- Columbia University
- New York City
- Personal Website
Sylvia Nasar’s students learn to decipher corporate balance sheets, Fed statements and GDP data.
Professor Nasar is the first John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Business Journalism at the Graduate School of Journalism and co-directs an M.A. program for financial reporters with Bloomberg Professor James Stewart.
Professor Nasar is the author of the New York Times bestseller, A Beautiful Mind, that has been published in 30 languages and inspired the Academy Award-winning movie directed by Ron Howard (2001).
Trained as an economist, Professor Nasar was a New York Times economics correspondent (1991-1999), staff writer at Fortune (1983-1989) and columnist at U.S. News & World Report (1990). Her articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Newsweek, Times Sunday Book Review, Fast Company, London Telegraph. Her New Yorker cover story, “Manifold Destiny,” co-authored with David Gruber CGSJ ’01, was based on the only interview ever given by the reclusive Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman. Professor Nasar was the creative consultant for the American Experience documentary, A Brilliant Madness (2001) and edited The Essential John Nash (2001) and The Best American Science Writing (2009).
She is the recipient of many honors including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography (1998) and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for biography (1998). She has held visiting fellowships at the Russell Sage Foundation (2006-2007), the MacDowell Colony (2006), Yaddo (2005), the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton (2002-2003, 1995-96); and Kings and Churchill Colleges, Cambridge University (2000). She has served as a judge for the National Book Award, Anthony Lucas Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, Dow Jones Newswires, and SABEW and serves on advisory boards of the Teen Screen Program and the Alfred Sloan Foundation.
Nasar, who grew up in Germany and Turkey, earned a B.A. in literature from Antioch College (1970) and an M.A. in economics from New York University (1976). She was awarded an honorary doctorate from De Paul University (2005).
Her magnum opus, Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius (Simon & Schuster) was published in 2011.
The terms of the grant called for the chair holder to invent a business reporting curriculum for the 21st century, develop an interdisciplinary program involving faculty in other schools at Columbia, teach graduate students, and develop a course in 20th century economic history for Columbia College undergraduates. The Knight Chair would also be engaged in workshops for working journalists and reach out to a wider public through writing, public speaking and media commentary. The Graduate School of Journalism would create a Center for Economics and Business Journalism in which the Knight chair would play a leading role. (1998)
Personally engaged thousands of journalists, entrepreneurs, business students on economic issues in the US, Latin America and Europe through of public lectures to audiences ranging in size from 10 to 3000, workshops, classes, print, broadcast and online interviews, including in Spain, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Netherlands, and the UK; participated in the public debate about challenges to the U.S. and global economy.
Reached out to thousands of viewers/fans/followers via websites, videos and social media; launched sylvianasar.com; working with social media consultant to raise profile
Began to develop new courses including The Media and Neuroscience
Question-and-Answer with Knight Chair
State of the industry: What disturbs you most about journalism and the media industry today? What excites you most?
What disturbs me? The fact that fewer and fewer individuals—as opposed to corporations-- in the U.S. are willing to pay for quality news. Despite more than 2 million subscribers, the Wall St. Journal is not profitable. The New York Times’s firewall experiment is working better than expected, but not well enough to make up for the decline in print subscribers.
Excites me? The fact that more and more individuals—again, as opposed to corporations-- in Brazil, Chile and other former “developing” countries are willing… and also that some foundations in the US are supporting quality news in very targeted ways: In the case of the Brill Foundation, by creating competitive scholarships designed to attract top undergraduates to journalism, and, in the case of Sloan, with direct subsidies for science reporting positions.
Teaching the profession: What do you do to bring the newsroom into your classroom? How do your students learn about current journalism practices?
By reading, I hope, specifically close, critical reading and comparative analysis.
Actually, only a minority of our students actually devour the news day in and day out. Even fewer arrive at Columbia already in the habit of reading closely and actively enough to find story ideas in the news, i.e. to spot unanswered questions or alternative narratives.Those that do read have the best shot at a significant career in journalism so I try hard to encourage all of my students to follow their example. If journalists don’t follow the news, how can they expect to cultivate an audience?
Media Innovation: Do you think journalism programs should keep up with the quickening pace of change in the industry? How can they? What is your approach?
Of course! It’s vital for journalists to understand the changing economics of the media industry. Analyzing merger, acquisition, restructuring and exit activity is a terrific way to get a handle on the competitive landscape. In the second semester of our MA program in business journalism, Jonathan Knee at Columbia’s Graduate School of Business, co-author of The Curse of the Mogul: What's Wrong with the World's Leading Media Companies (2009) and chairman of the Columbia Media Forum, to which the CEOs of most New York-based media companies belong, teaches the core business reporting seminar with Bloomberg professor Jim Stewart. They have our students analyze and compare the financial performance of several media companies each year.
Nominee, Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, UK
Spears Financial History Book of the Year Award, UK
Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science and Technology
Honorary Doctorate, Niagara University
The History of Economic Progress in Four Minutes, 321FastDraw
Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius, Simon & Schuster, September, 2011 and September, 2012. Also UK, Germany, Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Israel, Brazil, Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, Portugal.
“The Firm, the Entrepreneur, and the Modern Revolution in Living Standards,” William Baumol, editor, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia: APS, 2012.
“By the Book,” NYTBR, August 12, 2012
“Economic Lessons and the Danger of Oil-Funded Handouts,” Arabic Knowledge@Wharton, March 5, 2012, http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/arabic/article.cfm?articleid=2791
“Keynes: The Sunny Economist,” New York Times Sunday Review, 9/17/2011
“Hayek Keynes and How to Prevent Economic Crises,” The Beautiful Minds that Created Modern Economics Series, www.Bloomberg.com, 9/12/2011
“Fisher, the Crash and the Economics of the Whole” The Beautiful Minds that Created Modern Economics Series, www.Bloomberg.com, 9/11/2011
“Keynes, Schumpeter and the Great Post-War Mistake,” The Beautiful Minds that Created Modern Economics Series, www.Bloomberg.com, 9/8/2011
“Webb Churchill and the Birth of the Welfare State,” The Beautiful Minds that Created Modern Economics Series, www.Bloomberg.com, 9/7/2011
“Marx, Marshall and the Reckoning,” The Beautiful Minds that Created Modern Economics Series, www.Bloomberg.com, 9/6/2011
“Paul Anthony Samuelson’s Grand Pursuit,” the Milken Review, Fourth Quarter 2011
“Preface” to Marina von Neumann Whitman, The Martian’s Daughter: a Memoir (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 2012, forthcoming).
For media interviews and profiles, see Lexis-Nexis and Google News.