About our subject
Jeff Schmalz was a journalistic prodigy. He was hired by The New York Times while still a college student, and he was essentially running its metropolitan coverage by his mid-20s. From his crisply pressed trousers and shirts to his unerring sense of how to structure a feature story, he was a consummate Timesman. People in the newsroom speculated that someday he could be “on the masthead” – the list of the top editors on the world’s most important newspaper. All the while, though, Jeff was struggling with his identity as a gay man. He came out to many friends and peers on the Times, but he kept his sexual orientation secret from the newsroom management, the people who had control over his professional life. Under the executive editor A.M. Rosenthal, the Times newsroom of the 1970s and 80s was a homophobic place, and journalists known to be gay or lesbian were stalled or even demoted in their careers.
And now, 22 years after Jeff died at age 39, his contributions have been largely forgotten. “Dying Words” will restore his name and work to the annals of gay history and journalistic history.
About our project
The project has two parts – an audio documentary and a book about Jeff Schmalz. Both the documentary and the book will draw upon our extensive interviews, existing recordings of Jeff himself, and excerpts from his AIDS coverage. Over the past year, we have interviewed such major journalists as Anna Quindlen, Adam Moss, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., and Elizabeth Kolbert, as well as the AIDS activist Mary Fisher and the LGBT historian Eric Marcus. We have original recordings of Jeff’s interviews with Magic Johnson and Bill Clinton, among others. Our project has the full and enthusiastic support of Wendy Schmalz, Jeff’s sister, who is his closest living relative.
For “Dying Words,” we have assembled a team of highly accomplished journalists, producers, and designers. The project was initiated by Samuel G. Freedman, the author of seven acclaimed books, a professor at Columbia Journalism School, and a columnist for The New York Times.
Kerry Donahue directs the radio program at Columbia Journalism School and is an independent radio producer with more than two decades of experience. Her work’s been heard on PRX, WNYC, WBGO, Audible, and Marketplace.
Ben Shapiro is an award-winning radio producer and documentary filmmaker. His projects have aired on many NPR programs, PBS, and the Sundance Channel, among others, and include a documentary film about photographer Gregory Crewdson.
Kristofer Ríos is a producer with Univision Documentaries and a visual journalist at Fusion.
Chris Blomquist is a visual communications professional with thirty years of experience providing graphic design and marketing support to educational and non-profit organizations such as Columbia University, the University of Minnesota, and Minnesota Public Radio.
Tim Harper, a longtime journalist, author and editorial/publishing consultant, is a professor and writing coach at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, where he is the founding editor of the CUNY Journalism Press, which will publish “Dying Words” in paperback and ebook later this year.