Senior Slate Magazine editor Emily Bazelon ’93 LAW ’00 began her Pierson College Master’s Tea with an appeal for the audience’s attention.
“The problem with journalism,” Bazelon said Monday, “is that by the time’s anyone’s interested in a topic, you’ve moved on.”
She found a keen audience in over 20 members of the Yale community. Bazelon, a former Piersonite herself, spoke about her experiences covering economic integration within American schools, and then about the dynamics between print and online media. Students interviewed said they found Bazelon’s firs-hand accounts of journalism in the field to be interesting and informative.
After graduating from Yale College in 1993, Bazelon worked in Israel for a year. Shen then took a reporting job at the Tri-Valley Herald in the San Francisco Bay Area. While a student at Yale Law School, she interned at the Washington Post and freelanced for various other publications.
Bazelon said she went to the Law School because she “felt stuck” at the small San Francisco paper. Her time there helped her regain momentum and also made her a better journalist.
“It made me feel much more confident in my opinions and my ability to ask questions,” she said.
Since joining Slate in 2005, one of Bazelon’s larger projects has been covering the efforts of American school districts to find new ways to diversify their educational communities. The Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that schools could no longer compose student bodies solely on the basis of race, though they could still use race as a factor. In 2007 the Court called attempts to racially integrate students in Louisville, Ky. unconstitutional. Bazelon has written much on the subject, including a July 2008 New York Times Magazine article entitled “The Next Kind of Integration.”
To research the article, Bazelon followed schools in Louisville for 10 months following the 2007 Supreme Court decision regarding race-based integration.
“The ruling caused a lot of distress among liberal commentators,” she said. “It meant the end of integration as we know it.”
Louisville residents themselves were furious. The same people who decades ago violently resisted the desegregation required by the case Brown vs. Board of Education had long been intent on avenging their Jim Crow legacy, Bazelon said.
The idea for a new approach to the diversification of Louisville schools came from an unlikely source, she said. Members of the Louisville clergy, upset about a continuing black-white achievement gap, hypothesized that the perceived gap may have resulted from deeper class disparities.
Louisville school leaders heard them clearly, Bazelon said. They developed a formula they hoped would help them find how much of the achievement gap was actually due to race, evaluating schools based on three criteria. They then found that at schools with a higher-than-average number of poor students, a lower-than-average number of students whose parents were college-educated and a higher-than-average number of minority students, performance on state tests was much worse than at other schools.
“It was impressive to watch the schools willing to rethink things so drastically” by using the formula to “isolate causes,” Balzone said. “They found that being a low-income black person is different from being a low-income white person, because of multi-generational poverty.”
After seeing Louisville educators make their finds and successfully set up a class-based bussing system similar to the one previously based on race, Balzone said she felt hopeful about the schools there. But she said the key question was whether the rest of the country would follow.
Balzone also spoke of her work at Slate and commented about the relationship between online and print media. She reminded the audience that online journalism is analysis as opposed to reporting, and that the former kind depends on the latter.
“We need those newspapers to keep doing what they’re doing,” she said.
Several students in the audience said they were struck by this point.
“It was interesting to hear someone defend the merit of actual newspapers when we live in an age where I feel like I only hear about the decline of print media,” Katharine Osborn ’12 said.
“I had always thought of print journalism as we know it as a dying breed,” Max Webster ’12 said. “It’s cool to see it won’t be dying but expanding.”