing it, but could never have imagined it would be like that: in my little hometown, Bicas, surrounded by family and friends. An unforgettable day!


Sharing the Olympic experience with family and friends. I was living in London during the 2012 Games and attended a few events with my wife and kids, but this time was special. I was almost never alone at the Olympic Park.


Interviewing Feyisa Lilesa. The Ethiopian marathoner was hiding in Rio after making a protest gesture against his country’s government at the finish line. I was the first reporter to talk to him.




Vahe Gregorian ’04

Sports Columnist, The Kansas City Star


With the ocean shimmering in the background and thousands shimmying within the venue, the nighttime atmosphere of beach volleyball at Copacabana was the essence of the promise of the Rio Olympics. The scene was an intoxicating reprieve from a series of logistical glitches that threatened to derail the Games – and a snapshot that will remain indelible even as we come to see the consequences of an emerging country in economic crisis hosting an event that has become too enormous for even the most modernized nations to manage.


The Olympics are an exhilarating, out-of-body experience for reporters to cover and one of the ultimate challenges in the business. I’ll be forever grateful to have had the privilege of attending 10 of them. It’s amazing to bear witness to people shattering the limits of what we think possible – lifting us all “to a better place to be,” as it’s put in one of my favorite movies, “Vision Quest.” But my favorite part of the Games has always been writing about local athletes, people you have the opportunity to really get to know and thus absorb the experience in an entirely different way – and, hopefully, convey.

So I expect what I’ll remember most about Rio was following wrestler J’den Cox of Columbia, Missouri, and his family after he won a bronze medal in dramatic fashion, and watching archery with Robin Garrett, whose son, Zach, won a silver medal in the team event. Zach fulfilled a dream that began when he was four years old on the family farm in Wellington, Missouri, when his father carved him a bow.


We in the media often report what could go wrong or might happen. Rio was projected as an impending apocalypse because of the spike in crime in the wake of Brazil’s economic meltdown. Sure, a vast police and military presence made it safer, but we failed to portray the hazards as being similar to any big city: some areas should be avoided, one should generally be alert, etc. Violent crime was improbable in popular areas, yet unnecessary fear kept many, including families of athletes, away. That was a shame.




Baris Kuyucu ‘07

Head of International Sports, Anadolu Ajansi (Istanbul)


I watched every medal moment of our Turkish team – emotions, pride, excitement. I interviewed all of them. One highlight was spending time with the gold medalist wrestler, Taha Akgul, an exceptionally talented and passionate guy. I spoke with him and his lovely family just before he competed. After his gold-winning moment, we just hugged each other – nothing more needed to be said. It was unforgettable!


Thanks to a previous visit with Knight-Wallace colleagues, I know Rio very well. That is why I was so comfortable there as a journalist. Twenty-one days of working nearly 16 hours a day was tough. I organized every detail of my teams’ program. But it was a nice experience. I met so many wonderful Brazilian people and fellow Knight-Wallace journalists, Vahe (Gregorian ’04) and Linda (Robertson ’07). I am always so proud of being a Knight-Wallace Fellow. Go Blue!


Each day, I had only one or two hours of free time, except for five hours of sleep. So I walked every minute, got acquainted with the locals, tasted Brazilian foods, took many pictures, and hung out for midnight dinners with my team and new friends. We talked and shared so many things. This was the first time I reported from the Olympics. It was not easy, but it was so much fun. Rio rocks.

Knight-Wallace Fellows Lead History’s Biggest Journalism Collaboration

Current Fellow Bastian Obermayer (left) received an
email from “John Doe.” Knight-Wallace classmate
Laurent Richard (right) oversaw Premières Lignes
Télévision’s coverage of the Luxembourg Leaks in 2014.

In the winter of 2015, current Knight-Wallace Fellow Bastian Obermayer, deputy head of the investigative unit at the Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich, received an anonymous email. “John Doe” offered a massive trove of data from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Obermayer and colleague Frederik Obermaier soon realized that the 2.6 terabytes of data (11.5 million financial and legal records from 214,000 offshore companies) were too much for them to handle alone. They contacted Gerard Ryle ’06, director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), and asked for support.

