Wall Street Journal Reporter Discusses the Evolution of Journalism with Professor Leah Hager Cohen

By Emily Kulp

On Thursday, Sept. 22, Beth Reinhard, reporter and political journalist for The Wall Street Journal, spoke with Holy Cross Barrett Professor in Creative Writing, Leah Hager Cohen, in Rehm Library. The talk was part of the Working Writers series presented by the English department.

Professor Hager Cohen introduced Reinhard by reading part of an article that Reinhard wrote for The Wall Street Journal about an impoverished community in Ohio that had been neglected by presidential campaigns, despite being situated in one of the most prominent swing states. The irony of the story’s message, along with its vivid imagery, immediately revealed Reinhard’s incredible gift of storytelling.

Reinhard strongly emphasized her preference for referring to her written work not as pieces, but as “stories.” When asked by Professor Cohen why, she answered that the simplicity of the word allows her to “honor” both her own humble beginnings, and the beginnings of journalism as a profession.

Reinhard told the audience that journalism used to be more of a “blue collar job,” saying that she first started her career by “covering small towns.” In the beginning of Reinhard’s career, it was not common for a journalist to have completed graduate school, as she had. Emphasizing that “the story is of paramount importance” in every journalistic piece, Reinhard expressed her desire to pay homage to both her personal career and journalism in a larger context.

Reinhard also spoke about the process of turning ideas into articles. She emphasized, by telling stories to the audience, how the topics she writes about often end up differing from her “preconceived notions.” She detailed how her Uber driver who happened to be talking to Khizr Khan, father of the slain Muslim U.S. Army captain, led her to change her mind about a story on Muslim voters, and how a Trump “super fan” who refused to return her phone calls led her to the Trump campaign headquarters in conservative northern Florida.

The search for story topics often leads Reinhard down convoluted avenues, which she believes is positive, since it allows her to change her mind and find where interests lie. “I like to think that if I think it’s interesting, the reader will too,”  Reinhard said.

Professor Cohen noted that it was easy to tell when a story “ignites something visceral in [Reinhard]” and applauded her ability to “paint [a] picture” with words. Reinhard’s commitment to storytelling, honoring the art of journalism, as well as searching to find and create stories that have meaning for others, was evident in her discussion with Professor Cohen.

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