The Chronicle's Shaoli Chaudhuri interviewed Washington Post investigative reporter Dana Priest Monday. Priest spoke at Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy about uncovering the CIA's secret prisons and revealing poor conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. She won Pulitzer prizes for both scoops.
Priest told The Chronicle that reporting during Barack Obama's presidency is not very different from reporting during George W. Bush's time in office, and said that students interested in journalism should still go into the profession, despite a tough job market.
Excepts from Chaudhuri's interview are below:
The Chronicle: What do you hope your listeners, particularly those aspiring to go into journalism, take from today’s lecture and the experiences you share?
Dana Priest: It’s a great field to go into even though there’s a lot of turmoil in the business model. I can’t think of a better way to spend your life if you’re interested in doing a lot of different things, in being your own boss in a lot of ways—effecting change really, which you can do with accountability and investigative reporting. I also hope they get the flavor for the excitement of it—the story behind the story of secret prisons, and Walter Reed and the important role journalism plays in our democracy.
TC: If you could take on another beat anywhere in the U.S., where would it be and what would you write about?
DP: I’m at the place where I’ve always wanted to be. If I had a second life, I would do more on the environment and really look into false claim of greenness, but also prove the scientific evidence for different changes in environmental things, the atmosphere, climate change. I’d go to places where there’s degradation and really describe that.
TC: Could you tell me a little about how working during the Obama administration differs from working during the Bush administration?
DP: It really does not differ at all…The same people are in charge of dealing with the press. They’re not more open…I’m not surprised by it. Administration to administration there aren’t big differences in the area of intelligence…Maybe [Obama] will try harder in the future.
TC: Your reports on the CIA secret prisons earned you a Pulitzer, but another consequence was that the CIA fired one of your alleged sources. Did this impact your views on publishing classified information?
DP: No. People who work in the government have to follow different rules than people who don’t. You certainly wouldn’t want to stop what you’re doing as a reporter because someone might decide to go after the people who might be helping you. After 9/11 we automatically went into the classified arena. You automatically get into really sensitive areas [with investigative reporting].
TC: How have you seen journalism evolve over the years and what do you think the future has in store for the profession?
DP: Right now, papers are dying left and right and they’re cutting back on investigative reporting. And if that trend does not stop we are going to be a different country…I still find young people have a lot of desire to get into the field…We haven’t yet figured out how to use the power of the internet to make investigative reporting more powerful and reach more people.