Gerard Ryle
Gerard Ryle ’06, organized a global
newsroom and directed the reporting
and publishing around the world.

Through ICIJ, a secret database was established, a secure communication network was set up, and soon Ryle was leading a virtual newsroom. Three hundred seventy-six journalists in 76 countries searched through the files and shared information on who was hiding money. On April 3, 2016, the investigations were published simultaneously around the world as The Panama Papers. The first big revelation led to the resignation of Iceland’s prime minister over his ownership of an offshore company.

ICIJ put together an extensive website with stories, databases, videos, graphics and even an online game to help readers understand how tax havens work. The Süddeutsche Zeitung published a multimedia project in German and English. Obermayer and Obermaier’s book, “The Panama Papers,” was published in English and in 14 other languages as of this writing.

Edouard Perrin
Edouard Perrin ’16, had experience
investigating huge data troves
after receiving the Luxembourg

In addition to Obermayer and Ryle, one other Knight-Wallace Fellow Edouard Perrin ’16, of Premières Lignes Télévision in Paris worked on The Panama Papers.

Since April, The Panama Papers project has received many awards, including the Online News Association’s Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, the Data Journalism Award in Vienna and the Barlett & Steele Gold Award. Worth magazine ranked Ryle number 55 of the top 100 most powerful people in the global financial world.

You can watch Ryle’s latest TED Talk about the story behind the biggest data leak and the largest international collaboration in the history of investigative journalism.



31st Graham Hovey Lecture

Molly Ball31st Graham Hovey Lecture with political reporter Molly Ball ’10


“Election 2016: The Great Disruption of American Politics”

September 12, 2016

Watch the video recording.


A prominent voice from the campaign trail, Molly Ball appears regularly as an analyst on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” CBS’s “Face the Nation,” PBS’s “Washington Week,” CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and NPR. She is the recipient of the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting, the Sandy Hume Memorial Award for Excellence in Political Journalism and the Lee Walczak Award for Political Analysis for her coverage of political campaigns. The lecture addresses the upheaval of the U.S. political establishment and examine whether this is a fleeting or enduring phenomenon.

Ball previously was a staff reporter for Politico, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Las Vegas Sun and The Cambodia Daily. She began her journalism career working for newspapers in Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as The New York Times and The Washington Post.

She earned a B.A. in English Language and Literature from Yale University. As a Knight-Wallace Fellow at Michigan, 2009-2010, she studied economic policy, government spending and taxation in Nevada and the effects of rapid population growth.

The annual lecture honors Knight-Wallace alumni whose subsequent careers exemplify the benefits of sabbatical studies at U-M. It is named for the late Graham Hovey, director of the fellowship program from 1980-1986 and a distinguished journalist for The New York Times.

Watch the video recording.



Livingston Judges Present “Beyond America: The Case for Foreign News”

David Greene, NPR; Christiane Amanpour, CNN; Dean Baquet, The New York Times; John Harris, POLITICO
Dean Baquet, The New York Times; Christiane Amanpour, CNN; John Harris, POLITICO; David Greene, NPR



Pushing back against those who insist that the media and its American audiences are unserious and myopic, four of journalism’s top leaders used an April 15 forum honoring outgoing Wallace House Director Charles Eisendrath to insist foreign news has actually never been so relevant, popular or well-executed.

Practices are evolving as new technology provides opportunities for traditional print, TV and radio outlets to learn and deploy one another’s disciplines, New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet acknowledged to an audience of nearly 1,000 at Rackham Auditorium and those watching online. Despite the cutbacks, the result of that transformation is that “foreign reporting is far better today than it’s ever been.”

“I walk into a newsroom every day that not only has the great foreign correspondents but also has a huge video unit that thinks about things differently,” Baquet said emphatically. “There is so much immediacy now. After the Paris attacks, I’m competing not only with my traditional competitors like CNN but with The Guardian. I’m competing minute-by-minute with the European papers in the countries that are under attack. For all the difficulties, it’s better than it ever was.”

