With Microsoft Windows logos plastered all over it, Lee Huebner’s 90s-era Citroen van doesn’t exactly blend in with the Smart cars that dash through the streets of Paris. But that doesn’t bother the new director of the School of Media and Public Affairs.
Soft spoken and pragmatic, Huebner chuckled when he recalled how his son won the van – which once chauffeured Bill Gates around Paris – in a raffle.
Minivans are not “in” on the Champs-?lyse?s. But beneath his quiet fa?ade, Huebner is a fairly well-known personality in Paris. His 14 years as publisher of the International Herald Tribune, one of the world’s leading newspapers, left him with deep friendships and strong professional ties to the City of Lights.
Over spring break, Huebner hosted 20 GW students for the International Media Seminar, and the parade of world-renowned journalists that spoke with the group illustrated that Huebner not only has connections, but he is also willing and eager to use them.
Participants in the seminar – the majority of which were SMPA students – heard presentations about the future of media from a broad range of journalists and media personalities including the former Washington Post Paris Bureau Chief, Time magazine correspondents and CNN’s Paris Bureau Chief, Jim Bitterman.
Huebner first conceived the idea to bring students to Paris in 1995 while serving as a professor at Northwestern University, and when he became SMPA director this fall, he brought the program to GW.
After nearly five years without permanent leadership, SMPA has seen Huebner hire three new professors, create a director’s advisory council of student representatives and take GW students to Paris for the seminar.
“I think that great things lie in store for SMPA with Professor Huebner as its new director. He knows anyone that’s anyone,” said journalism major Caitlin O’Connor.
Huebner’s connections criss-cross the globe, the result of an international career as a professor, publisher and presidential speechwriter. He established strong roots in Paris throughout his career and when his family moved back to the States over a decade ago Huebner and his wife kept their Parisian apartment.
Huebner jokes that “in life, you don’t lose cities, you just add them.” And he now splits his time between his homes in Washington and Paris, where he still serves on a number of boards and does consulting work.
However, Huebner is also is no stranger to GW. He began his professional career a few blocks away. After earning his undergraduate at Northwestern University and a doctorate from Harvard, Huebner moved to D.C. to serve as a speechwriter for the Nixon White House.
“My apartment was at 24th and Virginia. I used to walk through the GW campus everyday on my way to the White House complex, never dreaming I would be back 40 years later walking those same streets,” Huebner told The Hatchet in an interview in his Paris apartment.
As the storm clouds gathered over Washington during the Watergate scandal, Huebner left for New York, where he worked with a publishing company, a job that led him to move in Paris in 1979 to be publisher for the International Herald Tribune.
“That was the era when technology was making it possible to print in many places at the same time and to become a truly global newspaper. The word ‘globalization’ wasn’t used very much. We were sorting of inventing the concept. We were the pioneers in having the ‘world’s daily newspaper’ as we called it,” he said.
Huebner hopes to bring an international perspective to SMPA, evident by his emphasis in global media during the seminar.
“I think it is great that Lee brings an international perspective to the student body – that is vital today,” said 90-year-old photojournalist John Morris. The former photo editor of Life Magazine, the Washington Post, the New York Times and Magnum photo agency was one of the presenters during the seminar and is a good friend of the Huebner’s.
After leaving Paris in 1993, Huebner made his way back to Northwestern University, where he began his teaching career. He also served as interim president of the American University of Paris.
“I have often said that a newspaper is like an academic school, in that the students are the readers. They are the audience; they are the ones you have to serve in the end. They are the ones who pay – a lot – for the product.” Huebner laughed that he is, “used to being responsible for high priced products.”
“The Herald Tribune is one of the most expensive papers in the world and GW is one of the most expensive schools in the world. That is not necessarily a problem, it can be a sign of strength,” he said.
Despite his well-placed connections, Huebner remains notably low key, saying he spends his time focusing on students instead of hob-knobbing around the District.
“You have to think of the audience as your customers that you have to satisfy,” he said. “Readers renewing subscriptions to the newspapers are like students choosing to come back to the school.”