Ed Wasserman: Welcome to On Mic, conversations from North Gate Hall, home of the University of California Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. I’m Ed Wasserman, Dean of the school. As one of the nation’s top journalism programs, we regularly invite the world’s best reporters, writers, and documentarians to talk about the stories behind their stories. This time we’ll hear from Jodi Kantor, Pulitzer prize winning New York Times reporter, and her rousing 2018 commencement address. We follow that with an interview with lecturer Deirdre English. They discussed Jodi’s work exposing the Harvey Weinstein scandal as well as the #MeToo movement, journalism, and the law. In her North Gate Hall speech to our students, Kantor recounts an impressive array of career accomplishments and urges the graduates to keep their reporting goals ambitious. This is On Mic featuring journalist, Jodi Kantor.
Jodi Kantor: I’m honored to be here and fairly staggered. We’re standing here in mid May 2018, or as Megan Twohey and I now measure it, the 31st week of the #MeToo movement. A year ago, I was only starting to investigate Harvey Weinstein, and my efforts felt small and tentative. I had almost no information and the truth felt so distant. Megan, who would become my partner, was still on maternity leave. Getting each actress’s phone number required a whole investigative process unto itself. Many of the Hollywood sources we did reach were telling us that we’d never get the story, or even if we did, nothing would change. As for whatever Harvey Weinstein did or did not do with women, that was the way Hollywood worked. That was the way the world worked, and nothing would ever change.
I’m so grateful to be standing with you here on the other side of that journey and at the very beginning of your own journeys. In the few minutes we have here today, I want to do everything I can to help you get started in journalism and to save you as much pain and trouble as I can. I don’t know what it’s like to be you, but I’ve thought a lot about you as I prepared to come here. Each of you had the belief and the commitment to enroll in a serious two year program in reporting and storytelling. Eighty-three days into this program, you watched Donald Trump get elected president and the worlds of politics and media turn upside down. You studied journalism in close proximity to the headquarters of social media companies headed by billionaires who appear to have lost control of their own creations. You’ve been preparing to step into roles as our society’s interrogators and narrators at a time when it seems like every single bill is coming due at once – economic, racial, political, gender-related, educational, environmental. That means that if you’re doing this right, you are going to be epically confused about what to focus on.
I work in the Investigations Department of the New York Times, which has devoted to doing difficult stories, to excavating secrets that have been hidden away from public view. Every one of the cubicles around mine holds all or part of an archeological dig for buried truths. I sit amid reporting giants like Joe Becker and Walt Bogdanich who bring secrets to light with the seeming ease and regularity of someone ordering a cup of coffee. My friend Nick Confessore recently exposed the hidden market to buy and sell twitter followers and then turned around a few weeks later and helped show how Cambridge Analytica harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission. Or take my partner and soul sister Megan Twohey. In a single year of her life, she helped unearth Donald Trump’s tax records, showing that his accounting tactics likely allowed him to avoid paying any federal income tax for up to 18 years. At more or less the same time, she was uncovering some of the key allegations about Trump’s behavior towards women, working with some of those women to tell their stories. She was also establishing some key findings and President Trump’s ties to Russia. She worked with me to expose Harvey Weinstein, and by the way, that was the same year in which she had that baby.
This all looks very tidy from the outside, even for ordained, but inside our unit, the question that obsesses us, and should obsess you, is what to investigate. One misplaced burst of enthusiasm and you can end up beached on a topic you belatedly realize is boring. Or after months of digging, you can end up with nothing more than a loose collection of mildly-incriminating facts and an article that raises questions but proves nothing. Scoops that might shake the culture one year can land noiselessly the next. Take a look at the New York Times’ front page of September 10th, 2001. The headlines now look like artifacts from an ancient era of less urgent news concerns. Scientists urge a bigger supply of stem cells. Like us, you are going to have some of the most precious and necessary seats in society at a time when a lot of those seats have disappeared. So what are you going to do with them? What I’m urging you to do is to make ambitious choices. I’m not talking about personal ambition, although that’s fine. I’m talking about journalistic ambition. I want to stop and repeat that because it’s so key. Learn the difference between personal ambition and journalistic ambition. Look into the fundamental institutions that shape our society: powerful corporations, people who control capital and hold sway over the lives of thousands of millions or others, organizations that don’t really seem accountable to anyone.
