Foreign correspondent may teach journalism seminar

In the spring of 2003, Jonathan Finer LAW ’09 marched to Baghdad as an embedded reporter for the Washington Post.

In the spring of 2008, Finer may march into Yale College to teach a residential-college seminar titled “The Craft of Foreign Correspondence.” The course, which University officials said is likely to be approved at today’s meeting of the Yale College faculty, will explore international journalism as both a trade and a body of literature.

Next spring, Jonathan Finer LAW ’09 may move from trench reporting to textbook teaching.
Samara Fox
Next spring, Jonathan Finer LAW ’09 may move from trench reporting to textbook teaching.

“I wish we could just send all the students off to Beirut and have them come back with some stories,” said Finer, who is currently on leave from the Post while he studies law at Yale.

Although Finer has filed stories from all over the world, his students will stay in New Haven for the seminar, which is co-sponsored by Berkeley and Ezra Stiles colleges.

Readings for the course will range from ancient Greek historian Thucydides’ writings on the Peloponnesian War to bloggers’ accounts of the war in Iraq, Finer said. For the course’s final assignment, students will write a magazine-length story, intended for a foreign readership, about an aspect of life in New Haven, he said.

Cathy Suttle, who directs the residential-college seminar program, said the Committee on Teaching in the Residential Colleges and the Course of Study Committee have already approved Finer’s course.

She said the Yale College faculty will almost certainly vote to accept the course today, in large part because of the extensive vetting that Finer’s application has already undergone. The finalized list of residential-college seminars for the spring will be released by Dec. 18, Suttle said.

Irina Dumitrescu GRD ’09, who coordinates the seminar-selection process for Berkeley College, said the college was especially impressed by Finer’s proposal.

“Journalism seems to be an area that is underrepresented in the curriculum,” she said. “It’s a very timely course and one which we expect great interest in.”

Finer said his only teaching experience comes from coaching youth soccer while an undergraduate at Harvard, from which he graduated in 1999. But Mark Oppenheimer, coordinator of the Yale Journalism Initiative, suggested that Finer teach the seminar. He said is excited about the course’s potential.

“He’s personable, he’s brilliant, his writing is brilliant and he’s a huge asset for Yale to have as a teacher,” Oppenheimer said.

Finer, who grew up in rural Vermont, wrote for the sports section of the Harvard Crimson while in college. He said he had no inkling during his time at Harvard that he would ultimately become a journalist.

After his time at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, Finer deferred attending law school to accept a non-academic fellowship in Asia, where he worked for an English-language magazine.

But he kept putting off law school as he moved around the globe, covering the war in Iraq both as a reporter embedded with Marines and while living in Baghdad. After covering the 2004 presidential election, he went back to Iraq to see what had become of the story he had reported on from the start: the war in Iraq.

“It’s exciting, terribly sad, and very frightening,” he said. “But for a foreign journalist, stories like [Iraq] are why you’re in the business. You’re an eyewitness to history.”

After almost five years of reporting, Finer said he was “burned out” of journalism and finally entered Yale Law School in fall 2006. Since then, he said, he has taken advantage of the Law School’s flexibility by taking courses at the School of Management and preparing to teach a course in Yale College.

Suttle said she is concerned about the seminar’s enrollment limit. Because the seminar will be co-sponsored, six students each from Berkeley and Ezra Stiles will be admitted. Six other slots will be open to students from other colleges.

“The problem [with residential-college seminars] is always admissions,” Suttle said. “But we hope he’ll come back and teach it again.”

Finer said he is unsure what the future will hold for him. He said he will likely spend part of his winter vacation reporting for the Post from Jerusalem before shifting his attention to focus on teaching the class.

“People read the paper, they read magazines,” he said. “I hope my class will show them great journalism and teach them how to make it.”

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