Wallace House Associate Director Embarks on a Fellowship of Her Own

Birgit Rieck has been cultivating the
Knight-Wallace Fellowships for journalists
from both Ann Arbor and abroad for many
years. Now it’s her turn.

After more than 18 years of helping to create life-changing fellowship experiences for other people, it is high time that our Wallace House Associate Director, Birgit Rieck, gets to experience a fellowship of her own. Birgit has been accepted into the inaugural class of the Media Transformation Challenge, a one-year executive leadership program at Harvard’s Kennedy School, designed to help news leaders find creative, sustainable solutions to challenges facing the industry.

For the next year, Birgit will spend one week each quarter in Cambridge with a cohort of news executives working on a focused initiative to help Wallace House move in new directions. The timing for this unique development opportunity is ideal. Wallace House is in an exciting period of growth. Allowing Birgit the space to step away from the busy day-to-day of the Knight-Wallace Fellowships to develop new ideas that will benefit us for years to come.

Birgit’s focus during her fellowship year will be examining ways for Wallace House to provide targeted support to journalism initiatives in the Midwest.

“Over 63 million people live in the twelve Midwest states between North Dakota and Ohio but stories from the region seldom make headlines and most midwestern newsrooms continue to shrink or disappear completely. I’d like to find ways Wallace House can specifically support regional journalists and their work. At the same time, I want to explore ideas that would make national audiences more interested in reporting from the Midwest. I am grateful that Lynette supported my application and is giving me the time away to experience a fellowship myself!”

The Media Transformation Challenge, which starts in January 2019, is a new program of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy within the Kennedy School’s Executive Education Program. It is directed by Doug Smith, founder and former director of the Punch Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program at Columbia University School of Journalism, and Nicco Mele, director of the Shorenstein Center.

In the quarterly training sessions, Birgit will join her fellowship cohort for coaching and group problem solving, designed to help news leaders drive long-lasting change within their organizations. In the weeks between the group sessions she will spend time researching her study plan, working with her executive coach, and developing her project with the leadership team back at Wallace House.

Please join us in congratulating Birgit and cheering her on as she works to bring the same kind of energy and new ideas back to Wallace House that we send our own Fellows away with each year.

And don’t worry… we’ll make sure she wears plenty of Wallace House and Michigan gear while she’s walking around the campus of that other university. #GoBlue!

Q & A with Wallace House Director Lynette Clemetson and Hovey Speaker Bernice Yeung

Bernice Yeung arrived as a Knight-Wallace Fellow in 2015, following an intense period of collaborative reporting that produced two award-winning investigations, Rape in the Fields and Rape on the Night Shift. Since the Fellowship, she has published a book, “In a Day’s Work: The Fight to End Sexual Violence Against America’s Most Vulnerable Workers.” Bernice returned to Wallace House in September to give the 33rd annual Graham Hovey Lecture. Prior to the lecture, Lynette and Bernice had a conversation discussing the relevance of her reporting in the context of the #MeToo Movement.



Clemetson: You first started writing about sexual abuse of low-wage workers in 2012. How do you view the cultural change in our recognition of and conversation around the issue?

Yeung: There has been a complete transformation of the public dialogue. When we started in 2012, the campus sexual assault conversation was ongoing and robust. Simultaneously, the military sexual assault investigations were happening. There was a slow drumbeat of looking at sexual violence in different corners of society. But now, post-#MeToo, it is part of the daily headlines. The conversation is almost inescapable. There is a completely different resonance now.


Clemetson: And yet, much of the current conversation is around prominent figures. Do you think that the people that you focused on are being represented enough?

Yeung: There is a part of the movement that is about understanding the prevalence of sexual violence. And then there is a fascination with the comeuppance aspect of the story, an interest in famous people and the fall of power. I think more attention ought to be paid to those who are less powerful in terms of their professional and financial positions.

I recently reported a story where I talked to women truck drivers, public health workers, government workers, and hospital techs. They were excited to see the way #MeToo has opened up a space to have these conversations. But a lot of them still wonder whether that opening has reached them yet. They were impressed by the famous women who had come forward, amazed and grateful that they had spoken up, but they also really wondered why when they themselves had spoken up, why they weren’t heard in the same way.


Clemetson: What drew you to this particular corner of the issue?

