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Journalists and the City

A Columbia School of Journalism event precipitated by an unexpected phone call saw President Tom Kunkel taking the stage with the dean of the school, Steve Coll, and influential writer Gay Talese.

New York alums joined the audience of journalism students, book lovers and scholars for Joseph Mitchell and the City, a thoughtful discussion of Mitchell’s approach to his celebrated articles for The New Yorker.

Talese is credited with helping define literary journalism – a role he is clearly still undertaking, given the tenor of the debate prompted by Kunkel’s “Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker” (2015). The conversation focused on Kunkel’s uncovering of a perplexing element in Mitchell’s technique: the fact that at least some of his legendary profiles were of composite characters, rather than of the strictly reported flesh-and-blood individuals that readers took them to be. Talese himself was so disconcerted by the revelations after reading the manuscript for Kunkel’s book, that he telephoned the author – an initial contact that in due course sparked the Columbia University event. 

Kunkel’s book also explores the decades-long silence from Mitchell, the most lauded journalist of his generation. Mitchell did not publish a single word during his last 30 years on The New Yorker payroll. No writer’s block was evident among the three journalists at the Oct. 7 conversation, however; in fact, Kunkel’s conversation partners count two Pulitzers and a Norman Mailer Prize between them. 

A good showing of St. Norbert alumni resident in New York City joined the Columbia audience, which also included eminent essayist Calvin Trilling, former colleague of Mitchell’s. Ed Lamm (Enrollment Management & Communications) was among those able to attend. He says, “When you get the chance to see your college president at an Ivy League school, and comfortably sharing the stage with a Pulitzer Prize winner and a best-selling author, you realize just how highly Tom’s talents, and his new book on Joseph Mitchell, are respected. In the last year, too, we’ve also seen Karlyn Crowley and Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer, of our Cassandra Voss Center, invited to the stage of the New School, just a New York minute from Columbia. Invitations like this one, whether for Tom or for any of our people, do nothing but good for the reputation of St. Norbert College.” 


Columbia University is an Ivy League school founded in 1754. Its pre-eminent Graduate School of Journalism educates students from around the world. The school is the home of the Columbia Journalism Review as well as of several prestigious award programs, including the Pulitzer Prizes. 

Kunkel’s recent trip to the Manhattan school was not his first visit. He has used its facilities to research several of his publications, including the Mitchell book.

Kunkel says, “It’s still pretty neat, I won’t kid you. … It was a real honor to be asked by Columbia. New York: They love books, they love literature, they love Joe Mitchell. So we had a great turnout tonight and it was just really gratifying.”

Oct. 31, 2015