Moscow correspondents share notes from the underground: Pulitzer Prize-Winning journalist visits campus with Washington Post bureau chief

Posted by Julia Leef

On Monday evening Pulitzer Prize-winner Will Englund and his wife and fellow journalist Kathy Lally took a long-awaited break from their desks in Moscow to speak to Skidmore students about their careers, the world of foreign correspondence and television drama "The Wire."

The discussion was moderated by Brendan James '12 and Sarah Goodwin, professor of English and faculty assessment coordinator.

Englund and Lally serve as The Washington Post's correspondents in Moscow. Englund originally wrote from Russia as a correspondent for The Baltimore Sun in the 1990s, and joined The Washington Post in October 2010. Meanwhile, Lally was an editor of The Washington Post until she became Moscow bureau chief in September 2010. She also worked in Moscow for The Baltimore Sun, witnessing the coup and fall of the Soviet Union.

The two addressed questions about the essentials of journalism and their reasons for staying in the field. "Being a journalist gives you the opportunity to experience all kinds of amazing moments and the obligation to cover them," Lally said.

In February Englund and Lally both reported on the events in Cairo during Egypt's revolution, although they each had different experiences. While Englund, kept inside his hotel by the regime's curfew, shared drinks with other correspondents from the Sun, Lally, found herself facing a roadblock of men with machine guns.

Lally used the story as an example of the flexibility required of a writer abroad. "If you don't find the story you were sent for," she said, "find the story that's there."

When asked about their favorite stories they had ever worked on, Englund spoke of the article that won him his Pulitzer Prize in 1998. His three-part series exposed the dangers of a shipbreaking in India, which resulted in 400 worker deaths per year.

Although Englund at first worried his article would lead to the shut down of the shipyard, resulting in massive job loss, his article helped to improve the workers‘ situations, bringing the fatality rate down to an average of 40 deaths per year.

Lally, on the other hand, spoke about her time in Moscow in 1991, during the attempted coup on Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. On Aug. 19 of that year, thousands of unarmed people gathered around the Russian White House for three days,to demand a new era of a free society in Russia.

Lally said seeing these people take an active stand against a oppressive regime was incredible and remains in her memory during contemporary events such as the Arab Spring.

Segueing into a discussion about journalism in the digital age, Englund and Lally expressed the difficulties inherent in keeping up with flow of information, much of it spurious.

Lally said there is now a great pressure for immediacy, but stressed the need for a balance between deadlines and quality reporting. She also stressed the importance of a writer knowing his or her audience.

"It always helps to know for whom you're writing as you choose which stories to cover," said Lally, adding that the rise of the Internet has expanded readers to a global scale.

Englund addressed the increasing popularity of online blogs, which in his opinion blur the lines between news and opinion, something that has happened before and is most likely to happen again, he said.

Both emphasized that journalistic objectivity is an important goal to strive for. Objectivity, Englund said, adds to the quality and credibility of these sources, as opposed to a personal blog.

"The effort to approach objectivity is a worthwhile effort," Englund said. He also said that what objectivity ultimately means is fairness, which he later defined the effort to portray an honest picture of the situation and the views of contending sides.

This, Englund and Lally said, can be applied to the ethics of a college newspaper, which should examine the administration and address areas of improvement in reporting on the community.

They encouraged audience members involved or interested in journalism to dedicate themselves to a fair, objective representation of events and circumstances, putting aside any pre-conceived notions in favor of an informative and evaluative article.

Before the evening came to a close, Professor Goodwin revealed to the audience members – many of who nodded in agreement with her praise of Baltimore-based TV drama "The Wire – that Kathy Lally had made an appearance as a journalist in the show's fifth season.

Both Englund and Lally stated that they are familiar with the show's creator David Simon from their days at The Baltimore Sun, placing a good word for him and the series in general. After applauding Lally for her performance in the show, students left the event with one more reason to aspire to a career in journalism.

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