Psychology helped Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Dan Keating ’84 decide on a career in journalism.
Currently working as a Database Editor for The Washington Post, Keating shared his experiences working at Williams and beyond in a talk on Friday at the Office of Career Counseling (OCC).
He vividly remembers the first time he realized his journalistic ambitions. An article he wrote about psychologists and “how people always think they’re playing mind games” had been published in the features section of The Berkshire Eagle. When Keating saw a man sitting at a bus stop reading the article and laughing out loud, he suddenly knew what career path he wanted to follow.
“That was what told me that I wanted to do this for a living,” he said. “[I thought] this is great, since I could reach out and touch someone who I had never heard of before and connect with them [by] mak[ing] them laugh.”
Keating may have had humble beginnings as a beat reporter for the Eagle, but since leaving Williamstown, his journalistic achievements have gained national acclaim. As an investigative reporter for The Miami Herald, Keating was part of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for uncovering voting fraud in Miami and was also part of a team that was a finalist for the Pulitzer in 1998 for revealing illegal police overtime.
His team received Harvard’s Goldsmith Prize of Investigative Reporting and the National Headliner Award for Investigative Reporting, both in 1999.
While attending Williams, Keating not only served as an editor for the Record, but also worked in the News Office, a job that he said, “turned out to be critical for me, because that’s where I really learned about news writing.”
He did freelance work for the Eagle, Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (UPI), writing mainly about the speakers who visited the College. Keating emphasized that these opportunities gave him the professional experience that is crucial to acquiring a job at a major newspaper agency.
Highlighting the importance of professional experience, Keating spoke about reading applications for internships at the Post: “There was just about an immediate dividing line between people who had some level of credible professional experience, and the others. The people who did not have some degree of professional experience did not even get considered.”
“If you’re at Williams and thinking about trying to get yourself a job in journalism right now, the most important thing is that you have to build some level of credibility by having some professional experience,” he said.
Keating suggests that aspiring journalists intern at a small newspaper during their junior or senior years in college, where they can gain some knowledge about writing for a real paper before applying for a job at a bigger agency after graduation.
He also suggests that budding reporters “tail around with a professional reporter on the job” in order to learn invaluable skills and to find out about different aspects of that career. Students should also take advantage of online publications like those of The New York Times or The Washington Post.
According to Keating, journalism typically attracts a cluster of “neurotic overachievers.”
“The newsroom is filled with people who are used to excelling, who are really stellar, but who always think that they haven’t done enough,” he said. “It’s a room full of people who work really hard, and who enjoy working long hours because they enjoy their job so much.”
According to Keating, one of the major perks of being a journalist is having “frontrow access to the world.”
“It was by virtue of being a journalist that I went through college,” he said. “I actually got to meet, interview and talk with the president of the College.”
But he often sees problems with this part of the job: “There’s a dangerous and intoxicating aspect of that. . . in Washington. Some of the people in journalism feel that they are the people in power because they hang out with the people in power.”
He also spoke about the more challenging aspects of investigative reporting. In past instances, he has been forced to jump into situations and take steps that “border on obnoxiously rude and insane.”
“You do have to have this wanton willingness to jump into places that are sometimes unpleasant,” he said.
Also, Keating was quick to talk about the intense nature of his type of work: “It’s not a field you can go into and expect a moderate pace,” he said.
He described himself as a “Watergate baby”: “I grew up seeing the most powerful man in the world brought down by nothing other than truth. Reporters uncovering the truth made the world a better place. And that really made a big mark on my life.”
But he is also concerned with the way young people today view his profession: “As much as I saw the media as a crusading force for good and right, I worry that [the younger generation] sees it as a sensationalizing, privacy-invading and trivializing. So I don’t know if journalism appeals to idealistic people as much as it used to.”
And according to Keating, even promising psychologists may have the potential to become talented reporters: “What really helped me as a journalist was to be able to see things from the other person’s point of view. . . For me, this was very helpful to be able to distinguish between what I’m perceiving and how another person’s perceiving things, how the world looks to that person.”