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Brave New Digital World

A new director works to transform the Murrow Center into a global player, speeding the pace of discovery

Edward Schumacher-Matos, F73, learned about newspapering from the best and the brightest: While at Fletcher, he took a course with the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist David Halberstam. It was one of those chance encounters that launched a career.

Halberstam introduced him to the legendary editor of the Boston Globe, Tom Winship, who suggested he gain some reporting chops at a local paper. Schumacher-Matos started working part-time for the Quincy Patriot Ledger, a regional paper on Boston's South Shore, covering school and planning board meetings and the annual town meetings where the simple act of raising a hand approves multimillion-dollar budgets. "I really loved it," he says.

He went on to share a 1980 Pulitzer Prize as part of the Philadelphia Inquirer team that covered the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident. He is a former Madrid and Buenos Aires bureau chief for the New York Times, associate publisher of the Wall Street Journal's Americas editions in Spanish and Portuguese, and ombudsman for the Miami Herald and, until last year, for National Public Radio.

He's come full circle now, returning to the Fletcher School as director of the newly renamed Edward R. Murrow Center for a Digital World. His latest assignment: transform the center into a global player in how the proliferation of information is altering international relations.

Aided by a generous gift, Schumacher-Matos wants the center—inaugurated 50 years ago by Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey to honor its namesake's distinguished career in journalism and leadership of the U.S. Information Agency—to be the leading voice in analyzing how the digital age can give rise to democracies or plunge the world into chaos.

"Just as Murrow himself was very much a leader, first in the possibilities of radio journalism and then in television, we think the center should become a leader in the digital era," Schumacher-Matos says.

The center has all the buzz of a startup, with new ventures such as the TEDx-style Fletcher Ideas Exchange, which helps students develop public diplomacy skills.

This summer, the center and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars are hosting a roundtable discussion in Bogotá, Colombia, that will bring together digital rights experts to design model Internet laws in Latin America. "Digital rights are starting to be seen as a human rights issue," says Schumacher-Matos. "Laws that give people the right to Internet access are viewed by many as essential to economic development."

There are now more than 7 billion mobile device subscriptions worldwide, up from 738 million in 2000, according to the U.N. International Telecommunication Union. Internet use has increased sevenfold since 2000, to more than 3.2 billion people, 2 billion of whom live in developing countries.

Schumacher-Matos wants to put the Murrow Center smack in the middle of this digital revolution by developing an online, interactive news platform in conjunction with media outlet partners in India and China. "I see it as a global understanding project," Schumacher-Matos says. "The whole idea is that by opening up each other's markets to each other's voices, we will contribute to understanding, and, over time, we hope good things will come from it."

Other good things in the works are a schoolwide research initiative, Cyberspace and World Order, which will identify how Fletcher can best contribute to a digital and unified cyber strategy, and support faculty and student research in this emerging field.

The Murrow Center is taking a comprehensive approach to addressing the "extremely high student demand" for communication skills, too. Schumacher-Matos teaches editing and op-ed writing for Ph.D. students and editors of student journals.

He is characteristically upbeat about what's next for the center: "We'll keep building it, and hopefully continue to get more financing to support it."