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Charles Eisendrath, the director of Wallace House, the headquarters for the Knight-Wallace Fellows, heads up the University program that gives
journalists a year off to explore a particular field of study.
Wallace House takes in the nation's best journalists.
By Doug Wenert | Magazine Editor
Ik t seems natural. Take some of the best jour-
nalists in the world, put them at the largest
. research university in the world and let them
study a subject that interests them. That's exactly
M what the Knight-Wallace Fellows program has done
ith 18 journalists at the University.
A cousin of the Nieman Foundation for Journal-
ism at Harvard University, which was started in 1937
to "promote and elevate the standards of journalism
in the United States," the Knight-Wallace Fellows
at Michigan was founded in 1972 and was initially
funded by the National Endowment for the Humani-
ties. Thirty-three years (and two Pulitzer Prizes)
later, the program has held past to its roots: Find the
best journalists in the world and help them grow.
Each year, more than 100 applicants in America
and 75 from overseas send in detailed applications
hoping to gain one of the 18 fellowships. After the
finalists are chosen, each comes in to meet with
Charles Eisendrath, the director of the program
since 1986 and a former fellow himself. During that
meeting, Eisendrath asks the candidate, point-blank:
"What do you want to do?"
For Fara Warner, a freelance writer who has worked
for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times
in the past, the program was a chance to develop new
ideas and become familiar with different types of writ-
ing and research.
"I'm not completely finished with that soul-search-
ing, but this is the best way to do it - away from
work and in an environment that is constantly engag-
ing you in new ideas," she said in an e-mail.
The final group is chosen by a committee which
includes working journalists, University faculty mem-
bers and a fellow. Each member gets a yearly $55,000
stipend, 12 months off from work and a chance to
grow as journalists.
During their stay, the fellows take up to four class-
es at the University and participate in twice-weekly
sherry hours with guest speakers either from the Uni-
versity's faculty or the media at large. These gather-
ings happen at Wallace House, the headquarters for
the program. Located on Oxford Street, the spacious
two-story structure was renovated in 1973 thanks to a
gift from CBS newsman Mike Wallace - a Michigan
alum who has become some sort of spiritual godfa-
ther to the group.
"The students and professors I have met have opened
my eyes about so many things," Warner said. "It's won-
derful to be able to sit in a class and talk and explore
ideas without wondering how you are going to write
the story about it or what's going to be on the test."
The program also emphasizes traveling, including
the fellows' annual venture to northern Michigan -
"God's country." "It's just beautiful" says Eisendrath.
The group has also traveled to Argentina and Tur-
key to learn how the media works overseas. Because
Eisendrath believes there's not much foreign news in
American media, he think these trips are vital to the
"If media wants to be interesting and get audiences
and engage audiences, why on earth wouldn't you
include the world?" Eisendrath asks.
The Livingston Awards
In addition to hosting the fellows each year, Wal-
lace House is the headquarters for The Livingston
Awards, which are, as Eisendrath described them, sort
of a Pulitzer Prize for the young. Awarded each year to
three journalists under 35, past winners include New
York Times columnist Tom Friedman and David Rem-
nick, the current editor of The New Yorker.
When Eisendrath was presented with the idea of
offering the award, his first thought was that "there
are already too many journalism prizes." His mind
quickly changed when he realized the prize could
serve as the preeminent award for journalism excel-
lence. The prize considers general reporting from all
media, and more than 500 applications are accept-
ed each year. The winners, chosen by a panel that
includes, among others, Wallace and New York Times
managing editor Jill Abramson, are decided during a
media bash at the Yale Club in New York City.
"All the razzle-dazzle takes place in New York
because that's the best place for razzle-dazzle,"
At a time when journalism is looking for a new
breed of leaders, with the departures of Tom Brokaw
- who serves as a judge for the Livingston Awards
- Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel and Dan Rather, the
Wallace House is the place to find them. Eisendrath
just has one requirement:
"Brilliance. You figure out what that is."
16B - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, December 8, 2005