- Syracuse University
- Syracuse, N.Y.
- Personal Website
Charlotte Grimes focuses on political reporting by and for a new generation of American citizens.
Professor Grimes became the Knight Chair in Fall 2003. She was an award-winning journalist for 25 years, 20 spent at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and two in radio news. She was in the Post-Dispatch’s Washington bureau for 12 years, covering the Missouri and southern Illinois congressional delegations, the politics and policies of health care and of international trade, presidential and congressional elections and other stories of government and politics. She began reporting on on national politics in 1984 and has covered local politics throughout her career. She covered the Panama invasion and the United Nations in the Persian Gulf War. She reported from Nicaragua, Mexico, China, Japan and Liberia. During Liberia’s civil war in the early 1990s, she spent five months reconstructing the lives and deaths of five Catholic missionaries killed by rebels. Her work has won national, regional and local awards. Since 1996, she has been a Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University; a Fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy; a visiting professor at the Newhouse School; founding director of the Semester in Washington program and Scripps Howard Foundation Wire for college students; and head of the journalism program at Hampton University, where she laid the groundwork for the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.
The Newhouse School seeks to establish a chair in political reporting to help train the next generation of political reporters and improve the performance of those currently on the beat. The chair program will focus on the coverage of the nomination, campaign and election processes at both national and local levels and will include an emphasis on how best to report the performance of public officials between elections so that the public can factor that performance into its decisions at the ballot box. As a result of the teaching and research of the Knight Chair, Syracuse will serve as a new resource for political reporters nationally, as a training center for young journalists and as an intellectual center for the public on issues involving the news media in the political process. (1999)
Through 2011, Professor Grimes continued “Democracy in Action”, a multimedia Election Day reporting experience for graduate and undergraduate student-journalists. The project is a collaborative effort amongst eight classes of print, radio, TV and photography students -- including military photojournalists.
On Election Day in both 2010 and 2011, Democracy in Action sent student-journalists to 60-plus polling places to capture and tell the stories of Central New York voters’ engagement with democracy. The reporters and photographers used the digital tools of their generation, such as Twitter and Facebook, to enrich their coverage for the project’s website. In an example of partnership between journalism education and professional news organizations, some of Democracy in Action’s work is also used by The Post-Standard and local NPR stations.
Democracy in Action is also a counterpart to Democracywise, the online news outlet for the work political reporting students, launched by Professor Grimes in 2007. Democracywise continues to grow as a voter resource and a training ground for the class’ young political reporters. Democracywise also won a 2010 “Excellence” award as a special project from the Newspaper Division of AEJMC. Some of her Teaching Resources on her Knight Chair site are also being adapted for the Journalists Resource website by Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.
To reward and encourage outstanding political coverage by practicing journalists, the Knight Chair Grimes undertook to administer The Robin Toner Program in Political Reporting, a special program honoring alumna and late New York Times reporter Robin Toner. In the spring of 2011, the program awarded its first $5,000 Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting to Craig Harris of The Arizona Republic for his coverage of the state’s bloated public pension system. The national contest drew entries the nation’s largest newspapers, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post; broadcast outlets such as PBS and NPR; online non-profits such as Voice of San Diego and ProPublica; and community newspapers such as the Times West Virginian and the Morris (Ill.) Daily Herald.
Professor Grimes hosted a Media Day for a contingent of Fort Drum army officers being deployed to Afghanistan. She is a regular presenter to Murrow Fellows, journalists from the Middle East, and other international groups on political reporting in the United States. And she is collaborating with Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy and teaches a News Literacy course at Syracuse University. The News Literacy course is designed to give non-journalism students critical-thinking skills to distinguish news from other forms of communication and to encourage them to use the news to participate in democracy.
To fund The Robin Toner Program in Political Reporting, administered by Professor Grimes, the university chancellor, Nancy Cantor has provided $150,000 in seed money for its activities while family, friends and colleagues work to raise a $1 million endowment. The money has helped to reward and encourage outstanding political reporting – one of the goals of the Knight Chair –by funding the yearly symposium/lecture and the $5,000 Toner Prize. It allows the Knight Chair to provide a highly visible program for
Question-and-Answer with Knight Chair
What disturbs you most about journalism today? What excites you most?
The shrinking corps (and core) of professional reporters, the loss of respect for the discipline of verification and the devaluing of facts in a world of opinionizing – these profoundly disturb Professor Grimes on behalf of democracy and about what passes today for journalism. That’s not journalism – just a simulation of the real thing, she believes. Journalism is most valuable – perhaps even irreplaceable – as for investigation and verification, as witness and watchdog of public affairs, as a function of gathering facts.
News is more than a conversation. News is a starting place and a foundation for public discourse. Without that foundation of fact gathering and verification, the public discourse too easily becomes shouting matches of competing biases. To gather and verify those facts, society still needs what Joseph Pulitzer called “an able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it.” But she fears we’re losing that at a terrifying pace.
Professor Grimes believes the most exciting aspects of journalism today are in technology’s potential to gather and verify more – and more important – facts, to present them in more vivid and engaging ways, and to expand the horizons of coverage to new sources and new communities.
“Take, for example, the rich possibilities on the web of databases and of data-mapping that can help us visualize, understand and add context to facts,” she said. “The web literally adds another dimension of depth to reporting, something beyond the printed page, the TV or the radio. Here’s another great example, to enrich our teaching of journalism and about journalism: One of my first graduate students, Ned Parker, has until recently been the Los Angeles Times’ bureau chief in Baghdad. Ned has been in Iraq with few, short breaks since 2003. He covered the early days of Libya’s civil war, the Egyptian uprising in Tahrir Square. And thanks to Skype, I was able to “bring” him from Baghdad into my News Literacy class to explain to non-journalism students why he does such dangerous work. It was an eye-opening experience for the students that would not have been possible without the digital technology. By the same token, we can use digital tools to add layers of storytelling that bring people, places, events and issues alive in ways we’ve never had before.”
Should universities expand their role as community content providers? How?
Professor Grimes points out that universities have a rich history of being news providers to their communities, going back at least as far as 1908 with the Columbia Missourian and the University of Missouri journalism school. The web now makes it possible for student-journalists to provide even more coverage of communities, without the expense of printing presses and broadcast stations. Professor Grimes thinks journalism educators can expand students’ education with more hands-on reporting through the university’s web-based news sites.
“That’s why I started Democracywise in 2007 – to fill gaps in local political coverage and information, to give my students real-world experience and to offer a potential model to others,” Professor Grimes said. “Given the loss of so many professional reporters and editors from the mainstream, for-profit newsrooms, journalism schools have almost no choice but to put their young student-journalists out into their communities as soon as possible.
“The downside, of course, is that they are still students, learning a demanding and stressful craft. They will need more supervision, more editing and more support than journalism professors can usually give them. That means journalism schools must find new ways to structure classes and hire more professionals to help with the hands-on education of real reporting.”