On Monday, Oct. 3, I interviewed Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Executive Editor David Shribman. Last Thursday, Shribman visited UNH and spoke about the history of American politics and its relation to the 2016 election. I talked to him about politics, journalism and success.
Edited for length and clarity.
TNH: You’ve been a successful journalist for several decades now. I’m wondering, what keeps you going as a journalist on a day-to-day basis?
Shribman: I am dedicated to our profession and have a natural interest in the news. Even since I was a little kid I was interested in the news. I was a paperboy when I was 10 or 11. Whenever I delivered the paper, I read the paper. I’ve always been interested and this is nothing new.
TNH: What are some of the basic qualities a journalist should have?
Shribman: The greatest asset a journalist can have is curiosity. Without curiosity, you might as well forget it. I always think that it’s important to have some intellectual background to draw upon while you’re doing your journalism. You should know some history, you should know some literature, you should [know some] economics, political science, and you should probably know religion as well. Those are very important to have in your background as you talk about a changing world.
TNH: Do you have any advice for students graduating right now who may not feel comfortable about their job prospects? Advice for liberal arts majors?
Shribman: First of all, you have to remember there have been hard times before. I graduated at a very hard time. We were all worried about getting jobs. So this isn’t something that’s unique to you guys. There’s always going to be need for people with those [liberal arts] kinds of skills. People who can assess a situation quickly, accurately, and in a way others will find engaging. There’s always going to be need for that. So whether it’s a newspaper or some other form, that need is always going to need to be there. Those skills are always going to be valuable. You’re always going to be able to earn a living using them, so I would not despair.
TNH: Has your writing changed over the past decades? With new people like Donald Trump coming onto the scene, has that changed your writing at all?
Shribman: It really hasn’t changed. I’ve always looked at things this way. Politics can change and your outlook has to change with the changing world. Generally speaking, what we do and how we do it is unchanging. I’ve always tried to put things in a historical context. I always try to be fair-minded. I think all of the things are eternal and that the current politics haven’t affected it. Generally, we’re doing the same thing and we should be.
TNH: What do you think is important to having historical context to your journalism?
Shribman: It’s to know that number one is that things aren’t necessarily new. It’s to put them in some context. It’s to know where in the wave of the American continuum, where this all fits. It’s maybe to give comfort or maybe to provide fear of what’s going on, it’s at least to say, ‘Here’s what we’ve thought before, here’s what’s happening now.’ You should evaluate whether it’s new and you should evaluate in the context of what others have done before.
TNH: Do you think Donald Trump is a serious change in that historical context?
Shribman: Well, we’ve only had one person before that’s had no experience in the government or military and was mostly business and that was 1940. We’ve had characters like this before and there aren’t a whole lot of Donald Trump and I think he’d argue that he’s an unusual, even unique character.
Due to word constriction, I will not be transcribing any more of our interview. At his lecture last week, many questions were centered on the 2000 election and Ralph Nader’s following among young people that many argue cost Democrats the election. Shribman also talked briefly about the critique that has been made of the millennials and their support of third parties and their power during this election.
In his lecture last week and in our interview on Monday, he did highlight the growing inability among Congress and the executive to not compromise. He spoke about how for many decades, the U.S. government was able to compromise, and,in his opinion, both sides should be blamed for this shift. “One need not compromise principles to compromise on policy,” he said. He also focused on the political culture and our reluctance toward having moderates. In all, Shribman sees historical context as a foundation for understanding politics as a whole.