New York Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson will teach a journalism seminar this spring under the auspices of the Yale Journalism Initiative.
The course, which is designed for students who are considering pursuing journalism as a career, will be the analogue of Steven Brill’s ’72 LAW ’75 journalism class, which he has taught for the past five years and is offering this fall. Brill, the founder of both The American Lawyer magazine and Court TV, and his wife Cynthia Margolin Brill ’72 provided the grant earlier this year that helped found the Initiative, which aims to encourage students to influence society through journalism.
Abramson said it was the “ultimate compliment” to be approached for this position by Brill, who was one of her first bosses. As her mentor, she said, he taught her a meticulous approach to journalism — stressing multiple sources and fact-checking — that was both “valuable and illuminating” early in her career.
“I was so honored because Steve was one of my early bosses in journalism and he taught me so much about the craft of journalism, especially the tools of real investigative reporting,” she said. “He set such high standards.”
Brill said Abramson was one of the first people he thought of during the search process. He said her twenty years of reporting and decision-making experience, as well as her previous experience teaching a seminar at Princeton in 2000, made her the perfect candidate for this job.
“The course is about the real world, and she’s at the top of the real world right now,” Brill said.
Abramson, a 1976 Harvard graduate with a bachelor’s degree in history and literature, was appointed managing editor of the Times in August 2003 following three years as the Washington bureau chief and was the first woman to serve in either position. Her prior journalistic experience included a job at The Wall Street Journal as an investigative reporter and as the deputy bureau chief for its Washington office, and a two-year stint as editor-in-chief of Legal Times, a weekly Washington newspaper. Abramson has also authored two books: “Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas,” co-authored with Jane Mayer, and “Where They Are Now: The Story of the Women of Harvard Law, 1974.”
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said the search committee was extremely impressed by Abramson and that the University is thrilled to have someone of her “prominence and talent” accept the invitation to teach the seminar.
“We think students will learn an awful lot from her, both about journalistic writing but also about the field of journalism itself, and get a glimpse inside the workings of the most influential newspaper in the world,” he said.
English professor Linda Peterson, who chaired the search committee, said there was a great deal of enthusiasm among faculty for the idea of appointing a distinguished journalist to the position, and she thinks professors and students alike will be extremely enthusiastic about Abramson’s teaching in the spring.
“The search committee solicited names from faculty across the University and received over 100 suggestions,” she said in a press release. “Because of her award-winning reporting and significant books, Ms. Abramson quickly became a top candidate. We are all very pleased that she has agreed to teach at Yale next spring.”
English professor Fred Strebeigh, an adviser to the committee, said he admires Abramson’s reporting and thinks students who manage to secure a place in her seminar will benefit from Abramson’s knowledge of the workings of a major daily newspaper and her experience working on long-term investigative projects.
One of the chief goals of her seminar next semester will be to advance students’ writing abilities and clarity of thought through “challenging but rewarding” writing assignments, Abramson said. She said she will incorporate some aspects of Brill’s fall class into her syllabus but will use her daily experience at the Times to help students — especially those interested in a career in the field — to understand how journalism unfolds using practical cases.
Abramson also said she wants her students to explore journalism by studying each phase of the war in Iraq, from pre-war coverage of the search for weapons of mass destruction to embedded reporting to the response to recent insurgency. Abramson said the failures and accomplishments of the war are subjects that are timely and controversial, and therefore worthy of close examination.
The growth of the Internet and its role in journalism is another issue that Abramson said she wants to explore — and one that she expects her students will teach her a great deal about as well.
Initiative coordinator Mark Oppenheimer ’96 said the program’s goal is to bring journalists to Yale who will be able to teach students who are broadly educated in the liberal arts, not just those who are specifically on the journalism career track. He said he thinks Abramson is the ideal person to fill that role.
“As prominent as Jill is in the public eye, she is even more prominent in the journalist community,” he said. “[Her appointment] looks impressive and is even more impressive than it looks.”
Jodi Rudoren ’92, deputy metro editor for the region at the New York Times, said she would have loved to take Abramson’s class during her time at Yale. She said the fact that the University has practicing, active journalists teaching its journalism classes speaks to the seriousness of the Initiative’s offerings.
Under the Initiative, students who complete a certain set of requirements, which include taking the journalism seminar, will be named Yale Journalism Scholars.