The 36th Graham Hovey Lecture: Freedom of Information and the Public’s Right to Know

This article appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of the Wallace House Journal.

Q&A with Anna Clark of ProPublica

The annual Graham Hovey Lecture was started by Charles Eisendrath in 1987 in honor of his predecessor Graham Hovey, director of the fellowship program from 1980 to 1986, to recognize a Knight-Wallace journalist whose career exemplifies the benefits of a fellowship and whose ensuing work is at the forefront of our national conversations. This year we welcomed Anna Clark, a 2017 Knight-Wallace Fellow and currently a journalist with ProPublica living in Detroit. She is the author of “The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy,” which won the Hillman Prize for Book Journalism and the Rachel Carson Environment Book Award, and was longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. She is a nonfiction faculty member in Alma College’s MFA Program in Creative Writing and was also a Fulbright fellow in creative writing in Kenya. Anna sat down with director Lynette Clemetson to discuss the dangers of a culture of secrecy and what it takes to push back.

Q: When I raised the idea of government transparency to you as a possible topic for your Hovey Lecture, I was concerned that you might think it was too wonky, but you were all in.

A: Freedom of information and public disclosure policies are part of our architecture for democracy and justice. I’m very passionate about it.

Q: Many people don’t know that Michigan ranks low in some areas of transparency.

A: I love this state, but I am sorry to say that we are not on the strongest side of this issue. We’re notable for being one of only two states in which the legislature and the governor’s office are exempt from public records requests.

Anna Clark returned to Wallace House not only with her infectious smile, but to offer insight into the restrictive laws preventing access to public records.

Q: It comes up for debate regularly, but the law hasn’t changed.

A: Well, interestingly, whatever party is not in power is really pro opening things up, and then once they are in power, they hesitate. (Laughs.) So yeah, people have been talking about this for years and years. And it has real stakes for the ability of reporters to do their jobs and for people to know what’s going on in their communities.

Q: For large institutions that get a lot of requests, public universities included, it can be easy to think of FOIA as a nuisance. How do we change that?

A: It’s true. Not every FOIA request is made in the name of democracy. There are frivolous requests, harassing ones, excessive ones, overly vague and broad ones that are a genuine burden to our public officials. Still, I think it is a virtue that you aren’t required to give a reason to make a request. If you’re an official who is doing the right thing, if you’re educating people, serving this state, this nation, in important ways, that should be evident in the details of the released records. Not making them available, even when you’re doing the right things, cultivates a kind of secrecy that breeds suspicion and distrust.

Q: There’s been a lot written about how a lack of government transparency exacerbated the water disaster in Flint. You document the downfalls in your book, “The Poisoned City.” You also recently wrote about a lack of transparency in a different part of the state—the ongoing wait for an external review of the 2021 mass shooting at Oxford High School. How do larger government transparency issues relate to the situation in Oxford?

A: The Oxford school shooting in November 2021 was a very different kind of crisis than Flint. What’s similar is that the people in Oxford are starved for a clear, comprehensive telling of what happened, not just in the courts, which are prosecuting the shooter and his parents, but in the context of their school and the public school district that had a number of interactions with the shooter in the days and hours leading up to the shooting.

If you have a culture where the attitude is “just trust us” and you expect people to be okay with it, that trickles down to even the most locally elected, part-time, volunteer school board officials, who nonetheless are responsible for high-stakes decisions that could potentially cost people their lives. We’re creating a norm that is actually dangerous where this culture of secrecy is something we’re familiar with. That doesn’t mean it needs to be our normal.

Tabbye Chavous, Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion, Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Michigan and member of the Wallace House Executive Advisory Board, welcomes guests to the Wallace House gardens.

Q: How did the fellowship prepare you to tackle this issue of government secrecy, starting with your book on Flint?

A: Well, I was a completely fried, burned out, single, full-time freelancer working all the time and feeling increasingly depleted. Without the fellowship, I don’t know how I would have emotionally been able to sustain the work of reporting and writing the book, let alone the emotional toll. Having fun with people, sleeping more, not worrying about my bills all the time, it was so restorative. And that was essential to help me go forward to finish this book and bring it into the world.

Q: What did you gain from the university?

A: It was a powerful opportunity to come at the book with resources and tools I just never had before. I took classes in the law school on water policy and environmental justice. I took an urban planning class on metropolitan structures. Visiting cities in Brazil and South Korea gave me a new perspective to think about how cities in the U.S. are made and unmade. Not having any institutional affiliation or much money when I came to the fellowship, I never had access to archives like that. Suddenly, I got this university email address and all the resources of the campus libraries, including the library at the U-M’s Flint campus, became available.

Q: And yet, you didn’t come into the fellowship with a concrete plan for what you were going to do. That makes a lot of people nervous. What advice would you give to current or future fellows who worry about having everything mapped out?

