Memories of Joel Brinkley

Joel Brinkley

Joel Brinkley

The Stanford community mourns the passing of Joel Brinkley, who died on March 11, 2014 at Sibley Hospital in Washington, DC. From 2006 to 2013, he taught journalism classes in Stanford’s Department of Communication. A Pulitzer prize-winning reporter noted for his international coverage, he taught hundreds of Stanford students about investigative journalism, foreign correspondence, and public affairs reporting.

Read more about his life and work

Remembrances of Joel Brinkley

Derek Belch

Joel, you were single-handedly the reason I applied to the Graduate Journalism program in 2007. It was one of the best decisions I ever made in my academic journey. I am incredibly thankful for your time and enthusiasm as a teacher of the fundamentals of journalism – reading, writing, and reporting – skills that are quickly deterioriating among today’s generation of students and businesspeople. My prayers are with your family at this most disappointing time. May God bless you in heaven.

Jay Hamilton

Joel loved to write, especially stories about the exercise of power and often about policymaking abroad. Readers will miss his insights, and colleagues will deeply miss his ability to convey the excitement and importance of public affairs journalism.

Ruth Bram

Joel Brinkley was a fantastic professor, and he absolutely loved what he taught. Sending thoughts and prayers to his family. He will surely be missed.

Lindsey Hoshaw

I took a class from Joel when I was a grad student at Stanford from 2008-2009. It is still one of the most memorable classes and the things he taught me are techniques I still use today as a reporter at KQED. He even edited my very first New York Times article and continued to provide mentorship after I left the university. Future Stanford journalism students will miss the opportunity to work with and learn from an incredibly talented reporter. My heart aches

Janine Zacharia

I am shocked by this news. I met Joel in the mid-2000s when we were both working as diplomatic reporters covering Condoleezza Rice. We traveled everywhere from Haiti to Iraq to Juba, South Sudan together and for the past three years were colleagues here at Stanford. He never shied away from asking the toughest questions of those in power. He loved writing about the world and his more recent foreign affairs column allowed him to bring his reporting skills and observations to a wide audience. A terrible loss.

Kathryn Roethel

Joel was always able to capture classes’ full attention when he told stories of his days reporting on the policy and power of Washington D.C. He encouraged his student reporters not to be afraid to ask big questions of powerful officials. It’s a skill that I know has served all of us well! Sending my very best thoughts to Joel’s family today.

Glenn Frankel

Joel was one of the most rigorous and demanding colleagues I’ve ever known, yet also one of the most generous and supportive. He was also an incredibly loyal friend. I think the key to Joel was his idealism—he believed in fairness and social justice and he’d get angry whenever he saw corruption, whether moral, institutional or financial. This is what drove his journalism and his teaching. He also had a fine sense of humor. On a walk through the hills above Palo Alto one day, we talked about our fathers. Mine was a TV repairman, while his was a world-renowned TV journalist. “They were in the same profession,” he said with a smile. We can all be proud of being in the same profession as Joel.


Thinking about that half smile he gave when you challenged him…

He enjoyed bringing the best out of all of us.


The author Jorge Luis Borges once said there are only four stories to tell: a love story between two people, a love story between three people, a struggle for power, and a voyage. Joel Brinkley spent most of his life telling the last two types of stories. His investigative reporting was finely attuned to the Byzantine power struggles that occur on the local level. His foreign reporting was so incisive and richly detailed it seemed as though he had lived there— Jerusalem, Cambodia, so many other places— all his life, although of course he hadn’t. One could say his greatest talent was making his local reporting seem like foreign reporting and vice versa. He also understood the impact of anecdote perhaps more than any other professor I’ve encountered. I learned so much in his Public Issues class, but my fondest memories of that course were the times he would regale his students with some nearly-unbelievable tale of his journalistic adventures and we would sit there, still, rapt and silent. It is a great shame that future generations of students will not be able to benefit from Joel’s consummate reporting skills and professional mentorship. Perhaps an equally great shame is that he cannot tell us the story about the voyage on which he has so recently embarked, one we will all someday join. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Nicole Perlroth

Joel was my graduate advisor, a mentor and my friend. He taught me to cut the “throat clearing”, get right to it in the lede, and ditch the impassioned prose. “You have enshrined the oyster company,” he once said of a pitch I gave him. “I am ready to put them up for sainthood! No story is as one-sided as that and even if it were, you need to take a more dispassionate view of the debate.”(And boy was he right). He taught all of us to ask the tough questions and to get a thick skin. He devoted an entire class I will never forget to reading the hate mail he received during his New York Times post in Jerusalem, just to give us a taste of what we were in for. I think of that class often, especially now in my current stint at the Times, where hate mail is never in short supply. When I get a good one, I think of Joel reading those letters and ask myself: WWJBD? I will miss him terribly.

Jenna Colley D’Illard

He passed out a copy of a hand-out to our graduate student class about the “basics of writing” because he said our first stories were really that bad…classic. I think it was written for 8th graders. But he also was very loving and tender to me when my grandmother passed away and I had to miss class to fly home to Texas and supportive when my best friend gave birth to her first child and I dropped everything to make it to Southern California for the delivery. He understood what was important…

Kelsey Williams

He taught us what it takes to be a journalist and not just a writer. My condolences to his family.

R.B. Brenner

Joel was an outstanding journalist whose love of the craft, enthusiasm when pursuing a story, and passion for global affairs never waned. My thoughts are with Joel’s family and friends.

Vignesh Ramachandran

He taught us how to ask the tough questions and about the important role a journalist has in holding government accountable. Joel’s passion for journalism was always clear. My sincere condolences to Joel’s family.