You don’t need to be at a big media organization to do this kind of work. One of the best and most damning stories ever written about Amazon came from the morning call, a local paper based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which in 2011 uncovered such brutal and overheated working conditions in Amazon’s warehouses that the company kept ambulances on standby for workers who were collapsing.
When you start on a new reporting question, don’t be afraid of not knowing the answers at the outset. The best advice I’ve ever gotten from Dean Baquet, the editor of the Times, came when I was embarking on a reporting project that just seemed too daunting. I’m sure Dean doesn’t remember this story because I am one of over a thousand journalists that he supervises, but the advice meant a lot to me. I went to him very scared, and I told him that I wanted to back out of my project. I said to him, “What if I don’t get anything? What if I spend months, and I walk away empty handed?” He said, “You’re asking the wrong questions.”
He explained that you can never decide whether to embark on a journalism project based on the findings because you have no idea what you’re going to discover. The only thing you can do is figure out whether you’re asking questions worth investing in, so instead of obsessing over what you’ll find, obsess over asking the best questions. Make them really hard. Think about what you want to know personally. Go to your smartest sources and say, what don’t even you understand? What do you want me to find out?
As you’re trying to do this, you’re going to struggle, and because all of you are very talented, you’re going to get offered easier jobs, ones in which the primary focus is not on getting new information. Maybe a really respected news organization will want to hire you to write their social copy or to harvest their stories into a weekly newsletter with catchy headlines. Those jobs are important. We need great people in them. I’ve done those kinds of jobs. Maybe those jobs will help you get opportunities to do actual reporting, but what you do not want to be is a journalist who has gone your whole career without ever interviewing a refugee or unearthing a secret or convincing someone to go on the record who swore they never would. Every few years, ask yourself, what new information did I bring to light? What stories would never have been told without me or my team? Keep track. It’s why we’re here. It’s the ultimate measure of what we’re doing.
I’d like to say something that may not be popular here in Berkeley, which is to avoid making your work partisan or activist. In January of 2017, Megan and I did not go to the Women’s March. We felt the power of what was going on in the streets, but at that point, did the world really need us to be two more women from Brooklyn holding signs, or did it need us to investigate Harvey Weinstein?
If you look at the body of work that the Times and other news organizations have done on sexual abuse in the past year, part of the power and the impact of the work is that the stories span the political spectrum. The Times went straight from investigating Bill O’Reilly to investigating Harvey Weinstein. The Wall Street Journal did illuminating work on Steve Wynn, the casino magnet, who was also a Republican fundraiser while the New Yorker just published devastating allegations about Eric Schneiderman, a top New York Democrat. These findings are not about the left or the right. They’re about power. They’re about the moral horror of men who racked up these allegations for decades, and instead of stopping them, more and more people helped them. They’re about what we now see as a whole system that silences women. They’re about an awakening of female experiences and understanding just what women in the United States and beyond have really experienced.
As you puzzle through this question of what to investigate, the world is going to send you some small but crucial clues about what to pay attention to. I’m not talking about story tips, as important as those are. I’m talking about the signs that speak to you personally, the ones that will help you establish your own voice and your own mission as a journalist. In 2013, I was finishing a long stint, six or seven years, of covering Barack and Michelle Obama. It was a very high flying material with a lot of conventional rewards. It was the kind of work that got you on Charlie Rose, back when that meant something different.
Out of the blue, I got an email, and it was about an old story of mine that I had written in 2006. The story was about the two class system for breastfeeding. It was about how new mothers who have cushy corporate jobs get these beautiful lactation rooms and a lot of support while women who are hourly workers basically get nothing. They have to try to pump in the bathroom, on breaks they don’t really have, at other people’s discretion. And the story was published to a polite reception, and then the world moved on. But what this reader, Sasha Meyer, told me seven years later is that way back in 2006, she had read that story, and since then she and a partner had been working on fixing the problem. And in fact, all these years later, they had come up with a solution.
