2016 Livingston Winners Announced

2016 Livingston winners
2016 Livingston Winners. Front row: Michael LaForgia, Lisa Gartner, Charles Eisendrath, Adrian Chen. Back row: Nathaniel Lash, Daniel Wagner, Mike Baker


Stories about re-segregation and the neglect of black students, the predatory practices of Warren Buffet’s mobile-home empire, and the spread of pro-Kremlin propaganda on social media won the 2016 Livingston Awards. The $10,000 prizes for journalists under the age of 35 are the largest all-media, general-reporting prizes in the country.

The Livingston Awards also honor an on-the-job mentor with a $5,000 prize named for the late Richard M. Clurman, former chief of correspondents for Time-Life Service (1960-1969) and originator of the Livingston Awards.

Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the University of Michigan to support a new emphasis on digital media efforts, the program continues to see an increase in digital submissions, with 21-percent more than in 2015. Since the funding initiative began two years ago, the number of digital entries increased 125 percent. The overall number of entries increased 53 percent.

Livingston judges Dean Baquet of The New York Times, John Harris of POLITICO, Kara Swisher of Recode and Code Conference, and Ken Auletta of The New Yorker introduced the winners at a luncheon in New York City.

“The judges have a remarkable record in singling out for early recognition journalists who go on to leadership, including Thomas Friedman, Christiane Amanpour and David Remnick,” said Charles R. Eisendrath, founding director of the program at the University of Michigan. “Adding a prize for mentors who provide indispensable guidance at critical moments in a developing career help complete an important circle of celebration.”

The 2016 winners for work published in 2015 are:

Local Reporting

Lisa Gartner, 28, Michael LaForgia, 32 and Nathaniel Lash, 24, of Tampa Bay Times, for “Failure Factories,” an investigation into the high failure rates and violence in five Florida elementary schools.

In 2007, the Pinellas County School Board voted to end racial integration and then failed to deliver on promises of more money, staff and resources to re-segregated schools. Analyzing mountains of data and interviewing more than 100 parents, students, teachers and administrators, the reporters found the five elementary schools had more violent incidents than all of Pinellas County’s other 17 high schools combined.

“We wanted to dig deeper into why our black students were failing at the worst rates in the state,” says Gartner, the Times’ education reporter. “The data led us to what the story was: these five schools and the 2007 vote.”

National Reporting

Mike Baker, 31, of The Seattle Times and Daniel Wagner, 34, of The Center for Public Integrity and BuzzFeed News, for “The Mobile-Home Trap,” an investigation into the predatory practices of Warren Buffet’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.

“Our story showed that Clayton had not reinvented and perfected mobile-home lending, but instead had quietly bought up much of the rest of the industry, creating a near monopoly in many markets,” says Daniel Wagner. “In addition, it showed how reverse redlining, a practice typically associated with lending to urban minorities, is a serious problem in rural areas.”

International Reporting

Adrian Chen, 31, of The New York Times Magazine, for “The Agency,” an investigation into an internet trolling organization located in St. Petersburg, Russia, responsible for spreading pro-Kremlin propaganda and manufacturing false stories about unrest and disaster in the United States.

“The Russian government has been successful at using the internet to discredit political opposition and spread pro-government propaganda,” says Chen. “We think of the internet as enabling revolutions and protests, but it seems equally useful as a technology of government control.”

On-the-Job Mentoring

Charles R. Eisendrath received the Richard M. Clurman Award for his dedication to mentoring young journalists. A former Time correspondent based in Washington D.C., London, Paris and Buenos Aires, Eisendrath came to the University of Michigan as a Journalism Fellow in 1974. He stayed to join the University faculty and later head the master’s program for journalism. In 1980, Richard Clurman asked Eisendrath to design and direct the Livingston Awards. In 1986, Eisendrath became the third director of the Michigan Journalism Fellowships and transformed a financially strapped sabbatical program into the prestigious, globetrotting Knight-Wallace Fellowships and built a $60 million endowment to maintain them in perpetuity. For four decades, he positively influenced the careers and lives of hundreds of journalists. Eisendrath, who is retiring, will donate his prize money to the Livingston Awards endowment.