A: Some of it is just trusting yourself. Like, if you have a Tuesday, and you don’t have any classes at all, you can trust that things will show up on that day that you will learn and grow from, including just empty space, which might be the thing you need most of all.

Q: That can be a hard case to make when people’s careers feel so perilous and the industry is under so much pressure.

A: The toll this work takes—even in the best of times, let alone in these times of scarcity and threat—is so excruciating. If people are going to do this work for years and decades, well, people are not machines. We’re not machines. You need to replenish yourself. We need journalists who are whole people, who have the internal and external resources to sustain themselves for the long run. This program is so rare for truly investing in journalists, not just in what they produce. That’s an investment in journalism for the long term, not just the news cycle.

Wallace House director Lynette Clemetson presents Anna Clark with the inscribed Hovey Bowl and her name added to the Hovey Lecture plaque.

Anna Clark is a 2017 Knight-Wallace Fellow.

Two Esteemed Journalists Appointed to the Livingston Awards Regional Judging Panel

Meghna Chakrabarti, host and editor of “On Point,” and Adam Ganucheau, editor-in-chief of Mississippi Today Join the Livingston Awards Judging Panel

Wallace House Center for Journalists welcomes the addition of Meghna Chakrabarti, host and editor of WBUR’s “On Point,” and Adam Ganucheau, editor-in-chief of Mississippi Today, to the Livingston Awards regional judging panel. They will join our esteemed regional and national judges in identifying the best reporting and storytelling by journalists under the age of 35.

Chakrabarti is the award-winning host and editor of “On Point,” a weekday radio show produced by WBUR in Boston and distributed by American Public Media. “On Point” has been frequently recognized for excellence in journalism under Chakrabarti’s leadership, reporting on the economy, health care, politics and the environment. She previously served as the host of “Radio Boston,” WBUR’s acclaimed weekday local show, and “Modern Love: The Podcast,” a collaboration of WBUR and The New York Times. Chakrabarti holds a master’s degree from Harvard University and an MBA with honors from Boston University.

Ganucheau is the editor-in-chief of Mississippi Today, Mississippi’s largest newsroom. He was the lead editor of the 2023 Livingston Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation “The Backchannel,” exposing high-profile players’ roles in the state’s welfare scandal. He previously worked as a staff reporter for Mississippi Today,, The Birmingham News, and the Clarion Ledger. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Ganucheau earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Mississippi.

The regional judges read all qualifying entries and select the finalists in local, national and international reporting categories. In addition to Chakrabarti and Ganucheau the regional judging panel includes Molly Ball of The Wall Street Journal; Stella M. Chávez of KERA Public Radio (Dallas); David Greene of Fearless Media; Stephen Henderson of BridgeDetroit, WDET public radio and Detroit Public Television; and Amna Nawaz of “PBS NewsHour.”

The national judges read all final entries and meet to select the Livingston winners in the local, national and international reporting categories and the Richard M. Clurman recipient, an award honoring a senior journalist for on-the-job mentoring. The national judging panel includes Raney Aronson-Rath of PBS; Sewell Chan of The Texas Tribune; Audie Cornish of CNN;  Matt Murray of News Corp; Lydia Polgreen of The New York Times; María Elena Salinas of ABC News; Bret Stephens of The New York Times; and Kara Swisher of New York Magazine.

Now Accepting Entries

The Livingston Awards are now accepting entries for work published in 2023. The entry deadline is February 1, 2024.

About the Livingston Awards

Livingston Awards honor journalists under the age of 35 for outstanding achievement in local, national and international reporting across all forms of journalism. The awards bolster the work of young reporters, create the next generation of journalism leaders and mentors, and advance civic engagement around powerful storytelling. The Livingston Awards are a program of Wallace House Center for Journalists at the University of Michigan, home to the Knight-Wallace Fellowships for Journalists and the Wallace House Presents event series.

Three Newsroom Leaders Appointed to the Livingston Awards National Judging Panel

Newly appointed Livingston Award judges from left to right: Audie Cornish of CNN, Sally Buzbee of The Washington Post and Sewell Chan of The Texas Tribune.

Audie Cornish, Sally Buzbee and Sewell Chan join the Livingston Awards

Wallace House Center for Journalists and the Livingston Awards panel of national judges welcome Audie Cornish of CNN, Sally Buzbee of The Washington Post and Sewell Chan of The Texas Tribune to the Livingston Awards national judging panel. They will join our regional and national judges in identifying the best reporting and storytelling by journalists under 35.

Cornish is an anchor and correspondent for CNN. She hosts the CNN Audio podcast “The Assignment” and appears on CNN covering national, political and breaking news. Before joining CNN, Cornish was the co-host of NPR’s afternoon news program, “All Things Considered.” She began her journalism career with The Associated Press in Boston in 2001.

