American Studies (SSASA)

The President, the Press and the People
President Joe Biden address the crowd and nation during the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021. (DOD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II. Courtesy of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/Flickr)President Joe Biden address the crowd and nation during the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021. (DOD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II. Courtesy of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/Flickr)
The President, the Press and the People
By: Salzburg Global Seminar 

Join the 2021 American Studies Program, the next in our “What Future for American Democracy?” series

Democracy is about ideas and narratives. Stories that provide a common set of facts, influence public opinion, and create majoritarian will. The President, the press, and the people are each primary authors of the American story. Whose version of events determines how Americans see themselves and how the world sees America?

Continuing our series on the future of democracy, the Salzburg Global American Studies Program will explore the roles and relationships between the executive branch in the US, the international media, and citizens of global democracy. Given the variety of voices shaping the public’s imagination, how have citizens productively participated in democracy in the past and how do they participate now?


Participants in this year’s program will join in four integrated online activities, each exploring the intersections of the American presidency, press and people through a different lens. These include:

3 x 60-min town hall meetings (Online)

1 x multi-day program (Online)

These activities will build momentum for a major in-person program at Schloss Leopoldskron, Austria, in summer 2022 to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of Salzburg Global Seminar, which launched American Studies as an internationally recognized discipline in its own right.


Through these four lenses – history, culture, business and politics – the 2021 program will seek answers to the following questions:

The President

  • Does coverage of the US president differ to other heads of state? 
  • What are the similarities and differences between coverage by the US press and the international media of the actions of the US president and other heads of state?
  • How has the media impacted presidential behavior?
  • How successful has the president been at controlling public opinion?

The Press

  • How has the style and scope of coverage and the development of new media altered the landscape of public discourse?
  • What has the global media landscape taught us about democracy, civic infrastructure, and accountability?
  • Is 24/7h media scrutiny turning “traditional” journalists from real-time historians?
  • Does traditional journalism continue to wield more legitimacy and impact than social media and new forms of reporting?

The People

  • Has public trust in politics eroded across the world or are new forms of democratic participation alive?
  • Who is a spectator and who is an active influencer of modern democracy?
  • How can the US and other nations reverse the decline in public trust in government and the media to re-energize democratic institutions and civic engagement?


The 2021 American Studies Program will bring together 30-50 Fellows from the US and around the world, representing a diverse mix of academic and non-academic fields. They will combine perspectives from arts and culture, social commentary, historical and geographical analysis, and politics, business, and economics. Fellows’ backgrounds may include but are not limited to journalists, diplomats, activists, entrepreneurs and program builders.


The cost for the full package of the 2021 Salzburg Global American Studies Program is $1100 and includes participation in all three 60-min town hall meetings as well as the multi-day program.

To register for this full package, please click here.

At Salzburg Global Seminar, we believe our conversations can be more valuable and our programs more impactful when participation is diverse and inclusive.

To ensure individuals from a wide variety of countries, sectors, and personal and professional experiences can participate in our American Studies Program, Salzburg Global offers a limited number of full scholarships and partial discounts to participants from universities, research institutes, think-tanks and non-governmental organizations; public officials from non-OECD countries; and to other exemplary individuals.

If you would like to apply for a scholarship or discount, please send your CV or brief bio and personal statement to 

Salzburg Global Mourns the Loss of Ron Clifton
Ron Clifton at Salzburg Global SeminarRon Clifton at Salzburg Global Seminar
Salzburg Global Mourns the Loss of Ron Clifton
By: Salzburg Global Seminar 

Beloved friend of Salzburg Global Seminar and former US diplomat died aged 84

Ron Clifton, founding resident director of the American Studies Center at Salzburg Global Seminar, and a beloved friend and supporter of the organization for over 40 years, has died aged 84.

The former US career diplomat passed away on February 13, 2021 from natural causes. 

Ron played a significant role in Salzburg Global's history and was a much-loved leader among staff and Fellows alike. As a young diplomat, his first involvement with the organization commenced in the late 1960s. Realizing Salzburg Global's significance and with a sense of its historical importance, Ron helped guide numerous Fellows to experience and participate in the organization's programs.

In 1992, Ron was instrumental in securing a significant grant for Salzburg Global from the United States Information Agency, which created the American Studies Center in Salzburg. The Center, which Ron served as resident director for between 1994 and 1996, became renowned throughout Europe and beyond. Until 2003, Ron helped organize more than 30 highly successful American Studies programs at Schloss Leopoldskron.

