Every spring term PLNU invites a vast array of writers to come to our seaside campus to speak to the San Diego community about their work. Writer’s Symposium by the Sea has hosted a multitude of inspiring writers in the past, including Dave Eggers, Donald Miller, and Amy Tan. An evening Q&A with symposium founder Dean Nelson allows audience members an insight into the writer’s mind. Intimate afternoon workshop classes brings authors even closer to their audience, offering advice and writing tips.
The first of a trio of interviewees is Samuel Freedman. He is currently a columnist for the New York Times and a professor for Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The author of eight books, the most recent being Breaking the Line, Freedman will host an afternoon workshop on Thursday, Feb. 20, and interview that evening in Salomon Theatre. Freedman spoke with the Point Weekly about his writing, his perceptions of culture and where he believes the industry of journalism is going.
The Point Weekly: Why does storytelling matter to a culture?
Samuel Freedman: I think there are some ways that humans are hardwired to respond to story and to want story. There seems to be some way we need story to help us to both record our history and to help us make sense of the world around us. It’s not learned, there is something that’s implanted in us and you can develop it from there.
PW: Why do you pick the certain stories you write about?
SF: I’m really drawn to the stories of people who are not famous, but who make significant change in the world someway. All of [my books] are held together by those two things: the desire to shine a light on people who aren’t famous and the desire to look at how “ordinary” people are actually extraordinary in terms of making certain kinds of change, whether it’s political change, religious change, improving a neighborhood or helping to desegregate a society.
PW: How do you find the people you want to talk about?
SF: As a writer, I walk around all the time with a kind of radar on, and I am alert to the world around me, just being curious and, on some level, receptive to whatever I might pick up from somewhere out there that might make a good column or good book.
PW: What do you think makes up identity?
SF: I think anyone’s identity is a mixture of personal history and cultural influences – that can come in part from vendor, sexual orientation, religion, race, ethnicity. Also the way then, starting with those predetermined things, any individual makes their way through the world, what they do with the cards they’re dealt. That is why you can have children who grow up in the same household go in really different vectors. One will end up being liberal, one will end up being conservative. That is kind of the mystery, and for me, the fascination of human experience.
PW: Where do you think the news industry is headed?
SF: What isn’t changing is people’s desire for journalism – people’s desire to be told powerful stories and people’s desires to have capable analysts helping them understand the world. The thing that’s changed is the economic model of the industry, and that has been destabilizing, but I think eventually it’ll get reconciled.You have to think, for any news organization, what can we uniquely provide that people out in the general public can’t get as professionally elsewhere and would be willing to pay for.
PW: Do you see this trend affecting the New York Times?
SF: Every newspaper has been affected. The Times on the one hand is seen as being very successful with doing multimedia journalism now; they do incredible things on their website with audio, video and information graphics. At the same time, advertising revenue hasn’t been what they hoped it to be. The Times has overall kept its newsroom intact and news product strong, but after they had gone through all the buyouts for the people voluntarily leaving, they twice had to go and do involuntary layoffs in the past couple of years. That was a real shock. So the Times has been affected, but I think it’s weathered it much better than most organizations.
PW: Is there one thing people ought to know about your books before coming and hearing you speak?
SF: No, I just want people to know that I’m really flattered to be invited to Point Loma and be part of a great series, and I’ll just try and do my best and not spill coffee on my tie.