As Bill Marimow pulled out his chair to the center of his office, he befriended faculty and students by bringing his seat from behind the authority of a desk and sitting across from them to approach them as equals. This humility, along with his years of experience as an investigative reporter, was the kind of thing that earned the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner the trust necessary to be editor of the News21 Initiative.
Marimow resigned from the Walter Cronkite School to return to the Philadelphia Inquirer at the beginning of this month. He had joined Cronkite to offer guidance, ask questions and help steer its students in the right direction as editor of the 2012 News21 program, which focused on voting rights this year. But he left before he could fulfill his duties in the summer News21 program, which began Monday.
The news was leaked to the majority of Cronkite through a New York Times tweet.
“Personally, I’m upset that he’s leaving,” said Joe Henke, a graduate student and News21 fellow. “From the standpoint that in the course so far he has been in the adviser role, but I haven’t been able to deal with ‘Bill the editor’ yet.”
Marimow began his involvement with News 21 in fall 2011, working with executive editor of News21 and former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. The two researched, planned and determined what the students would need to accomplish in order for the program to be successful.
“The opportunity to work with Len and Bill was the reason I signed up,” said graduate student and News21 fellow AJ Vicens.
Nearly $10 million in grants was given to the Cronkite School since the organizations began supporting the school in 2008.
The News21 program is “definitely one of the highlights of Cronkite,” Henke said. “It offers a unique experience in that students can focus a lot of time and attention to one story.”
The News21 fellows are at the top of their class from around the country, and competition will push them to do better, Vicens said.
Marimow came to visit Cronkite in February 2011 after being offered the position of ASU’s executive editor of the Carnegie-Knight News21 Initiative, and he moved to Arizona later that summer.
“I was absolutely blown away not only by the caliber of the faculty, but also the caliber of the students,” Marimow said.
The students have been working alongside Marimow since January and have formed a close bond through their research and preparation.
“It’s comforting learning from the greats,” said Corbin Carson, a graduate student and News21 fellow. “But I think the transition is going to be rough.”
Last year’s News21 editor, Sharon Rosenhause, will step in as Marimow’s replacement as this summer’s News21 editor.
“I don’t think you can replace someone who was going to be the editor,” Carson said. “Him having the extensive knowledge of what we’ve done throughout the semester is invaluable. That being said, the show must go on.”
Vicens said Rosenhause’s tough, aggressive personality will help ease the transition. Her experience will allow her to catch on quickly, he added.
Downie echoed the sentiment.
“She knows what’s going on,” he said. “She knows how to do this project.”
To ensure a smooth changeover, Downie will be more involved, and the seminar’s teaching assistant, Brandon Quester, will stay on board. Marimow said he also hired a professor of journalism at the University of Arkansas and his fellow reporter at the Inquirer, Gerald Jordan, to act as deputy editor for the summer program.
“I could probably add some things,” Marimow said. “The truth is, Len is one of the best editors of his generation — period.” He added that he is leaving the program in confidence.
Vicens said the News21 students are at the point in the program where their skills are put to the test and it’s time to perform. They don’t plan on changing their fast-paced rhythm because of a new editor, he said.
“Plus, Len is involved,” Vicens said. “And you don’t want to look bad in front of him.”
Vicens said better reporting, better details, better focus and fearlessness to approach editors to ensure his contribution is up to par are what he is taking from having Marimow as a mentor.
“I found him to be supportive, and he talks you through things,” Vicens said. “He has been that way the whole time: supportive, open and honest.”
Marimow’s students are sad about his leaving, but they wish him well in his future endeavors.
“I certainly don’t begrudge Bill for what he is doing,” Carson said. “If the sides were reversed, I highly doubt I wouldn’t do the same thing.”
It would be hard to find a nicer guy than Marimow, Henke said. “I think the Inquirer is lucky to be getting him back.”
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