In 2004, Ron built upon the American Studies Center's work and co-founded the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), which hosted an annual program. He continued to play an instrumental role in planning and executing each of the American Studies programs that took place in Salzburg up until 2019. Ron served on the Faculty, or as Chair, of more than 20 American Studies programs. He also sat on the SSASA Advisory Board. In 2017, Ron and his wife, Gwili, created the Clifton Scholarship in American Studies to support an annual scholarship for participants to attend American Studies programs.

During Ron's visit to Schloss Leopoldskron in 2017 and as Chair of that program, he said, "Over many years the Salzburg Seminar has provided a forum - a neutral venue - for people to come and discuss openly ideas related to their country [and] the effect of America on them. They've been able to do this even throughout the Cold War. You can put together a mix of Russians and Georgians, and you can put Palestinians with Israelis, and there is open, free discussion with no animosities.

"What happens is people develop an alternative view to whatever they come with. They invariably are able to leave their politics at the gate and pick it up when they leave, but when they pick it up, it's different than when they dropped it off. You build just a fundamental basis of understanding between people cross-culturally. From my experience in the foreign service, that kind of public diplomacy [and] soft power [in the] long term is extraordinarily effective…. It's worth all the efforts to keep it going."

In 2018, Salzburg Global honored Ron by inaugurating the Ron Clifton Lectureship in American Studies to recognize his long service to the field of American Studies. While Ron was unable to attend in person, he did appear via video to receive the honor. Ron did attend the SSASA symposium in 2019, however, where staff celebrated him for his many accomplishments. In 2020, the COVID pandemic interrupted physical attendance, but Ron attended virtually with all of the other participants.

Ron's diplomatic assignments took him all over the world. His 25-year career in the diplomatic service included tours of duty in Calcutta, New Delhi, Tunis, Dublin, Brussels, London, and Washington, DC. In his public affairs and cultural positions in Europe and North Africa, among other duties, he promoted American studies working with professors, teachers, students, government, and community leaders. He always had time for inquiring minds, no matter the person's status.

Ron was Resident Scholar in India, lecturing and presenting throughout the sub-continent, making contacts and connections with students, professionals, and academic colleagues. At the many cultural events held at the American embassy or cultural centers of host countries, Ron hosted or co-hosted hundreds of programs and venues for visiting Americans.  

Host country audiences attended those events and met dignitaries, leaders, and professionals from many fields. Among those were: Arthur Miller, Inge Morath, Memphis Slim, Alexandre Haig, Randy Travis, Kirk Douglas, George H. W. Bush, Barbara Bush, John E. Blaha, Elias Friedenshon, Sally Ride, and many others.   

He served as Fulbright Chair in several countries. Ron was the founding director of the American Studies Division, USIA. Ron achieved the rank of Counsellor, Senior Foreign Service, and he received numerous Meritorious Honor Awards. Ron also was awarded several presidential citations honoring his distinguished career. Especially touching, both professionally and personally, were his presidential citations from several presidents, including Presidents Carter, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush.

In 1996, after leaving the diplomatic service, Ron was appointed Associate Vice-President at Stetson University, Celebration Campus where he served as the founding director of the new campus center. He was appointed adjunct professor in the American Studies Department of Stetson University, teaching courses relating to American culture, foreign policy, comparative studies, and America's impact abroad.

At the new campus in Celebration, Florida, Ron was responsible for professional development and promoting educators' use of best practices and technology in the classroom. In 2017, Ron received Stetson's Distinguished Service Award at Stetson's Homecoming Awards Ceremony to honor his academic and professional contributions and achievements.

Returning to Florida placed him in familiar surroundings as he had previously studied at Stetson University before entering the US Foreign Service. There, he had received a bachelor's degree in history, economics, political science, and a master's degree in American studies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in American civilization with a focus on qualitative methodology for comparative culture study.

Before his undergraduate university enrollment, Ron spent seven years in the United States Marine Corps, achieving the rank of sergeant. Ron served in Korea and was a Marine Security Guard in New Zealand. Ron received the National Defense Service Medal and a Good Conduct Medal in the service in his country.