They had invented a kind of phone booth for breastfeeding, nicer than a phone booth, but this small, private, inexpensive space. They called it a Mamava lactation suite, and they were about to install the first prototype in the Burlington, Vermont airport. This was such a slender little effort. It was just one piece of equipment that wasn’t even installed yet. And I don’t know if any of you have been to the Burlington Vermont airport, but it’s endearingly small. It kind of feels like you’re waiting in your aunt’s living room to take off. Compared to the glory and the flash of the White House and of presidential biography and of television appearances, it was nothing, but it meant something to me. It spoke to me in a way that nothing in political coverage ever had. It showed the magic of what readers can do. We do not make our story’s powerful. The public does. Readers do.
Years before the #MeToo movement, I had that tiny glimpse that the audience can take your story and do things with it that you never dreamed. Second, it was one of my first clues that what I wanted to write was a kind of female-centric journalism in which women’s stories and lives would be the primary terrain. I have gotten nothing but support from the New York Times along the way, but there was a moment of hesitation by some genuinely supportive and well-meaning editors who worried to me that they thought this approach would be too small for me, that I would be pigeonholed, that the impact of my work could be limited.
What I worked out over the next couple of years was that gender was not only a subject, it was an investigative technique and advantage. As I reported on Harvard Business School and Starbucks and Silicon Valley and Amazon, I found that by focusing on what the women experienced, I could see new things about those institutions and the functioning of power. Now that rule is becoming truer everyday in journalism, including in the president’s use of confidentiality agreements to silence women. We’ve known for a long time as journalists that if we want to get the story, we have to follow the money. Now we’re learning something else, which is, if you want to see how power really works, follow the women.
By the way, those little lactation suites called Mamava units are now spread across the country. There are at least 400 of them at last count in airports and stadiums, giving women, especially hourly workers, privacy, dignity, and a way to care for their babies while they work. I want to end today with a prediction. You are going to be so happy, so happy. As others have said today, the popular perception of journalists is terrible. We raise our kids on the Harry Potter books, which prominently feature Rita Skeeter, the worst journalist ever. I really wish J.K. Rowling would do something about this because part of the tragedy is these are the kids who love to read. So it sort of remains a secret how great journalism is to live, to practice on an hourly and weekly basis. All of you here are going to narrate the sweep of history and also the intimacy of people’s lives.
You will have license to break the social compact and ask questions that no one else can, questions that other people would find scary or awkward. You will meet and be inspired by sources, like the brave women who came forward about Harvey Weinstein. Journalism will make your own internal life deeper, bigger, more nuanced. You will have times of feeling so deeply connected to your audience, like you’re on a shared journey together, like you’re learning things from one another, with you, your sources, and your readers or viewers all in deep dialogue with one another. You will belong to our tribe of regular people with mortgages and Sunday morning Costco runs who nonetheless hold extraordinary power to direct attention and to create change.
You will feel staggered and humbled by what your work has become and become and become, and watch in amazement as people you’ve never met take the work into their own hands, and as change begins to stir. People often ask Megan and I, if we were scared by the tactics that Harvey Weinstein used on us, the legal threats, the private intelligence agents, and what we say is journalism won. In the end, the facts and these brave women were more powerful than all of that money, all of that influence, all of that intimidation. The second thing we say in response is we live for this. This is why we get up in the morning. Congratulations Class of 2018. Go out there and start reporting.
Dierdre English: Jodi Kantor, thank you so much for being here at the Graduate School of Journalism to give our commencement address.
Jodi Kantor: It was an honor.
Dierdre English: So are on On Mic, which is the podcast of the Graduate School of Journalism. I’m Deirdre English. And you’ve come here today to tell our students a lot about being ambitious. I’d love to dive a little bit deeper into what that really means and what that’s meant in your career.