Buzbee is the executive editor of The Washington Post. She is the first woman to lead the Post’s newsroom. Under her leadership, the organization has created four managing editor roles and added 41 editor positions. Starting with The Associated Press in 1988 as a reporter in Kansas, she served as the organization’s Middle East regional editor, based in Cairo, Washington bureau chief, and executive editor.

Chan is the editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune. Previously he was the deputy managing editor and editorial page editor at the Los Angeles Times. Chan worked at The New York Times as a metro reporter, Washington correspondent, deputy op-ed editor, and international news editor. He began his career as a local reporter at The Washington Post in 2000.

In addition to Cornish, Buzbee and Chan, the national judging panel includes Raney Aronson-Rath, executive producer, “Frontline,” PBS; Matt Murray, editor in chief, The Wall Street Journal; Lydia Polgreen, opinion columnist, The New York Times; María Elena Salinas, contributor, ABC News; Bret Stephens, op-ed columnist, The New York Times; and Kara Swisher, executive producer, Code Conference and host of the podcast “Pivot.” The national judges read all final entries and meet to select the Livingston winners in the local, national and international reporting categories and the Richard M. Clurman recipient, an award honoring a senior journalist for on-the-job mentoring.

As we welcome these three new judges, four of our long-serving national judges will move to emeritus status and continue to serve the Livingston Awards in various capacities. These include our longest-serving Livingston Award judge, Ken Auletta, who joined the judging panel in 1982; Clarence Page, who has been with the Livingston Awards since 1993; and John Harris and Anna Quindlen, who became  Livingston Awards judges in 2009.

The Livingston Awards regional judges read all qualifying entries and select the finalists in local, national and international reporting categories. Their selections move to the national judges for the final round of judging. The regional judging panel includes Molly Ball, national political correspondent, TIME; Stella Chávez, immigration and demographics reporter, KERA Public Radio (Dallas); Chris Davis, deputy for the Local Investigative Reporting Fellowship, The New York Times; David Greene, host, “In the Moment with David Greene,” Religion of Sports and PRX; Stephen Henderson, executive editor, BridgeDetroit; Shirley Leung, associate editor, The Boston Globe; and Amna Nawaz, co-anchor, “PBS NewsHour.”

Now Accepting Entries

The Livingston Awards are now accepting entries for work published in 2022. The entry deadline is February 1, 2023. The deadline to submit a Clurman nomination is March 1, 2023.

This year’s Livingston Award winners will be announced on June 13, 2023, at a ceremony in New York City.

About the Livingston Awards

Livingston Awards honor journalists under the age of 35 for outstanding achievement in local, national and international reporting across all forms of journalism. The awards bolster the work of young reporters, create the next generation of journalism leaders and mentors, and advance civic engagement around powerful storytelling.

Remote Fellows Visit Ann Arbor

No Michigan experience would be complete without a visit to the Big House. Fellows got a behind-the-scenes peek at the stadium locker rooms, the legendary tunnel, luxury suites and the 50-yard line.

This article appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of the Wallace House Journal

If I had to write a self-help book about the week I spent in Ann Arbor this spring with the Knight-Wallace classes of 2021 and 2022, I’d call it “Chicken Soup for the Journalist’s Soul.”

The two fellowship classes from the pandemic years called ourselves “The Virtuals” because few of us had ever met in person, although we’d all spent an academic year attending seminars and making online connections with other Fellows from our cohorts.

These had been challenging times for many of us as we navigated through the havoc the pandemic caused in our professional and personal lives. And spikes in Covid cases had forced us to cancel at least two previously planned in-person fellowship gatherings. So by the time we arrived at Wallace House in April, most of us felt overdue for the face-to-face experience Wallace House Director Lynette Clemetson and Associate Director Robert Yoon had been telling us about for months.

Jose Fermoso ’22 shared a dance with street artist David Zinn’s Gene Kelly on the downtown library’s underground parking garage wall.

As much as I had anticipated the trip, I still wasn’t prepared for the warm and loving atmosphere that awaited us. Lynette, Rob, Alexis, Patty, Jayson, Melissa, Lisa and everyone associated with Knight- Wallace showed us the highest hospitality the entire week, and for the first time I felt like more than one of 11 participants in a great and robust fellowship.

I looked at the group photos on the wall of the classes that came before mine. I saw the gifts that each of these groups left behind.

And in those moments I realized that being part of the Knight- Wallace Fellowship wasn’t a year-long program. The other Fellows and I had joined a group of journalists who’d had the privilege of spending hours together at Wallace House laughing, crying, learning, growing and recharging so they could go back out into the world as better journalists and human beings.

Although we had several great activities during our week together, our most profound moments came in the sessions where we sat in the living room at Wallace House and shared our experiences. During the fellowship, many of us had relied upon one another for support and advice. But in person, the encouragement was infinitely more profound. It was, in short, the safest place I’ve ever had to share my experiences as a journalist.

