Celebrating 110 years of Student Journalism

Wabash Welcomes Pulitzer Prize Winner

ALEXANDRU ROTARU ’22 |

STAFF WRITER • This week at Wabash, New York Times journalist David Shipler arrived on campus as this year’s Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow in order to spread awareness about difficult and contemporary political topics, such as race relations, poverty, and cross-cultural communication difficul- ties. Having started working for The New York Times in 1966, and having published in The Boston Globe since his time in the navy, Shipler has had the opportunity to explore and inquire about the motivations, the principles, and the goals behind events.

It is a journalist’s job to ask the difficult questions, the questions nobody wants to ask, not only to find out more about an issue, but also to get into the mind of the parties affected by the issue. “ I’ve tried to get inside people’s minds as much as they’ll let me, to figure out why they do the things that they do, why they think the way they do, and report that both in newspaper format and in book format,” Shipler said.

Since they are the ones whose mission is to keep the public informed about its surrounding world, journalists get an amazing opportunity to continuously learn about the people and the community involved in a story. “ My favorite topics to write about have to do with human experiences,” Shipler said.

“I really got most involved with – and most interested in – stories about people in the context of larger political or social issues.

In today’s world of Internet and speedy communication, written press is on the decline, to the point that “local journalism is almost disappearing,” Shipler said. “There are vast wastelands now in the United States where there are virtually no local newspapers or local broadcasting stations that really cover local issues, politics, policy, behavior, and so forth.” This phenomenon has roots in print advertisement doing little in helping newspapers maintain themselves financially.

While technology has helped journalism expand into new media, such as podcasts and online streaming, and eliminated the laborious task of transcribing every single word in an interview, it has many, many disadvantages. People now have access
to a world of information – and this world of information is impossible to fact-check.
We are used to instant gratification, instant communication, and instant learning at our fingertips, which means we have gotten used to the fast, rather than to the accurate. “I think technology has made it difficult to keep a sensible rhythm of reporting and writing,” Shipler said. “For example, on a daily newspaper, we had one deadline per day. […] Now, there no deadline; everything is constant updating online on the website.” And this constant feeding generates a huge chance for errors to surface. “It’s difficult to get everything right within a few hours; but if you have to get everything right within a few minutes, you’re bound to make mistakes,” Shipler said. “And often these errors are never really corrected. They stick in the minds of viewers, and they remain there without people understanding that those were mistakes.” These errors contribute to the scandal and controversy surrounding the media.

 

At the same time, “compounding that problem is the fact that in the American press, the old style of straight factual reporting has been abandoned by some news organizations in favor of highly opinionated reporting.” And it is these very opinions that generate wars, which, in turn, only widen the already large rifts in the American public, be it based on race, income, status, ethnicity, political views, education, zip code, or generation.

The division among this country is evident particularly when it comes to those people living above and below the poverty line. The poverty line, according to the Federal Government, is defined as $25,554 per year, per four-member family, and does not take into account debt (sorry, gentlemen). Shipler compared being poor in America to navigating a minefield–one wrong move and you are done for.

Worse, most impoverished people are treated as if they brought it on themselves. The American Dream mentality, which dictates that prosperity is a consequence
of hard work, has the downside that it also dictates that people who are not prosperous are not working hard – something known as poverty culture. And it is this very culture being cultivated that develops a sense of powerlessness, of learned hopelessness for the poor. Shipler gives the example of children who have big dreams in elementary school that fade away by high-school.

Education-wise, many people are financially illiterate, which only cause the issue of poverty to become more vicious circle than phase to be overcome. In the late 20th Century, there were nation-wide financial literacy tests, which more than half the American population failed. And efforts to introduce middle-school courses remedying this very issue have been so far unsuccessful. “Financial literacy is not universal,” Shipler said.

To sum up, David Shipler has managed to spark conversation about controversial and important topics on campus this week, so as to help us, the students, become more effective leaders, and to help us reach out to people whose voices need to be heard by what Shipler calls “the bubble in Washington.”