The Fund for American Studies’ esteemed Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship is a premier program for early-career journalists seeking to strengthen their comprehensive journalistic skill set, with a special emphasis on ethical and unbiased reporting. Fellows pursue individual projects that explore complex and relevant themes broadly supportive of a free society. Many have gone on to secure careers as prominent journalists, publish books, and win awards for their journalistic endeavors.
The late John Farley directed TFAS’s Novak Fellowship for more than 20 years with intense dedication. Previously a program of the Phillips Foundation, the Novak Fellowship flourished under John’s direction. He is responsible for guiding the program under the TFAS umbrella and successfully shaping it into what it is today. He mentored journalists who are now some of the most prominent in the field. John was a uniquely kind man with a heart for serving others. His thoughtfulness, passion and selflessness shaped both the Novak Fellowship and the journalists he guided each year.
John oversaw more than 100 journalists during his time as the director of the Novak Fellowship. His passing on March 30, 2020, came as a shock to all, and the sting of this loss is as profound as his impact was.
John was gifted in creating genuine human connection. He had a way with words and the ability to make others feel at ease. He lived out the golden rule and served those around him until the end.
Robert VerBruggen, Novak ’09, worked closely with John during his time as a Fellow. Now a policy writer for National Review, VerBruggen believes John’s guidance provided him the skill set and mindset he needed to overcome any obstacle and fearlessly pursue his goals. He remembers John as someone who pushed him to better himself through the pursuit of continual growth.
“John Farley was an enormous help to me in my year as a Fellow, providing careful feedback on my writing and pushing me to improve it,” VerBruggen said. “I was also impressed by the dedication he showed to the program as a whole, which he had spent so much time and effort building into what it is today. I’ve known countless other Fellows over the years who’ve benefited from the chance to cover a topic deeply at a young age, and all of us owe a big debt to John.”
John loved his work with the Novak program and his enthusiasm was contagious. At the end of each of our meetings or reunions for the Novak Fellowship, John always had this final line to wrap up: ‘Now, let’s all say it together: John Farley is the greatest!’ And he was. It was a privilege to know him.” – Heather Wilhelm, Novak ’05
Heather Wilhelm, Novak ’05, is one of the many journalists who worked closely with John and benefited immensely from his tutelage. She currently works as a columnist for National Review and is a contributor to the Chicago Tribune. Her writings have been published in a variety of other outlets, and she is working on her first novel. Wilhelm fondly remembers John’s witty quips and charming personality.
“John was warm, kind and incredibly encouraging to me at the launch of my journalism career,” she said. “He loved his work with the Novak program and his enthusiasm was contagious. He was also a lot of fun. At the end of each of our meetings or reunions for the Novak Fellowship, John always had this final line to wrap up: ‘Now, let’s all say it together: John Farley is the greatest!’ And he was. That memory always makes me smile. It was a privilege to know him.”
Inaugural Recipient of the John Farley Alumni Fund Fellowship
TFAS formally awarded the inaugural John Farley Alumni Fund Fellowship to Charles McElwee, Novak ’20, at the 2020 Journalism Awards Dinner. A lifelong Pennsylvanian, McElwee decided to study his home state for his Novak project. Titled “Pennsylvania: A Microcosm of America’s Political Realignment,” his project focuses on the state’s political realignment and the demographic, cultural and economic forces that fuel it. His goal with this project is to emphasize the importance of certain regions within Pennsylvania in transforming its political landscape.
Despite the challenges of being a journalist during the pandemic, McElwee is grateful for the new opportunities the travel restrictions provided; namely, the chance to turn to his background in history and dive deep into archival research to better understand the forces driving his home state’s political realignment.
McElwee has bylined numerous impressive articles since the commencement of his Fellowship last fall. Prominent among his publications are “John Heinz’s Legacy…and Pennsylvania’s Political Future” and “PA Suburbs Signal a National ‘Eds and Meds’ Realignment” in RealClearPolitics, “Borough of Churches” on the vital economic and civic role of churches in City Journal, “Life in the Christmas City” in The American Conservative, and other articles in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Philadelphia Inquirer. Additionally, McElwee is the editor of RealClear’s Pennsylvania vertical and an adjunct professor at Lebanon Valley College, where he recently concluded teaching a course on Pennsylvania politics and history.
McElwee incorporates in-depth research and on-the-ground reporting in each article. He believes that a historical perspective is critical to understanding and providing depth to any analytical political piece a journalist writes about a specific region.
“Bringing in that historical research, which I think is often lacking in commentary and political pieces in which regional politics are analyzed, is incredibly important,” he explained. “That involvement and research that has influenced each piece I’ve written during the Fellowship is what I am most proud of.”
The most rewarding aspect of the Novak Fellowship, according to McElwee, is the generous support from TFAS that provides the opportunity to pursue research, reporting and travel that he otherwise would not have been able to do. Coupled with the mentorship from Dan McCarthy, director of the Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship, McElwee has found the Fellowship to be a wonderful opportunity to write and get work published, and having TFAS share those successes with an active alumni network is an unparalleled experience.
The program is a life-changing experience and is the type of opportunity that serves as a foundation for one’s career. This honor, along with the support I’ve received through the Fellowship, is one that will far outlast the timeframe of the program.” – Charles McElwee, Novak ’20
“The program is a life-changing experience and is the type of opportunity that serves as a foundation for one’s career,” McElwee said. “This honor, along with the support I’ve received through the Fellowship, is one that will far outlast the timeframe of the program. In reality, this Fellowship and the work I’ve done through it will carry me throughout my career, and I am grateful for everyone’s support as I’ve pursued my writing, reporting and research in a professional capacity.”
As we continue to celebrate the life and legacy of John Farley, we are grateful for the mentorship, guidance and friendship John provided to Novak Fellows during his 20+ years of overseeing the Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship. John’s legacy lives on through his family, the work of countless Fellows, and the Fellowship renamed in his honor.
To learn more about John’s life and legacy, please visit TFAS.org/Farley.