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Students Relish Exclusive Lunch with Veteran Journalist

March 25th, 2009

By Sarah Pride

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 338-8727
OfficeOfCommunications@phc.edu

From L to R, sophomore Erin Pradia, senior Nathan Martin, Jeffrey Goldberg

A handful of Patrick Henry College Journalism students and two alumni sat riveted in their seats at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) one Thursday in February as Jeffrey Goldberg, seasoned journalist, recounted anecdotes of war, sorrow, and amazing persistence in the pursuit of a story. Currently the National Correspondent for The Atlantic, Goldberg related a series of lessons learned and described specific news stories on which he had worked since earning his undergraduate degree.

Michael Cromartie, vice president of the EPPC, moderated the event and served as a “very friendly and engaging host,” according to sophomore Erin Pradia. The lunchtime lecture in the heart of D.C. is part of a special series sponsored by PHC’s Department of Journalism. January’s lecture featured Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard. Four more are scheduled at the EPPC this year to introduce prospective PHC journalists to the realities of their intended profession.

Dr. Les Sillars, Director of Journalism at PHC, explains the value of these D.C. get-togethers as “an opportunity to meet top journalists and see what they’re like. I want students to be inspired, to learn how people reached a level of success from the same place [students] are now.”

The students who attended were transfixed by the anecdotes shared by Goldberg, whose experiences range from the “Police and Crime” beat at the Washington Post after college to his work at the New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, and The Atlantic Monthly. His harrowing tales included tracking down the head of Hezbollah for an interview, dodging bullets in the midst of war, and capturing the emotional aftermath of shocking catastrophes and personal tragedies.

Goldberg recounted for students a story he wrote for the Washington Post involving the brutal murder of two teenage boys. Sitting in the home of one victim, interviewing the boy’s mother and grandmother, he was appalled by the hundreds of cockroaches covering the floor.

To the astonishment of Charlie Jarvis, PHC’s VP of Advancement, who attended the luncheon, “What stunned Jeffrey was the fact that no one was bothering to stomp on them as they crawled over their feet and up their legs. At least one was crawling up his OWN leg and he didn't know quite what to do.  Shake and stomp his leg when no one else was moving at all?  He wondered what level of resignation would cause people to live in that filth; a state in which they didn't even bother to kill roaches swarming over them and their house.”

Goldberg provided students clear, practical answers about how journalism works, stressing the dogged determination needed by a reporter. He shared a story about Seymour “Sy” Hersh, the man who covered the Watergate story for the New York Times, who struggled in 1974 to get Chuck Colson on the phone. It took Hersh, armed only with a rotary phone, several hours of dialing a single number over and over to get Colson to pick up his phone. More often than not, Goldberg explained, that’s the level of determination needed to obtain a crucial piece of information.

“One can never learn too much,” says freshman Jacob Parrish, “and what better way to learn than by talking with and asking questions of the very best?”

Added Charlie Jarvis: “Jeffrey provided the attendees with a uniquely personal overview of his career as a journalist.  This was not a cold lecture on theory; it was a series of detailed recollections of lessons learned and specific news stories on which he had worked since taking his B.A. from Penn.  He taught practical journalism from experience.”