The Difference Between You and a Journalist

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Calvin Trillin, the long-time New Yorker writer, recently released Trillin on Texas (University of Texas Press), a collection of his writing on that state. Many of the pieces come from Trillin’s “U.S. Journal” series from The New Yorker, where he traveled to different parts of the country and submitted short articles about those places. In this interview with Michael Meyer of Columbia Journalism Review, Meyer wonders if Trillin considers himself an expert on the state of the country, a writer with a unique finger on the pulse, due to his reporting from different places. Trillin resists the urge to project any of his subjects’ feelings onto the population en masse, saying, “[U.S. Journal] was always a specific story, and [I] don’t think you can tell something about the country that is true for the whole country….I think that reporters almost always make a mistake talking about more than one person at a time.”

Through his time writing “U.S. Journal” Trillin came to realize one universal truth, though: journalists seek out what most people would just as soon avoid. It was through his exploration of the seemingly contradictory survey answers given by the American public during Watergate that Trillin reached this conclusion. The majority of people apparently thought that Nixon did in fact commit a felony, but a majority also didn’t think he should be impeached. “I learned something doing that story which I had never thought about before,” says Trillin,

which is that people in our trade are so enamored of tumult, that we forget how much other people dread it. A lot of people in America were probably against impeaching Nixon because it sounded scary to impeach the president. People in journalism sort of think ‘the more news the better, the more shaking up the better,’ but most people are the opposite.

Read the whole interview at or listen to the podcast.

Source: Columbia Journalism Review

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