Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize winning author to visit Wilkes

Renowned journalist Joby Warrick to give keynote lecture at Bigler Conference on April 28


Courtesy of the Washington Post

Joby Warrick, Washington Post reporter and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, who will give the keynote lecture at the 17th Annual Tom Bigler Journalism Conference on April 28. Warrick will be discussing the way journalism is evolving and some ways that students can keep up.

Washington Post reporter and two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author, Joby Warrick will serve as the Keynote Speaker at the 17th Annual Tom Bigler Journalism Conference on April 28.

Warrick joined the Post in 1996 covering issues such as national security, the environment and the Middle East and currently covers topics related to terrorism. His first book, “Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS” was awarded a 2016 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. He received his other Pulitzer prize in 1996, sharing it with two colleagues, for Public Service.

In keeping with the theme of the conference, “The Changing Face of Journalism,” Warrick will discuss the ways in which the field has changed since his start as well as how students can make themselves marketable in their careers.

As is a concern for many students looking to enter journalism, Warrick explained that the field is nowhere near dying, as that was also a concern when he started in the 80s.

“The economic model for this industry is in trouble and we all know that and we all talk about it. It’s mostly because we used to have advertisers who would pay a lot of money to put their ads in our newspaper pages or on TV, and people would buy classified ads or pay for newspaper subscriptions, but now people are so used to getting everything for free that they don’t want to pay for anything,” Warrick said. “And people don’t want to pay for advertisements anymore because they could just put stuff on Craigslist.

“But the upside to that is that there are many more ways to practice journalism, so instead of having just one newspaper in your town and a couple of news stations with news shows, there are an infinite number of opportunities to express yourself through blogs, online magazines so the variety is endless which is a good thing right now,” he added.

With 21-years under his belt at the Post, Warrick has covered many topics, some of which he now has used in his books.

“It never was my passion to be an author someday. After I got to the Washington Post, I thought ‘I may get opportunities, I may consider it,’ but I never knew I was ever going to take that on unless I was in love with the subject to spend that much time with… and the perfect opportunity happened with my first book on an incident that I covered and it was a fantastic story,” Warrick said.

Warrick explained that his favorite story was not, however, what sparked into a book but was a catalyst for social change.

“It was a series of stories I did in 1999, and the reason it is my favorite is because it was the clearest case of exposing of something wrong, that people didn’t know had happened, and then having this tremendous result,” Warrick said. The series detailed a group of community workers who created the components of nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 1960s. This exposed them to toxic chemicals and hazards.

“The government deliberately lied to them and kept this information secret from them for years and years and a lot of them got sick and didn’t know why. So, what my series of stories was able to do was to show definitively that these exposures took place,” he said, adding, “We found huge spikes in leukemia and other kinds of cancer related to radiation. So after working on these articles the government was forced to take action and Congress passed a law, and for the first time these workers were compensated for the wrong that happened to them.”

Warrick explained that the program ended up paying approximately $2 billion in benefits in the last 18 years. To him this was a unique opportunity which allowed him to use his craft to benefit the greater good. “One of my proudest momentos from that time, after the law passed and the compensation program was approved, (was that) I got a handwritten note from Ted Kennedy, the senator from Massachusetts, thanking me, saying that ‘it was because of your reporting that this happened.’”

While students entering the field will be exposed to the rapid changes of journalism, Warrick explained that veteran reporters are also in a new era under the Trump administration.

“We’re kind of in a strange,new world, particularly here in Washington. Every president criticizes the media and we’re used to it. We have an adversarial role, so we have to keep remembering we’re not here to support the administration no matter what their party is or if we agree with them philosophically or not,” Warrick said. “It’s to ask hard questions and to hold them in account for the decisions they make and that’s always been our job. We were criticized by the Obama administration and Bush, it’s just always been the environment. This is the first time we were really accused of being adversaries in the sense that we’re enemies of the people. It kind of blows our minds a bit because we see ourselves as voice for the powerless.”

While it’s a learning curve for all, Warrick said it’s critical for reporters to continue to do their job.

“We are an essential part of a democratic society and we have to do our job.”

When asked if his college self would believe that he would make it this far in his career, Warrick laughed while saying, “Well, on the details absolutely not, I don’t think I would have, especially the Pulitzer prize, especially two, I would not believe it. But on the other hand, I think I was convinced even back then that I was going to succeed somehow.”