April 21, 2011–My alma mater, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, launched its centennial celebration yesterday afternoon with the renaming of the Journalism School Building and an evening of festitivies.
More than 40 descendants of newspaper publisher and J-School founding benefactor Joseph Pulitzer joined Dean Nicholas Lemann, Columbia President Lee Bollinger and a crowd of alumni and staff for the unveiling of the newly carved “Pulitzer” name.
At Columbia’s Miller Theatre, we watched the premier of Jesse Dylan’s Centennial Celebration film.
As emcee for the Centennial program, I had the pleasure of reviewing the stellar achievements of a century’s worth of J-School grads from the new collection, “50 Great Stories.” It was an honor to introduce Michael Pulitzer, grandson of Joseph Pulitzer and former Pulitzer Inc. board chair, and Robert Caro , the Pulitzer Prize winning biographer and the evening’s keynote speaker. We all were moved by NPR reporter Martina Guzman , J-School ’08, whose award-winning investigative coverage of Detroit challenges the status quo.
After the program, we gathered in the J-School’s World Room for dinner. What a nice coincidence, after an evening of interesting conversation, to discover that my tablemate, Michael Pulitzer, Jr., also is my college classmate. Truly small world.
My remarks about my accomplished fellow alumni and my intro of Robert Caro follow.
Columbia J-School changed my life. And if you are here this evening, my bet is that it changed yours, too.
Probably like most of you, I already knew the five Ws when I arrived at 116th and Broadway. But it was the professors, the classmates and the setting in New York City that gave meaning to my nine months in the World Room.
When my class read Robert Caro’s The Power Broker during the summer of 1975, it had just won the Pulitzer Prize a few months earlier.
Its more than 1100 pages were daunting. But Type A and ambitious as most of us were, we read it and immersed ourselves in Robert Moses’s world. Mr. Caro’s stories provided a panorama of the intrigue and political levers of New York—the city that was to be our laboratory for two semesters. The book made us want to aspire to become great reporters.
Armed with our green, pocket-sized municipal agency directories—in those days before Google search and online government document databases—we set about on our way with AP Daybook assignments.
We all had professors we loved. And, truth be told, maybe one or two we weren’t particularly fond of. But I will always be grateful for Phyllis Garland and Fred Friendly, the two whose lessons remain in my head.
Fred for instilling journalism ethics and Phyl for planting the seeds that allowed me to become an author.
To this day, I can still hear Fred’s voice booming across the room. “Who would know? YOU would know!” he said one afternoon when telling us how important it was to have an internal moral compass regardless of who was or wasn’t present or what pressures we faced.
It was because of Phyl that I began to believe my family history was worth sharing with others.
Over time, many of my classmates became colleagues—sometimes as co-workers, sometimes as competitors. Through the years, I have watched them and other fellow alumni win Pulitzer Prizes and du Pont Awards by the dozen. We have seen their bylines on major stories and their titles on mastheads. We have watched their names roll by on the credits and seen their books on bestseller lists for months at a time. Some of them have become press secretaries and social advocates. Others have become entrepreneurs and investment bankers. But we all shared an experience that helped shape who we are today.
I allow myself to feel a certain pride when yet another Columbia J-School grad writes an interesting article or exposes some political wrong. I love it when I recognize the byline of a reporter with a Columbia connection who nails some act of hypocrisy. I am overjoyed when a young alum breaks an important story on a blog and experiences the thrill of having that story go viral.
It is that kinship with the universe of fellow J-School alumni that brings many of us here tonight.
As I read the collection of “50 Great Stories” on the J-School website earlier this week, I was in awe of just how prolific and how pervasive our fellow alumni have been during the last 100 years.
We have been everywhere…on every continent…on every platform. On the J-School website we are reminded that we have been reporting, investigating, writing, producing, filming, editing, photographing, anchoring and tweeting for a century. I think the only option not listed was tapping morse code…and I’m sure some industrious J-School grad did that, too, if that was what was required to get the story out.
From Carl Ackerman, Class of 1913, who covered World War I battles in Europe—then later became dean of the school—to A. J. Liebling, Class of 1925, and Marguerite Higgins, Class of 1942—we have been on the frontlines of war.
From Tom Bettag, Class of 1967, who served as executive producer of CBS Evening News during the protests at Tiananmen Square—to Rawya Rageh, Class of 2006, who reported and tweeted for Al Jazeera English from Cairo’s Tahrir Square—we have helped the world decipher the details of revolution.
From James Boylan, Class of 1951—who co-founded the Columbia Journalism Review—to Josh Quitnner, Class of 1986—whose reporting for Wired Magazine in the 1990s foretold journalism’s digital revolution—we have helped explain the changing contours of our industry.
From the Lindbergh kidnapping to the walk on the moon. From Watergate to Abu Ghraib. From the Civil Rights Movement in America to the release of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. From op-eds in the New York Times Week in Review to movie reviews in the New York Herald Tribune. From Pearl Harbor to 9/11…alumni of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism have been present with our pens and our typewriters, with our cameras and our computers, with our smart phones and our iPads. We have brought our brains, our training, our research and our sensibilities to the most important stories of the century.
As we celebrate this legacy…as we witness the transformation of our industry …and as we encourage the education of a new generation of journalists…Let us do all we can to ensure that those attending the bi-centennial of 2112 will have as much to celebrate as we do tonight.
INTRODUCTION OF COLUMBIA J-SCHOOL CENTENNIAL KEYNOTE SPEAKER ROBERT CARO
One of an MC’s greatest challenges is finding something clever to say about the keynote speaker. Thanks to Martina’s comments, I know I don’t have to try to be clever.
But imagine my delight when I opened my Sunday Times Magazine and found THIS!
Of course, I’ve already told you about my introduction to Robert Caro’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Power Broker.
Several years ago in Austin, I heard him speak about Lyndon Johnson, at the Texas Book Festival. At that point he had just completed Master of the Senate, the third volume of this epic work.
He regaled us with stories of the minuet he had to do with the keepers of the Johnson legacy just as he had had to do with the keepers of Robert Moses’s legacy. By volume three, they knew exactly what he was up to!
And now he has just completed volume four: The Passage of Power
The initial reviews, of course, are wildly positive.
From Kirkus Review: “The fourth volume of one of the most anticipated English-language biographies of the past 30 years.”
From Publishers Weekly, which of course was a starred review: “Shakespearean…a roller coaster narrative.”
From Booklist: “Brilliant… Riveting reading from beginning to end.”
Please help me welcome Robert Caro: Master storyteller…Groundbreaking biographer…Prodigious researcher…Fearless investigator
A’Lelia Bundles is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, a member of the Columbia University Board of Trustees and a du Pont Awards juror. A former producer and executive with ABC News, she is at work on her third book, a biography of her great-grandmother, A’Lelia Walker.
You can find her on Facebook at A’Lelia Bundles and on Twitter at @aleliabundles.