I wasn’t alone. Nichole Dobo, one of the Fellows from my cohort, told me she similarly felt the warmth of being among “people who are bringing their whole selves to work.”

“Our backgrounds are our strengths, especially when we come from underrepresented communities,” Nickie said. “We only got one week in person, but it felt like so much longer. I left feeling empowered by the idea that things other people might see as a weakness are actually our superpowers.”

Nick St. Fleur organized a selfie with classmates from the Knight-Wallace Reporting Fellowship class of 2021-22 on the porch at Wallace House.

After our graduation ceremony, instead of sitting in small groups at the tables arranged in the backyard, we pushed all the tables together because none of us wanted to be apart from the others. That night, the jokes, war stories and heartfelt moments we shared belonged to all of us.

“I left feeling empowered by the idea that things other people might see as a weakness are actually our superpowers.”

Lester Feder from the class of 2021 remembered the dance party we had that evening after we pushed the chairs to the corners of the living room where we had shared so much in the days before.

“It was a moving reminder,” he said, “of the humanity of the people who give so much of themselves to this work, which demands that we give so much of ourselves.”

Daphne Duret is a 2022 Knight-Wallace Reporting Fellow and recently joined The Marshall Project as a staff writer covering policing issues across the country.



Announcing the 2022-2023 Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellows

Today the University of Michigan named the Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellows for the 2022-2023 academic year. After rewarding experiences with two remote fellowship classes, Wallace House will welcome a cohort of 15 journalists to the University of Michigan campus for the return of our in-person fellowship starting in the fall semester. 

The Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellowships offer an academic year of study, collaborative learning and access to the resources of the University of Michigan for journalists to pursue ambitious journalism projects.  

“Journalists responded to the challenges of the past two years with resilience and resolve. Wallace House, too, met the moment with creativity and commitment to support journalists in new and nimble ways,” said Lynette Clemetson, director of Wallace House. “In addition to tackling in-depth reporting and research during the fellowship, this talented cohort of journalists will pursue solutions to help newsrooms evolve. We look forward to the truths they will uncover, the voices they will amplify, and the paths they will forge.” 


Fellowship support includes a $75,000 stipend over eight months, the opportunity to audit courses across the university, professional development workshops and private seminars with journalism leaders and world-renowned experts. Fellows will reside in the Ann Arbor area and enjoy gatherings and activities in the comfort of Wallace House, a gift from the late newsman Mike Wallace and his wife, Mary.

The return to the residential program includes a focus on individual journalism projects. The 2022-2023 Fellows’ pursuits range from investigating pressing global crises including forced migration, the constraints of nationhood, attacks on press freedom and climate change to persistent domestic issues including inequitable policing, broken mental health systems and the exploitation of private information in the digital marketplace.

This is the 49th class of journalism fellows at the University of Michigan. The program is funded through endowment gifts by foundations, news organizations and individuals committed to journalism’s role in fostering an informed and engaged public.


The 2022-2023 Knight-Wallace Fellows and their journalism projects:

Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, an independent journalist who grew up in Geneva, Switzerland, has written and edited extensively about globalization and nationalism for publications including The Nation and The New York Times. She will explore how concepts outside of nationhood are remaking our world. 

María Arce, an Argentinian journalist and multi-platform director for El Vocero in Puerto Rico, has covered hurricanes, earthquakes and major storms for over a decade. She will explore methods to strengthen emergency coverage plans for small newsrooms and proposals to classify journalists as frontline workers. 

Elaine Cromie, a Shimanchu and Puerto Rican photojournalist based in Detroit, is a contributor to publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. She will use multimedia storytelling to document efforts to save the indigenous languages of the Shimanchu and Uchinaanchu people native to the islands now called Okinawa. 

Mary Cuddehe, an independent journalist and magazine writer based in Ann Arbor, has reported from Mexico and worked as a mitigation investigator on death penalty cases in the U.S.  She will study the systemic vulnerabilities of storing and sharing medical information in the digital age. 

Orlando de Guzman, is a video journalist and filmmaker based in Ann Arbor whose work has ranged from coverage in the Central African Republic, Brazil and Venezuela to documenting white nationalists converging in Charlottesville in 2017. He will research how sheriffs and county prosecutors participate in criminalization of the poor in the rural Midwest.

Makeda Easter, is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles where she has covered the intersection of arts and identity. She will build an independent arts media platform dedicated to telling the stories of artists-activists creating change in underreported communities. 

Jarrad Henderson, is an independent filmmaker, educator, and visual journalist based in Washington, D.C., whose compelling storytelling on a variety of social issues at USA Today has won industry accolades. He will focus on taking an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to increasing diversity and equity in visual journalism.

