It was an evening that connected “the past with the present for the sake of the future.” That’s how TFAS President Roger Ream ’76 aptly opened the 2019 Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship Alumni Dinner on Thursday, May 9, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Seventy-five journalists, supporters and friends gathered for the evening to honor the lives of late journalists Robert Novak and Ken Tomlinson, and recognize the Novak Fellows who are continuing their legacy through award-winning and groundbreaking reporting.
The North Star of Journalism
More than 25 years ago, longtime columnist, CNN broadcaster and Wall Street Journal reporter Robert D. Novak, provided the inspiration for a program that would nurture a new generation of responsible journalists. Today, the Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship Program has awarded more than 140 fellowships to help rising journalists establish their careers and pursue enterprising writing projects.
During the dinner, Sam Feist, Washington bureau chief at CNN and a 30-year mentee of Robert Novak, shared why even today, nearly a decade after Novak’s death, the celebrated American journalist continues to be a North Star for journalism.
“Bob was more than a mentor for me. He was more than a host to the programs I worked on, He was a North Star, a journalism North Star for me,” said Feist. “He taught me how to write. He taught me how to ask the right questions. He taught me how to detect B.S. from everyone from a colleague to a president. Most importantly, he was the person who really taught me that journalism at its core is the search for truth.”
Feist first met his mentor as a college journalist covering a speech Novak gave at Vanderbilt University. He later landed an internship working for Novak at CNN and climbed his way up to executive produce some of Novak’s programs. “I feel that I have an obligation today to pass on the wisdom he has given me over the years, and I continue to do that at CNN,” said Feist.
As CNN’s Washington bureau chief, Feist gives every new reporter a copy of Novak’s memoir “The Prince of Darkness” to impart some of the same wisdom that he gained from working with Novak. “I want Bob Novak’s voice in their head, the same way that he remains in my head and has been that way for almost 30 years.”
Honoring the Pursuit of the Truth
The evening also honored the legacy of Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, former editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest and longtime board member and supporter of TFAS journalism programs. Like Novak, Tomlinson’s life provides a shining example of the kind of ethics and determination that is at the root of good journalism and the mission of the Novak Fellowship program.
In Tomlinson’s memory, TFAS awarded the Kenneth Y. Tomlinson Award for Outstanding Journalism to Tim Carney, Novak ’03, for his excellence in reporting and determination to tell the truth. Ken’s son Will Tomlinson ’97 said, “the truth is the real light on which real journalism is dependent. Tonight as we honor my father’s memory through this award, I know he would be very, very honored and pleased to shine a light on Tim Carney – a conservative journalist against big government, waste and fraud in all shapes and sizes – from the corporate level to the federal level, and down to our local communities.”
We have never needed more the ethos that people like Bob Novak and Ken Tomlinson laid out of fierce independence.” – Tim Carney, Novak ’03
Carney is the commentary editor at the Washington Examiner, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of the best-selling new book, “Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse.”
While accepting his award, Carney detailed how his fellowship provided “the paving stones” to help him publish three books and establish his career, and praised the vision and example set forth by the program’s founders. He said, “We have never needed more the ethos that people like Bob Novak and Ken Tomlinson laid out of fierce independence – this idea that you are going to arrive at your opinion through reporting, through finding out the facts, regardless of what the popular opinion is and regardless of what your friends and colleagues say. And, that’s what we need more of today.”
The Mission Continues
During testimonial remarks, recent fellow Helen Andrews, Novak ’17, shared how the program enabled her to pursue a book project on the baby boomer generation that will soon be published by Penguin Random House in the fall of 2020. “Not only did the Novak fellowship give me the time that I needed to take a year away from my career and work on a manuscript, but it also put me in touch with an agent who helped me to craft an effective book proposal,” she said.
Andrews’ book will add to the more than 100 books that have been published by Novak Fellows, including many that were the direct result of their Novak Fellowship. The program helps these journalists, who are early in their careers, undertake long-form writing projects that they would otherwise not have the resources to complete.
“One of the great things about the Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship is that it’s an award for young journalists,” said Andrews. “By limiting itself to journalists who have been in the industry for 10 years or less, the fellowship is able to target journalists who have been in this line of work long enough to know the ropes and to know what they’re capable of, but still young enough that they might not otherwise have the kind of opportunities that the fellowship gives them.”
Thank you to our generous sponsors who made this evening and the Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship Program possible – Geraldine Novak, Fred Barnes, CNN, Andrew and Eleanor Glass and Randal Teague.
Save the Date: TFAS Journalism Awards Dinner
Please mark your calendar for our TFAS Journalism Awards Dinner to be held Sept. 12, 2019, in New York City. During the New York dinner, we will introduce the new class of Robert Novak Journalism Fellows and the next Joseph Rago Memorial Fellow.