Paying tribute to Ron, Marty Gecek, Chair, American Studies Program Advisory Committee, said, "The world has lost a giant of a man – a US diplomat, philanthropist, educator, and a scholar who was my cherished mentor and colleague for 26 years."

Stephen Salyer, President and CEO of Salzburg Global Seminar, said, "Ron was a true friend of Salzburg Global Seminar, a program pioneer and a generous supporter. We will all miss his conviction, creativity, and connection to this founding program he did so much to shape and nurture."

Staff at Salzburg Global wish to extend their thoughts and condolences to Ron's family and friends.

New Administration – New Commitment to Global Health?
Man displaying "Biden President 2020" banner behind his backPhoto by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash
New Administration – New Commitment to Global Health?
By: Andrea Feigl, Thomas Roades, and Erin Gregor 

As President Biden recommits to the WHO and the international community, Salzburg Global Fellow Andrea Feigl, Thomas Roades, and Erin Gregor - all of the Health Finance Institute - argue the incoming administration should invest more in the global fight for better health

While the new US administration is much-anticipated for many reasons, those of us in global health are eagerly waiting to see whether the new US will not merely rejoin the global community but ring in a new era of global health leadership.

In that vein, and as advocates for greater spending on the highest-burden diseases, we also have some ideas and hopes. What might the world expect from a renewed global outlook from the US administration? What should the world expect?

First, President Biden has already promised to "rejoin the WHO and restore [America's] leadership on the world stage." WHO's Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, congratulated President Biden and welcomed the opportunity to "reimagine leadership…to end the pandemic and address the fundamental inequalities that lie at the root of so many of the world's problems". Reestablishing US-WHO relations is a critical first step since the outgoing administration had frozen funding and began to "scale down its engagement with the WHO."

Second, joining the global effort towards an equitable vaccination strategy and eradicating COVID-19 at home and abroad will certainly be very high on the agenda.

However, one persistently neglected disease group – that of chronic diseases – ought to be a priority as part of any forward-looking global health strategy. COVID-19 --  all too painfully --- highlights that countries with the highest chronic disease burdens stand to suffer the most from infectious disease outbreaks, both in terms of health and economic impact. What's more, NCDs are the leading cause of death worldwide and account for over 70% of all global deaths each year. Efforts to combat these chronic diseases are chronically underfunded; just two percent of development assistance funding for health goes to NCDs. Therefore, as the incoming administration renews the US' commitment to the WHO and the global community at large, it should consider renewing and improving the country's commitment to fighting noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) as well.

The representation of chronic diseases on the US' global health agenda would be forward-looking and represent a clear break with past trends: historically, much more of the US' substantial contributions to global health were earmarked for communicable diseases, like HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. In fact, in the Kaiser Family Foundation's detailed breakdown of the US government's funding for global health in 2020, NCDs don't even merit their own line item – presumably, they're buried within the one percent of funding classified as "other."

US Government funding for the WHO is similarly skewed towards communicable diseases and the additional priorities of polio eradication and combating hepatitis. Again, NCDs are relegated to just 0.5% of US funding to the WHO, a mere $3 million.  

The US is uniquely positioned to turn this tide and shift attention and funding in proportion to the disease burden. As the WHO's top funder, the creator of the ambitious PEPFAR plan, and a core contributor to the Global Fund, the US has traditionally spearheaded trends on the global health agenda. Focusing on and committing to NCD programming and funding would help the US re-emerge as a global health leader once more.

Still, given the past two decades' focus on infectious diseases – is there reason to believe that 2021 will be the year of a broadening global health agenda? Indeed, the officials who President Biden chose for his transition team bode well for a renewed effort in combating NCDs, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

Leading the transition team for international development were Linda Etim, formerly of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and Elizabeth Littlefield, former head of what is now the US International Development Finance Corporation (USIDFC). Etim worked on development assistance funding to Africa during her tenure at USAID. As head of USIDFC (at the time known as OPIC), Littlefield worked to catalyze private investment from the US into LMICs to spur development. Before the Senate in 2013, she explained the importance of this work for "improv[ing] low-income families' access to energy, clean water, health services, and schooling." Both Etim's and Littlefield's track records suggest they will be well-suited to kickstarting efforts to re-engage the country in global health and development efforts.

