Hedrick Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has covered stories such as the Vietnam War, the civil rights struggle and the Cold War spoke about his experience as a journalist and gave advice to the aspiring civic activists in the room in an event yesterday.
The talk, entitled “Media For Democracy: Journalism Then + Now in American Politics,” began with an informal lunch and culminated with a question and answer session between Smith and the audience.
The event, which was sponsored by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life as well as the political science department, was held in the Rabb room at Tisch College. Approximately 50 students, faculty and community members attended the talk. Julie Dobrow, a senior lecturer and a senior fellow at the Tisch College of Civic Life, moderated the talk.
A graduate of Williams College, Smith started the talk by stressing the benefits of intercurricular studies and a liberal arts degree.
“There could not have been better training than a liberal arts training because of the breadth of subjects,” Smith said.
Smith went on to give advice to the students in the room who were aspiring to make change.
“Express yourself clearly,” he said. “If you learn how to do that, then that is a skill you are going to take with you no matter where you go, no matter what field you go into.”
Smith lamented the state of American media today during the event. Having covered stories about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Vietnam War, he said he understood how the quality of American media has declined due to new capitalistic goals of the government.
“The media is shortchanging American politics by not sharing the story of civic life, civic engagement and civic action,” he said.
After the talk, Smith showed part of his latest journalistic project, an investigative film entitled “Winning Back Our Democracy” that aims to uncover the flaws in the American political system today and show how the public is reacting. Through this project, Smith said he hopes to stress the importance of rebellion and taking action against a democratic system which he believes is broken.
After the short film, Smith engaged with the audience in a question-and-answer session. When one student expressed her concern about misinformation in the media, Smith delivered his advice to upcoming journalists: to be curious of every bias and every perspective of an issue.
“I cover America the way I cover a foreign country,” he said.
In order for him to do this, Smith said, he must venture from the capital of the country and hear from everyone else in society.
Ella Fasciano, who is interested in pursuing a career in journalism, came to the event because of her interest in civic engagement.
“I really wanted to learn about how he connects to people and how you can create more trust in this journalistic age,” she said.
Fasciano, a first-year, is taking a course at Tisch College which allowed her to understand and connect with the topic of the discussion.
“I really loved it,” she said. “I really liked that he had historic perspectives that spans 80 years of the different changes in media over time.”
Fasciano was also inspired by Smith’s advocacy for understanding perspectives in society in order to uncover the full scope of a story.
“People aren’t trusting the media when they’re not seeing themselves in the stories and that is something that I could do something about in the future,” she said.
Smith ended the discussion with a call to action on the part of the students.
“If for God’s sake you are studying civic life, keep going, get involved, learn more, we need you. Not tomorrow — yesterday.”