Associate Professor of Communication and Media Studies Beth Knobel, Ph.D., director of the Sperber Prize, said almost 50 books with 2022 copyrights were considered for the award. “We agonized over the choice of finalists, as so many of the books published in 2022 were worthy of recognition,” she explained. “The finalist books are simply extraordinary. The three biographies all involve years of research, with the authors examining in some cases dozens of archives for original material. And the one memoir reads like a piece of history. These are all important and worthy works.”
The Sperber Prize is given in honor of the late Ann M. Sperber, the author of Murrow: His Life and Times, the critically acclaimed biography of journalist Edward R. Murrow. One edition of that work was published by Fordham University Press, connecting the Sperber family to the university. Through the generous support of Ann’s mother, Lisette, the $1,000 award was established to promote and encourage biographies and memoirs that focus on a professional in journalism. The award has been presented annually by Fordham University’s Department of Communication and Media Studies since 1999.
The four finalists, in alphabetical order:
Deborah Cohen, Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took on a World at War (Random House). Last Call at the Hotel Imperial is the story of journalists John Gunther, H. R. Knickerbocker, Vincent Sheean, and Dorothy Thompson. As cub reporters in the 1920s, they roamed across a war-ravaged world, chronicling how empires collapsed and fledgling democracies faltered. And as fighting engulfed the globe in the 1930s and 40s, they landed exclusive interviews with Hitler and Mussolini, Nehru and Gandhi, and helped shape what Americans knew about the world. Cohen, the Richard W. Leopold Professor of History at Northwestern University, brings these journalists to life and captures how global upheaval felt up close.
Mary Llewellyn McNeil, Century’s Witness: The Extraordinary Life of Journalist Wallace Carroll (Whaler Books). A United Press correspondent in Europe before and during World War II, Carroll was deputy director of the U.S. Office of War Information–charged with countering misinformation coming out of Germany–editor of the Washington Bureau of The New York Times, and finally editor and publisher of the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel. In a career that spanned 45 years, he embodied the gold standard of journalism, mentoring a generation of reporters, editors, and publishers. His story, captured by McNeil, a former student of Carroll’s, is especially relevant today as the world faces the war in Ukraine and continued attacks on the truth. What the West failed to understand, Carroll wrote more than 80 years ago, was the power of Hitler’s propaganda. Long-term exposure to such propaganda could cause a similar result elsewhere, warned Carroll: “[T]he Hitler legend would bear watching.”
Kathryn S. Olmsted, The Newspaper Axis: Six Press Barons Who Enabled Hitler (Yale University Press) As World War II approached, the six most powerful media moguls in America and Britain tried to pressure their countries to ignore the fascist threat. The media empires of Robert McCormick, Joseph and Eleanor Patterson, and William Randolph Hearst spanned the United States, reaching tens of millions of Americans in print and over the airwaves with their isolationist views. Meanwhile in England, Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail extolled Hitler’s leadership and Lord Beaverbrook’s Daily Express insisted that Britain had no interest in defending Hitler’s victims on the continent. Olmsted is a professor of history at the University of California, Davis.
Maria Ressa, How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for Our Future (HarperCollins) After working as a reporter for CNN, Maria Ressa transformed news coverage in her homeland, the Philippines, by creating the innovative online news organization Rappler. But by its fifth year of existence, Rappler had gone from being lauded for its ideas to being targeted by the new Philippine president. How to Stand Up to a Dictator is not only the story of Ressa and of Rappler, but shows how global social media companies are aiding and abetting disinformation. Maria Ressa remains the CEO and President of Rappler and is the recipient of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.
Previous winners of the Sperber Prize include Working by Robert Caro, Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow, Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley, Lives of Margaret Fuller by John Matteson, Reporter by Seymour M. Hersh, The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century by Alan Brinkley, Avid Reader: A Life by Robert Gottlieb, and All Governments Lie! The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone by Myra MacPherson.
In 2022, the Sperber Prize was awarded to Elizabeth Becker for You Don’t Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War, published by PublicAffairs. The Sperber Prize jury also awarded former CBS and NBC News correspondent and professor Marvin Kalb with a certificate of appreciation in 2022 for his distinguished career in journalism and his two recent memoirs.
The winner of the 2023 Sperber Prize will be announced in September and awarded in November at a ceremony held at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus.
The second season of the Sperber Prize podcast will be launching shortly, including interviews with last year’s winner, Elizabeth Becker, and the authors of four books considered this year. The first season in 2022 included interviews with the 2021 winners of the Sperber Prize, Kerri K. Greenidge, Ph.D., for Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter and Lesley M.M. Blume for Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World; Marvin Kalb; former 60 Minutes Producer Ira Rosen, author of Ticking Clock: Behind the Scenes at 60 Minutes; Lucy Rose Fischer on her book The Journalist: Life and Loss in America’s Secret War; and Dr. Alan Sperber, a member of the Sperber Prize jury and the brother of the late Ann M. Sperber. You can find the Sperber Prize podcast on your favorite podcast platform or via RSS.