The administration's most recent nomination in this field has been former UN Ambassador Samantha Power, who was nominated to be USAID Administrator on January 13. President Biden simultaneously announced that he would be elevating the position of USAID Administrator to a member of the National Security Council, in keeping with Power's experience in security work (including her time serving on the Council under President Obama). Power also has some experience working in global health, however, particularly during the Ebola epidemic – she convened the first-ever meeting of the UN Security Council focused on public health in response to that outbreak. We hope she will treat the slower moving but the far more deadly NCDs epidemic with similar urgency.

In 2021, President Biden also has the opportunity to appoint fresh talent to the WHO's Executive Board – another chance for the administration to signal its commitment to addressing NCDs. Under the Obama administration, Nils Daulaire filled the US seat on the Board. Daulaire has spoken to the urgent issue posed by NCDs several times, but as NCDs grow ever more deadly, rhetoric is no longer enough. The next administration's nominee to this position should be someone similarly aware of NCDs' urgent threat and someone who is ready to back those words with a financial commitment.

The new administration will require support from the legislative branch as well, as Congress has the power to set levels of funding for global health programs. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees, specifically, are closely involved in this process. The current Chairwoman of the House Appropriations, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), has historically advocated for treating global health as a higher priority. And following the Georgia runoff elections, in which two Democratic wins flipped the balance of power in the Senate, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is expected to take over as Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee from current Chairman Sen. Richard Selby (R-AL). Sen. Leahy spoke out against the Trump administration's withdrawal from WHO and even introduced a bill to block the move – perhaps an encouraging signal for his attitudes on the importance of US leadership in global health.

Though increased funding to begin to close the NCD financing gap would be a great start, turning the tide on this issue will take more than just a cash infusion. Any action the incoming administration takes should be sustainable and high-impact – the burden of chronic diseases is large and will not disappear overnight. The US has an opportunity to lead, but real change will require real cooperation. If the administration aims to address this issue, they should be thinking about the levers of international governance and multilateral organizations that can generate concrete action, like the UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office, or expanding the mandate of the Global Financing Facility to include chronic conditions, for example.

Given the raging pandemic and the global interconnectedness of each nation's response, as well as the associated health and downstream economic effects, the incoming administration will place significant focus on global health. However, we hope and advocate that the focus on tackling the infectious pandemic does not come at the detriment of addressing what's killing and affecting most people: chronic diseases, such as mental health, diabetes, cancer, lung disease, and heart disease - the 'other' global pandemic that has been too out of sight for too long.

This article was written by Salzburg Global Fellow Andrea Feigl, Thomas Roades, and Erin Gregor - all of whom work for the Health Finance Institute. The article and comments represent the views of the authors and not necessarily those belonging to Salzburg Global Seminar.

A New Era for American Studies
American flag in the grassPhoto: Aaron Burden/Unsplash
A New Era for American Studies
By: Louise Hallman 

Seven decades after the first American studies seminar was held at Schloss Leopoldskron, a new era dawns with the launch of the American Studies Program

Since its very beginnings in 1947 as the Salzburg Seminar in American Civilization, Salzburg Global Seminar has reserved a dedicated place for American studies in its programming. Once our sole focus before the organization started to expand its outlook in the 1960s and 1970s, the field of American studies continued to feature prominently, first as the American Studies Center between 1994 and 2001 and latterly as the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) since 2004. Starting in 2020, we will celebrate its major relaunch as the Salzburg Global American Studies Program.

A Long History

When the first session of the Salzburg Seminar in American Civilization was convened in the summer of 1947, the world was a very different place – as was the United States’ place within it. Europe had been devastated by two World Wars while America was thriving in a post-war industrial boom and taking an increasingly prominent place in the world – politically, economically and culturally – as the former colonial powers of Europe faded. 

To bring together bright young minds who were former enemies, the three founders of what became Salzburg Global Seminar – Austrian Clemens Heller and Americans Dick Campbell and Scott Elledge – chose the medium of American studies. In post-war Europe there was a keen interest and indeed fascination with anything related to American life and values. Co-chair of that first-ever session, literary historian F. O. Matthiessen, assured participants that “none of our group has come as imperialists of Pax Americana to impose our values on you,” and that the program would consider not only the strengths of American democracy, but also its “excesses and limitations.” 

Today, the US’ excesses and limitations have become abundantly clear: with its political deadlock, crumbling healthcare system, continuing racial strife and waning global influence, it is clear that America is no longer the shining city on the hill. This change at home and abroad has huge ramifications for the global order. It raises new questions for Salzburg Global Seminar, whose programs and networks now straddle 180 countries: does American studies still have a place at Salzburg Global Seminar?

