Michael Dirda talks journalism

Jean Everitt Lecture full of stories, lessons and humor in visit to CNU

The Department of English hosted their annual Jean Everitt Lecture in Journalism on Feb. 5, featuring Dr. Michael Dirda, a Pulitzer-prize winning book critic from The Washington Post. 

While some may have been expecting an academic presentation on how to get started in journalism, or a lecture on common writing mistakes, Dirda’s talk was nothing of the sort. 

Rather than drone on about grammar and syntax, he simply shared stories from his time working in the industry. 

As opposed to a lecture, it felt almost like chatting with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. With all his first hand experience in the newsroom Dirda was a flood of stories and knowledge and anecdotes, filling the Peebles Theatre for over an hour. 

He described the way the newsroom used to be: loud and busy, full of cigarette smoke and phones ringing. 

He also compared it with the newsroom of today: near-silent save for the sounds of typing away on computers. 

He spoke of the pneumatic tubes they used to send articles and messages between floors — and once, someone’s hat. 

He explained his personal tradition of creating a parody section of Book World (the section of the paper he works in) whenever someone left. These parodies would reflect the personalities of the people leaving and show just how strong and personal the relationships within the newsroom were. 

He also told the story of how he was hired at The Washington Post: when he was first asked to review a book, he received the book on Friday and turned it in on Monday — an impressive feat. 

But what really impressed the editor of Book World was the paper he typed his review on. 

Dirda’s wife is an expert on paper, and he had borrowed some of her fancy Italian paper. As it happens, the editor also was a paper enthusiast, so that move ended up working out quite well for him.

What really made Dirda’s talk engaging was the fact that it was just a talk. 

Not a class on journalism, not a speech, but a man sharing stories from his 40 years in journalism. 

The stories mentioned here were just a small sample of a perspective from a different generation of journalism, but the advice and lessons within are still relevant for anyone seeking to continue in the world of print or online media.

~Peri Costic, Staff Writer~

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