Posted: October 25, 2007
Veteran journalist and author Elizabeth J. Taylor '79 is back at Mount Holyoke this fall to teach a journalism course. Taylor, who edits the Books and Sunday Magazine sections of the Chicago Tribune, described her class as feeling "like a newsroom. It's not 'Reporting 101,' and it's not straight media criticism, either."
As she prepared the course, Taylor's working title was "Rough Drafts of History." "I want to teach students to see the world differently," she said. "To see the story behind the story."
Her first assignment was for students to profile one another without interviewing their subjects directly. As Taylor explained, this tangential reporting requires students to be creative in getting and interpreting information. "There are so many ways to get information. You can talk to the person's advisor, their teachers, their friends. You can check out the Web site of their high school, find out what they're reading. The reporting options are limitless." When the students critiqued the profiles in class, they shared insights into sources and their credibility. For example, when the source was a subject's friend, the students asked whether it was a close friend or casual acquaintance. "You have to establish the reliability of your source by letting the readers know who that person is," Taylor said.
Taylor also has her students read published journalism. In a recent class, Taylor asked the class to analyze two pieces commemorating the life and work of author Madeleine L'Engle, one a personal essay, the other literary criticism. "I want students to think like journalists, to see the world as endless opportunities to tell their stories," she said. Taylor has invited a range of journalists to speak to her class, including author and columnist Gail Collins, the first woman editor of the New York Timeseditorial page. Collins will also give a lecture on November 5 at 7:30 pm in Hooker Auditorium.
Taylor, who double-majored in history and politics at Mount Holyoke, earned an M.A. in history at Yale University in 1984. Through her senior thesis, built on her interviews of socialists in an old-age home in the Bronx, she fell in love with reporting and became fascinated by the relationship between history and journalism. She was a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 1980 and has served as a Pulitzer Prize juror and as president and board member of the National Book Critics Circle. She was a national correspondent for Time magazine for 13 years, in New York and Chicago, before taking the position at the Tribune. In 2000, she and Adam Cohen published a highly acclaimed biography of Richard Daley titled American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley--His Battle for Chicago and the Nation.
She is enjoying the opportunity to return to MHC on the other side of the classroom. "The students are really impressive," Taylor said. "But I still look around the room when someone says 'Professor Taylor.' "