The New Journalism
Cogan Fellow Frank James ’79 adapts to sweeping changes in his profession
by George Fitting '10
June 29, 2010
Frank James ‘79 spoke about the changing media landscape during his campus visit.
Veteran print journalist Frank James ’79 recounted his journey from
traditional reporting for some of the great American newspapers to co-hosting a
news blog for National Public Radio during the Cogan Alumni Lecture on Feb. 26.
“Blogging and new media aren’t for
everyone, but embracing the Internet can create opportunity and save your
bacon,” James, a member of Dickinson’s board of trustees, told a capacity crowd
in the Stern Great Room.
James based the title of his lecture,
“There’s a Place for Us: An English Major’s Journey from Old to New Media,” on
the song “Somewhere” from West Side Story. He focused on the shift from print to online
media, emphasizing that even as newspapers flounder there are still online
opportunities in the journalism world.
After graduating from Dickinson, James
worked at “a giant insurance company” for a year before becoming a journalist.
“I actually owe Dickinson my career in a bizarre way,” he said.
He applied for a job at the Wall
Street Journal, unfortunately submitting his resumé and a few
clippings from The Dickinsonian to the wrong person.
However, the man was a Haverford alumnus who had fond memories of a
Haverford-Dickinson football game, after which enthusiastic Dickinson fans
rampaged through the town wreaking havoc on flower gardens and plastic lawn
furniture. He decided to help James get the job.
with the Wall Street Journal for 10 years before moving on to the Chicago
Tribune. He was national news
correspondent based in Washington, D.C., for many years and created the popular
political blog “The Swamp.” Highlights of his career include covering
Nelson Mandela’s presidential election amid celebratory gunfire and flying on
Air Force One with former Mexican President Vicente Fox and former President
George W. Bush.
The rise of the Internet changed
everything, according to James. “The wheels of the newspaper delivery truck
have come off,” he said. Because newspapers make most of their money from
classified ads, they are failing to stay afloat in the age of Craig’s list,
eBay and pop-up advertisements.
That rise also changed James’ career. “The
Swamp” was so successful that NPR asked James and another newsman, Mark
Memmott, to create a blog, which they named “The Two-Way,” radio-speak for an
on-air discussion between a host and a reporter. James has worked at NPR for a
year and is excited to provide breaking news and analysis for the media
organization. (Check out his work at www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way.)
Besides meeting with students and
delivering the Cogan Lecture, one of the responsibilities of Cogan Fellows is
to judge a literary dessert contest at a dinner attended by English majors and
faculty. Students submit desserts with literary themes and compete for gift
certificates to Whistlestop Bookshop. James chose the winner, Caroline Peri
’10’s “James Joyce’s Dubliners,” Guinness-stout chocolate
cupcakes with a Bailey’s ganache center and Irish cream and butter-cream
The Cogan Alumni Fellowship was
established in 2000 by Associate Professor of English Wendy K. Moffat, with the
goal of clarifying some of the nebulousness usually associated with career
paths for English majors. One or two outstanding alumni with English degrees
are selected annually to inform students about their experiences after
graduation and to serve as living examples of some of the opportunities the
professional world has to offer. Past fellows have included novelist Brock
Clarke ’90, poet Susan Stewart ’73 and Fennemore Craig attorney John Balitis
The fellowship is named after
Eleanor Cogan, who received an honorary doctor of letters in 2003 after taking
52 courses at Dickinson, 32 of which were in the English department. It
recognizes both her passion for learning and her dedication to the study of
literature. Commenting on Cogan, James
said, “She really was a noble Dickinsonian.”