How to Be a Great Journalist
Carl Bernstein is a veteran journalist who shared a Pulitzer Prize with Bob Woodward in 1973 for their investigative coverage of the Watergate scandal for The Washington Post. He has authored or co-authored six books, including the acclaimed "All the President's Men," which he wrote with Woodward. He has written for a variety of publications, including Vanity fair, Time, USA Today, Rolling Stone and The New Republic, and he was a Washington bureau chief and correspondent for ABC News.
Question: If you were coming up today as a journalist, what medium do you think you'd be drawn to?
Carl Bernstein: I’d try to go to work for The New York Times, or The Washington Post because I still think... first of all, I mean the website of The New York Times particularly, is one of the most amazing sources of news and information I’ve ever seen. It’s better than the paper, you can drill deeper. I still love reading the paper, I read The Washington Post, I read The New York Times in their paper form a couple days a week, but I really look at it on the Web. And you know, those institutions still do old fashioned reporting, and do it well. So that would still be my first, my first choice.
I think the main thing is to find something that gives you joy doing it. You know? The most fun years of my life perhaps in many regards were age 16 to 20 at The Washington Star. Learning and becoming a reporter very young and learning this craft and being with these wonderful people. Now, whether that exists anymore, I kind... I don’t think it does. I don’t think there’s the kind of camaraderie that there once was, but look, I think you can do great work for Vanity Fair; you can do great work for New York Magazine. There are plenty of places to do it and it can be exciting. I think it’s very difficult for a young person to get the kind of notice because there’s so many people involved in what’s called journalism today and as there are fewer and fewer major sources of information that draw disproportionate attention there’s a dilution and it’s harder to get noticed because readers go to more places and it was easier I think for individual journalists to get noticed 30-40 years ago.
Question: What does it take to be a great journalist?
Carl Bernstein: Well I think one thing is, I would say, be a good listener. I think that most journalists tend to be very bad listeners, particularly as television superseded so much in importance of what newspapers once had in terms of prominence in community which occurred in the '70s and the '80s and '90s. A lot of reporters ran in with microphones and stuck them in people’s faces with the object of sound bytes really for the purpose of manufacturing controversy. The real purpose of reporting, of journalism is to illuminate what is real, you know, real existential truth. What’s going on around us? That’s not sensationalism, that’s not manufactured controversy, that’s not—it’s about context and listening.
You know, almost all the good stories that I have ever done, I’ve had a preconceived notion of what the story might be, and my preconceived notion has always turned out to be wrong; from Watergate to anything else that I’ve done. It’s fine to have that preconceived notion to maybe ask some questions, but then give people to chance to answer those questions. Don’t hammer them with your preconceived notion. And I think that’s so much of our journalism is about that and reporters have become lousy listeners. To me, you sit there and you wait long enough, people want to tell the truth, actually, if you give them a chance. And to give you so much of that grey matter. Things are not always black and white. So I think being a good listener is something that—and I learned that very young, I’m happy to say, because I loved to find out what people want to tell me. Let them dictate the conversation, not me. Then if I want to say at some point, “Look why’d you put your hand in the cookie jar?” If that’s what the relevant question is, get it in at some point. But let’s, you know, maybe the hand was in the cookie jar, you know, for reasons I never dreamed of. I’d like to know those reasons before I started acting... you know, we’re not prosecutors.
And that’s the other thing in Watergate, you know, we were not prosecutorial. We went where the information took us. Prosecutors had a different function. It looked like all our reporting was going to go for naught in terms of having a, you know... Nixon was reelected by a huge margin after the major stories we had written. So if the object was at that point, if our object had been to be prosecutorial, we had failed. But that wasn’t our object. Our object was the best obtainable version of the truth. I think that simple concept is – the more you ponder, “The best obtainable version of the truth,” the more you become imaginative about what that means and how to go about it and how to be fair and how to be judicious and not judicial. And another thing is to have fun at this. You know? I think an awful lot of that aspect has been lost. The fun. This ought to be fun because you’re examining the human condition. That’s fun.
The other about the best obtainable version of the truth is that it doesn’t exaggerate one aspect of our culture. For instance, the sensational, fame, you know, most people aren’t famous, yet there’s this great desire in our culture for fame, which is an important thing to write about. And to look at, but at the same time, we need to look at how most people live. We need to look at what’s really going on among human beings and the institutions that they interact with.
Recorded July 22, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman
Be a good listener, says the legendary Watergate reporter. "The real purpose of reporting, of journalism is to illuminate what is real, you know, real existential truth." And that's about context and listening.
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- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
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- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
Yet 80 percent of respondents want to reduce their risk of dementia.
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Credit: logika600 / Shutterstock<p>Remaining healthy requires regular screenings. Here again we see a disassociation between risk reduction and proactivity. Seventy-seven percent of respondents don't talk to their doctors about lifestyle habits that support brain health; 51 percent have never been screened for depression; 44 percent have never had a neurological exam; and 32 percent have never been screened for hearing problems. </p><p>Common early warning signs of dementia, <a href="https://news.yahoo.com/americans-worry-alzheimers-disease-survey-140644803.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">according to</a> Dr. Jason Karlawish, co-director of the Penn Memory Center, include repetitive questions and stories, difficulties with complex daily tasks, and trouble with orientation. </p><p>In terms of intervention, <a href="https://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/does-lack-of-exercise-lead-to-dementia" target="_self">exercise</a>, <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/obesity-dementia" target="_self">diet</a>, building a <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/brain-reserve" target="_self">brain reserve</a>, and challenging your brain (such as learning a new language or musical instrument) are all proven methods for staving off the ravages of Alzheimer's. Oxytocin has also <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/alzheimers-oxytocin" target="_self">showed promise</a> in brain-addled mice, while researchers found positive results for a <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/intermittent-fasting" target="_self">group of intermittent fasters</a> in promoting neurogenesis. </p><p>Epidemiologist Bryan James says that dementia is <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/04/15/176920391/how-exercise-and-other-activities-beat-back-dementia" target="_blank">not an inevitable result</a> of aging. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It's simply not pre-destined for all human beings. Lots of people live into their 90s and even 100s with no symptoms of dementia." </p><p>Professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, Andrew Budson, <a href="https://news.yahoo.com/americans-worry-alzheimers-disease-survey-140644803.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends</a> aerobic exercise and the Mediterranean diet. As has long been known, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, and healthy fasts like nuts and olive oil seem to have brain-boosting properties. </p><p>To learn more, take the <a href="https://www.mdvip.com/brain-health-iq-quiz" target="_blank">Brain Health IQ quiz</a>.</p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>