By Robert Yoon
What a year, right?
With unprecedented crises and tragedies unfolding around the globe, it’s tempting to sweep everything under the 2020 rug and write them off as the products of twelve particularly cursed pages from history’s calendar. But 2020 serves as an uncomfortable reminder of the old saw told in newsrooms for generations: the news never sleeps. Sometimes the news is so big in scope and so unrelenting that it finds you without having to look for it – as is the case with the coronavirus pandemic, the death of George Floyd and the outrage and worldwide conversation it sparked about social and racial injustices, the devastating wildfires in the American West, and of course the ongoing presidential campaign. But more often than not, important stories are hidden from view and need to be discovered. Sometimes they’re locked away in the first-hand accounts and recollections of the people who lived them, and sometimes they’re literally locked away in the file cabinets and computer hard drives of government officials.
Now more than ever, there is an acute need to tell these stories.
That’s why I’m excited to return to Wallace House this year at the launch of a new reporting fellowship program that takes our long-standing mission of supporting quality journalism and customizes it to meet the needs and realities of our current environment. Our inaugural Knight-Wallace Reporting Fellows are seasoned journalists from around the country who are digging into unexplored aspects of some of the biggest and most intractable issues of the day.
As a former Knight-Wallace Fellow, I benefited greatly from the support Wallace House gave me as I looked into ways to improve news coverage of the voting process in presidential elections, a topic I knew well from my 17 years covering elections at CNN. What I hadn’t necessarily expected was that the fellowship experience would help me find new ways to practice and appreciate journalism. I created and hosted a radio show about journalism on a local station and interviewed other journalists about their craft. And my conversations and interactions with the other Fellows in my cohort, particularly the international Fellows, inspired and shaped an undergraduate course that I created and taught at the University of Michigan — “Journalism Under Siege,” which explored the challenges facing journalists in the U.S. and around the world. None of this would have been possible without Wallace House’s unique and valuable approach to its fellowship programs: identify and explore a topic of great importance to you, but also leave yourself open to the opportunities and ideas you encounter along the way.
As Associate Director, I hope to provide future classes of Fellows the same guidance, support, and flexibility that helped me thrive in the program and beyond. I’ll also work closely with journalists and with news and journalism organizations around the country to identify future Fellows with important stories to tell, especially from areas and communities that often get overlooked in today’s media environment. And I’ll be reaching out to our vast network of alumni Fellows dating back almost 50 years to find ways to keep them connected and engaged with the program and with each other.
The events of 2020 have shown how important it is to have a vital and active press around the world. But it’s important to remember that there’s a need for robust journalism not just during the times when everyone is paying attention, but also during the times when no one is paying attention. There were plenty of important stories that needed to be told prior to this year, and that will still be the case long after 2020 is in the history books. As it has for almost half a century, Wallace House will continue to support journalists who tell these stories.
Robert Yoon joined Wallace House in July as Associate Director. He is a 2018 Knight-Wallace Fellow.