The University of Nevada, Reno, hosted Pulitzer Prize-winner Hedrick Smith on Tuesday, Sept. 16. During his visit, Smith gave a lecture at the Joe Crowley Student Union Theatre that focused on topics from his newest book titled “Who Stole the American Dream?” and also took the rest of the day to visit journalism students in their classes.
Junior Alex Mosher, journalism major, found that she was surprised to see the theater filled for Smith’s lecture.
“I’m not much of a morning person,” Mosher said. “So I got there at 9:50 a.m. and the place was packed. There were no seats, so I had to sit on the stairs.”
Smith has served as editor of the New York Times and is the author of best-sellers such as “The Russians” and “The Power Game.” He has also directed award winning documentaries that examine the systemic problems in America.
Caesar Andrews, professor of media ethics and writing at UNR’s Reynolds School of Journalism, noted that having Smith on campus was an excellent opportunity for both the RSJ and the campus at large.
“Smith is an incredible man with an incredible career,” Andrews said.
Smith’s book, “Who Stole the American Dream?” focused on the recent economic crisis that he said was best described by the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement’s slogan, “We are the 99 percent.”
According to Smith, the quality of life and the income between middle-class workers and upper class CEO’s has diverged on a massive scale. The disparities between the 99 percent, described as the working class, and the top 1 percent of America’s earners, defined as CEO’s and corporate stockholders, are due to several key causes, including a lack of activism in the American people and a new kind of business policy toward workers’ income and production.
Smith had originally meant to publish the book as an article.
“My second editor, who is my wife, also told me that I needed to present some kind of solution,” Smith said. “So I did.”
Smith spoke at length about the role of journalism in society and how seeking out the big questions is the reporter’s job.
“We put the pieces of a puzzle together,” Smith said. “If there is something you are confused about, then that is what makes it a good story to seek out the answers.”
But Smith wanted to talk about more than just the 99 percent. Smith spent his last words on stage prompting journalism students to continue their work as educators of the community and to chase down the stories that no one person has all the answers to.
Mosher found Smith’s words inspiring.
“What I liked about Hedrick was he was raw and a fundamentalist. I hear a lot in the current age about branding yourself as a journalist, but it clicked when Hedrick said journalists are supposed to be agitators, and that message really stuck with me,” Mosher said.
Besides speaking to both professors and students, Smith also went to several classes to interact with journalism students one-on-one.
“Smith was very well received by the campus,” said Andrews. “One of the classes Smith visited was a special projects class, News Studio. Students basically pitched their ideas to Smith and he offered help and critiques.”
While Andrews did not sit in on the entire class, he found that the students enjoyed interacting with Smith and benefited from his advice.
“From what I heard, Smith really appreciated being here, spending time with young journalists,” Andrews said.
Smith left students with some offered solutions, including increasing activism, much like Occupy Wall Street, but with more planning and thought as to how to change the system. However, Smith could not stress enough how important it was to get moving and start questioning the issues in his interview for KUNR Sept. 12.
“We are [going to] have to fight for [equal pay] together, our generation and [the students’ generation],” Smith said.