Baquet sat beside CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour and POLITICO’s co-founder and editor-in-chief John Harris as NPR’s “Morning Edition” co-host David Greene moderated the 90-minute discussion titled “Beyond America: The Case for Foreign News.” University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel introduced the quartet, all of whom are Livingston Award judges.

Before turning the stage over to the speakers, Schlissel paused to recognize Eisendrath for his four decades of contributions to the university and to the profession of journalism.

“We are able to celebrate this afternoon among so many top journalists and supporters because of Charles’ singular determination,” Schlissel said. “One of Charles’ great talents is his ability to see the university holistically and as such has had an incredible knack for finding those experiences that would enrich the Fellows’ time with us. Charles is also always willing to share his own expertise and he’s a wonderful ambassador for the university.”

As the discussion ensued, the panelists began assessing the state of affairs for international coverage. Harris, whose company last year launched POLITICO Europe and won praise for its coverage of the Brussels terror attacks in March, questioned the premise of the event’s title and, in fact, what precisely qualifies as “foreign news.”

“There is no important issue domestically that doesn’t have an international dimension,” Harris said. “If there was an attack on midtown Manhattan or Washington D.C. of the sort that happened in Brussels … is that an international story or a local story?”

Christiane Amanpounr
Livingston Judge Christiane Amanpour of CNN

That’s not to say there aren’t problems and concerns. Amanpour, who came to prominence after covering the Persian Gulf War and whose work covering the Bosnian War earned a Livingston Award in 1992, expressed frustration with major news outlets slashing budgets for overseas reporting and bemoaned the fact that the areas on the globe where journalistic attention is most needed are also where it is most difficult to find out what’s happening.

The backlash, she said, proves that “foreign news is so important that very important people want to shut us up. So, ISIS is cutting our throats. Governments don’t give us visas to go in. Militias make reporting difficult. Other governments shut us out by drumming up false charges or putting us in prison. We have to double down on foreign coverage and sending people out there.”

It’s not just foreign governments. Baquet pointed out that because even the United States now wages war using drones, illegal prisons and undercover operations, “We know much less about where the United States is engaged than we have in recent memory.”

Still, Baquet insisted, the public thirsts for the insights and information that outlets spend millions of dollars gathering and presenting. Long-form pieces and reports from such places as Europe and the Middle East are often the best-read Times articles, he said. “The dirty secret is that people always wanted foreign news,” he said. Alluding to the forum’s title, he continued, “I don’t actually think there’s much of a debate anymore. It’s the most important public-service oriented news we cover.”

Even so, Greene noted that as news organizations have closed their foreign bureaus over the two past decades, Harris is expanding POLITICO in Europe. POLITICO’s audience, Harris reasoned, “knows that the world is closer and has said ‘if you do something in Europe, count us in.'”

Some audience members, however, challenged the panel’s sunny view of the state of foreign news and Americans’ appetite for it. During a Q-and-A period, KWF ’12 Aisha Sultan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked the group why the U.S. media seems to go to saturation coverage for terror attacks that occur in Europe but not, for instance, Pakistan.

Amanpour admitted that this troubles her as well: “We don’t have the resources to do that kind of wall-to-wall coverage everywhere these things happen. But then, should we be doing that kind of wall-to-wall coverage anywhere on just one story? It does raise quite a lot of issues.”

Greene and Baquet noted that part of the issue is how newsworthy the incidents are – attacks in Pakistan are very common but quite rare in France or Belgium – and what sort of access is even possible. The Times, Baquet said, has been kicked out of Pakistan but has dozens of reporters across Europe able to pivot to a major story there.

“We covered the Paris attacks by sending our entire show there and hosting it there for an entire week,” Greene recalled. “We couldn’t do that in Islamabad.”

