Jane Eisner ’77 Teaching a New Generation of Writers

By Pei Xiong Liu, Features Editor
Friday, January 29, 2010

Jane Eisner ’77 has broken many barriers since her enrollment at Wesleyan. She became the first female editor-in-chief of The Argus in 1976 during a turbulent time when the University was transitioning into a co-ed institution. Last year, she became the first female editor of The Forward, a national Jewish-American weekly news magazine as well as the first female recipient of Wesleyan’s McConaughy Award. This semester she is returning to campus to teach a journalism course as the first Koeppel Fellow in Journalism (See “Koeppel” on page 7 for more on the new fellowship).

Eisner was chosen mainly for her impressive resume, but also for her many ties with the University, including a former seat on the Board of Trustees. According to Anne Greene, Director of Writing Programs, who was part of the committee charged with appointing the Koeppel fellow, Eisner’s familiarity with the University’s culture was a plus.

“One of the many things that we are benefiting from having Jane Eisner is that she can hit the ground running in terms of understanding what Wesleyan students’ interests are, how people think here, how to teach here,” Greene said.

When Eisner joined the Argus as a student, she was one of very few women on the staff. According to Eisner, despite ascending to the position of Editor-in-Chief and earning the respect of her staff, she still faced some discrimination. She recalled a time when she went in front of the college body committee as the editor to argue for funding for the Argus when someone asked her ‘Why don’t you hold a bake sale?’

“I don’t think they would have suggested that to my predecessors,” she said.

According to Eisner, diversity is important to any newspaper or publication.

“I think the reason to have diversity of any sort—gender, racial, religious, etc.—in journalism is not just to be nice to people, but because so we tell a fuller picture of what we’re covering”

Eisner acknowledged that the print journalism industry is hurting. According to Eisner, the field of journalism is in the middle of a transformation from print medium to a multimedia platform. Before being interviewed for this article, Eisner was in a meeting regarding The Forward’s web strategy. She contends that the role that journalists play in society will remain fundamentally the same no matter what the medium of the future is.

“Journalism is about holding our readers accountable,” Eisner said. “Journalism is about connecting people in a society and creating social empathy and understanding. Journalism is about creating a space for informed debate and in some ways the new technology is a boon to that.”

Eisner’s course, titled “The Journalist as Citizen” is a weekly writing seminar where students “will explore how journalists exercise their roles as citizens, and, in turn, how journalism affects the functioning of our democracy,” according to the course description. Eisner, who will commute from her office in Manhattan every Thursday, said her course will take a two pronged approach to journalism.

“I hope that students will have an enhanced knowledge and appreciation of the role that journalism plays in our democracy,” Eisner said. “I also hope their writing skills will dramatically improve whether or not they actually want to be journalists. I think good writing is important for whatever we do in life.”

Aria Danaparamita ’13, who was one of the 15 lucky students accepted into the course out of more than 50, said she is considering a career in journalism. She said it was the breadth of study of the course that drew her in.

“I’ve always been interested in journalism and am considering doing it after graduating,” she said. “It just sounds like a great combination between journalistic writing and issues regarding the government and civil relationships.”

Zack Malter '13, who is also enrolled in the class, has tried his hand at journalism before and said that he was attracted to the course because it will give him the opportunity to be in a class where he can write for a more general audience.

“Because I’m not sure if I want to be a journalist, it’s about developing fluency in writing for a broader audience because in so many classes here at Wesleyan, I’m writing about relatively esoteric academic things,” Malter said.