Lindsay Kalter, is an independent health journalist based in Ann Arbor whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Boston Globe Magazine and POLITICO. Using a blend of hard data analysis and compelling personal portraits, she will investigate the abuse and corruption in facilities meant to treat teens in need of mental health support but end up only further traumatizing them.

Chris Marquette, a congressional ethics and accountability reporter for CQ Roll Call based in Washington D.C., has reported extensively on the U.S. Capitol Police, from its lack of transparency to allegations of misconduct leveled against it. He will research trends in the department’s policing practices and explore areas for reform.

Meg Martin, is a freelance editor and a former managing editor for regional news at Minnesota Public Radio. Her work on the “74 Seconds” podcast on the 2016 killing of Philando Castile won her and her colleagues Livingston, Peabody, and Third Coast awards. She will explore how to revamp small and medium-sized news organizations to better support and connect their editors and team leaders to build more agile, sustainable, and equitable newsrooms.

KyeongRak Min,  is a media strategy reporter for Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, where he has covered the economy, finance, social affairs and North Korea. He will build on his extensive reporting on Korea’s high suicide rate and use a narrative journalism approach to examine the issue as a social phenomenon, including the role Korean media have played in exacerbating the problem.

Antoni Slodkowski, is a Polish journalist based in Tokyo for the Financial Times. He previously spent four years in Myanmar for Reuters as part of the team that won the Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya. His colleagues Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were imprisoned by the government as a result of that reporting. He will explore how refugees are using traditional and social media to tell their stories and document the mass migrations of recent years. 

Alexandra Talty, is a multi-media journalist and former Middle East correspondent now based in Southampton, New York. Her reporting on the environment, waterways and climate change has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Outside Magazine, and The Daily Beast, among others. She will examine how the seafood industry, fisheries, and coastal communities are using regenerative practices to supplant lost income and food sources as a result of the climate crisis. 

Asadullah Timory, is an Afghan reporter who worked for The New York Times in western Afghanistan. He was evacuated from the country after it fell to the Taliban in August 2021. He will research the collapse of press freedom in Afghanistan and what awaits displaced Afghan journalists seeking to continue their work in exile. 

Masrat Zahra, is an independent photojournalist and documentary photographer from Indian-administered Kashmir, whose images of human rights violations and everyday hardship have won her international acclaim as well as made her a target of the Indian government. In 2020 she was charged under an anti-terrorism law for posting her photographs on social media. She will research the persecution of Muslims and other minorities in India and the role of the government in violence and polarization.

Read more about the 2022-2023 Knight-Wallace Fellows and their journalism projects »

About Wallace House

Committed to fostering excellence in journalism, Wallace House at the University of Michigan is home to the Knight-Wallace Fellowships, the Livingston Awards and the Wallace House Presents event series, programs that recognize exceptional journalists for their work, leadership and potential.


Jayson Rose Joins Wallace House as Senior Development Officer



Wallace House at the University of Michigan welcomes Jayson Rose as its Senior Development Officer. 

In this newly created role, Rose will be responsible for developing and managing annual giving, major gifts and institutional support needed to advance the mission and programs of Wallace House. Working jointly with Wallace House director Lynette Clemetson and the Office of University Development leadership, Rose will identify gift prospects, with a focus on connecting the philanthropic interests and passions of Wallace House friends, alumni and donors to our journalism programs in meaningful ways.

“As Wallace House expands its vision, it is imperative that we respond thoughtfully to the many supporters who reach out to us with interest in helping to foster our programs and journalism’s vital role to our democracy,” said Lynette Clemetson. “Jayson’s background and expertise will allow us to develop these philanthropic interests strategically with an eye to the future. We are thrilled to welcome him.”

Rose comes to Wallace House with deep development experience. He recently oversaw fundraising efforts for three divisions within Duke University’s academic medicine fundraising entity, Duke Health Development and Alumni Affairs. Before joining Duke, Rose spent more than three years at his alma mater, Western Michigan University, as the Director of Major Gifts. In that role, he helped raise five, six and seven-figure gifts for various entities across the campus. His previous academic experience also includes time at Iowa State University, helping to lead efforts at their business school. Rose was also Associate Director of Development for Student Life at the University of Michigan and points to that experience as a turning point in his professional career. 

Rose is known for being a collaborative and compassionate fundraising professional who is committed to helping donors make a lasting impact through philanthropy.  Throughout his career, he has played a prominent role in securing resources for student scholarships, faculty support, endowed funds, planned gifts and other areas of need. Rose helped drive strategies that led to philanthropic support tied to billion-dollar-plus campaigns, including “Forever True, For Iowa State,” and, we are happy to include, “Victors for Michigan.”

Before his career in fundraising, Rose worked for Phoenix Media in Chicago and was a professional DJ lending his services to corporations and world-famous athletes and celebrities, including Derek Jeter, Michael Jordan, and Michael Bublé.