That train of thought also led to one of the most amusing exchanges. Amanpour recalled how, in 1997, Princess Diana and Mother Teresa died within days of one another. Guilt over how intensely the death of the glamorous British royal figure was covered led many Western media outlets to give the funeral of the elderly Nobel-winning nun a lot more attention than she might have received absent the Diana mania.

Dean Baquet
After the panel discussion, Michigan students had a chance to talk with Dean Baquet.

Baquet acknowledged that this was true, but then quipped: “Princess Diana was young and killed in an accident. Mother Teresa was very old. There was not a shock that she died. If Mother Teresa had died speeding down a highway in Paris being chased by paparazzi, we would have gone nuts covering that, too!”

The panelists were generally hopeful, noting that their perches as Livingston judges give them a sense of the immense young talent continually joining the profession. These upbeat observations seemed to delight viewers on social media, as when Amanpour noted that “longform is actually getting a new life” and Harris observed that more substantive pieces break through the clutter because “you’re never going to be faster than Twitter.” Dozens of people, of course, tweeted these lines.

This event was co-sponsored by Michigan Radio.
Watch the video »


On the Road to a New Exit

Interstate 75 connects my life in Ann Arbor to another, very different existence at a cherry orchard in northern Michigan. The house is 115 years old and has been touched by five generations of us. Inside and beyond, in the woods and fields, stuff and changes accumulate. Such things mark what you’ve done and what you haven’t; what things people in your gene pool accomplished with reminders to try some.

So as I found myself driving through life’s higher numbers in bumptious good health, 75 came to take on special significance. As that birthday approached, it became a sort of road sign. I had been traveling north and south on I-75. Maybe E-75, October 9, 2015, should signal highway Eisendrath leading to life beyond Wallace House. The numbers worked in the way journalists prefer in anniversaries: 40 years at the University of Michigan, 35 running the Livingston Awards, 30 directing the Fellowships.

Julia and Charles Eisendrath


What made me take the turn leading to retirement from all three, however, did not come until late last summer. I don’t like leaving important things undone, and until then, the Livingston Awards had been neither strongly embraced by the University, nor had it garnered endowment. At the awards lunch in New York last June, however, President Mark Schlissel told the winners “I look forward to hearing about your accomplishments and to coming back many times in the future to join in celebrating the future of journalism.” In August, a longtime donor sent the first of checks to total $1 million for endowment. Suddenly, I felt confident that the Livingstons were firmly on the way to permanence at a University I’ve loved for a long time.

Unsurprisingly, the decision to make of this revelation came at the farm, surrounded by all those reminders. That’s where such things happen.

But why leave a job I’ve been lucky enough to more-or-less design? Fair question. Again, it’s the numbers. Pride in having tried to guide journalists to as satisfying a life as I’ve had runs deep. How much could I add in a few more years? By contrast, although every job has brought enormous pleasure, Wallace House way above all, jobs have always dominated my life. The only chance to explore what I might do without one is right now. I know what I would advise Fellows in such situations.

Hence taking the exit off the big road I’ve known so well to smaller ones I think may lead to intriguing places with Julia, my lifelong road-trip navigator and the co-pilot of our lives together. Many, I hope, will lead to you.

A Year of Fellowship and Official Visits

On the eve of the KWF ’15 trip to Brazil, President Dilma Roussef went on television to appeal for patience and support for fiscal austerity measures. Her appear-ance was widely met with jeers and some nasty names.

The fellows arrived in the economic and cultural center of São Paulo at a pivotal time for Brazil. The once-promising economy is on a downward spiral and anger is rising over a massive corruption scandal involving the state-run oil company Petrobras. We learned all about this and more in seminars and roundtables organized by Suzana Singer, editor at Folha de São Paulo, in between lavish meals and a dance lesson. Our hosts Sabine Righetti ’13, Sylvia Colombo ’14 and Silas Marti made sure everything went smoothly.

