Lynette Clemetson will be the new director of the Knight-Wallace Fellowships and Livingston Awards at the University of Michigan — two of the nation’s most prestigious programs for journalists.
Clemetson, senior director of strategy and content initiatives at National Public Radio, begins her new position on July 1. She will succeed Charles R. Eisendrath, who will retire after three decades. He founded the Livingston Awards and led a $60 million endowment drive to permanently establish the fellowships. Last year, the programs were rebranded as Wallace House.
“Lynette Clemetson will further strengthen the University of Michigan’s engagement with modern journalism,” President Mark Schlissel said. “The Knight-Wallace Fellowships and the Livingston Awards recognize and support journalists who are helping us gain a deeper understanding of the most complex issues facing our world.”
Clemetson’s news career has been as wide ranging as it has been distinguished. Her experiences include reporting for Newsweek about Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, covering politics and demographics for The New York Times, launching the website TheRoot for the Washington Post Co. and guiding multiplatform projects for NPR.
“The programs of Wallace House are vital to journalism, even more so in today’s complex media world,” said Clemetson, a Knight-Wallace fellow in 2009-10.
“It is an honor to build on Charles Eisendrath’s strong legacy, the program’s international focus and its connection to the University of Michigan,” she added. “I look forward to expanding Wallace House’s role in supporting media innovation and experimentation and being a prominent force for good in sustaining journalists of all sorts in their mission, passion and craft.”
Eisendrath said, “I came to know Lynette as a Knight-Wallace fellow after having been impressed with her application credentials. By the time she left, I realized that the most impressive thing about her wasn’t the credentials, it was the personal qualities that had earned them.”
Since its founding in 1973, the Knight-Wallace Fellowship program has enabled 677 mid-career journalists from 35 countries to step away from their deadline pressures and spend an academic year at U-M, enjoying the freedom to take any courses that interest them.
The fellows — selected for their exceptional work, leadership and potential — explore new subjects and deepen their understanding of issues they have been covering. They enrich the campus by mixing with students and faculty, contributing immeasurably to U-M’s educational and research milieu.
Numerous fellows have gone on to write notable books, win awards, develop and run journalism projects and bring distinction to their news organizations.
The program also is the only journalism fellowship that involves news tours abroad. In recent years, the fellows have traveled to Brazil, Turkey, Russia, Argentina and Canada.
“As a journalist and a news executive, Lynette Clemetson has brought passion and a commitment to strategic innovation to her work. She is the right person to lead Wallace House as a new generation of journalists seeks the opportunities for learning and engagement that it provides,” said Martha Pollack, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.
The Livingston Awards, the largest all-media, general reporting prize in the U.S., are often called the “Pulitzer for the young.” The program offers $10,000 prizes to journalists under the age of 35 for local, national and international reporting.
“At the annual Livingston Awards luncheon in New York, 200 or so leaders of journalism attend. They come not for the chilled salmon but to be reminded that journalism is a noble calling. Many struggle to escape depression. It’s a tough time in the business,” said Ken Auletta, an author and media and communications writer for The New Yorker.
“Yet after watching young journalists humbly step to the winners’ podium and glancing at their work, the sun shines,” added Auletta, who has been a Livingston judge for three decades. “Beneficiaries of both Michigan’s distinguished programs become part of a journalistic community that pumps oxygen into a profession so vital to a healthy democracy.”
The fellowship program was founded in 1973 by Ben Yablonky, a journalist, labor activist and educator. It was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and called the Michigan Journalism Fellows program.
The program’s second director was Graham Hovey, a former New York Times journalist who served from 1980-86.
When the federal funding ended and threatened the program’s existence in 1985, a team of prominent newspaper editors gathered a coalition of donors, led by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Eisendrath, a fellow in the program in 1974-75, was a Time correspondent in Washington, London and Paris, and bureau chief in Buenos Aires. He joined U-M’s journalism faculty in 1975 and directed its master’s program in journalism for a decade. He became the founding director of the Livingston Awards in 1981 and took over the fellowship program in 1986.
In 1992, a gift from “60 Minutes” correspondent Mike Wallace and his wife, Mary, a former TV producer, allowed for the purchase of the program’s current headquarters. Wallace House is an arts-and-crafts-style home near campus. The fellowship program was renamed the Knight-Wallace Fellows at Michigan.
Subsequent gifts have established fellowships in business, legal, medical, sports, investigative, international and educational reporting, broadening the scope of the fellowship.