University News

Q&A with David Rohde ’90

News Editor
Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Rohde ’90, adjunct professor of English, spoke about investigative reporting and the future of online journalism last night. After the talk, he sat down with The Herald.


The Herald: What has it been like teaching? How has the transition been from working full-time to also teaching students?

David Rohde: Oh, I’m very impressed with the students and the creativity and vision of their stories. And it’s a learning process. I hope my teaching becomes as good as their ideas. ­


And this semester — working here as well as being a journalist ­— how is that different from your experiences working in the field?

It’s nice to be able to hear what young journalists are interested in and concerned about. And to have time to reflect on the state of journalism. 


Have you learned anything from those reflections?

That there’s ­— I mean, I’ll just be honest, I learned a lot tonight. The talk and the questions were all about the viability of journalism as a business. And I wished I had prepared a lecture more focused on that, to be honest. Because I think some organizations like ProPublica and the Atlantic and Reuters are doing interesting things. You know, expanding online in different ways, looking at different funding models. And I think there’s — no one has an answer yet, but many more organizations are trying. 


How does working as a full-time journalist influence your take on your job at Brown?

It helps me give students very practical advice. But I want to make sure that I encourage them also, and they should use this time to experiment with their writing and their reporting. I want to strike the right balance between their last semester as students and the real world that awaits them. I took only seniors — and there’s two graduate students. I’m trying to strike a balance, because there’s a creativity here, and that’s a very special thing. It should be relished in academia.


Is there any favorite part you have about being an instructor?

Oh, reading the students’ stories. The quality is wonderful — the ideas are wonderful. The creativity is wonderful. 


You touched a lot upon the idea of ground truth and going out into the field and really reporting and talking to people. If you can summarize in a few words ­— why do you think ground truth matters today?

There’s a danger that technology lets us pontificate without going out and finding out facts first. There’s a danger of less face-to-face human interaction that helps us bridge political divides. 


How do you think that kind of reporting fits into modern journalism?

I believe people will be drawn to original and compelling quality of reporting. The sea of information on the web will hopefully drive people to look for filters — reliable filters. In a way, journalists are more important than ever. People have so much information hurtling at them. 


And your own experiences — how do you think those have influenced your feelings about reporting or ground truth?

When you meet people in red states or blue states, on the ground they’re not red and they’re not blue. And if we don’t end these divisions, I really worry we won’t overcome our problems. 


And what kind of role do you think reporting will have in shaping that kind of unity?

I think that fact-based reporting plays a vital role in sorting out the false claims from extremists on both sides of the political debate. Now, it’s more important than ever.


If students took away one thing from tonight, what would you want it to be?

That great storytelling will be needed no matter what technological changes happen. That great ground reporting and storytelling will be needed no matter what. 


Do you have any advice for Brown students ­— maybe who are pursuing journalism?

Write. You may have to take jobs that aren’t the ones you dreamed of. You may end up in places you didn’t expect, but you may achieve more after a very rough start. You will be just fine in the end. You’ll find your way.


-Shefali Luthra

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