On June 10, four CA alums gathered in the Performing Arts Center to speak about how their work in journalism has impacted the lives of others as part of the panel “In Pursuit of Truth: A Conversation About Journalism and Democracy.” Former The New York Times reporter Julia Preston ’69, who is currently a contributing writer for the Marshall Project, moderated the discussion that also included longtime Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper reporter Richard Read ’75; Emmy award-winning NBC News producer Freddie Tunnard ’07; and Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at The New York Times Alexandra Berzon ’97.
Read shared how his interest in journalism began to flourish when he and classmate David Michaelis ’75 wrote for the Centipede, and their investigative reporting uncovered a trustee’s unfortunate investments on behalf of the school. He said that he and Michaelis were surprised that the administration let their story stand.
One of the stories for which Read won a Pulitzer was following a container of french fries from a Washington State farm to a Singapore McDonald’s as a way to explain the Asian financial crisis. He and a team won another Pulitzer for exposing abuses by immigration officials. “Did I have an impact? I’d like to think at times I did,” he said. Over 40 years, he reported from more than 60 countries on all seven continents. As Los Angeles Times bureau chief in Seattle, he broke the story of a super-spreading event among choral singers that helped convince health officials that COVID spread through the air.
“Along the way, I got to fulfill my dream of being a foreign correspondent,” he said. One of his favorites from that period was getting to interview the Dalai Lama at his home in exile in Dharamsala, India.
Berzan said that her journalism career started while she was a student at Vassar. She then earned a graduate degree in journalism. When she became a reporter in Las Vegas, she wrote a series of articles about construction deaths happening on the strip. “For a long time, I covered the casino industry, and then I ended up on the investigations desk,” she said, noting that the media’s changing business model allows reporters less and less time for thorough research.
While a reporter for the investigations desk of The Wall Street Journal, Berzan led stories examining Amazon’s unregulated third-party flea market and its sale of unsafe and banned products. She contributed reporting to The Journal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of secret payments by Donald Trump to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.
“I had no idea I wanted to go into journalism until much later in life,” Tunnard said. “When I graduated college, I had this idea that I wanted to be around smart people in the most intense environment I could find.”
Tunnard partners with Senior Washington Correspondent Hallie Jackson to cover political and policy-based stories from around the country that air on NBC’s Today Show, Nightly News, and NBC News Now.
She began her career in New York City’s foster care system, trying to help young women acquire life skills and avoid dangers including prostitution. Frustrated that she was voicing concerns about a flawed system, Tunnard had an epiphany. “There must be a way to raise the flag and have people listen to you … oh, I guess there’s this journalism thing,” she said. Shortly after, she became an executive assistant to Alex Wallace at NBC News. “You don’t need to know what you want to do when you are 14 years old,” she said. “Also, being an executive assistant is … the best way to start out any of your careers. Because you end up in rooms and seeing things that nobody else at your level is seeing.”