Rose earned his B.A. from Western Michigan University with a concentration in Economics. He will start at Wallace House on January 31.


Q & A with Wallace House Director Lynette Clemetson and Hovey Speaker McKenzie Funk

McKenzie Funk’s seven-year old son, Wilson,
carefully inspected the Hovey Bowl presented
by Wallace House Director Lynette Clemetson.

McKenzie Funk came to the Knight-Wallace Fellowship in the fall of 2011 to study the paradigm of endless economic growth and to unpack years of reporting on how governments and corporations were profiting from global warming. His 2014 book, “Windfall,” won a PEN Literary Award and was named a best book of the year by several publications. He returned to Wallace House in September to give the 34th annual Graham Hovey Lecture, and he sat down with Lynette Clemetson before the event to discuss writing on and living with the topic of climate change.


Clemetson: Discussions of climate change are most often presented through science or politics, or the clash between the two. What made you want to explore it through financial gain?

Funk: I wasn’t a climate change person. I grew up being interested in environmental issues because of my parents and where I grew up in Oregon. But precisely for the reasons you describe – that it’s a political fight or a scientific question – as a narrative writer, I had shied away from it.

Clemetson: And what changed that?

Funk: It was 2006, and I was living in New York trying to get my freelance career going. I got an email from the Environmental News Network, a short one or two line item about something called a sovereignty operation up in northern Canada, a group of Canadian Rangers there to defend the Northwest Passage. And I thought, “that’s really weird.” They mentioned a climate connection, and it just sounded very different from everything else I’d heard about people reacting to climate change. I called the PR people at the Canadian Forces to ask if I could go along on the next one. They were overjoyed because this was basically aimed at the United States. They wanted the world to know that the Canadian military was up there staking a claim to the melting North.

Clemetson: And what made you want to follow the thread and keep reporting?

Funk: In the background of all of this, “An Inconvenient Truth” had just come out. There was an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report coming up the next year. There was the prospect of climate legislation coming up in the Senate. It was all sort of bubbling. My story from the Canadian Forces expedition was published in Harpers in August 2007. Around the same time, the Russian government sent two mini subs down to the bottom of the ocean at the North Pole and planted a Russian flag, and suddenly people were saying, “Wait a minute, what’s going on?

Clemetson: You approach the global crisis through three broad themes – melt, drought, deluge. And your themes are starkly organized around geography.

Funk: Yes, the north versus the global south, high latitudes versus middle latitudes. It’s obvious if you pull back and think about it. The northern countries are the ones that have been wealthiest. We not only have enough in our war chest, as it were, to survive some of these impacts, but we can, in some cases, benefit. And of course, we’re the biggest historic emitters of the carbon that’s causing this problem. That remains true even as we outsource our industrial production to China. We are the end users of much of that carbon.

Clemetson: In the weeks leading up to your talk, this topic seemed to be ever present. President Trump was angling to buy Greenland. The Bahamas was devastated by a hurricane. Do you see this issue everywhere now?

Funk: Once you see it, it’s everywhere. We just moved to Oregon, to a town called Ashland, which is at the very bottom of the state, near the border of California, not so far from Paradise, California. The town is famous for its Shakespeare Festival, which brings in tourists. The economy is basically built on how nice the town is. When we arrived, it had the worst air quality in the entire country because it was ringed with wildfires. It’s something that’s happened consistently summer after summer for the last several years. This part of southern Oregon is just burning, and the smoke permeates everything. My wife Jenny had to stay to attend school but the kids and I, we dumped our bags, our boxes and left immediately, because we were wearing smoke masks out on the street. It was like this apocalyptic new reality.

Clemetson: And how did you feel about leaving?

Funk: I was very aware that we had the privilege to be able to pack up, get in our car and drive somewhere. There were many families in the region that couldn’t get away and were just suffering through the smoke. Businesses were collapsing. It was actually the first time that it became real for my life. I started to think strategically about moving north, back to Seattle, back to a place where, if you look at the impacts, it will be safer.

Clemetson: Your book paints a picture in which the people who can afford to win will win. And people who can’t will lose.

Funk: Yeah. The gaps between rich and poor, between dark and light, between black, brown and white are set to grow unless we’re really careful about this. It’s a justice story essentially. The hope is that if we can more collectively recognize the systemic issues, the more we will take steps to adapt more fairly. A lot of the justice questions have to do with how we adapt and who we adapt for. We’ve done so little in terms of making cities more resilient and in terms of thinking about how we’re going to prepare for the storms or heatwaves or fires. There is still a lot of room to make our responses more equitable.

Clemetson: Some people come to the fellowship to pursue something new. You were already deeply involved in this reporting and in writing a book when you arrived. So how did you approach your time?