Jodi Kantor: Sure. I wanted to talk to them about the difference between personal ambition and journalistic ambition. Personal ambition is fine. Most journalists have it in one form or another, but I think the thing I’ve learned over my career is that journalistic ambition is something different and more particular and really essential right now. And to me what it means is that you’re willing to take on the big targets and the big institutions. You’re asking questions like who really controls power and society, and what questions do I have about it? And I really wanted the students here today to feel like they can take on a subject like Facebook or a big government agency or a venture capital firm that’s exhibiting really problematic behavior. I don’t want them to think that they have to confine themselves to small scale subjects.
Dierdre English: Yeah, well this is a really interesting challenge that you’re putting out in front of them because, as an investigative reporter, in many places, people would say that investigative reporters should be looking at things that are illegal, corruption, and people who break the law, but you’re saying something beyond that.
Jodi Kantor: Well, actually, some of the best investigative targets are people in organizations that are doing things that are totally legal but really troubling because then you’re writing about what the law doesn’t cover and what people aren’t protected from. So some of the best investigative stories are about things that are perfectly legal but very troubling, and the reason those stories are powerful is that you see that these practices are not addressed, that, in fact, society considers this stuff just fine, even though it may be very, very problematic. You know, the particular quality of the #MeToo reporting is that it’s very intimate to people’s lives. It’s very connected. A lot of investigative reporting involved, frankly, some really obscure things that need to be explained to the public, like the function of the NSA, you know, what that agency really does and how it works. Those are government secrets that are locked very far away for most of us. But the #MeToo reporting was all about things that many, many people had experienced but not necessarily spoken about, or if they spoke about them, maybe they weren’t heard. So I think part of the reason the journalism precipitated this massive reaction is because it was really a kind of investigative dialogue between journalists, sources, and readers. And in a lot of cases I think readers became investigators themselves, and they said, what really happened to me 20 years ago? What happened in my workplace that I never understood? What did this guy, who I knew, really do?
Dierdre English: And you’ve said that one of your goals is to spur debate. What do you mean by that?
Jodi Kantor: Well, what Megan Twohey, my partner, and I always say about the wake of these stories, is that they have left us with giant social debates that now we have to have. The significance of the #MeToo reporting is that for the first time we have more visibility on what women have actually faced. Until now, we did not have enough common information. We did not recognize the patterns. That feeling we all remember from the last couple of months of reading these stories and saying, “Oh my God, this guy is alleged to have done the same things as this other guy as this other guy, and even some of the specific patterns of behavior were so reminiscent one to the other.” And, so, I think the next step is to have a gigantic, messy, hopefully rich, debate about what we want to do with these new truths and how we want to address some of these issues. I’ll give you a really simple example. We don’t have a common definition in the workplace of what a firing offense should be for harassment or sexual abuse.
Dierdre English: You know, that’s a very interesting example.
Jodi Kantor: Yeah, I mean and some workplaces like to say, “Okay, we have a zero tolerance policy,” but what does that mean? Does that mean that somebody who makes one mistake is really going to be fired immediately, and if you don’t do that, what measures do you take? And I don’t really have an opinion on what the right answer is, but I guess my opinion is that society really needs to talk about these things.
Dierdre English: Yeah, and also the question of whether somebody can come back from charges of harassment when somebody has been fired, or are they then not hireable?
Jodi Kantor: Absolutely. Is this a career killer? I mean, for severe offenses, I think there’s a lot of agreement that it probably is a career killer. The bigger question is from mild to medium cases. When can those people come back? And also is there a satisfying and productive form of rehabilitation?
Dierdre English: Yeah, right. There’s a type of justice that sort of has to do with people not being punished, but with people understanding their errors and making amends in some way. And that’s an interesting discussion yet to be had.
Jodi Kantor: Yes, exactly.
Dierdre English: I don’t know if you’d be comfortable talking about the Tom Brokaw case at all. Have you been following that?
Jodi Kantor: Well, I have. So it wasn’t my story, and I didn’t report on it, so I should be pretty limited in what I say. I think that what is interesting about that story is that it’s one allegation so far, correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s my sense, and so on the one hand we say that every woman’s story matters. One allegation can be very important, but on the other hand it doesn’t have the kind of pattern that some of these other cases have had. It was only published a few weeks ago, so I think we need to see what develops.
