Famous journalist returns to teach

Sydney H. Schanberg, an internationally known reporter who won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism in 1976, will teach a class on “Democracy and the Press” this spring at the College at New Paltz. Schanberg’s class is open to a select few students from both the Honors Program and the Journalism Program.

Schanberg won the Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for his courageous reporting, written for the New York Times, from Cambodia. When communist guerillas took over the country’s capital city, Schanberg opted to stay — at the risk of his life — to cover the takeover at a time when most reporters fled. His dispatches documented the brutal massacre and the killing of thousands that followed.

Schanberg’s story, and that of his trusted aide who had to flee to the countryside when Schanberg eventually did leave the country, was re-told in the movie “The Killings Fields.” The movie won three Academy Awards in 1984 and made Schanberg famous throughout the world.
Schanberg left daily reporting, becoming city editor of the Times for two years. But in 1982 he returned to writing when he became a columnist for the Times, penning twice-weekly columns about New York City and urban affairs. His columns were passionate, often angry attacks on the city’s establishment for the uncaring way that many of the city’s most voiceless residents were treated.

The column won many awards and Schanberg’s opinions were syndicated across the nation. In 1985 Schanberg left the Times after a bitter dispute with the newspaper. Schanberg criticized the Times, and others, over the proposal to build a costly and unnecessary highway near the Hudson river. The Times moved to take away Schanberg’s column and shift him to its magazine. But the Harvard-educated Schanberg quit, saying he would not be censored.

Schanberg then took his column to the rival Newsday, and wrote the column until 1994, leaving when Newsday closed down its New York offices and retreated to Long Island. Newsday is the sixth largest newspaper in America.

In 2001 Schanberg was SUNY New Paltz’s first James H. Ottaway Professor of Journalism, teaching a class on the news that the press ignores. In his return he will focus on the larger question of how the failings of the press threaten and jeopardize democratic life. The course is an exploration of the ways in which American democracy is degrading and the relationship of the changing nature of the press – from technology to corporate influence to evolving self definitions — to that degradation.

“This class is relevant and important,” commented Professor Robert Miraldi of the college’s Journalism Program. “And Schanberg is a passionate and tireless believer in what role the press should be playing in making democracy flourish.”

Most recently Schanberg was an award-winning media critic for the Village Voice in New York City.