William F. Thomas Professor and Co-Director of the National Security Journalism Initiative
Ellen Shearer is the William F. Thomas Professor in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She also is co-director of the school’s National Security Journalism initiative.
Shearer was director of the Medill Washington Program from 2006 to fall 2012 and co-director from 1994 to 2006. She is president of the Washington Press Club Foundation, dedicated to promoting the roles of women and minorities in journalism.
In 2010, she and Lecturer Josh Meyer were editors for the first National Security Journalism Reporting project, Global Warning, in which 10 students investigated the national security implications of climate change. Their stories were published in The Washington Post and the project’s website compilation of the Post articles and other interactive stories was a finalist for an Online News Association award.
She led the news service’s Powertrips investigative projects in 2004 and 2006, which created databases of privately sponsored congressional travel as part of the reporters’ investigative series of stories; the initial project won an Investigative Reporters and Editors award. In 2008-09, Shearer followed up with the news service’s Pentagon Travel series, which created a database of more than 22,000 trips by Defense Department employees worth more than $26 million over a 10-year period that were paid by foreign countries, nonprofits, private firms and other private sponsors. The projects were undertaken in cooperation with the Center for Public Integrity and involved reporting by more than 100 graduate students.
In 2006, she was a leader in the News21 project on privacy and civil liberties post-9/11; those stories won a special National Press Foundation citation and were picked up by hundreds of newspapers and TV stations.
She also directed “Y Vote 2000: Politics of a New Generation,” a yearlong project in 2000 to cover the presidential campaign to engage young adults. She also led major reporting and research projects in 1996 and 2000 on why Americans don’t vote.
Prior to the start of the war in Iraq, she and Roy Gutman, now of McClatchy Newspapers, created, with funding from the McCormick Foundation, a new course called Covering Conflicts, Terrorism and National Security, which educated graduate students as well as working journalists on military strategy, conflicts, crimes of war, terrorism and other national security issues and which also provided hazardous environmental training to help journalists protect themselves in dangerous reporting assignments.
That course eventually led to Medill’s National Security Journalism Initiative, funded by the McCormick Foundation and Carnegie Corporation. The initiative, which she co-directs, educates journalism students and working journalists on how to better cover national security issues in innovative ways to better inform and engage citizens on these important issues.
In 2000 and 1996, Shearer directed the Washington program’s project, “No-Shows,” national polls of likely nonvoters that provided new information about the characteristics of nonvoters and revealed five distinct types of people who don’t vote. The polls were the foundation of two series, one in each election year,that ran in more than 30 newspapers through the Medill News Service as well as stories on more than a dozen TV stations. They were released to other media at National Press Club news conferences carried live on C-Span. Shearer and the survey were quoted by more than 200 media outlets, both print and broadcast.
In 1997, she led a team of 31 print and broadcast graduate students as they conducted a national poll of older Americans to determine how they differ from those under age 55. The poll was funded by the Newspaper Management Center and was the basis for a series of newspaper and TV stories, a nine-minute video documentary and a chapter authored by Shearer in an NMC workbook on how to create and use demographic information.
Shearer was the conference coordinator for the Reuters Foundation/Medill Washington Conference, which addressed the quality of information Americans receive from the U.S. news media concerning Russia and involved prestigious panels in Washington and Moscow hooked up via live videoconference.
She also was curator for the Mongerson Prize for Investigative Reporting on the News, which was based in Medill’s Washington newsroom, and is theMedill liaison with the Crimes of War Project and Military Reporters and Editors, both of which are based in the Washington newsroom.
She is co-author of the book “Nonvoters: America’s No-Shows,” has written chapters in six other books.
She is regularly serves as an accreditor for the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.
Since 1999 she has coordinated judging for the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual awards. She is co-chair of the Washington Press Club Foundation's internship committee, which has created a program to partner with news organizations to provide new, paid internships in Washington reporting.
Before joining the Medill faculty, Shearer, who has more than 20 years of experience in the news industry, was a senior editor at New York Newsday, a consulting editor at Newhouse News Service, marketing executive at Reuters, and held positions as senior executive, bureau chief and reporter during a 10-year stint at United Press International.
Shearer is a 1975 graduate of the University of Wisconsin with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism. She also has a master's degree from American University.
Teaching journalism is a responsibility to both the journalists and the audiences they serve. I strive to imbue students with the knowledge they need to report creatively and rigorously for their readers and viewers, who rely on journalists to provide the information needed to participate in a democracy. I also strive to provide the intellectual depth needed to tackle complicated topics such as national security and politics.
1325 G. St. NW, Suite 730, Washington, D.C. 20005
Washington Reporting – a full-time newsroom reporting class for graduate students to cover the federal government and national politics
Watchdogs in Washington – a seminar to accompany the reporting class that teaches students how to use documents and other sources of information to cover Congress and the federal agencies, including training in computer-assisted reporting438-3 Covering Conflicts, Terrorism and National Security –a seminar to provide journalists with knowledge about the U.S military, the theory of warfare, the rules of war, war crimes, the new U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine, efforts to do better at post-conflict operations and other issues390 Mobile Journalism in Washington – undergraduate newsroom reporting class involving coverage of Capitol Hill as a mobile journalist, filing updates from the field and then going deeper for enterprise reportingGlobal Journalism – two-week seminar to prepare students going on global residencies for coverage international affairsWashington, DC, Field Studies Program (School of Education and Social Policy) – practicum and seminar on public policy in Washington.
PROFESSIONAL PUBLICATIONS: BOOKS
Shearer, Ellen with Peck, Abe and Malthouse, Ed. Medill on Media Engagement. Creskill, NJ: Hampton Press. November 2010.
Shearer, Ellen and Pendleton, Michelle. “Correcting Media Mistakes” curriculum guide. 2005.
Shearer, Ellen. Chapter in “Communicating Politics.” New York, NY:. Peter Lang Publishers. 2005.
Shearer, Ellen. “Chapter 5: Best Practices” in The Learning Newsroom Handbook. Edited by Denton, Frank. American Society of Newspaper Editors. 2003.
Shearer, Ellen and Doppelt, Jack. Nonvoters: America’s No-Shows. New York, NY: Sage Publications, 1999.
Shearer, Ellen. “Chapter 11: Identity” in The Local News Handbook. Edited by Denton, Frank. American Society of Newspaper Editors. 1999.
Shearer, Ellen; Morris, Dwight; and Doppelt, Jack. “Chapter 1: No-Show ’96: Americans Who Do Not Vote,” in Engaging the Public: How Government and the Media Can Reinvigorate American Democracy. Edited by Johnson, Thomas J.; Hays, Carol E.; and Hays, Scott P. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 1998.
Shearer, Ellen and Morris, Dwight. “Chapter 5: Aging in America” in The Changing Reader. Edited by the Editorial Leadership Initiative of Northwestern University’s Newspaper Management Center. Evanston, IL: Newspaper Management Center. 1997.
Awards / Professional Organizations
Washington Press Club Foundation, vice president
American Society of Newspaper Editors
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
Committee of Concerned Journalists
Investigative Reporters and Editors
National Press Club