Former Journalism Dean Nicholas Lemann to Edit Newly Created "Columbia Global Reports"

February 17, 2014

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger has appointed Nicholas Lemann, professor of journalism and dean emeritus of Columbia Journalism School, to direct "Columbia Global Reports" — a new, University-based publication dedicated to the production of sustained, original reporting and analysis on under-reported global issues for audiences that extend beyond the academy.

“Journalism and universities — each at their best — are soul mates in the search for new knowledge,” says Bollinger. “Around the world, we see a dual challenge to the robust reporting we need to understand our interconnected society: On the one hand, there’s widespread censorship of free and independent media. And there’s also the declining financial capacity of the news business to invest in costly, time-consuming, high-quality reporting at the very moment when we as citizens need more such in-depth coverage of the world. Universities are uniquely positioned to help fill the gap, and none more so than Columbia with our signal leadership in journalism education, our longstanding scholarly engagement in the great issues of our time, and an admired writer and magazine editor like Nick Lemann on our faculty.”

"Columbia Global Reports" will produce four to six issues a year, each devoted to a single article of about 25,000 words. Each report will make an original contribution of information and analysis on a specific timely topic, with the enterprise taking a long-term approach to addressing the state of the world on a variety of topics. They will be written by journalists or by academics, and some by writing partnerships.

“Columbia is an ideal place from which to explore partnerships between ambitious journalism and a great research university — an especially important mission right now, because of the financial stresses on news organizations,” says Lemann, who continues to contribute to "The New Yorker" as a staff writer. “We hope that 'Columbia Global Reports' will add significantly to the public’s understanding of globalization, and demonstrate that Columbia can produce a non-traditional kind of research.”

Over time, the reports will aim to cover a broad range of regions and political, economic, environmental and cultural topics, which may be defined geographically or thematically. Each report will seek to combine the reportorial and narrative vividness of journalism with the depth and context of the scholarship as a means to educate general audiences on the full scope and implications of globalization on society.

Under Lemann’s direction, "Columbia Global Reports" will work closely with other University initiatives, such as Columbia Global Centers and the Committee on Global Thought, and will draw upon the deep expertise available across the University’s schools, institutes and centers. The reports will be written by respected journalists and scholars from a wide range of peer institutions and news outlets. Because their publication is intended to spark conversations not only on campus but also among interested audiences around the world, the reports will work through a variety of distribution strategies both online and in print, including, possibly, partnerships with interested organizations and existing news media, as well as conferences and live events.

A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College, Lemann began his journalism career at "The Washington Monthly," where he became an associate editor and then managing editor. He went on to be an associate editor and then executive editor at "Texas Monthly," a national correspondent at "The Washington Post" and "The Atlantic," and finally a staff writer and Washington correspondent at "The New Yorker."

He has published five books, including "Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War" (2006), "The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy" (1999), which helped lead to a major reform of the SAT, and "The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America" (1991), which won several book prizes. He has written widely for such publications as "The New York Times," "The New York Review of Books," "The New Republic" and "Slate;" and worked in documentary television with Blackside, Inc., FRONTLINE, the Discovery Channel and the BBC.

Lemann serves on the boards of directors of the Authors Guild, the Russell Sage Foundation, and the Academy of Political Science, and is a member of the New York Institute for the Humanities. He was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in April 2010.

He was the first Columbia dean named by President Bollinger more than a decade ago at the end of a process of re-examination of the school’s mission by a national task force Bollinger had convened. During Lemann’s 10-year tenure as dean, Columbia Journalism School launched and completed its first capital fundraising campaign, added 20 full-time faculty members, built a student center, started its first new professional degree program since the 1930s and launched significant new initiatives in investigative reporting, digital journalism and executive leadership for news organizations, as well as becoming a center of research and innovation about the future of journalism. He was succeeded as dean in July 2013 by Steve Coll, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former president of the New America Foundation.

“It is a sad fact of contemporary life that the traditional institutions of the free press, so necessary for the functioning of our society, have continued to face serious challenges to the commercial business model, sharply diminishing their capacity to report on the world,” says Bollinger, who has been an advocate of new models of journalism to address global information needs. “There are many new non-profit journalism organizations that have embraced this civic responsibility. Columbia’s traditions of thought leadership and civic engagement make us an ideal launching pad for such an effort and Nick Lemann is the ideal person to help us make an important new contribution to the global public square.”