In addition to Auletta, Baquet, Harris and Swisher, the Livingston judging panel includes Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent and host of “Amanpour;” Ellen Goodman, author and co-founder of The Conversation Project; Clarence Page, syndicated columnist and editorial board member of the Chicago Tribune; and Anna Quindlen, author.

Matthieu Aikins Speaks at Council on Foreign Relations

The Council on Foreign Relations and the Livingston Awards presented “On the Ground: The Dangers of Reporting from the Middle East” in New York City.

Livingston Awards winner Matthieu Aikins joined Lara Logan, chief foreign affairs correspondent, “60 Minutes,” and Sebastian Junger, contributing editor, Vanity Fair and author, “The Perfect Storm” and “War” for a panel discussion on the risks of reporting on conflicts and wars in the Middle East.  Moderated by Kevin Peraino, former Middle East correspondent, Newsweek and author, “Lincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and the Dawn of American Power”

Watch the discussion »

Matthieu Aikins speaks at CFR
Matthieu Aikins with Kevin Peraino (left), Lara Logan (second from right) and Sebastian Junger (right).

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.

Fellow’s Dream to Help the Deaf No Longer Silenced

Ann Arbor is a familiar place for me. It is where I grew up and it’s the town I’m proud to say my family calls home. An interview in the spring of 2014 for a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at Wallace House, however, took me to a nook of the city just east of the campus’ edge and it changed my life. I walked into 620 Oxford Rd. unsure of what would be asked of me, or what I would say or do, after responding to the “What’s your dream?” query that I knew was coming.

As I sat at the short end of a long, rectangular table my plan to impress the nine-member selection committee surrounding me seemed to be working. I was using American Sign Language while I answered the first question and that was playing well. “When you do that, make sure you have napkins to hand out because they’ll all be drooling,” friend and former Knight-Wallace Fellow John U. Bacon advised while preparing me for this very moment. What I could not be prepared for was what happened next.

After discussing sign language, deaf culture and my experiences as a child of deaf parents, Charles Eisendrath lowered his head, peered at me and asked, “Have you ever thought about putting together your knowledge and passion of sign language, deaf culture and sports?” That question put the wheels in motion for a journey I didn’t see coming like a linebacker making a blindside sack. “No,” I said quietly, knowing my response did not impress any of the assembled panelists.

“Well, why not?” Eisendrath pressed.

“With the day-to-day grind of my job along with being a husband and dad, I haven’t had time to think about it,” I said, trying to defend a dormant dream.

“Maybe you should,” he fired back.

“Maybe you should give me a spot in this Fellowship and I’ll come up with something,” I shot back with a disarming smile.

“Well played,” University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel said with a nod when hearing a recollection of the aforementioned exchange during his recent Wallace House visit with the Fellows.

“And someday,” I told Schlissel matter-of-factly, “this will be a Michigan Difference commercial.”

Back when I began the fellowship my plan was to write my first book. Scotty Bowman, Mike Babcock, Larry Brown, Jim Leyland, Tom Izzo, Lloyd Carr, Bob Bowman, John Beilein, Mark Dantonio and Carol Hutchins—some of the best coaches in a handful of sports—agreed to help me. Those interviews about leadership and communicating will have to wait. Since my first semester individual mandatory meeting with Eisendrath, relentlessly pursuing a platform to make media accessible to my parents, my nephews and about one million people in the U.S. has become my mission. Attempting to make the most of an opportunity with infinite possibilities, a slew of experts in and around the University have set me up for success by graciously sharing tips and connecting me with other people, all of whom have been eager to help. Five students in Len Middleton’s course that focuses on creating a business plan are helping me put my dream on paper. A 12-minute pilot program was filmed on campus and has been reviewed by two focus groups of deaf people meeting at Wallace House.

A second pilot has been scheduled for April. Hopefully by this summer, a Deaf Access Media website and YouTube channel will feature a 30-minute weekly show that will give deaf and hard-of-hearing people news, business, politics, sports, entertainment and more in American Sign Language for the first time. The show will attempt to address the failure of closed captioning, which is in English, a second language for some deaf and hard of hearing people. In some cases, English is a distant second language. My plan is to expand to a daily show and repurpose radio and podcasts along with all forms of media for deaf audiences.

My project is as close to my heart as my rib cage and my fellow Fellows and the Knight-Wallace Fellows are not far removed. Each person, including the staff, who has the good fortune to walk through the doors at 620 Oxford has provided me with encouragement. Some have chipped in with their expertise behind cameras and at keyboards.

When our year kicked off with the Hovey Lecture in the fall of 2014, Bacon implored the new class to come away from the fellowship with something tangible to show for the opportunity. I’m thankful that with a team the late, great Bo Schembechler would be proud of, I will do just that this spring. I also hope something else Bacon said isn’t published for many decades. “Man, Lage,” Bacon said, shaking his head from side to side when he heard about my project. “If you pull this off, it will be in the lead of your obituary.”

Learning to Wear Many Multimedia Hats

What’s the best way to get to know new people who share a common interest? Join a club. As we settled in for the first semester of our fellowship, we noticed a recurring theme in discussions at Wallace House: the growing need to be your own everything on assignments. We would have to become the videographer, photographer and audio technician on every story. The message came in loud and clear, over and over again: newsrooms are looking for more content to post on the website, on Facebook, on Twitter, and it’s up to us to be efficient providers.

With these ideas in mind, we started the Knight-Wallace AV Club. Think beyond the high school version; there are no film projectors or running slide shows. This AV Club focused on digital world problems including improving camera and audio skills. Print, radio and television journalists joined the club. Most had basic knowledge of professional DV cams and audio setup but some were starting from scratch. My biggest concern stemmed from past experience. After I had completed my former company’s training program, I went for months without needing to use the equipment and suddenly, I would need to haul out that box of gear, hoping my memory didn’t fail me on deadline. However, the club’s built-in mandate to practice together gave promise to committing these techniques to our long-term memory banks.

We quickly found that this fellowship organization needed a faculty advisor. New Knight-Wallace board member Jim Burnstein and Assistant Director, Birgit Rieck, found just the right fit in Screen Arts and Cultures instructor, Victor Fanucchi. He navigated around our busy class and seminar schedules to create a program tailored to our individual needs. Working out of both Wallace House and Michigan’s Instructional Support Services Media Center, Victor covered a different topic each week. Club members got the chance to focus on one area of learning: lighting, audio, composition or a complete overview of each topic. The same amount of time was spent on the science behind shutter speed selection as strengthening a person’s comfort level handling the equipment.

Television producer Eric Strauss said, “Even as someone who has already had experience using videos cameras, lights and microphones as a producer at ABC News, I found the KWF AV club very valuable. Victor was able to combine introductory and advanced elements in the same class. For me, the sessions proved to be refreshers and an opportunity to learn some advanced techniques.”

I am left-handed by nature. Working with Victor, however, I realized I was faster and steadier working with my right hand. Beyond learning from Victor, we learned from each other. Jason Margolis, correspondent with Public Radio International’s program “The World,” shared his audio knowledge. He offered tips for handling sound in spaces with less than ideal acoustics and how to get the best microphone position for interviews on the fly. Associated Press reporter Samantha Henry recounted her experiences as a multimedia journalist, reassuring us that with patience we, too, could successfully navigate this new way of covering stories from a multitude of different angles.

Even after completing the formal sessions, Club members are still in action. As fellow Larry Lage develops his project, a news platform for the deaf and hard of hearing, we are video documenting his progress and conducting on-camera interviews as part of his audience research.

Bottom line: the future favors multimedia journalists. As newsrooms rely more on social media to promote content and engage viewers, we can find more opportunities to extend coverage and raise our digital profiles by improving our abilities across all platforms. The Knight-Wallace AV Club brought us all a little closer to reaching that goal.