Dierdre English: Going back to the stories that you reported, one thing I think that journalism students would really love their attention to be drawn to is the role of the whistleblowers, the leaks, the documents that you got. We talk a lot about believing the women, and that’s an important ingredient, but there was much more to what you compiled then believing women.
Jodi Kantor: Yes, and that’s absolutely true. And what we were trying to do was build a secure platform of information that the women could stand on.
Dierdre English: So what was in your story, in terms of documentation, things that were not known until you reported them, other than women’s testimonies?
Jodi Kantor: If look at the first story, the first story only has two women on the record, which was really interesting. They were very brave — Ashley Judd, who really risked career penalty for coming forward, and Laura Madden, who was extremely brave as well. But the rest of the evidence in the story was documents, human resources records, memos, and most crucially the settlement trail.
Dierdre English: How did you get access to those?
Jodi Kantor: Basically by interviewing former employees. There was a long string of people who had worked for Harvey Weinstein, first at Miramax and then at the Weinstein company, who knew things. One of the lessons of the Times reporting in the last year is that when there’s a settlement, people kind of inevitably find out about it, even the ones that are supposed to be secret. And what my colleagues, Emily Steele and Mike Schmidt did with the Bill O’Reilly story, and we replicated this to some degree in the Weinstein story, was they used the settlement trial as evidence that something had happened. In the past, what had often been the case is that if a woman settled, you couldn’t write about it because it was like things had been erased. And Emily and Michael –
Dierdre English: Wait a minute. Stop on that point. When you say if a woman had settled, you couldn’t write about it, What does that mean?
Jodi Kantor: Well, usually it meant that the woman couldn’t speak because she had signed…
Dierdre English: She had agreed not to speak in exchange for money.
Jodi Kantor: Exactly, right.
Dierdre English: In the case of Bill O’Reilly, possibly millions of dollars.
Jodi Kantor: $45 million, actually. Yeah, it’s a pretty stunning number.
Dierdre English: As Megyn Kelly said, what kind of a horror could possibly merit payments of that size.
Jodi Kantor: It’s an extraordinary payout. So rather than saying, oh man, the woman settled, we can’t do the story, we can’t write about it, the innovation –
Dierdre English: You’re talking about journalists now saying, “Okay, its been disclosed to me or I’ve heard a rumor from somebody in the corporation that this woman settled for X amount of money, and now I, the journalist, can’t write about it. Why not?”
Jodi Kantor: Well, because, if you couldn’t get the woman to speak because she had agreed not to, it was a big obstacle to doing a story, but colleagues would say the same thing. They would say, “Yeah, something happened. I think there was a settlement.” And they would almost act like the settlement had erased whatever happened. A lot of these settlements came with agreements that say things like, “The parties parted amicably, they settled a business dispute” — language that really kind of erased whatever happened. And so what Emily and Mike were able to do is to say, “The settlements are the story. They’re part of the story.” And tracing that trail is part of what allows us to document what happened. These are allegations. They’re not proven in a court of law. We can’t say, “You know, we understand that there are two versions of these events.” But what we can prove is that a lot of money was paid out over time again and again and again to settle these allegations.
Dierdre English: So you hear that there was an NDA or many of them, but how do you actually get the NDA? The Nondisclosure Agreement?
Jodi Kantor: Oh, I think that’s, in all sorts of reporting you want to be aware of or get NDA’s. It was a big issue in the Amazon story that we did a few years ago as well because Amazon is very secretive about its work.
Dierdre English: I’m asking you how you get them.
Jodi Kantor: Well, so remember that there are two types of confidentiality agreements, and we want to be clear about the distinction. One is the kind of NDA that companies make people sign just when they go to work. Like, okay, first day of work here are forms you have to fill out. Yes, I agree that I’m never going to say basically anything about what happens at this company. Those agreements are a huge issue in all sorts of reporting because it’s a very standard scenario where you’re reporting, trying to report on company X, Y, Z, and you try to interview employees, or even ex-employees and they’re like, oh, I’d really like to help you, but I signed an NDA.
