For 25 years, the Yale Law School has been taking journalists out of the real world and putting them in the ivory tower.
The Master of Studies in Law program, which brings up to five journalists to the Law School for one year to learn about the law, celebrated 25 years this weekend with a reunion for its more than 100 alumni.
The fellowships cover tuition and fees, and for more than a decade, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has provided the fellows with a stipend to cover living expenses as well.
The journalists’ curriculum differs slightly from the standard first-year program of study.
“The goal is to educate journalists and immerse them in the law,” said Marcia Chambers LAW ’81, the program’s tutor in law.
Michael Doyle LAW ’98, the Washington, D.C., correspondent for the McClatchy newspapers, said the program gave him confidence when covering the law.
“The law is fundamental to what I do, and now I don’t have to depend on a third party to tell me about the law,” Doyle said. “It is tremendously liberating.”
Many of the fellows agreed that the differences between their careers in journalism and their time at Yale Law School were striking. Adam Freed ’02 pointed out that his class spent the year of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks far removed from media action.
“This is a strange year to be a journalist who is not working actively,” Freed said. “As a journalist, you’re schooled that when things happen you are up to your knees in dirt. Here I was in the ivory tower, and every time something happened, I’d feel weird being here.”
Christie Parsons LAW ’01 said the program provided her with an opportunity to reflect, which she said a journalist rarely has.
“As journalists, we are practitioners,” Parsons said. “We don’t often get a lot of time to sit back and think. This was a chance to be able to take a deep breath.”
Doyle said that while Yale Law School is known for abstract thinking and covering national politics is a pragmatic job, he has found similarities between the two and has had an easy transition back to the newspaper world.
“Washington and Yale Law School are different tracks moving at a similar speed,” Doyle said. “Both are demanding, competitive and fast-paced, and I could make full use of what I’d learned upon returning to Washington.”
In a Friday afternoon panel discussion, Doyle and three other graduates of the program spoke on the changing role of the media after Sept. 11.
Time’s Washington correspondent, Viveca Novak LAW ’86, talked about the difficulty of trying to get information as a journalist after Sept. 11.
“For an administration that had a penchant for secrecy anyway, Sept. 11 fed their worst instincts,” Novak said. “Editors don’t want a story about how hard it is to get information.”
Novak and Edward Girardet LAW ’90 expressed their concern about the time immediately after the attacks when no one was willing to criticize the government.
“Emotionalism was taking over, making Sept. 11 almost sacred,” Girardet said. “Being in the U.S. was like being in Eastern Europe of the 1920s. People were afraid to criticize.”