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Philanthropist's goal: Promote local journalism, train student journalists with $10M gift to FIU

A woman in blue shows a picture frame with two other people.
Samuel Larreal
FIU Caplin News
FIU President Kenneth A. Jessell (left) and Lisa Hogan (right), the general counsel for Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, honor producer Lee Caplin (middle), at a ceremony celebrating a donation of $10 million to the newly named Lee Caplin School of Journalism & Media at Florida International University.

Philanthropist, movie and television producer Lee Caplin, who with his wife, has donated $10 million to the newly named Lee Caplin School of Journalism & Media at Florida International University, said he chose to contribute to FIU — among the largest single gifts to a state university communications program — because of its diverse students and faculty, and to fund the training of the next generation of journalists at a time when local journalism is in crisis.

Speaking Friday morning at FIU's Biscayne Bay campus at a ceremony to celebrate their gift to FIU, Caplin said he met some of the nation’s most well-known journalists — Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and Daniel Schorr — as a teenager when his father, Mortimer Caplin, served as the Internal Revenue Service commissioner in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He recalled being so impressed with their integrity and determination in uncovering the truth in their stories.

He said he’s concerned about the future of local journalism because of the disappearance of so many newspapers and so many layoffs of journalists following the rise of social media and the internet.

“Print media has shrunk and subscriptions have gone down,” said Caplin. “And my conclusion was that they're not really addressing local needs,” he said.

Indeed, the U.S. has lost one-third of its newspapers and two-thirds of its newspaper journalists since 2005. An average of 2.5 newspapers closed each week in 2023 compared to two a week the previous year, a reflection of an ever-worsening advertising climate, according to a Northwestern University study issued Thursday. Most are weekly publications, in areas with few or no other sources for news.

In an interview last June with FIU student journalists, Caplin explained why journalism's role in our society is so crucial: “In my view, telling the truth is not shaping it in a way that builds an audience, it’s shaping it in a way that tells the truth."

Caplin’s gift was made to FIU’s College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts, or CARTA, to establish Lee Caplin School of Journalism & Media. It will support the school’s commitment to inclusivity (86% of students identify as a minority) and prepare “career-ready,” multilingual (English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole) professionals in the fields of journalism, digital media, animation, broadcast media, and film. The money will also go toward student scholarships and financial assistance.

It also will boost the journalism school’s award-winning multilingual Caplin News, the school’s flagship news outlet written and produced by its students and faculty. It has news bureaus in Miami and Washington, D.C.. Caplin News is also a news partner with the WLRN newsroom. Caplin News on Friday unveiled its new app available in the Apple app store and elsewhere.

“Mr. Caplin’s historic gift will have an extraordinary impact on FIU and fields of study that are vital to our democratic society,” said FIU President Kenneth A. Jessell in a statement.

“This is an historic day for FIU and the Caplin school,” said CARTA Dean Brian Schriner on Friday. “FIU is going to be at the forefront of journalism and media education.”

Caplin, who moved to South Florida seven years ago, is executive producer of Sony Pictures’ Academy Award-nominated feature film, Ali, and producer of HBO’s multi-Emmy award-winning television series True Detective. His book, The Business of Art, is a three-time international bestseller. He is a co-founder of the Penske Media Corporation, which owns Variety magazine, Rolling Stone magazine, The Robb Report, Womenswear Daily magazine and 20 other entertainment brands.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Sergio Bustos is WLRN's Vice President for News. He's been an editor at the Miami Herald and POLITICO Florida. Most recently, Bustos was Enterprise/Politics Editor for the USA Today Network-Florida’s 18 newsrooms. Reach him at sbustos@wlrnnews.org
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