International travel has long played an important role in the Knight-Wallace Fellowships, taking the mid-career journalists in our program to places facing transformative social and political change. We’ve witnessed economic collapse, corruption scandals, public protests, government repression and tumultuous leadership shifts in countries including Argentina, Brazil, Turkey and Moscow. Last year we traveled to South Korea for the first time on the heels of massive street protests that led to a presidential impeachment.
As we started to plan travel for this year, it was impossible to escape the fact that few countries now are facing more consequential change – with more global implications – than the United States. So this October we’re heading to the most intriguing, perplexing, maddening place of the moment – Washington D.C.. We’ll hold seminars with interesting thinkers, players and influencers. And yes, we’ll request an audience with the Trump administration. Who knows whether we’ll get to Yes. But we are sure the pursuit will be interesting.
With major political shake-ups happening nearly every week, Washington also seemed to fit the running narrative of upheaval that has come to define Knight-Wallace trips. We’ve immersed our Fellows in culture, both ancient and modern, communed in the rainforest, met with scholars, court justices, political leaders, musicians and artists. But social tumult has been such a persistent backdrop of the destinations we choose, that it has become a running joke of sorts: If the Knight-Wallace Fellows are coming to your country, a coup or catastrophe may be afoot.
Washington D.C. is also the location this year for the annual Online News Association Conference from October 5 to October 7. After spending the early part of our trip in Fellows-only seminars, this year’s class will gather with hundreds of journalists and innovators around a shared commitment to advancing our industry and the technologies that support our craft. We’ll have a booth at the ONA conference to introduce new groups of journalists to the many benefits of a Knight-Wallace Fellowship. We also expect to absorb plenty of new ideas for how we can enhance our programs.
This will be a year of robust engagement for Wallace House. We’re continuing to expand our public events around the country and for the campus community. In addition to welcoming back 2011 Knight-Wallace alum Alec MacGillis for the 32nd Graham Hovey Lecture, we’ll hold public events with Pulitzer Prize winner David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post, former Livingston Award winner Lydia Polgreen of the Huffington Post and Livingston Awards national judge Bret Stephens of The New York Times.
Our globe-trotting resumes in the winter term. It’s an especially fortuitous time to have strong connections in South Korea, and we are eager to return. Last year our Fellows met with officers representing the more than 30,000 U.S. soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines based in South Korea. We got an up close window into their “Fight Tonight” readiness if North Korea’s military provocations rose to dangerous levels. At the time, it sounded oddly hawkish, a blast from the past seemingly at odds with the relative geopolitical calm of the region. What a difference a year can make.
Whether in Washington, Seoul or on campus in Ann Arbor, we look forward to a visible and active year. At a time when the essential role of journalism is being so openly undermined, it is important to have a presence and a voice, supporting journalists and the vital work they do.
Lynette Clemetson is the Charles R. Eisendrath Director of Wallace House.