Cliff Glickman

Joel was the kind of professor who would start an after-class conversation about Middle East politics, or the role of lobbying in America, and before you knew it, it was an hour later and you were running late for your next class. He was not only knowledgeable, but also a fun person to debate with- especially if you were talking about his beloved Tar Heels. He made an effort to keep in touch with me, even after I left journalism, and was always ready to do whatever he could to help me. He was the true definition of an educator, and I’ll always value not only his mentorship, but also his friendship.

Poornima Weerasekara

Joel was a passionate journalist, a great-mentor and one of my role-models. He always brought out the best in each of his students. I’ve seen many journalists become jaded with the world, after having seen its dark-underbelly. But Joel was different. He was an idealist, who never really ceased to believe that real journalism could make an impact in the world. I also remember with gratitude, how he went out of his way to help me, when I first came to the US as an international student. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Dan Walker Smith

Sad news. Joel was a passionate advocate of truth and the value of good, tough journalism. There aren’t many like him.

Laura Liu He

Really shocked by the news. I talked to him several months ago and was looking forward to hearing more about his new adventure. It was so sudden and so sad. Joel was not only an incredibly talented journalist, but also a great mentor and friend. I’m deeply grateful for everything he taught us at Stanford about reporting, writing, investigative journalism and public policies, as well as his exciting stories as a foreign correspondent. He will so terribly missed by us. My deepest and sincere condolences to his family.


Prof. Brinkley was tough and fair-minded and really passionate about impact journalism. He always pressed students to make their projects meaningful and ask tough questions – he gave authority figures no slack. It’s hard to believe he’s gone, but I know he’d be happy to see how many people remember him.

Michael V. Marcotte

As a Knight Fellow, I enjoyed sitting in on Joel’s class. It offered an historical overview of journalism in the past century… and what was fascinating is that he was on the front lines living much of it! Shocked to hear of his passing. My sympathy to family and friends.

Ted Glasser

Joel brought to the classroom a wealth of experience and wisdom. He stood for the enduring values that continue to distinguish good from bad journalism. His legacy includes the many lives he touched.


Couldn’t agree more about his values. If only the current media landscape featured more journalists that held themselves to as high of standards as Prof. Brinkley did with us, his students.


Professor Brinkley was never afraid to drive home the hard lessons — the pushback we’d get in reporting, considering the motives of each source carefully. He made us all better reporters for it.

Laura R

Professor Brinkley had an incredible impact on my Stanford education, and encouraged me to find passion and purpose in writing for the Stanford Daily, and other publications throughout college. He was a warm, challenging and engaging professor who inspired students to push for a quality of investigating and reporting that is all together rare. I am so grateful to have known him, and my thoughts are with his family.

Tom Burkhart

Wow, am I shocked. I have wonderful memories of Joel as we walked through the jungles in Vietnam. He was a wealth of information and always willing to share it with anyone who had a question. I asked him if he felt safe going to Cambodia with the scathing book he had written about the hopeless leadership. He was very confident he was safe as were the rest of us. I have some great pictures with Joel particularly the one where the two of us are sitting on thrones with appropriate headgear, ha! You will be missed but your literature will be with us forever. Rest in peace and may God be with you. Tom Burkhart, fellow Stanford traveler

Roz Stubenberg

I’ll always remember Joel saying that he was surprised that Cambodia kept letting him back in, and wondered when they were going to rip his visa out of his passport. It was a great trip with him, and his knowledge of the area was vast.


Whilst trying to put together a grant application to go to Cambodia, I e-mailed Joel out of the blue and asked for some advice. He took the time to meet with me, – a rarity these days – and was extremely helpful and generous. I met him but once, but was impressed by his kindness to me and am saddened to hear the news.

Kathleen Carmody Williams

Joel was the faculty leader on the Stanford Alumni Association Travel/Study program, 2013 Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. I was the staff tour manager and there were 32 Stanford alumni and friends of the University in the group. Joel’s lectures to us, his daily interactions at meals and on walkabouts through museums and jungles and beaches and villages were filled with interesting information, decided opinions, and engaging stories. We were together for almost three weeks, and Joel’s references to his wife and daughters throughout the trip brought them to life for me. I am so sad he is gone–for their sakes, and selfishly, for all of us who are left without his unique dedication to the causes of justice throughout the world.

Alexei Koseff

Joel pushed his students harder than anyone. He never settled; we were made to ask the tough questions and rise to his expectations. He was a tough man and a tough journalist—there’s no doubt we all learned a lot from that. My thoughts are with this family.

Telly Halkias

My column on Joel came out today in the Portland Daily Sun and this seems the correct forum in which to share it. I opted the intimate route. Thank you all at Stanford for remembering Joel from the trenches of life.…

Michael Wilkerson

Professor Brinkley was a good instructor, generous with his time, and always happy to go beyond the classroom. His shrewd direction of class discussions and willingness to wait out long silences showed why he was such a successful interviewer in the field. I will miss being able to email him, years after graduation, knowing he will give a thoughtful and generous response.


Professor Brinkley always made time for his students — whether it was a stern note instructing you to come discuss a lackluster assignment with him after hours, (maybe that was just me?) or simply opening his office door whenever you dropped by unannounced years after you had graduated.

His spirit of squeezing every last ounce of potential out of his students always will remain with me, as a professional and a person. As many folks have noted here, Prof. Brinkley’s legacy of highly demanding tutelage will be an everlasting inspiration to us all (his students) and the Stanford Dept. of Communication.