SJSU’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications faculty presented the distinguished 2019 William Randolph Hearst Foundation Award for Outstanding Professional Service to journalists Alexander Shebanow and Dan Rather on Thursday, November 14, 2019 in Yoshihiro Uchida Hall.
Professors Bob Rucker, a former CNN news correspondent and Hearst Award coordinator, and Dona Nichols, a veteran television news producer and assignment editor for NBC Bay Area, presented the award to the duo amidst a campus community and Bay Area media leaders.
This was the first time the School of Journalism and Mass Communications decided to honor journalists from across generations. The two honorees represent the bridging of several generations of journalistic instincts and critical thinking to produce a necessary and powerful public service in mass communications.
The 88-year-old Emmy Award-winning journalist Dan Rather first entered the national scene with his live, on‐site coverage of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas in November 1963. He went on to make extraordinary strides in the field of journalism.
More recently, Rather heads News and Guts, a company he founded that specializes in high‐quality nonfiction content across a range of traditional and digital distribution channels.
Shebanow, a 29-year-old award-winning filmmaker, who has been working on his directorial debut documentary feature for six years, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He attended Foothill Community College before finishing his studies at the University of Southern California.
Shebanow teamed up with investigative journalist Dan Rather for his expansive documentary exposé Fail State, which targets “predatory for‐profit colleges and worsening inequality in American higher education.” Rather served as its executive producer.
“News is something that the public needs to know that somebody, particularly some powerful person or force, doesn’t want the public to know. That is why I find this film and work not only so important, but so timely,” said Rather.
The film narrates the stories of low-income and minority students who talk about the emotional and financial stress they endured for failing to see through the scam recruiting trap and eventually enrolling in sham institutions. Shebanow skillfully chronicles the decades of policy decisions in Washington, D.C., to create a powerful political story filled with outrage toward stymied government reforms and inaction.
“We are so honored and humbled by this immense recognition and want to deeply thank the journalism school faculty at San Jose State for this award. As investigative journalists, we hope that our work can inspire other journalists to take on powerful forces and uncover the stories that need to be exposed,” said Shebanow.
Besides successful screening at several educational institutions, this hard-hitting exposé also premiered to packed houses at film festivals nationwide, garnering major press attention, awards and critical acclaim. Leading media outlets like The Los Angeles Times, The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal, among others, ran rave reviews and the film has since debuted to 30 million subscribers on STARZ cable and satellite TV network.
In 2019, Alexander Shebanow became a policy fellow and resident filmmaker at the National Student Legal Defense Network (Student Defense), where he investigates for‐profit college issues with a focus on amplifying student voices and strengthening student protections.