Funk: There was a Great Lakes Water Wars class that was outstanding, and Andy Hoffman’s class in the Business School on how corporations were confronting climate change. A lot of the section in the book about Shell Oil was informed by that class. But I also spent a lot of time in the fellowship on seemingly unproductive things. Jenny was pregnant. We spent time hiking in the Bird Hills Nature Area, canoeing on the Huron River. And I spent a lot of time chasing my dog.

Clemetson: Chasing your dog?

Funk: We lived in the house that Matt Power had lived in when he was a Fellow. It was donut shaped, with a central staircase. It was perfect for running in circles. And I would just chase the dog around and around, for a really long time, every day. It was great. It was one of the most important things, just having time to think. To think about what I had gathered and to put it all together.


The Bells, Whistles (and Rockets!) of Fellowship Life

Sharilyn Hufford ‘19 was able to figure out
many ways to “let go” during her time as a
Knight-Wallace Fellow. In addition to the
U of M carillon, she also had the chance to
play on the largest carillon in Central and
South America on the class’ international
news trip to São Paulo.

A hand-lettered sign in a neighborhood coffee shop greeted
me with a bit of wisdom on my first morning in Ann Arbor: “Sometimes you just have to let go and see what happens.” If there ever was a time to let go, this was it. The academic year was about to start, and I had an ambitious study plan for the fellowship – creating high impact news products and best practices for workflow in product design. But I still hadn’t figured out how I would approach the challenge in the classroom.

I’d already combed through the 464 pages of the fall course catalog, searching for classes to teach me how other industries were using processes, systems and technology to transform their work. With so much to choose from, I wasn’t worried about filling a schedule. I knew I would find something that aligned with my study plan. After all I had a ‘short’ list of roughly 25 classes. (OK, I might have been trying too hard.)

The problem was my fear of not finding the right classes, of missing out on something or somehow not getting enough out of my precious time on campus. Could I follow the sign’s advice and just let go? It didn’t take long to find out.

At our very first orientation meeting, I spotted a poster on the way to tour Burton Memorial Tower: “Bells on the brain? Take Carillon 150. Play the U-M bell towers!”

The University of Michigan has two carillons out of only 600 in the world, one in the middle of Central Campus in Burton Tower and one in the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Tower on North Campus. And heck yeah, I wanted to play them.

The other students – a mix of about 20 graduate and undergraduate students – weren’t just music majors. They were studying everything from engineering and public health to community action and social change. We all had some kind of music training or background before signing up for carillon.

All the years of piano lessons and band had set me up for this opportunity, but the carillon required learning new techniques, like coordinating hands and feet, and setting aside time to experiment with new sounds and strengthen new skills.

Once I started spending time in the carillon practice rooms, I realized I had forgotten what it was like to learn something new – to have a beginner’s mind. It was fun. It was humbling and frustrating at times. It was also unexpectedly restorative.

Taking that first leap into the carillon class gave me the courage to try several other seemingly risky classes. I joined a team of mechanical engineering and design science students in a class in which we had to take a physical product from idea to prototype to verification through a series of analytical design processes. It was a crash course in engineering analysis and creativity and also design, psychology, marketing and economics. I learned quantitative methods for idea generation and selection, evaluating designs and anticipating failure modes in designs. In the process of applying those models to my team’s project, I gained new frameworks for thinking about how to create stories and news products.

I took a course where I learned about electronic health records systems and public health records, and the issues surrounding deployment and development of health technology. I have a new appreciation for the planning that goes into software rollouts, launches and upgrades having heard from professionals who manage technology that provides critical care for human beings.

By the time winter semester started, I was ready for more challenges. Someone recommended a course that was an introduction to rocket science.

That’s right, rocket science! Rocket Science might seem like an unusual choice for a journalist, but its language permeates the way our technology –oriented culture describes product development and innovation work: moonshots, launches, missions. And it encapsulated everything that I aimed for as a Fellow – to stretch and reach for new discoveries. To understand more fully why journalism is the work I had devoted my career to, to embrace others who are on the same mission and lift them up, too.

Oh, yeah, and to have a little fun.

The time in practice rooms, in classes, and with other Fellows and my family helped me start letting go of old patterns and routines. Learning a new instrument – or new technology – or taking on a new role requires practicing, stretching into a new repertoire and strengthening new skills.

Now that our time together in Michigan has ended, I think I’ve found the secret equation to the fellowship. It isn’t really about any one class or the specifics of the study plan. It’s about escaping the atmospheric distortion of the day-to-day journalism grind so you can see in different ways and explore new possibilities with a little less gravity. I’m excited to keep exploring – to let go and see what happens.

Sharilyn Hufford ‘19 is Deputy Editor, Platforms, for The New York Times.

Welcome to Korea, My Home


On our second day in South Korea we toured Camp Humphreys, the newly constructed U.S. Army Garrison, 40 miles south of Seoul. The massive military encampment covers more than 3,000 acres and is very American, dotted with Subway sandwich shops and suburban looking homes.

