By: Essence Buckman and Omar Elmore, senior writers
David Brooks, New York Times op-ed columnist and author of “The Social Animal,” which rose to #3 on Publisher’s weekly bestsellers list for nonfiction in April of 2011, visited Wofford College on Tuesday, Oct. 26 to share his story about his career path as a writer and speak about the contemporary political climate.
Residing in Washington, D.C., Brooks contributes as an editor for Newsweek and the Atlantic Monthly. He is also a contributor to PBS NewsHour, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and NBC’s Meet the Press.
Brooks met with members of Old Gold and Black, representatives from RUF and the Wofford Wrap and the Office of Marketing and Communications to answer a variety of questions, specifically regarding journalism.
Graduate of the Univ. of Chicago, ‘83, Brooks has a B.A. in history and has contributed articles in several different fields including book and film reviews for The Wall Street Journal and satire pieces for campus publications. He was elected to his alma mater’s Board of Trustees in 2012.
Brooks, in his talk with the Old Gold and Black, mentioned that he did not have any initial interest in journalism and wanted to be a novelist. He recalled bartending for a year in Chicago, focusing on creative writing in his free time. He came to realize that he did not want to focus his life purely on academia and wanted to experience new things and travel the world. Brooks began working as a police reporter for the City News Bureau in the Southside of Chicago, covering crimes in what he describes as “gruesome detail.”
Perhaps due to his disillusionment with academia, graduate school was not a part of Brooks’ career path. In his opinion, attending journalism school is not necessary and aspiring journalists should find interest in something specific to what they want to do. He offered two pieces of advice to improve one’s chances of success: “learn something about something and do something that makes you stand out from your peers.”
One student asked Brooks if aspiring journalists need to move to larger markets like D.C. or New York to succeed. He responded with a question of his own: “Is it better to do a little bit of work for a large organization or a lot of work for a small organization?” Brooks recommends the latter as one would get more experience, which he sees as the most important asset for a young professional to have.
He went on to describe his journalistic process. “By the time you sit at the keyboard, 80% of your paper should be written already,” says Brooks. “Writing isn’t filling the white space, it’s the organizing you do before you sit down.”
Brooks ended his visit to the college with a talk before the general public inside Leonard Auditorium wherein he broke down how, in his lifetime, American consciousness has shifted from what he calls an “ethos of modesty” to one of individual success.
Brooks is a self-proclaimed conservative reporter with the New York Times, which he likens to being “the chief rabbi at Mecca.” A stark critic of President Trump, Brooks spent months traveling the middle of the country to better understand how exactly Trump won the 2016 presidential election.
“Today, if you’re not rich and famous, you’re invisible,” says Brooks. “I also found a lot of people who felt the one thing they could really feel pride in was that they were American and that there was an American story that we all followed.”
Brooks went on to describe how that story, an Edenic origin where American settlers found a land of hope, promise and freedom. That story, according to Brooks, has shifted due to technological advances and a focus on diversity. The shift left a certain population behind and, as such, left them feeling alienated and betrayed.
Brooks ended his talk with a brief Q&A; the final question he took regarded the growth of skepticism in entities like government and the media and how the country can move past its divisions and distrust.
“We have to cultivate an institutional mindset,” says Brooks. He went on to explain that such an idea manifests itself in the appreciation of institutions that have existed for much longer than one’s own life and respect of the values of each institution, using those values to define success.
“That’s a very different mindset than the individualist mindset of ‘I’m going to make my own life,’” says Brooks. “It’s, ‘I’m going to pour myself into institutions.’ People were probably in this room 70 or 80 years ago and will be in this room in 70 or 80 years. Having a wider time horizon is the beginning of humility and the beginning of service.”