Then there are the confidentiality agreements that come with, say, a sexual harassment settlement, where, as part of the agreement, as kind of a money for silence bargain, the woman is literally saying, I’m agreeing never to speak of this again. Often she can only speak if she’s subpoenaed. And so those settlements are basically designed to suppress information, and so what we were doing is documenting those settlements. In a way, I think we were writing not only about harassment and abuse but about the cover up of that harassment and abuse.
Dierdre English: It almost what you could call a pre-cover up, which is that women, and I suppose this could happen to men too, of course, but you sign an NDA when you first go to work in a company that requires you in the case of any dispute in the future to work it out with the company’s lawyers.
Jodi Kantor: Right.
Dierdre English: So you’re sort of entrapped then, once you have been sexually harassed, that you’ve already agreed to undergo a process that might, that’s gonna result in a private settlement.
Jodi Kantor: Right. And so these have become much more controversial. Were kind of amazed at how controversial they’ve become because when we were first looking at these things last summer, I think our attitude was like, oh, maybe we can raise awareness, you know, 10 or 20 percent on why these are problematic. We had no idea that we’d be having a national debate about these issues.
Dierdre English: They’re very widespread throughout many, many companies.
Jodi Kantor: They’re very widespread, and things are beginning to change a little bit. For example, Microsoft basically said that it won’t apply those kinds of agreements to any kind of sexual abuse allegations.
Dierdre English: So that’s very interesting. So that’s the kind of social change that we may see coming out of further reporting by a lot more –
Jodi Kantor: Or not. Maybe because #MeToo stories have created so much reputational risk for companies, maybe the effort to keep these problems secret will only be greater.
Dierdre English: Yes, and they are very widespread and I’m sure that yeah, you’re right, there probably will be a tremendous effort to lawyer up and make these agreements even more watertight to prevent these allegations in the future. But I want to change the subject a little bit to, many of my students have asked me, here at the Graduate School of Journalism, why did it take so long for the #MeToo moment to arrive? I’m sure you’ve thought about that a lot.
Jodi Kantor: Sure. People have been working on this issue…
Dierdre English: Do even agree that it has taken so long? Do you agree with the premise?
Jodi Kantor: It absolutely has. So many people have been working on this issue, speaking out for so long. I mean, look at Anita Hill’s testimony in, I think it was 1992. Look at the work that Tarana Burke had been doing with far less attention for a really long time. Look at the women who came forward about Bill Cosby. Women had been talking about Bill Cosby, really describing in detail these problems since I think 2006, and it took 11 years for him to be convicted.
Dierdre English: You know, we were talking about the NDA’s, and we are talking about how long it’s taken for this #MeToo moment to arrive, but I know you went to law school for a little while and you must have thought a lot about the intersection of the law and journalism. So how do you think that legal change has intersected with journalism socially over time? What’s illegal? What isn’t illegal?
Jodi Kantor: The law moves a lot slower than journalism data. So the big question now, which we’re all watching, and this is going to be something to watch for years, is essentially how the law is responding to the #MeToo moment. And look, there are people who believe that law should be somewhat divorced from social context, right? That it should be abstract and unchanging. And then there are other people who think that the law should be this living, breathing thing that responds to evolving social positions, ideas about society. And so I think we’re watching on a number of levels. We’re watching to see whether the law becomes more sensitive to protecting women.
Overall, the legal structure protecting women on these issues is really weak. If you look at, say, the federal civil rights laws on sexual harassment, they have so many exceptions. If you’re a freelancer, you’re not covered. If your workplace only has a few employees, you’re not covered. If the person who has power over you is not your employer or an official boss figure, If it’s Harvey Weinstein and you’re an actress who’s just auditioning for a role that you may have, if you are an entrepreneur and you’re going to a venture capitalist for money and he sexually harasses you instead, you’re not protected.
Actually, in California, there’s a suite of ambitious new bills that are designed to plug some of these holes on the state level. So we’re looking at that. We’re looking at judges and juries and verdicts, like in the Bill Cosby trial. Do people have a kind of new consciousness about these problems and how severe the pattern is? We’re even looking at the legal field itself. One of the #MeToo stories is about judge Alex Kosinski, who is a really respected and esteemed legal figure here in California.
