Professor Steve Berry
“There’s a common theme I heard from these journalists I interviewed for the book: ‘We weren’t trying to get anybody or put anybody in jail, we were just trying to understand why they did what they did. That’s all.’ ” -Steve Berry
Steve Berry has won the Pulitzer Prize, completed countless exposés, reported for The Los Angeles Times and eventually rested his reporter’s notebook to teach. One might think he has done it all in his 30 plus years in journalism, but now the associate professor is adding the title author to his résumé. He is currently writing a book on eight Pulitzer Prize winning investigative projects.
“I hope journalists will learn something about journalism through this book,” Berry said. “I know I did. I have been an investigative journalist for the last 13 years of my career, and I learned a ton of stuff from other journalists.”
But Berry’s book will not cater to only journalists. He hopes the book will help the public understand a journalist job better.
“They will learn that journalists don’t have any political agenda when we’re writing these stories,” Berry said. “We are simply trying to understand the topics. There’s a common theme I heard from these journalists I interviewed for the book: ‘We weren’t trying to get anybody or put anybody in jail, we were just trying to understand why they did what they did. That’s all.’ ”
Berry will have to wait to see how the public reacts to the book, but one of his students has already shown interest.
“Students learn the difference between good and bad journalism and how to turn their own work into quality pieces from Professor Berry,” Courtney Briley, sophomore from Van Meter, Iowa said. “I think Professor Berry would do a good job of discussing such (Pulitzer Prize winning) stories. I am currently reading several prize winning investigative stories for a class, and they are very interesting.”
Although Berry has never written anything of this length before, the transition from newspaper to book writing is not too difficult for him. He is sticking to the Associated Press style and, as usual, is doing extensive research on his subjects.
“Oxford (the publisher) can change the style, but I have been using the AP style for decades,” Berry said laughing. “But I will not use the inverted pyramid. I will be writing soft leads.”
Berry said the toughest part is finding time to write. He dedicates most of his time during the school year to teaching and grading papers. He started working on the book last summer, but he only has time to interview during breaks.
Berry traveled to Washington state and Oregon, and newsrooms such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Miami Herald and The Charlotte Observer to conduct interviews.
For copyright reasons, Berry is keeping the names of most of his interviewees a secret at this point. He does plan to include interviews with Jeff Brazil, his partner in a series published in The Orlando Sentinel in 1992.
Together Berry and Brazil exposed the unjust seizure of millions of dollars from minority drivers by the Volusia County, Fla., sheriff's drug squad. The story earned them the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 1993.
Their effort also caught the eye of Lawton Chiles, the Florida governor at that time. Chiles appointed a task force to investigate the situation and eventually reformed the law the sheriff abused.
Berry said interviewing professional journalists is a new experience for him.
“These are long interviews,” Berry said. “With one of the interviewees we sat for six hours. Six hours straight. Without even taking a bathroom break.”
Despite the time required, he is enjoying the process.
“Reporters are really good interviewees,” Berry said, “If I ask them detailed questions that may not make sense to others, these reporters know why I’m asking that. They are very patient, very cooperative. These are the top journalists in this country. They are dedicated to journalism. They know this book is going to be good for journalism.”
He plans to finish the book by December, 2007.