The answer, of course, is an emphatic yes.

In these uncertain times, we believe there is no more trusted and important setting than Salzburg Globalto address critical issues confronting the United States and the future of the liberal international order. It is imperative to deepen global understanding of American culture, society and politics and to stimulate vibrant debate about the political, economic and social changes taking place in the United States and how these influence, and are influenced by, the rest of the world.  

A New Era

With the launch of the Salzburg Global American Studies Program, it is not only the name that is changing. New funding has been secured thanks to chair emerita of Salzburg Global’s Board of Directors, Heather Sturt Haaga and her husband Paul Haaga Jr., who have made a 10-year endowed contribution to support the future of American studies at Salzburg Global.

This incredibly generous gift provides a long-term foundation for bold programming that fully integrates American studies in Salzburg Global’s core impact goals, starting with a new three-year series that will look at the future of democracy, both in the US and beyond. The major three-year collaboration seeks to help shape a future vision for the United States and American studies in a radically changing world and will culminate in a special program to mark the 75th anniversary of Salzburg Global Seminar in 2022.

American studies at Salzburg Global have long attracted academics in diverse fields such as history, literature, cultural studies, the dramatic arts and political science, as well as practitioners in the fields of journalism and diplomacy. With this ambitious relaunch, the new program series seeks to broaden this diverse international community further with participation across academia, culture, media, civil society, government, business, law, and technology, bringing together practitioners and thought leaders from different generations and backgrounds, connecting researchers, teachers, artists, journalists, diplomats, entrepreneurs and politicians with a strong interest in strengthening democratic principles and practice. 

New program leadership will also be established following the retirement of Marty Gecek, who will remain involved as the chair of the newly named American Studies Program Advisory Committee. Recruitment for a new program director – based either in Salzburg or the US – began in spring 2020, but is currently on hold due to the COVID-19 crisis. The 2020 program will be led by Salzburg Global Vice President and Chief Program Officer Clare Shine. 

“We are more committed than ever to preserve the legacy of American Studies at Salzburg Global and to stimulate critical debate and foster cross-cutting understanding and innovation,” says Shine. 

A full program listing for the 2020 program is available online: Registration is now open.

Gaining the Trust of both Gen Z and Cyber Seniors
Dr Nicola Mann speaking at the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA)Dr Nicola Mann speaking at the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA)
Gaining the Trust of both Gen Z and Cyber Seniors
By: Nicola Mann 

Nicola Mann, associate professor of communications and visual cultures, examines how news outlets can counter the distrust of both their young and old consumers

The recent program of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture (September 2019), considered pertinent issues including the significance of truth and verification to current news production and consumption, as well as the role of the media in culture and democracy in the years to come. 

The issue of distrust in the media emerged as a pressing concern for participants, particularly as it pertains to Generation Z (defined as those born between 1997-2012). According to the international team of journalists, editors and political scientists present, we need to identify the unique ways in which this demographic seeks “demystified” news, building on this to prioritize civic intentionality via media literacy programs. 

Framed by high profile stories related to inaccuracy, bias, fake news, and alternative facts, a recent Pew Research Centre survey found that adults aged 18 to 29 possess comparatively low levels of trust in traditional media institutions. A 2018 Knight Foundation report, meanwhile, found that twice as many young adults (18 to 34) as older respondents said politically focused coverage or partisan bias was a factor in their lack of trust. 

Against this backdrop of distrust, participatory modes of news production position journalists and young readers as interchangeable forces on the front lines of truth-telling. As noted at SSASA, gone are the days of the “backseat baby,” a reference to children who grew up listening to singular news media outlets such as NPR in the backs of their parents’ cars. If news outlets wish to attract more young diversified audiences seeking raw, demystified information, they understand that they must engage in creative ways, oftentimes involving multi-dimensional storytelling that balances complexity with engagement. As one academic at SSASA asserted, “subjectivity matters more to them [youth audiences].” Examples include journalism outreach in the form of podcasts, news aggregators such as Reddit, and online forums such as The Washington Post’s “Live Chats” section. Stripped of the curatorial framing of a glossy CNN news story, on demand non-linear platforms highlight the internal subjectivities of young people – not simply those of the newsroom editor – thereby helping to chip away at the specter of lost trust.  

