Honoring the legacy of Jim Leeson


Jim Leeson was kind, cranky, tough, intel- ligent, eccentric, curious and above all, a devoted mentor, according to accounts from the many students who admired him. Leeson, who died in 2010, served as the first consulting journalist at Vanderbilt Student Communications in the 1970s and 1980s.

This spring VSC unveils a new annual student prize and endowed journalism education fund to honor Leeson’s legacy.

Beginning this semester, The Jim Leeson Prize will be awarded annually to the student journalist at Vanderbilt University who best exemplifies the value of fairness and impartiality in reporting. Such reporting shows respect for all parties, especially on divisive and controversial issues, and a commitment to reporting facts as clearly, honestly, and thoroughly as possible.

The Jim Leeson Prize is open to all students at Vanderbilt University who report for any news outlet, on or off campus. Winners will receive a cash prize and have their names etched on a plaque that will be permanently displayed in the Sarratt Student Center.

To help preserve an environment where the journalism Leeson practiced and taught will continue to thrive, VSC has also designated funds to create The Jim Leeson Editorial Excellence Fund. Each year, more students arrive on campus with little-to-no experience in journalism. As the practice struggles to survive in a rapidly changing media industry, students often find VSC provides their first exposure to learning journalistic standards and ethics, interviewing and investigative techniques, writing and storytelling.

Revenue from The Jim Leeson Editorial Excellence Fund will support student training on and off campus utilizing staff and visiting professionals and alumni.

In his career as a journalist, Leeson wrote for the Associated Press in New York and Nashville. Later, Leeson was the editor of the Southern School News and the Race Relations Reporter, both funded by the Ford Foundation.

At a time of racial strife, these publications provided the most comprehensive and unbiased reporting on school desegregation and the civil rights movement. These publications remain models of fair, open-minded, and comprehensive reporting.

In his years at Vanderbilt, Leeson taught students the values of independence and fairness. Leeson believed in giving students the opportunity to “run their own show,” making mistakes along the way. But he always set high standards for reporting, with a particular emphasis on fairness, whatever the subject or controversy.

Leeson’s students went on to serve as writers, editors, and executives for a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Outside, Education Week, Bergen (N.J.) Record, Tampa Bay Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, Congressional Quarterly, and United Press International, while others have found a niche writing books and working in business, the law, philanthropy, and academe.

Tax-deductible contributions may be made to support the Leeson Prize 

and Editorial Excellence Fund by visiting supportvanderbiltmedia.org or by contacting Emily Maggart at emily.maggart@vanderbilt.edu.  


We need your support in continuing to honor Jim Leeson's legacy.


please give today!


Simply click here to use the online form and designate your gift to one or both of the Leeson Endowed Funds.

We need your support in continuing to honor Jim Leeson's legacy.


please give today!


Simply click here to use the online form and designate your gift to one or both of the Leeson Endowed Funds.

Recipes from the kitchen of James T. Leeson, Jr.

The Jim Leeson Prize permanent plaque is on display in the cafe atrium of Sarratt Student Center.