There were plenty of surprises along the way, starting on our first day when we got a special viewing of an apartment in the landmark Copan building, a curvy structure in the heart of downtown that was designed by modern- ist architect Oscar Niemeyer. Reporter Fabricio Lobel recently rented the flat and opened his new home to us for a glimpse of the glorious view from his windows. We then took a bus to the Liberdade neighborhood, home to the city’s vibrant Japanese community, for a sushi and tempura dinner. Coffee plantations lured Japanese workers to the area more than a century ago and Brazil now has the largest Japanese diaspora in the world.

We also met with some of the coun- try’s top luminaries. Henrique Meirelles, a former Central Bank governor and cur- rent chairman of holding company J&F, gave us a rundown of the evolution of the economic problems that have caused inflation to spike and the Brazilian currency to plunge against the dollar. We discussed what’s driving the growing global demand for meat. Meirelles has some ex- pertise in the subject; J&F controls JBS, the largest meat production company in the world. Then we returned to an auditorium at Folha for a candid discussion with Delton Dallagnol, a federal prosecutor who is leading the task force investigating the Petrobras scandal. He explained how the arrest of a single money launderer led to a probe that has reached into the president’s inner circle. I’d pick Bradley Cooper to play him in the movie.

A major highlight was a new addition to the Brazil program. We hopped on a plane for an hour-long ride to Belo Horizonte, the capital of the southeastern state of Minas Gerais. World Cup fans will remember this area for its Mineirao stadium, the site of Brazil’s devastating loss to Germany last year. The first order of business was of course dinner at the restaurant Xapuri, where we were treated to stewed chicken, farofa and other local delicacies capped by a buffet of delicious desserts.

The following day took us on a mountainous trip to the Inhotim open-air museum, a 5,000 acre complex filled with contemporary art installations and exotic gardens. The park is de- signed to encourage an in- teractive experience between visitors and the art. The best example of that was the Cosmococa pavilion where one room has a dimly lit swimming pool in which a few brave fellows took a dip while listening to the music of composer John Cage. Another room plays Kimmi Hendrix tunes while visitors lie in hammocks. We had lunch at a buffet, battling bees for dishes of salad, fish and pastries. Then the park’s creator, mining magnate Bernardo Paz, met with us to discuss his vision saying, “This is not a museum. This is life.”

Later, a bus took us on a 2 1⁄2 hour ride to Ouro Preto (which means Black Gold in Portuguese), a 17th cen- tury colonial mining town. There Silas Marti, Folha’s arts and design critic, gave us a tour of the church of St. Francis of Assisi designed by AntÔnio Francisco Lisboa, which is perched on a steep hilltop and features carved decorations and golden woodwork, paintings and statues. It also boasts an amazing view of the cobblestone- street lined city.
For the weekend, it was back to São Paulo. We spent our next to last day with renowned architects Fernanda Barbara and Fabio Valentim who treated us to a personalized tour of the museums in the modernist Ibirapuera Park, including the Afro-Brazil museum. Brazil was the last place in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888, and the exhibit includes rare photos.

A bonus was watching skaters defying gravity under a long concrete canopy that distinguishes the park. We also saw the Sesc Pompeia, a unique cultural and leisure center with two towers that act as a sports center and are linked by covered walkways. That night fellows enjoyed a forro dance lesson and a glimpse of local clubbing. After some awkward but fun moments on the dance floor, the group got more comfortable in an adjacent dining area where they were offered caipirinhas and beer.

The last day summed everything up. We started with a tour of several poor neighborhoods on the outskirts of São Paulo. Our tour guides were bloggers who write for Folha’s Mural blog with the mission of portraying more than poverty and violence. We saw crowded favelas occupying land literally across the street from barricaded wealthy housing units. Break dancers and graffiti artists showed Fellows how they give voice to youths. In a sharp contrast that must be felt daily by all Brazilians, we then gathered for lunch at a swanky steak house where waiters carved meat straight onto your plate until you turned up a red card signaling for them to stop. Finally we boarded the bus for the airport, on the same day that hundreds of thousands of Brazilians gathered in the downtown streets to protest the president and call for her impeachment.