Journalism at Yale received a sizable boost this week from the administration and from Steven Brill ’72 LAW ’75. The founder of CourtTV and American Lawyer, Brill supplied $1 million of his own money to the developing Yale Journalism Initiative. As it stands, YJI would require its 15-25 participants to enroll in Brill’s journalism seminar or a similar course, spend a year on the editorial board of a Yale publication and compose articles for non-Yale print media. They would receive financial support for summer journalism internships and specialized career counseling.
While we applaud Brill’s commitment to the education and welfare of students interested in our own passion, we take issue with his repeated assertions that Yale does not produce enough talented or committed journalists. There are already far more than 25 such students at Yale, and many of our predecessors are indeed working in the field. We believe the initiative can do much in partnership with the campus journalistic community, but we reject Brill’s pessimistic contention that Yale currently offers too little to sway talented potential journalists.
In the News and in the New York Times, Brill argued that intelligent students consider journalism a career path inferior to that of more lucrative, heavily recruited fields such as investment banking. We contend that the storied legacies of News alumni — from Time co-founders Henry Luce ’20 and Briton Hadden ’20 to the dozens of Newsies currently writing and editing for the Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker and a bevy of other prestigious publications — suggest otherwise. Bob Woodward ’65 never wrote for us, but he’s done all right for himself, too.
Beyond the walls of our building, other publications and Yale College courses, particularly Fred Strebeigh’s nonfiction writing classes, have also produced superb work. Based on competition for entrance to Strebeigh’s workshops and Brill’s seminar — which reportedly received 90 applications for 15 slots last fall — there appears to be no dearth of interest in the subject matter.
With this in mind, there is much to be said for the YJI platform. Additional seminars taught by working professionals are an ideal solution to the overwhelming demand for Strebeigh’s and Brill’s classes, and while the News offers internal summer fellowships, similar support for other students is limited. Brill is certainly correct that Undergraduate Career Services has more to offer students interested in financial work than those pursuing the news, and a journalism career counselor would be a tremendous boon.
But if potential journalists are not swayed by the opportunities currently available at Yale, we do not believe the new initiative will steer them away from Goldman Sachs. For students who dismiss journalism for more lucrative careers, an unpaid summer internship with a cost of living grant still seems unlikely to trump one that pays thousands of dollars. We encourage Brill and the University to work with us and the rest of Yale’s journalists in developing the program: we have been producing talented, committed journalists for more than 125 years.