Class of 1943
Fred M. Hechinger, the former education editor of The New York Times, was known as much for his advocacy of excellence in education as his prominence as a journalist, editor and publisher. In later years, he was actively involved in philanthropic efforts on behalf of education and youth programs, both at The Times and elsewhere.
Hechinger had already enjoyed an impressive career in journalism when he joined The Times in 1959. It began shortly after World War II. He wrote about education for The Times of London, The New York Herald Tribune, The Washington Post and Harper’s Magazine. He was also associate publisher and executive editor of The Bridgeport (Conn.) Sunday Herald and education editor of Parents Magazine. After coming on board at The New York Times, he created the special education sections, was a member of the editorial board and an assistant editor of the editorial page. In 1977, he was named president of The New York Times Company Foundation, which supported a variety of educational, cultural and community programs, and also headed the newspaper’s Neediest Cases Fund, filling those posts until he retired in 1990. After leaving The Times, he was appointed a senior adviser to the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Hechinger was born on July 7, 1920 in Nuremburg, Germany. When he was 16, he came to the United States and lived in New York. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, graduating in 1937, and was accepted at City College. He received his B.A. degree after attending classes at night, graduating in 1943, while World War II was still raging. Hechinger entered the U.S. Army and was stationed in London, where he served in military intelligence. He was discharged in 1947 and took courses at the University of London before beginning his journalism career covering Europe and the Middle East as a foreign correspondent for the Overseas News Agency. In 1948, he was appointed special consultant to the education and cultural relations division of the United States military government in Germany.
His interest in education helped him sharpen his journalistic skills. He said, “A country’s approach to education in general, and especially to its children, could tell more about its social, political and economic background than a whole battery of interviews with politicians.”
In 1950, he put those skills to use for The Herald Tribune, signing on as its education editor. At the same time, he was working as the U.S. correspondent for The Times of London’s Educational Supplement. In the mid-1950s, Hechinger was with The Sunday Herald in Bridgeport, Conn., and Parents magazine, prior to joining The New York Times.Hechinger was also the author of numerous books, including “An Adventure in Education: Connecticut Points the Way,” published in 1956, and “The Big Red Schoolhouse,” in 1959. With his wife, Grace, he wrote “Teen-Age Tyranny ”published in 1963; “The New York Times Guide to New York City Private Schools,”published in 1968; and “Growing Up in America,” a 1975 book. He received three separate George Polk awards, presented annually by Long Island University to honor outstanding accomplishments in journalism. The first was in 1949 for suburban reporting; the second was in 1950 for education writing. In 1989, he was honored with a George Polk Career Award for lifetime achievement. Hechinger also received a Townsend Harris Medal from City College in 1968 and a distinguished service medal from Teachers College of Columbia University, where an educational institute bears his name, and he was a founder of the Education Writers Association.
He died on Nov. 6, 1995 at the age of 75. A year later, aided by funding from the Carnegie Corporation, the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media was founded at Teachers College of Columbia University, where Hechinger was a trustee. Its goal: To equip journalists with the knowledge and skills required to turn out fair, accurate and insightful reporting. The Institute also turns out The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit news outlet that focuses on education journalism.