The urgent need to improve civic education in the form of the development of critical literacy skills in the young also emerged as a pressing concern at SSASA. As noted during one panel discussion, the timeliest research in the area of digital literacy operates via classroom-based discourse. The Washington D.C.-based News Literacy Project, for example, is a national education non-profit that works with educators and journalists to equip students in middle school and high school with the tools to discern fact from fiction in the digital age. The Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change, meanwhile, takes a similar approach to the building of digital literacy and news demystification. The ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and participate with media in all its forms serve as a strategy of resistance in a post-truth world. The prioritization of civic intentionality and the cultivation of critical thinking skills are at the core of these projects, making young people realize their role as active (not passive) users of news media.  

While the work of the News Literacy Project and The Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change advances media literacy in the young, older media users require similar educational support. Cyber Seniors, a program in Toronto, is a useful trailblazer in this regard, tackling the divide in media literacy needs among youth and seniors through an intergenerational program. As participants noted in the Q&A session at the symposium’s conclusion, if the promotion of media consciousness forms the core of our mission moving forward, how do “older” media users exercise their civic freedoms? As Americans approach the 2020 election, we must work to cultivate an ethos of media consciousness, giving both young and old active roles in steering new negotiated news media narratives. 

Nicola Mann is an associate professor of visual cultures and communications at Richmond, the American International University in London, UK. She is a Fellow of Salzburg Global Seminar, most recently attending the program The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture,of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) in September 2019. Mann wrote the report for the program, available here: 

The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends
The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends
By: Salzburg Global Seminar 

Latest report from the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) symposium now online to read, download and share

The USA has never had so many sources with which to inform itself and the world. But while the options of how to consume news are broadening, consumers’ views are narrowing. The rise of 24-hour TV news channels, hyperpartisan advertising and social media is widening cultural, political, and social divides in the United States.

In addition to its traditional communications goal of informing and shaping domestic and worldwide understanding, and alongside the three traditional branches of government – the executive, legislature, and judiciary – the media has become a more active and significant institutional political part of an increasingly polarized America. What does the future hold?

A new report explores the challenges faced by the media in America and around the world, summarizing the rich discussions and insights shared across the four-day program, The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends.

Download the Report as a PDF

For four days in September 2019, 49 media academics and educators, political scientists, journalists, communications specialists and Americanist generalists from 27 countries tackled the changing role of the media in American life and culture, exploring the past and emerging trends, at the 2019 symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) at Schloss Leopoldskron, the historic home of Salzburg Global Seminar.

The intensive symposium included thematic presentations and panel-led discussions by distinguished speakers and participants, as well as small in-depth discussion groups to maximize cross-sector interaction with everyone present. 

The report was written by Nicola Mann. Mann is an associate professor of visual cultures and communications at Richmond, the American International University in London. Informed by urban culture studies and community activism, her current research considers dominant visualisations of London’s Heygate council estate in light of recent regeneration efforts. Through analysis of television shows including Top Boy (Channel 4), Nicola addresses the ways in which the estate is mythologized in popular visual culture as a racially- and politically-charged site that deserves to be demolished. Nicola has contributed her work to a number of publications including Afterimage, Aesthetica, Invisible Culture, and she recently released an edited volume along with Charlotte Bonham-Carter titled, Rhetoric, Social Value and the Arts: But how Does it Work? (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). She holds a master’s degree in painting from the Royal College of Art, London, UK and a Ph.D. in visual and cultural studies from the University of Rochester, New York, USA. She is a Fellow of Salzburg Global Seminar.

The Life and Times of a News Bureau Chief in Washington
Elisabeth Bumiller speaking at the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA)Elisabeth Bumiller speaking at the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA)
The Life and Times of a News Bureau Chief in Washington
By: Mirabelle Morah and Oscar Tollast 

Elisabeth Bumiller, Washington bureau chief at the New York Times, discusses her career in journalism and day-to-day work

In her role as the New York Times’ Washington bureau chief, Elisabeth Bumiller’s day can start as early as five o’clock in the morning. The news never sleeps, and there are always overnight events for her to catch up on. By nine o’clock, Bumiller is in the office preparing for the morning news meeting. She joins her colleagues in New York via video link and outlines the bureau’s plans for the day. Forty-five minutes or so later, the meeting reaches a conclusion – for now. Following many questions and intense conversations, Bumiller has a firmer idea of what her day ahead may look like – well, at least as much as is possible in the life of a journalist at a major national news outlet.

