Coll, 54, will take over from Nicholas Lemann, who is stepping down at the end of the academic year after a decade at the school, the New York-based university said today in a statement.
Columbia President Lee Bollinger led the search for Lemann’s replacement. Coll, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, is a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine and president of New America Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute in Washington. He spent two decades as a foreign correspondent and editor at the Washington Post, serving as managing editor from 1998 to 2004.
“This is an era of experimentation,” Coll said in an interview. “A lot of institutions are being asked to think about journalism, and I have always thought a university is in a great position to practice journalism, try new models and resource serious reporting.”
Coll is the author of seven books including the Pulitzer- winning “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001,” published in 2004.
He also won a Pulitzer in 1990, with David A. Vise, for a series on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Coll graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles in 1980.
Student expenses are one of Coll’s biggest concerns, he said. The one-year Master of Science is estimated to cost $83,884, including $58,008 in tuition and fees, for the 2013-2014 academic year, according to the journalism school’s website.
“I want to assess our model and look at the value proposition for students -- that’s the first priority of any dean at a school like this,” Coll said.
At a time when many news organizations are shrinking staffing and cutting budgets as readers and advertisers move to online media from traditional news outlets, Coll said he’s “not a pessimist.” He’ll be looking at how Columbia, with its global reach, can help create new ways for “independent, in-depth, serious” journalism to survive, he said.
“Steve Coll is one of the most experienced and respected journalists of his generation,” Bollinger said. “Sweeping changes in digital technology and the global marketplace have created unprecedented challenges and opportunities for the news media that demand our constant reflection on the mission and substance of a modern journalism education.”
Under Lemann, the journalism school hired 20 full-time faculty members; built a student center; and completed its first capital fundraising campaign. It also created new initiatives in investigative reporting, digital journalism, business and science reporting, and executive leadership for news organizations.
The challenge for the new dean “is the same challenge we all face -- maintaining a tradition of excellence in an industry that is being radically restructured,” said Edward Wasserman, dean of the journalism school at the University of California, Berkeley.
Today’s graduates need to be able to work in almost any medium, rapidly shifting among technologies, styles, jobs and even sources of funding for their work, Wasserman said in a telephone interview last week.
“You have a faculty that trains students for a profession they have never really inhabited,” he said.
Columbia’s journalism school, founded by Joseph Pulitzer, opened in 1912 and administers the Pulitzer Prizes.
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