Yeung: There was an element of it that I was inclined to be curious about because of my own family’s immigrant background to the United States. I had done some stories on domestic violence and immigrant women and had seen the holes and gaps in policy and law when it comes to assisting immigrant women, and how seeking any kind of recourse or help was so formidable for those women.


Clemetson: How did approaching the issue for a book lead you to new insights?

Yeung: We tend to think of sexual harassment as a problem between two individuals, as a behavioral problem by a bad apple. The book helped me look at policies, how companies operate, how industries function and how they create environments that make certain workers more vulnerable. So much of our labor law enforcement is predicated on the worker making a complaint. And when you have a population who are low wage, immigrant, perhaps with tenuous immigration status, living on the edge of poverty, expecting them to come forward is not realistic. We don’t have a realistic way for them to engage with the resources that would enable them to put an end to labor abuses.


Clemetson: There seems to be a greater appetite and more space now across platforms for journalism that explores issues systemically.

Yeung: Yes. I am lucky be a journalist in this moment where there is space for investigative journalism about systemic issues. I have always been interested in melding sociological strategies with journalism. My study plan was looking at how social science research strategies could be applied to journalism. I think there is something about what sociology provides, a systems-based orientation, plus an attempt to quantify, along with qualitative human interviews, that makes sociology a kindred spirit to journalism.


Clemetson: How did the fellowship inform how you approached the book?

Yeung: I don’t think I would be the same journalist I am now if I had not done the fellowship. I don’t think my book would exist. The mental and emotional space that the fellowship provided made it possible to do this book. I was coming off several years of looking at this issue when I arrived, and the mental fatigue was real. It was really important to give myself some time to stop, regroup and fortify myself so I could job back into it.

And there were so many resources at the university that I drew from. For instance, Catherine MacKinnon in the University of Michigan Law School, is THE person, THE scholar, who defined what sexual harassment is. Having the opportunity to learn from her and others like her left me astonished. What I was able to bring to the book in terms of a contextual and systemic look, that was possible because of the time I had at the university.


Clemetson: As this issue has exploded, it has also caused turmoil in many news organizations.

Yeung: I have been so heartened and impressed by the incredible reporting that has been done by the dogged and sensitive journalists working on this issue, the amount of vetting and checking, and deep research and reporting. I don’t know if the general public appreciates how serious and rigorous the reporters have been on these stories. And then you have journalists who are raising this issue, even as they are having to report on their own organizations and call into question the authority of their own employers. I just have so much respect for the work that is being done, and I appreciate those who are doing the work.


Clemetson: Do you feel that we truly are in a moment of change, a substantive shift?

Yeung: I see parallels to the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas moment. I am sure we’ll look back on #MeToo and see it as a watershed moment and a shift in the cultural consciousness. But I think the question is, now what? There is work being done around prevention and solutions, and those are harder stories to cover. As reporters, we want things to be concrete and evidence-based, something we can measure. The slow culture change that seems critical to shifting the way we deal with sexual harassment is harder to document. But I think that is where we need to be paying more attention now.


Clemetson: So you intend to keep going.

Yeung: As much as I can, yes. I intend to. I am in that space now where I want to know that it is all going to lead to something, some tangible example of change. I am definitely watching and tracking. It is important to tell those stories about how change can happen, how reform can happen.

Choreographed Peace Summit in Korea

The lines were clearly drawn between North and South Korea during our visit to the Korean Demilitarized
Zone (DMZ) earlier this year. Much has changed since then but much remains to be seen.

To be a journalist often is to be the skunk at a garden party.

And I certainly felt my skunk-like tendencies kick into gear as I watched the beautifully choreographed Inter-Korean Summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in on live TV.

The optics were no doubt powerful and emotional: on a sunny morning in late April, Kim Jong-un strolled up to the Military Demarcation Line that has divided the Korean peninsula for the last 65 years, reached across, and shook hands with President Moon. Then he stepped over the low curb that marks the border, shook hands again, and then took President Moon by the hand and stepped back over the border together onto North Korean soil.

It was undoubtedly a significant moment. The two heads of state later would emerge from their talks with plans to formally end the Korean War and work toward denuclearization. When I stood at roughly that same spot about 50 days earlier gazing into North Korea with other Knight-Wallace Fellows, the situation was much more tense. For months the world seemed on the brink of all-out war, with leaders on both sides making increasingly bellicose public statements.

