History and Culture Musings

Video: Carl Bernstein discusses ‘How to Be a Great Journalist’

I love this video. Carl Bernstein, a retired journalist and one half of the “Watergate Duo”, discusses what it takes to be a great journalist. With great wisdom and clarity, he shares some of the unchanging principles that need to be present for journalism to be journalism (at least in the traditional sense). He says some brilliant and wise things (see quotes below). For now, watch the video. It’s only 7 minutes long.

“To be a great journalist, be a good listener.”

“The real purpose of journalism is to illuminate what is real, you know, real, existential truth. What’s going on around us. That’s not sensationalism. That’s not manufactured controversy. It’s about context.”

“[As a journalist] Give people a chance to answer your questions. Don’t hammer them with your preconceived ideas. So much of our journalism is about that and reporters have become lousy listeners. If you sit there and you wait long enough, people want to tell the truth actually if you give them the chance.”

“I love to find out what people want to tell me. Let them dictate the conversation.”

“As journalists we are not prosecutors. We go where the information takes us. Prosecutors have a different function.”

“Seek the best obtainable version of the truth. That helps keep you fair and judicial. Not judicious.”

“The best obtainable version of the truth doesn’t exaggerate one aspect of our culture over another. For instance – the sensational; fame. Most people aren’t famous but there’s this great desire in our culture to be famous. It’s an important thing to write about but at the same time, we need to write about how most people live. We need to write about what’s really going on among human beings and the institutions they interact with.”

“Journalism ought to be fun because you are examining the human condition. That’s fun!”


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