As stories come in, reporters begin to file them. Some articles are put online before noon to catch the morning traffic. Bumiller may attend another small editors’ meeting about previously discussed topics, or she may go out for a working lunch with a colleague. By half-past two, she’s in touch with New York again. “I start getting calls from New York, or I call them saying here’s what we think is good for the front page… I’ll say, ‘This story is looking good,’ ‘This one’s not ready yet, but you should think about it,’ ‘This one is not going to work,’ ‘We’re holding this.’”

Bumiller will then start asking reporters for the tops of their stories. “I can’t pitch the story if I don’t know what you’re going to say. That’s a constant stress,” she said. By half-past four, there’s a bit more clarity. By then, barring any breaking news, staff know what will be on tomorrow’s front page, what stories matter for the web and which stories will need to be cared for overnight. 

“Between five and eight stories are coming in, and I don’t edit as much as I used to… but I often will just grab a story because we’re shorthanded or if there’s a story I want to edit…” explains Bumiller. “I usually leave sometime around 7.30 or 8 [pm]. That’s my day.” 

Life-long dream

Bumiller always wanted to write. Her uncle, Frank Cormier, a White House reporter for the Associated Press, appeared to have a “very exciting life.” That is what inspired Bumiller to pursue journalism, starting with her high school newspaper, the Walnut Hills Chatterbox. She then attended the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University – where she got her “real education” working for the Daily Northwestern. Her education continued thereafter at the Miami Herald and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. 

Upon leaving Columbia, she received a message to call Sally Quinn, a writer for the Washington Post’s style section. Would Bumiller be interested in covering events in Washington? “I ended up flying down to Washington right before I graduated, and I got the job,” Bumiller remembers. “My classmates all said… they wouldn’t have taken that frivolous job but, at the time, the Washington Post was the most exciting paper on the face of the earth.”

Bumiller joined the newspaper a few years after the Watergate scandal. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who did much of the original reporting on the scandal for the Post, were still in the newsroom. In her role, Bumiller covered events such as political fundraisers on Capitol Hill and parties at the State Department, but she was also able to write feature stories and profiles. She said, “I made it into a better a job.”

The role gave her a greater education on politics in the US capital. “The style section was really well-read… It was a great job. It was high pressure, actually… The idea was I wasn’t going to cover what people were wearing, I was covering what they were saying about politics and the news of the day.”

After stints in New Delhi, India and Tokyo, Japan (accompanying her husband, New York Times journalist Steven R. Weisman), where she continued to write for the Post as well as two books about the lives of women in each country, Bumiller joined the Times in 1995 as a metro reporter. She was later promoted to City Hall bureau chief before returning to the US capital as a White House correspondent on September 10, 2001. The next day’s infamous events dramatically changed the trajectory of her reporting from a domestic focus to an increasingly international one.

In her current role as Washington bureau chief, her primary responsibility concerns overseeing daily operations and leading all news coverage from Washington, domestic and international. Her breadth of experience in the media industry made her an appropriate choice of speaker for the latest symposium of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association – The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends.

“This seminar is fascinating because I am very interested in the perspective of people from around the world on media and journalism,” said Bumiller. “I was fascinated by the question from the gentleman… who asked why we [the media] couldn’t just join with the government. Oh dear, that’s not going to work in the United States!... 

“I was also interested in the question from someone who kept asking me, ‘Why don’t you feel pressure from the administration? Don’t you feel pressure from the White House and Trump?’…I kept on saying, ‘No’… I realized she didn’t necessarily believe me, but it’s just not a factor in the United States – at least not for my publication.”

Mistakes can happen in reporting, but Bumiller maintains the Times is a “very competitive place” with “really smart people” who believe in independent journalism and getting at the truth. “It’s also just been the privilege of a lifetime,” says Bumiller. “I’ve travelled a lot for the Times. I’m now working with people on their stories and on their careers… It’s a constant invigorating education, and I really do mean it’s a privilege.”  

The Changing Role of the Media in American Life and Culture: Emerging Trends features as part of the Salzburg Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA) multi-year series. You can capture highlights on social media using the hashtag #SSASA.