So the sight of the two Korean leaders holding hands offered a much needed glimmer of hope in what had become a hopeless situation. For me as a Korean American, the idea of peace between the two Koreas is particularly powerful as every Korean family’s personal history is intertwined with painful reminders of those darkest days of the Korean War.

As I watched this historic event unfold on live TV, I knew this was a big deal. But the skunk in me couldn’t help but stink up the room.

What will denuclearization look like? What about the Kim regime’s blatant human rights abuses? What are Kim Jong-un’s true motives? This is, after all, the same man who reportedly had two of his senior officials executed in 2016 using an anti-aircraft gun, a weapon normally reserved, as the name suggests, for aircraft.

Yes, journalists can be party poopers. It’s why North Korea remains dead last on the annual World Press Freedom Index, which ranks nations according to the level of freedom available to journalists.

South Korea, on the other hand, has come a long way in promoting a free press. During our fellowship tour of the country, we had a private screening of the 2017 film “A Taxi Driver,” which depicted the 1980 Gwangju massacre, a horrific event in which South Korean soldiers and government-backed thugs murdered untold numbers of pro-Democracy demonstrators. The movie showed how news organizations were either silenced or complicit in spreading the government’s misinformation.

Fast forward 38 years and that same country has now surpassed the United States on the World Press Freedom Index.

While that’s a positive sign for South Koreans (and a really troubling one for Americans), it also goes to illustrate an important point: the distance between freedom and tyranny is often very short. It took Kim Jong-un only a few minutes to stroll forward into a world of press freedom that April morning; it took his limousine only a few seconds to ferry him back.

Throughout our tour, we learned that the South made great strides in building and strengthening democratic institutions since the ceasefire almost a lifetime ago. That’s good news. But the skunk in me thinks that the lesson for any democracy is that it’s always easier to tear down than to build.

Robert Yoon is a political journalist and the Howard R. Marsh Visiting Professor of Journalism at the University of Michigan.

Korea Without Frilly Clothes

A highlight of the trip: revisiting my grandparents’
place in Seoul and digging up old photos that I didn’t
find as interesting on previous trips.
Photo submitted by Candice Choi

Staring at video of the Samsung chairman allegedly with prostitutes, I knew this trip to Korea would differ from my past visits.

The hidden camera footage was published by Newstapa, an investigative group formed in 2012. The newsroom was one of the first stops for the Knight-Wallace Fellows and signaled I’d be seeing the country from new perspectives.

My last trip to Seoul was more than 20 years ago, when I was in high school. Upon arriving for childhood visits, my conservative grandparents would take my brother and me shopping for stuffy clothes and make us wear them to a formal restaurant. The ritual made me see new clothing and the entire country of Korea as suffocatingly superficial.

Yet after learning the Fellows were headed to Korea, I grew excited about returning with a reporter’s mindset. I read up on modern Korean history and politics and began to see the country’s vibrancy.

Among our stops were a museum of antique Korean furniture, the taping of a K-pop TV competition, and a U.S. military base. We also went to the Demilitarized Zone, which jarringly played to tourists with cardboard cutouts of soldiers for photo ops while also reminding us of the peninsula’s tragic past.

Our visit would take on added significance weeks later, when the leaders of North and South Korea would meet at the same site to discuss denuclearization and perhaps formally ending the Korean War.

Back at the Newstapa office, our host was a young woman who left her job with the police force to become a reporter, inspired in part by the movie “Spotlight.” She wore a modern black hanbok that gave her an authoritative presence as she explained libel laws that allow journalists to be criminally charged.

Newstapa nevertheless published video that appears to show the Samsung chairman with prostitutes. Adding to the intrigue, the tapes were apparently obtained for blackmailing purposes before ending up with Newstapa.

It was ethically messy, making the decision to publish all the more daring.

Newstapa’s model of relying on reader donations is also provocative. The idea is to gain public support as an independent news source in a society where conglomerates have huge power. The approach is a challenge to news outlets around the world.

Outside newsrooms, some of the best moments were unscheduled, such as people watching on the subway and wandering alone on the striking campus of Ewha University. Over a late night coffee, a friend who works as a TV sports analyst explained his quest to emulate the argumentative style of New York sports radio. I laughed imagining a Korean version of “Mike and the Mad Dog.”

