Reporter: Journalists can be nice guys, too
by Julie Gutowski
Media Credit: Taylor Howard[Click to enlarge]
You may think you are too nice to make it in the cutthroat world of investigative journalism, but, according to Judy Bachrach, even nice people can be good reporters.
At an intimate lunchtime conversation in Kelly Writers House yesterday, Bachrach, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair magazine, spoke with a dozen Penn students about her experiences as an investigative reporter.
Though she has interviewed important figures such as Goldie Hawn and the Dalai Lama and has also broken high-profile stories like U.S. Representative Gary Condit's involvement with intern Chandra Levy and former California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's taking of bribes, Bachrach said she is actually a shy person.
"I'm extremely nervous or scared whenever I go out on assignment," Bachrach said.
But it's today's media and its political coverage that are the real cowards, she said.
"The power of politicians is not to be underestimated," Bachrach said. "You'd be amazed at how cowardly newspapers and television stations can be."
She cited The New York Times's treatment of the war in Iraq and two Florida newspapers' non-disclosure of an e-mail incriminating former Florida Rep. Mark Foley as examples.
"I don't care about the political slant of a paper," Bachrach said. "I care about the guts. Do they have guts, or don't they?"
Bachrach was invited to the Writers House by professor Avery Rome to speak about profile writing to Rome's English 125 class on magazine journalism.
In addition to attending Rome's class, Bachrach stayed at the Writers House for two additional hours to continue discussion with the class as well as to open up the conversation to other interested members of the Penn community.
Eager to advise the aspiring journalists in the audience, Bachrach freely shared her insightful and often humorous tips.
"The first rule of journalism: Take nobody at their word," Bachrach said. "I don't care if it's Mother Theresa or your own mother."
Students said they appreciated her style, which College and Wharton junior Arushi Sharma called "frank without being offensive."
"Her range of people interviewed is incredibly diverse," Sharma added.
Bachrach said she was similarly impressed by the students.
"These kids are fabulous - so smart," Bachrach said.