New York Times Columnist David Brooks Visits Bethel

Before a public event in Benson Great Hall, Brooks stopped by the student newsroom for an off-the-cuff Q&A with Bethel journalism students.

By Monique Kleinhuizen '08, GS'16, new media strategist

October 02, 2018 | 9:30 a.m.

New York Times columnist David Brooks speaks in an event in Benson Great Hall.

New York Times columnist David Brooks speaks in an event in Benson Great Hall. (Photo Credit: Brianna Shaw ’19)

Journalism students crowded their Brushaber Commons newsroom on Tuesday, September 25. Sitting on desks and windowsills and scribbling notes in their reporters’ notebooks under the twinkle of Christmas lights, they were all ears as New York Times columnist David Brooks sipped Diet Dr. Pepper and shared personal insights about life as a writer and social observer. 

Brooks shared how his career has developed—“through a series of lucky breaks,” he said, humbly—and the nitty-gritty of his organizational system and meticulously consistent creative process. He told them that every writer he knows has a process of some kind, and that his includes piles of printed research and notes on the floor, one for each paragraph of his 800-word columns.

“Imagine you have a paper due in three days—and now imagine that’s the rest of your life,” he said of the nature of his work. He cheekily added that in college, highly-educated people are paid to read students’ work, but when those students become professional writers, that luxury will be gone. “You’ll have to win them over,” he said.  

Students peppered him with questions about how to fairly cover leadership in the midst of financial challenges at Bethel, how to deal with editorial criticism, and how to get a foot in the door at admired media organizations.

New York Times columnist David Brooks speaks with Bethel journalism students.

New York Times columnist David Brooks speaks with Bethel journalism students. (Photo Credit: Brianna Shaw ’19)

The intimate gathering came hours before Brooks took the stage—wearing the students’ “Truth Matters” sticker on his suit lapel—before 1,000-plus guests in Benson Great Hall. Sponsored by the Johnson Center for Journalism and Communication, Brooks’ free evening talk covered observations on American culture—how it’s shifted over time, where it seems to be headed, and where he sees the most hope—from his 2015 book The Road to Character.

While he notices a shift in national politics toward divided tribalism, he says he’s traveled the country and gotten to know individual change-makers who are building inclusive, bridge-building micro-cultures that impact communities for the better.

While years ago, he said, “you didn’t say you were from Chicago, you said you were from 59th and Pulaski—your neighborhood was right around the street corner,” today there’s “a crisis of isolation.” The fastest-growing political and religious affiliation, he says, are “unaffiliated.” Teenage suicide rates are rising, 55,000 people die each year from opiate addiction, and “opiate addiction is just slow-motion suicide,” says Brooks. Today the “we’re all in this together” culture has completely melted away and people don’t trust each other, he added.

But Brooks sees hope in that climate. Today’s rogue change-makers leverage technology to surround at-risk youth with real-time positive role models. They start micro-organizations, create intentional support networks, and build community around their kitchen tables. Just like Bethel, they focus on developing whole people. “I find these people wherever I go,” said Brooks.

Society changes when a small group of people—often at the margins of society—find a better way to live, and then other people want to copy them. It’s like the early church. These community builders that I find, these stickers, these cultural rebels…they believe in ‘we’ over ‘me.’ They have moral motivation. They’re not that interested in money and status. They want connection.”

— New York Times columnist David Brooks speaking during a Johnson Center for Journalism and Communication event at Bethel University

To Brooks, those change-makers—and not Washington—are the ones who will take our country forward.

About David Brooks

David Brooks is a New York Times columnist and author. A keen observer of the American way of life, avid reader, and savvy analyst of politics and foreign affairs, he’s also a professor at Yale University and regular guest on PBS NewsHour and NPR's “All Things Considered.”

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