Bradlee Offers Industry Insight

Former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee sat down with Jim Lehrer to reflect on his career, Watergate and the state of journalism today. For the full transcript of Bradlee’s interview, click here. Some nuggets from the interview:

BB: “I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but we’re in a holy profession. … Yeah and the pursuit of truth is a holy pursuit.”

BB on protecting sources: “Because if it gets out that you can–did not keep your word, there’s a perfectly good reason for someone never to talk to you again. The principle is that, if you give your word, you keep it. And that may not seem much to a reader right now, but it’s, it’s, it’s the, it’s the framework for your reputation.”

BB on the role of a publisher: “The glory of the Grahams was that they’d listen and talk to you and then say, it’s your call and which, you know, editors dream of having people like that as their bosses.”

BB on how to keep lies out of stories: “By the seat of their pants, they keep lies out. It’s one thing if you know it’s a lie. Then you can keep it out.”

BB on embedding journos: “I think embedding is a mixed blessing. You’re at the mercy of the commanding general, who decides whether your unit is going to play any role at all in the story. It would be great to be embedded with George Patton in World War Two, but what if you drew some general who was guarding, you know, an arsenal somewhere. You know, that’s a ridiculous example, but sometimes, there’s nothing happening. And if you’re embedded, you can’t get the hell out.”

BB on celebrity journos: “The danger is that, these guys begin to look more important than they are and that they think they’re more important than they are and that it adds another dimension to interpreting them. It’s hard to understand a person if — the more famous he becomes, the harder it is to say, what the hell is his motive. What’s he up to?”

BB’s words of wisdom to all you wannabes: “But I would tell him to get a job, not in his home town. Get out of town. Get from mom and dad. Get out from the family. Get out with the experiences that you think you know. And then I’d tell him to look for a paper with a good editor, somebody who looked as if he would pay attention to you, work with you. I had three of those people in my lifetime. Then I’d say keep moving. You know, two and a half years is about right for the first two or three jobs. I would say sooner or later that, you ought to go overseas. Go somewhere where you don’t come from and see how other people live.”