Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

COLUMN: No democracy without journalism — a lesson from Woodward and Bernstein

Renowned journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who covered the Watergate break-in of 1972, spoke at FAU on Thursday about journalism in the current democracy. These were my takeaways.
UP+Managing+Editor+Elisabeth+Gaffney%2C+UP+News+Editor+Sofia+De+La+Espriella+and+UP+Editor-in+Chief+Jessica+Abramsky+with+Carl+Bernstein+and+Bob+Woodward+on+Feb.+8%2C+2024.
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UP Managing Editor Elisabeth Gaffney, UP News Editor Sofia De La Espriella and UP Editor-in Chief Jessica Abramsky with Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward on Feb. 8, 2024.

Listen, observe and be patient — those were the words Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward said to me when I asked them what their advice would be to a young eager reporter who wants to follow in their footsteps in investigative journalism.

What seems to be three everyday, simple things that not only journalists but every good professional is supposed to be doing have become a real challenge. In an era of immediate information, internet and the rise of social media, we have forgotten the importance of connecting with others, reading their body language, looking them in the eye and treating them as humans. 

Obviously, the digitalization of the world has also put the basic practices of journalism in jeopardy. It’s easier to text than call and send an email instead of interviewing, we have forgotten that the key in journalism is to show up.

Good reporting takes commitment and time, and accuracy will always be more important than speed.

Investigative journalism did not begin with Watergate. Yet, its firm establishment in American journalism and its gradual proliferation globally can be largely attributed to the scandal. In fact, Watergate has been an inspiration for young journalists around the globe, myself included, to stick to the idea that no matter how unpopular the news media may sometimes be, rigorous and ethical journalism will hold accountable those with power and influence over the rest of us. In other words, good journalism will be the backbone of a healthy democracy. 

Woodward and Bernstein remind us that there’s no such “secret key” in investigative journalism. In fact, all journalism should be about knocking on people’s doors and showing up. Becoming an expert on your subject. 

The duo became journalism icons when they broke the story of the Watergate break-in in the early 1970s at the Washington Post and exposed the criminal activity and cover-up that led to the impeachment and resignation of then-President Richard Nixon. Their reporting on the story won them each a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1973.

These legendary reporters not only came to reminisce about Watergate, they reminded us why we should, more than ever, raise the standards in journalism to ensure democracy is protected. 50 years later, with a completely different political landscape, a cultural shift, and a digital world, Bernstein and Woodward still believe that the ultimate solution to keep American democracy safe is to reform journalism.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at FAU hosted Woodward and Bernstein on Feb. 8 for a lecture on journalism in today’s democracy. As an aspiring journalist, having them on campus, hearing their advice and having the opportunity to learn from their methodologies was an enlightening experience.

Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward at the FAU Carole and Barry Kaye Performing Arts Auditorium. Photo by Elisabeth Gaffney.

“We need to deal with the problem of pomposity in journalism,” said Bernstein during the lecture. “Anything can be infected, there isn’t certainty. People are now only looking for information to reinforce what they believe and it is discouraged because there’s no consensus on what good reporting is.” 

Woodward complemented by explaining that it is crucial to raise the standards of getting information and creating a curatorial consensus about what is good journalism. 

“We need to go back to the sources: a witness, a participant, the documents owner. We can’t continue with going by a rumor. These should be our standard, we won’t publish anything that doesn’t meet them,” said Woodward.

The world has changed and forever will, but the heart of good reporting is still the same. The methodology of getting good stories is the same: knocking on doors, being respectful to the people we talk with, observing and listening, being a critical thinker, staying consistent and always following our instinct. 

“A lot of doors slammed in our faces but the result was worth it. People are going to say no but it’s the ‘yeses’ that count,” said Bernstein. “People like to tell the truth, there are a lot of deep throats in the world, we just need to give them the opportunity. Listen to them carefully.”

Having the opportunity to talk to Woodward and Bernstein reminded me why I decided to pursue journalism in the first place. Their legacy continues to show the real evidence that truth, in fact, matters. 

In the face of adversity and critique, it’s crucial to remember the foundational principles of journalism. As journalists, we are tasked with the formidable job of holding those in power accountable—a role that may not win popularity contests but is essential for the health of our society. 

Nixon’s words in the Oval Office on Dec. 14, 1972, serve as a reminder of the mindset we’re up against: “The press is the enemy…The establishment is the enemy. The professors are the enemy.” Repeated like a mantra, these words were meant to discredit the very institutions tasked with questioning, analyzing and informing.

It is precisely this adversarial role that underscores the vital importance of journalism. Let us not be deterred by the challenges but instead, be inspired by the courage of those who have stood firm in their quest for truth. Journalism’s mission to illuminate the truth and contribute to informed citizenship is more important now than ever.

Sofia De La Espriella is the News Editor for the University Press. Email [email protected] or message her on Instagram @sofidelaespriella for information regarding this or other stories.

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About the Contributor
Sofia De La Espriella, News Editor
Sofia is a junior double majoring in multimedia journalism and history. She is passionate about governance, foreign relations, and the Latin American region. On a determined path toward graduate school, Sofia aims to specialize in these fields and acquire an in-depth understanding of their intricacies. Ultimately, she aspires to become a respected political journalist.

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