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On the Beat

UVA grads find success in journalism

Jamelle Bouie (Col ’09)
Jamelle Bouie (Col ’09) CBS News

A journalism career wasn’t on the radar for Jamelle Bouie (Col ’09) when he arrived at UVA. One or two English classes comprised his only writing-focused studies. But in January, just a decade after he graduated, Bouie landed a prominent role at one of the top news organizations in the country, as an opinion columnist for The New York Times.

And Bouie, Slate’s former chief political correspondent, is far from the only top journalist with UVA ties. In fact, despite having no journalism school, UVA has produced many notable journalists, several of whom made headlines of their own last year.

Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan (Col ’02)
Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan (Col ’02) Courtesy Photo

Last fall, NPR named Nancy Barnes (Col ’82) its top news executive. Katie Couric (Col ’79) returned to NBC to cover the Olympics in South Korea. And Margaret Brennan (Col ’02) became host of Face the Nation, replacing John Dickerson (Col ’91), now co-host of CBS This Morning.

Bouie’s path began on Grounds when, prompted by a class, he launched a blog covering the 2008 presidential campaign and built a social media following.

“I’m not convinced that there’s any detriment to going to a school that doesn’t have a journalism program,” says Bouie, who also is a CBS political analyst. “So many of the skills that are required for journalism are things you can learn from other disciplines. Everything else you can learn on the job.”

On-the-Grounds Training

Other UVA journalists agree. Even if they never took so much as a newswriting class, they say they found success thanks to a solid education and extracurricular activities that honed their news skills.

“Virginia has it right,” says Sheryl Gay Stolberg (Col ’83), a New York Times congressional correspondent. “I’m a big believer in a liberal arts education, and I absolutely do not regret not going to journalism school.”

Sheryl Gay Stolberg (Col ’83) stands in front of Air Force One

New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg (Col ’83) stands in front of Air Force One

Courtesy Photo

While a student, Stolberg worked countless hours for the Cavalier Daily and remembers UVA administrators giving the paper’s reporters great access. In hindsight, she says, that was the perfect training for her current job interviewing U.S. presidents and other leaders.

As part of the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society, Bouie sharpened his ability to make a point. Retired CBS correspondent Wyatt Andrews (Col ’74) joined WUVA on his first day on Grounds and eventually landed a cable TV news show while a student. He’s now a professor of practice in UVA’s Media Studies department. And Sarah Ellison (Col ’96), a Washington Post staff writer, didn’t consider journalism until after graduation when she started working at Newsweek’s Paris bureau. But at UVA, she had the opportunity to explore, research and stimulate her curiosity about different topics—critical skills for any journalist.

Fred Barnes (Col ’65)
Fred Barnes (Col ’65) Gage Skidmore

“If you want to be a writer or a reporter, you just become one. You don’t really need to go waste a college course on that,” agrees Fred Barnes (Col ’65), co-founder of the recently shuttered The Weekly Standard and former co-host of Fox’s The Beltway Boys. “You ought to be getting a good liberal arts education, which I did.”

While journalism school graduates might have more alumni to network with as they start their careers, the insights, critical thinking and research skills that UVA students gain serve them throughout their professional lives, many say.

Stolberg says a class with Professor Lewis Feuer, a conservative thinker who talked about his intellectual journey from communism to neo-conservatism, exposed her to strains of political thought she hadn’t considered before.

Andrews remembers an afternoon in 1984 when CBS sent him to India to cover the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Riots between Sikhs and Hindus had broken out, and thanks to foreign affairs and religious studies classes at UVA, he already understood the backstory about the clashes.

“You benefit from a liberal arts education in a thousand tiny, almost indefinable ways,” he says.

The Next Generation

UVA is in a good position to produce even more prominent journalists. Media studies ranks among the College of Arts and Sciences’ top 10 majors. There, students study media history and practices and are snagging jobs and internships at major outlets.

According to Andrews, even as new media force changes in the traditional news business, students know that journalism—especially in the form of web publications and video production—isn’t going away. And as the industry transforms, Andrews hopes his students will be the ones to lead it into the future.

“I want it to be our students who have this grounding in an ethical culture,” he says, “and have been through four years of strenuous research demands, strenuous writing demands and a wide-ranging liberal arts education.

“The future journalists of the United States should be us.”