The highlight of the trip, though, was returning to my grandparents’ apartment, which was largely unchanged from my childhood. My grandfather died of stomach cancer years ago and my grandmother has Alzheimer’s disease, making it too late to ask about their pasts. But I dug out stacks of old photo albums I had never bothered looking at before.

The black-and-white images showed them in unfamiliar contexts – smiling on a train, mingling at a garden party, wandering down a Seoul alley. I realized how little I knew about their lives, which spanned Japanese colonialism, the Korean War and the country’s economic boon.

Growing up, I thought my grandparents were overly conservative and limited in their worldview, traits I chalked up to their Korean background. In the years since, I’ve come to see the immaturity of those judgments, a realization this trip helped underscore.

Candice Choi is a 2018 Knight-Wallace Fellow and Food Industry Writer for the Associated Press (New York, N.Y.).

The Livingston Lectures with Lisa Gartner, Michael LaForgia and Nathaniel Lash


Lisa Gartner, Michael LaForgia, Nathaniel Lash and Tabbye Chavous“Failure Factories: When Education Policies Desert Our Children”

February 1, 2017 | 4 p.m.
Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy
Annenberg Auditorium, WEill Hall 1120
735 South State Street, Ann Arbor

Event is free. Reception with speakers following the discussion.

 Watch here.

The Livingston Lectures present journalists Lisa Gartner, Michael LaForgia, and Nathaniel Lash and education policy expert Tabbye Chavous for a panel discussion on “Failure Factories,”  the Tampa Bay Times investigative series about what happened after the Pinellas County School Board voted in 2007 to abandon racial integration in favor of a neighborhood school system, the policy changes prompted by the reports and the current shape of racial segregation in schools across the county.

In 2007 the Pinellas County School Board abandoned integration, promising schools in poor, black neighborhoods more money, staff and resources. None of those were delivered. In 2015 Tampa Bay Times’ reporters Lisa Gartner, Michael LaForgia and Nathaniel Lash analyzed data from seven years of school disciplinary records and found a precipitous decline in student performance as well as alarming rates of violence in five elementary schools following the 2007 decision. Their investigative series received attention from the U.S. education Secretary and led to several reforms

Lisa Gartner is a writer on the enterprise team at the Tampa Bay Times. In 2016, she and Times reporters Cara Fitzpatrick and Michael LaForgia won the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting for “Failure Factories.” The series also won the Livingston Award, the Polk Award for Education Reporting, the Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism and the Investigative Reporters and Editors Medal, among other honors. Gartner joined the Times in 2013. She grew up in Wellington, FL, and attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. After graduating in 2010, she joined The Washington Examiner to report on education in the D.C. metro area. At the Times, Gartner covered Pinellas County Schools and higher education.

Michael LaForgia is investigations editor at the Tampa Bay Times. He has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting – in 2014 for exposing problems in a Hillsborough County homeless program and in 2016 for the “Failure Factories” series, for which he also won a Livingston Award. He joined the Times in 2012.

Nathaniel Lash joined the Tampa Bay Times in 2015 as an intern and became a data reporter. He was a fellow at The Center for Investigative Reporting, an intern at Newsday and a news applications developer at The Wall Street Journal. A Livingston Award winner, Lash graduated from the University of Urbana-Champaign with a degree in news-editorial journalism.

Tabbye M. Chavous is the director of the National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID) and a Professor of Education and Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan. Her expertise and research activities include social identity development among black adolescents and young adults; and diversity and multicultural climates in secondary and higher education settings and implications for students’ academic, social, and psychological adjustment.

Moderated by Brian Jacob, Walter H.Annenberg professor Education Policy, professor of economics and co-director of the Education Policy Initiative and Youth Policy Lab.

This is co-sponsored by the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, the Education Policy Initiative and the School of Education.

2017 Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium event


The 31st Graham Hovey Lecture

Molly BallThe Knight-Wallace Fellowships for Journalists present the 31st Graham Hovey Lecture

Molly Ball ‘10 of The Atlantic
“Election 2016: The Great Disruption of American Politics”

Wallace House Gardens

Special remarks by Mark S. Schlissel, President, University of Michigan
Hosted by Lynette Clemetson, The Charles R. Eisendrath Director of Wallace House

A prominent voice from the campaign trail, 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.

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.

The Hovey Lecture is free and open to the public. A reception follows the lecture.

A live webcast will be available here. Video will be posted after the event.

For more information and to RSVP, call (734) 998-7666.