By Alice Horner
You don’t need a journalism degree to be a successful journalist; Steve Isenberg is living proof. Isenberg didn’t start his newspaper career until he was 42, and now he is the executive director of the PEN American Center, the U.S. branch of the world’s largest international literary and human rights organization.
Isenberg will be lecturing on the late Baltimore journalist Murray Kempton, whom Isenberg calls a “unique and winning character in journalism”, this Monday at 4:30 p.m. in Litrenta Lecture Hall.
The Elm got the chance to talk to Isenberg about his eclectic career that ranges from politics, law, public policy, publishing, and academia.
Isenberg got his start at the University of California- Berkeley, where he received a bachelor’s degree in English literature and minored in history and economics. His undergraduate experience instilled in him a value of the liberal arts. “My undergrad training was really in the tradition of the liberal arts, so I’m a defender of the faith.”
He went on to receive a second bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from Worcester College at Oxford, and several years later he earned a J.D. from Yale Law School.
Before he entered the newspaper world as an assistant to a publisher, Isenberg served as chief of staff to New York City Mayor John Lindsay, and also worked as a litigator.
Isenberg went on to serve as publisher at New York Newsday, The Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, and as the executive vice president of The Los Angeles Times: positions that exposed him to both the business and editorial sides of running a newspaper. “I’ve been active in the formulation of editorial pages and thinking through the newspaper as a whole.”
Isenberg’s career also took a turn into teaching. He’s served as a professor in media studies, literature, and public policy at five different institutions, including Yale, University of Texas-Austin, and Berkeley.
Despite never taking a journalism course, Isenberg’s leap into the newspaper world wasn’t too surprising. “All my life I’ve been a voracious newspaper reader, and I begin every day with a newspaper in hand,” he said.
And while he’s a loyal fan of print news, Isenberg is ready to adapt to the morphing world of journalism. “I’m an old dog, and print is a format that’s comfortable, but the world is changing,” he said. “We have to adapt to it, be skillful, and preserve the very best journalistic skills in another format.”