IRW’s founding Executive Editor Charles Lewis was honored earlier this month for his 45-year career in journalism, which includes the founding of several award-winning nonprofit newsrooms in addition to accolades won when he was a TV producer.
Journalists from Mother Jones, Bloomberg Industry Group, USA Today and FRONTLINE along with colleagues and supporters were among the nearly 70 people who attended a special event on American University’s East Campus.
And two special announcements were made: The Center for Public Integrity’s CEO, Paul Cheung, announced the renaming of their graduate fellowship to the Charles Lewis American University Fellowship at the Center for Public Integrity. And the School of Communication’s dean, Sam Fulwood III, announced that Lewis would be given emeritus status when he retires from the faculty on Dec. 31.
The joint fellowship with American University, currently held by graduate student Ileana Garnand, provides an opportunity for aspiring journalists studying at AU to report for Public Integrity on a host of issues related to inequality, discrimination and democracy.
“When I was appointed, Chuck was really generous in reaching out and giving some great advice,” Cheung told attendees.
That advice included the importance of innovating in journalism, Cheung said. “His tagline is ‘when they zig, we zag.’ This is something we have tried to live every single day in honor of his legacy.”
Lewis, a native of Delaware, had an acclaimed career as a producer for ABC News and CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” which he left to found Public Integrity in 1989 and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, recognized in the last few years for its worldwide investigative stories including “The Panama Papers.”
“Whenever you meet a journalist and say you work at AU, they say, ‘Wait, you know Chuck Lewis?’” said Amy Eisman, the director of the journalism division at the School of Communication. “Just being in the same building with him raises us all up. The conversation invariably moves on to two things: how much Chuck has done for investigative journalism and how humble he is about it.”
He joined American University in 2006 and created the Investigative Reporting Workshop with faculty colleague Wendell Cochran in 2008. IRW is an editorially independent, nonprofit newsroom — a model he helped to pioneer and grow nationwide.
Lewis will remain with IRW as emeritus executive editor. A nationwide search for a new executive editor and full-time faculty member is underway. John Sullivan, a reporter and editor at The Washington Post and a senior editor at IRW, is interim executive editor.
Lewis wrote “935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity” and has co-authored five Public Integrity books, including the New York Times-bestselling “The Buying of the President 2004.” He was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1998 and has held fellowships at the University of Oxford and Harvard University.
“Chuck told me a long time ago that he thought one of his biggest strengths was introducing people to each other,” said Lynne Perri, the managing editor of IRW. “At the time, I thought perhaps he was exaggerating. But all these years later, having seen the connections up close and made many long-lasting ones myself, thanks to Chuck, I can say that yes, he’s right.”
Under Lewis’ stewardship, IRW has researched and reported hundreds of stories, many of which have been co-published by both legacy media and other nonprofits, including The Washington Post, NPR, PBS FRONTLINE, the National Journal, The Philadelphia Inquirer and many more local sites. IRW fellows and interns now report for NBC News, Politico, Colorado Public Radio, the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Miami Herald and many other publications.
“Chuck has had a huge impact on my career,” said Alexia Fernandez Campbell, a former graduate student at AU who was also a fellow at IRW. “He gave me the confidence I needed to pursue a career in investigative journalism. More than anything, he taught me that good investigative journalists aren’t born with some mysterious set of skills. All it takes is determination, curiosity and a deep commitment to holding powerful people accountable for their actions.”
Her reporting career has taken her to Vox, the National Journal, the Atlantic and now Public Integrity.