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Bob Woodward tells aspiring journalists: “You’ve got to show up.”

Sep 28, 2018

Posted in: News

By Adam Hamza, Communication Intern (text), and Kevin Morley, University Relations (photos)

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward spoke to several hundred VCU students and faculty about President Donald Trump, "fake news" and the state of news media at the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday evening. Many additional guests followed the event in three large lecture halls via live stream. 

 

Along with his insightful advice and entertaining anecdotes, Woodward also shared his woes about the state of the media landscape and lamented how politicized it has become. He talked about a conversation with a Republican senator who told him not to worry about the news media that “everyone knows … it’s just another form of politics.”

“Unfortunately, there is too much truth in that,” said the associate editor of The Washington Post and author of the recent book 'Fear: Trump in the White House.' “We have become willfully members of a political dynamic rather than trying to call it down the middle. trying to deal with facts”.

The talk titled “Truth, Freedom of Expression, Democracy and the Age of the American Presidency” was arranged by the Humanities Research Center in the College of Humanities and Science and was co-sponsored by the Office of the President and the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.

Woodward also talked about his methods for gathering information on his most recent book about the Trump White House. The key method he mentioned: going out and talking to people

“As I was working on the Trump book,” Woodward said, “I was reminded that I wasn’t going to get answers going to the White House. I’ve got to see people in their homes away from the White House”. 

This is a method he thinks has changed from previous eras. Woodwared believes that journalists today are relying too much on new media technologies to gather information. He talked about how he was able to interview a four-star general by going to see him unannounced at his home. He said the reason the general agreed to a two-hour interview was “because “somebody showed up.”

“We’re not showing up. We’re sitting around doing our work on the internet or the staggering, magnificent, intimacy of the telephone,” Woodward said. “You’ve got to meet people. You’ve got to go out, and we are not doing that.”

 

When asked about how journalists can combat the advent of fake news, Woodward framed it as a tactic used by Trump and former President Richard Nixon to discredit the media. He added that the only way to fix the distrust in the news media is by providing quality news.

“Nixon effectively made the conduct of the press the issue. This is what Trump is doing,” Woodward said. “I think we have to be better, and the only way to do that is quality”

Prior to the event, Cianna Rowe, a senior in broadcast journalism and history minor, said she was excited to hear what advice Woodward could offer her as an aspiring journalist. She said she read about him in history books and recently saw the movie “All the President’s Men."

“Ready learning about their story and how Woodward and [Carl] Bernstein worked together to get [the Watergate] story was just so interesting, and I would love to hear more about it,” Rowe said.

Rowe was also eager to hear how Woodward’s experiences helped inform his writing about the Trump administration.

“I feel like there’s such a huge connection with the past and the present,” Rowe said. “I think he can do a good job of balancing how his experience in the past has given him the opportunity to look into the depth of what’s going on now.”

 

“Mr. Woodward’s talk was filled with vivid stories, sharp thoughts and invaluable advice,” said Dr. Hong Cheng, director of the Robertson School. “Listening to him made us all deeply feel the excitement, the pride and the responsibility that a journalist could have.”

“The Woodward speech was truly a booster for journalism as well as for our VCU and RVA communities,” Cheng said. “The Robertson School is very proud to be a co-sponsor for bringing Mr. Woodward to campus at what he called ‘a pivot point in history,'” Cheng added. “Seeing and listening to this legendary giant in person have sparked our journalism students and journalism faculty’s passion for and dedication to this noble and extremely important profession."

Please read additional coverage of the event on the websites of VCU News, Richmond Magazine, CBS 6, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and the Commonwealth Times.