Dierdre English: Yeah. Well, you refer to it as the #MeToo moment. Some people call it the #MeToo movement. What do you think about that, in terms of journalists and in terms of your role as the leader of a movement or the instigator of a moment.
Jodi Kantor: I don’t see myself as a leader of a movement at all. I see myself as somebody who was doing her job, and as an observer, and someone whose job it is to ask questions. And that’s still the best thing I can do. I think there are other people, people like Tarana Burke, who are activists and who will agitate for change in this movement. But I think what we’ve seen through this story, but also so many other stories, is that journalism can drive change and spur people to action, and I think what’s driven this whole thing is new information, well documented information.
Many people have pointed out that some of these rumors had surfaced on gossip websites in the past, and, you know what I say to that is, it’s really hard for those forms to have an impact because they just don’t have the on-the-record material, the evidence, the documentation that a really good article or piece of journalism has. So I think it’s just our job to keep doing those stories, but not just about individual perpetrators. The thing that’s really coming into focus now is the whole system and how it works, and I think that obviously everybody will continue to do stories on individual perpetrators, but we also have to begin pushing the bigger questions about what should change and how much has changing?
Dierdre English: Weinstein, in his case, had a whole system supporting him.
Jodi Kantor: Yeah. One of our articles was about — it was called Weinstein’s complicity machine, and it was essentially about how he built this machine to help him over decades and decades. And the moral horror of the Harvey Weinstein story is, how could somebody pile up these kinds of allegations for 40 years, and instead of stopping him, more and more people try to help him.
Dierdre English: Really. Well, Jodi, I wanted to just thank you very much for having come to the journalism school and ask you a little bit about what made you even feel it was worthy of your time to come here and talk to us?
Jodi Kantor: Oh, I was so honored by the invitation. I mean, it really wasn’t even a question.
Dierdre English: You’re not one of our graduates.
Jodi Kantor: I’m not one of your graduates, but I’m wearing, I’m sitting here wearing a yellow and blue Berkeley lei in solidarity with the graduates. I’m really moved by the commitment that students here make to a two-year course of serious reporting and storytelling. I think that’s a rare, precious thing. I understand that they’re really trying to do work with impact. And I was inspired and motivated by what they had to say and the kinds of projects that they worked on. I mean, the diversity of this class is just breathtaking, and you can see that they’ve already gotten the trick right of bringing your personal background to the story enough to enrich it, and to infuse the journalism, but not so much that you overwhelm it or put yourself first.
Dierdre English: You’re in a position where you can take really deep dives into stories. How much time do you spend on a story these days?
Jodi Kantor: It can really vary. The Weinstein investigation was initially six months but then much longer, because after we broke the first story, we kept going. I did a project that involved Syrian refugees in Toronto that I think took 15 months. The Times is in the rare position to really make these deep investments in journalism. It comes with an almost paralyzing sense of responsibility, I can tell you, because, especially with everything at stake right now, you say to yourself, “How am I going to choose the right thing?”
Dierdre English: There’s so much reporting, so little time.
Jodi Kantor: Yeah, and each of us can feel so small compared to the historical moment. And you say to yourself, can I really make a contribution, and what is the best way for me to do that?
Dierdre English: Well, Jodi Kantor, you have made a tremendous contribution to journalism, and you made a great contribution to our school today with your words. I want to congratulate you on winning the Pulitzer Prize with your colleague, Megan Twohey, and also with Ronan Farrow from the New Yorker, for public service. Wish you the best as you continue to spur debate.
Jodi Kantor: Thank you so much.
Ed Wasserman: We’ve been listening to Jodi Kantor in conversation with Dierdre English. And before that Jodi’s commencement address to the graduates of the J school class of 2018, to whom we wish our heartiest congratulations. This has been On Mic, a podcast presentation of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Tactical facilities On Mic are underwritten by the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation. Our producers are Cat Schuknecht and Lee Mengistu. I’m Dean Ed Wasserman. Thanks for listening, and I hope you can join us next time.