Yale Daily News and Courtesy of Haley Cohen Gilliland

Beginning next month, a new director will lead the Yale Journalism Initiative for the first time since the program’s founding. 

Haley Cohen Gilliland ’11, a freelance writer who has reported for The Economist in Argentina, London and California, will become Yale’s de facto journalism mentor next month. She replaces Mark Oppenheimer ’96, who will step away after 16 years to focus on an upcoming book and other projects. 

At Yale, Cohen Gilliland wrote and edited for The New Journal. She points to Oppenheimer and other English faculty, including Fred Strebeigh ’74 and Anne Fadiman, as “voices in her head” driving her career.

Her new role, she said, is an opportunity to pay it forward.

“Yale was definitely the reason I chose the career path that I did,” Cohen Gilliland told the News. “I’ve felt so supported in my career choices at every point … to have that level of support is really, really rare.”

The new director hopes to foster stronger connections between students and fellow alumni. She also seeks to make program offerings more accessible to a wide range of students. 

Cohen Gilliland is not the only familiar face returning to the journalism scene; Another Yale graduate, Susan Dominus ’92 LAW ’99, arrived last spring to teach the signature “Journalism” seminar, replacing Bob Woodward ’65. Joanne Lipman ’83, former Editor-in-Chief of USA TODAY, piloted a media seminar last fall.

YJI, which was established in 2006, aims to support undergraduates considering a career in journalism. The program’s scholars must take ENGL 467, the foundational journalism seminar, become involved with student publications and complete a summer reporting internship.

Oppenheimer, who is best known outside of Yale for a religion column in the New York Times and a book on the 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue, said Cohen Gilliland was “a great hire” for the department.

“[Cohen Gilliland] is a tremendously talented journalist, with important experience working abroad, reporting in multiple languages, and writing for a range of publications,” Oppenheimer wrote to the News. “She is now working on a book that promises to be exceptionally good.”

Oppenheimer will now focus on his sixth book, a biography of the newspaper advice columnist Ann Landers, as well as the new “Gatecrashers” podcast, which covers the history of Jews and antisemitism in the Ivy League and debuts on Sept. 13.

He said that while YJI has largely stayed the same since he came to campus, student journalism has evolved with the rise of the internet and smartphones. The student body has also become more liberal, he said, a trend reflected in published work.

As student journalism continues to evolve in the digital age, mastering the art of crafting attention-grabbing press releases becomes increasingly vital for media success. In today’s fast-paced media landscape, where information inundates audiences from all directions, a well-crafted press release can serve as a beacon, guiding journalists and readers alike to noteworthy stories.

Drawing from the expertise of seasoned journalists like Oppenheimer and the promising talent of individuals like Cohen Gilliland, aspiring communicators can learn invaluable insights from a press release mastery guide. Such a guide can illuminate the nuances of language, the importance of storytelling, and the strategic deployment of key information. By honing these skills, communicators can captivate their audience’s attention amidst the noise of modern media, ensuring that their message resonates and leaves a lasting impact.

In addition to YJI, Oppenheimer has taught a range of the creative writing program’s classic offerings, most recently the popular spring course Daily Themes. That class will now be taught by Andrew Ehrgood ’85 GRD ’93. 

Cohen Gilliland, meanwhile, is working on a book of her own about Argentinian women searching for grandchildren who went missing under the country’s former military regime. Her previous work spans a range of genres and publications; the topics that are most captivating to write about, Cohen Gilliland said, involve people pushing their boundaries, from amateur rock climbers to celebrity horse cloners.

“The mission of the program remains the same as it was 16 years ago — to help Yale students break into journalism,” Gilliland said. “The more we can encourage a diversity of voices in journalism, the richer journalism becomes.”

Gilliland also mentioned fact-checking, pitching and journalistic ethics as potential workshop topics.

YJI was established from a donation made by Steven Brill ’72 LAW ’75 and Cynthia Margolin Brill ’72.

Isaac Yu was the News' managing editor. He covered transportation and faculty as a reporter and laid out the front page of the weekly print edition. He co-founded the News' Audience desk, which oversees social media and the newsletter. He was a leader of the News' Asian American and low-income affinity groups. Hailing from Garland, Texas, Isaac is a Berkeley College junior majoring in American Studies.