Seungjin Choi (front row, third from left) was proud to be a tour guide for
his fellow Fellows. The class is pictured at BulguksaTemple in Gyeungju,
South Korea, an ancient relic of the Silla Dynasty and a Unesco World
Heritage site.

To balance out the day, I arranged for a very Korean dinner at a restaurant specializing in tofu. The restaurant had more tofu dishes than most Americans could imagine. The experience, simple for the average Korean, was exciting and a little overwhelming for our group. From the moment the first dish came out, I fielded many questions: “SJ, can you explain how you eat this food?” “What sauce should I use?” “Can I ask for a fork?” With a little explanation, everyone enjoyed the tofu delicacies, and I had a chance to enjoy my fellow Fellows discovering something new.

For three weeks before the trip, I was communicating with former Korean Fellows seeking advice on planning the itinerary. I was worried about making the right plans and choosing the right places to visit. There were disagreements, as I explained, “I don’t want to show my Fellows the negative aspects of Korea.” But one of the former Fellows corrected me. “They are all journalists. They can see everything, even the things we may want to hide.” He was right. It was not just a trip; it was a journalism trip. I needed to present Korean society as it is, not as I wished it to be.

Our trip coincided with a historical moment as President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jung-Un were meeting in Vietnam. The outcome would have significant political, economic and social implications for South Korea. In addition, the final day of our visit marked the 100th anniversary of the March 1st Movement, a national holiday commemorating Korea’s fight for independence from Japan. It was important to help my fellow journalists understand the political tension still playing out in Northeast Asia.

Certainly we should explore Korea’s economic rise, but we should also discuss corporate corruption and the negative impact of the Chaebol, the Korean term for powerful family-run conglomerates like Samsung, Hyundai and LG. While it would be fun to explore K-Pop and the growing influence of the Korean entertainment industry, it was important to discuss issues like gender discrimination, Korea’s #MeToo Movement, and teen depression and suicide.

How could we accomplish it all in five days? In the end, we struck a balance. We saw the film “Mal-Mo-E” about efforts to save the Korean language during the Japanese occupation. We learned the complex, centuries old geopolitics of East Asia from Dr. Hahm Chaibong, president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. We examined the conflict between North and South Korea during a visit to the Joint Forces Naval Command complex.  And we were reminded of the familiar struggle to support independent journalism from two start-up media outlets, one of which has since announced its closure.

We also had fun. We peered down at the city from a dizzying observation deck near the top of the 123rd floor of the Lotte World Tower and stood with a crowd of screaming teenagers to watch
a live taping of a popular K-Pop TV show. We ate live octopus at Noryangjin Fish Market and relaxed at a Korean spa. We learned how to brew Makgeolli, traditional Korean rice wine, which will be ready to drink just in time for a visit from the class of 2020.

As the Fellows learned new things, I discovered new things while looking at my country through their experiences. I never paid attention to how tofu dishes are cooked because it is so familiar to me. Looking at Korean society while traveling with the Fellows, I realized stark generational differences between Koreans that I had never considered deeply before. I learned to look at Korea more objectively and this will certainly impact my work.

Traveling my country with the Knight-Wallace Fellows was an unforgettable experience. I still have many things that I am eager to show, and I hope that the program will return for years to come.

See you in Korea!

Seungjin Choi is a 2019 Knight-Wallace Fellow and Reporter, Maeil Business Newspaper (Seoul, South Korea).


Hop Off the Hamster Wheel, Apply for a Knight-Wallace Fellowship


2017 Knight-Wallace Fellows Laurent Richard and Delece Smith-Barrow
2017 Knight-Wallace Fellows, Laurent Richard and Delece Smith-Barrow, at a multimedia workshop.


After producing 280 stories within three years, a busy reporter takes a Knight-Wallace Fellowship and an eight-month dive into research on under-reported education stories.


Education reporter and editor Delece Smith-Barrow goes to Medium to share how a Knight-Wallace Fellowship gave her the time and resources to pursue ambitious, thoughtful stories.  Taking a deep dive into how top-tier universities recruit faculty of color, Smith-Barrow writes about auditing education courses at Michigan, doing comparative research into other universities and having time to acquire new skills and enjoy life.

Read Smith-Barrow’s reflection of her fellowship year and return to the work world on Medium.

The Knight-Wallace Fellowships for Journalists at the University of Michigan are accepting applications from U.S. applicants for the 2019-20 academic year. We’re looking for accomplished journalists eager for growth and deeply committed to the future of journalism. The deadline to apply is February 1, 2019.

Delece Smith-Barrow is a senior editor at The Hechinger Report. As a 2017 Knight-Wallace Fellow, she studied how top-tier universities recruit faculty of color.