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 AJR  The Beat

From AJR,   October/November 2003  issue

Back to School   

An L.A. Times reporter will head a literary journalism program while other journalists take academic positions

By Jill Rosen
Jill Rosen is AJR's assistant managing editor     

Los Angeles Times reporter Barry Siegel, who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, is starting a literary journalism program at the University of California, Irvine. The school could be the first in the country offering such an undergraduate major.

Siegel, 54, who will continue to write on a contract basis for the L.A. Times, where he's been since 1976, started in September at the school as a professor of English. He's excited that the university is recognizing his craft, writing that blends longer-form stylistic devices typically found in fiction with nonfiction, or with more traditional reporting.

"They're recognizing this whole great body of nonfiction prose that has transcended the boundaries of daily journalism," Siegel says. "What drew me into journalism is this area much more than daily news."

Siegel won last year's Pulitzer for "A Father's Pain, a Judge's Duty, and a Justice Beyond Their Reach," a portrait of a man tried for negligence in the death of his son and the judge who heard the case. He has published two literary journalism books--one a collection of stories that first appeared in the L.A. Times--and three legal suspense novels.

When he was "coming up" in journalism, Siegel says the only way to learn this sort of technique was reading it, in the works of masters like Tom Wolfe and Truman Capote. "We had to teach ourselves these things," he says. "The key to it all was read, read, read."

Steven Mailloux, the outgoing chairman of UCI's English and comparative literature department, says recruiting a person to lead the university's new program was tricky, what with so few experts in the field. "There are a lot of creative writers, and there are also a lot of journalists, but try to find people in this overlap," he says. "It was really difficult."

A few other journalists are following Siegel into academia this fall:

Barry Sussman, who led the Washington Post's daily coverage of Watergate, will lead a project that encourages journalists to hold those in power accountable. Sussman, a Washington, D.C., media consultant, was named editor of the Watchdog Project at Harvard University's Nieman Foundation for Journalism.

Longtime journalist Lou Ureneck, most recently a deputy managing editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, will direct Boston University's business and economics journalism program. Before joining the Inquirer in 1997, Ureneck spent 22 years at Maine's Portland Press Herald. At the BU program, Ureneck succeeds Andrew Leckey, a syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune who has been named director of the American Press Institute's business reporting project.

ABC News correspondent and National Public Radio commentator Judy Muller has become an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication.