Director of Livingston Awards and Knight-Wallace Fellows Announces Retirement

Charles Luncheon


By Charles R. Eisendrath ('75)

Interstate 75 connects my life in Ann Arbor to another, very different existence at a cherry orchard in northern Michigan. The house is 115 years old and has been touched by five generations of us. Inside and beyond, in the woods and fields, stuff and changes accumulate. Such things mark what you've done and what you haven't; what things people in your gene pool accomplished with reminders to try some.

So as I found myself driving through life's higher numbers in bumptious good health, 75 came to take on special significance. As that birthday approached, it became a sort of road sign. I had been traveling north and south on I-75. Maybe E-75, October 9, 2015, should signal highway Eisendrath leading to life beyond Wallace House. The numbers worked in the way journalists prefer in anniversaries: 40 years at the University of Michigan, 35 running the Livingston Awards, 30 directing the Fellowships.

What made me take the turn leading to retirement from all three, however, did not come until late last summer. I don't like leaving important things undone, and until then, the Livingston Awards had been neither strongly embraced by the University, nor had it garnered endowment. At the awards lunch in New York last June, however, President Mark Schlissel told the winners "I look forward to hearing about your accomplishments and to coming back many times in the future to join in celebrating the future of journalism." In August, a longtime donor sent the first of checks to total $1 million for endowment. Suddenly, I felt confident that the Livingstons were firmly on the way to permanence at a University I've loved for a long time.

Unsurprisingly, the decision to make of this revelation came at the farm, surrounded by all those reminders. That's where such things happen.

But why leave a job I've been lucky enough to more-or-less design? Fair question. Again, it's the numbers. Pride in having tried to guide journalists to as satisfying a life as I've had runs deep. How much could I add in a few more years? By contrast, although every job has brought enormous pleasure, Wallace House way above all, jobs have always dominated my life. The only chance to explore what I might do without one is right now. I know what I would advise Fellows in such situations.

Hence taking the exit off the big road I've known so well to smaller ones I think may lead to intriguing places with Julia, my lifelong road-trip navigator and the copilot of our lives together. Many, I hope, will lead to you.


Charles R. Eisendrath is director of two national journalism programs at the University of Michigan, the Knight-Wallace Fellows and the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists. A former TIME correspondent in Washington, London and Paris and bureau chief in Buenos Aires, Eisendrath was named founding director of the Livingston Awards in 1981 and director of the Michigan Journalism Fellows in 1986. He will retire in July 2016.

Livingston Winners for 2014 Announced

Stories about sexual assault at an elite evangelical college, the haphazard system of lax laws and weak screening standards for armed security guards and the life-saving heroics of Syria’s first responders won the Livingston Awards today. The $10,000 prizes for journalists under the age of 35 are the largest all-media, general-reporting prizes in the country.

The Livingston Awards also honor an on-the-job mentor with a $5,000 prize named for Richard M. Clurman, the distinguished Time, Inc. journalist. 

Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the University of Michigan to support a new emphasis on digital media efforts, the program continues to see an increase in digital submissions, with a 21-percent increase in digital entries over last year. Since the funding initiative began two years ago, the number of digital entries increased 125 percent. The overall number of entries increased 53 percent.

The 2014 winners are:

International Reporting
Matthieu Aikins, 30, of Matter/Medium, for “Whoever Saves a Life,” a story about first responders in Syria’s civil war. Members of the Hanano Civil Defense team risk their lives daily to save civilians caught in the aerial bombardment of Aleppo. Aikins follows the young volunteers as they rush to bomb sites, treat the injured, and retrieve bodies – dead and alive – from beneath the rubble.

“They were there to stand beside the weakest, and the most hopeless, even at the cost of their own lives, even after losing three teammates, even after the destruction of their station,” writes Aikins. “So that others might live.”

National Reporting
Shoshana Walter, 29, and Ryan Gabrielson, 34, of The Center for Investigative Reporting, for “Hired Guns,” an investigation on the haphazard system of lax regulation, weak screening standards and little to no training for armed security guards. Walter and Gabrielson compiled data on every state and uncovered cases where violent felons, the mentally ill and former police officers with civil rights violations were able to obtain jobs as armed security guards.

“This project was built on challenging an assumption many of us have made in our daily lives – that armed guards make us safer,” says the team of Walter and Gabrielson. “Few realize armed guards are subject to such low standards of training and oversight. We went to the public records for answers and were overwhelmed with cases in which people were harmed because guards had guns. The most harmed were the guards themselves.”

Local Reporting
Kiera Feldman, 29, of The New Republic and The Investigative Fund, for “Sexual Assault at God’s Harvard,” an investigation of Patrick Henry College’s mishandling of sexual assault complaints. Interviews with several female students reveal a college administration that covered up sexual assaults and shifted blame to victims. Although other colleges and universities have come under fire for their handling of similar complaints, Patrick Henry College is one of a handful that avoids compliance with federal laws such as Title IX or the Clery Act by declining all federal funding.

“Other female students who say they reported sexual assault or harassment to the administration also left feeling that school officials blamed them instead of holding the accused male students accountable,” wrote Feldman. “The administration they say, seemed much more concerned with protecting Patrick Henry’s pristine public image.”

On-the-Job Mentoring
Tom Brokaw received the Richard M. Clurman Award for his dedication to mentoring young journalists. Brokaw was sole anchor and managing editor of the “NBC Nightly News” from 1983 to 2004. He is the author of seven books, including the best seller “The Greatest Generation” and “A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope,” his most recent release. Brokaw now serves as special correspondent for NBC News.



Digital leaders added to Livingston Awards judging panels

Three leading digital journalists have become judges of the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists, the largest all-media, general reporting prizes in the U.S. Kara Swisher, co-CEO of Revere Digital and co-executive editor of Re/code, joined the panel of national judges; formerly, she co-hosted "D: All Things Digital," The Wall Street Journal 's influential online conferences.

Evan Smith and Chris Davis joined the Livingston program as part of the regional judging group that reduces hundreds of entrants to a manageable number of finalists. Smith is the co-founder, editor-in-chief and CEO of The Texas Tribune, one of the most successful nonprofit news start-ups. Davis is managing editor for data and investigations at the Tampa Bay Times, Florida's largest daily.

Widely known as "the Pulitzer Prize for the young" the Livingston Awards, administered at the University of Michigan with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, specialize in identifying major talent at an early age and presenting it to an audience of leading media figures at a large awards lunch in New York. Past recipients include Thomas Friedman, Christiane Amanpour, Michele Norris, David Isay, Ira Glass, Steve Coll, Rick Atkinson and David Remnick.

In 2012 the prizes began an outreach to new media, resulting in increases of 85 percent in digital entries, 50 percent overall.

In addition to Swisher, the national judging panel includes: Christiane Amanpour of CNN and ABC News; Ken Auletta, media and communications writer, The New Yorker; Dean Baquet, executive editor, The New York Times; Ellen Goodman, author and co-founder and director of The Conversation Project; John Harris, editor-in-chief, POLITICO; Clarence Page, syndicated columnist; and Anna Quindlen, author.

In addition to Smith and Davis, the regional judging panel includes: David Greene, host, "Morning Edition," NPR; Shirley Leung, columnist, The Boston Globe; Raney Aronson-Rath, deputy executive producer, "Frontline," PBS; Amy Silverman, managing editor, Phoenix New Times; and Debra Adams Simmons, VP of News Development, Advance Local.