Max Potter Visits Campus

By KATIE MCHUGH ([email protected])

Maximillian Potter, part of Allegheny’s graduating class of ’93 and award-winning journalist and executive editor of Denver’s 5280 city magazine, gave a lecture entitled, “Investigative Journalism: What it is and how it will (and won’t) change,” on Monday at 7:30 PM in the Quigley Auditorium.

Potter began his lecture in a conversational tone, asking the audience what they thought investigative journalism entailed. Watergate immediately came to mind, and other students suggested that investigative journalists need to “go behind the scenes,” or “dig deeper, past official lines.”

“Money in politics,” one student said.

“Money in anything,” called another audience member.

Potter explained that using the term “investigative journalist” is rather like saying “fastidious surgeon” or “funny comedian.” All journalists must embody certain qualities: average or above average intelligence and an ability to write, although Potter said he considers himself a minimalist writer.

“A journalist,” he continued, “must also be able to read a person or a room quickly,” and he must also be kind and considerate of the subjects while keeping in mind readers’ potential biases and reactions. A reporter must also be well-versed or at least familiar with a variety of disparate subjects—a skill provided by a thorough liberal arts education.

“Passion is the key ingredient,” Potter said.

A reporter must keep an open mind and a sense of objectivity, too.

“But objectivity is not to be confused with checking your heart and mind at the door,” Potter said. “You can choose a side, as long as it’s the right side.”

Investigative reporters must pursue anyone who could contribute to their story, and they always make the extra phone call.

Building a solid story may require hours of trawling through official documents and realizing their importance, though it may feel like “painstaking grunt work,” as Potter put it. Writing an engaging story means compiling as many facts as possible into a compelling narrative. Potter described himself as the kind of journalist who wants to inform, entertain, get paid, but, most of all, nudge the universe in a positive direction with his stories.

Potter went on to address the fiscal and technological challenges facing the newspaper industry that may threaten the future of investigative journalism. He explained that reporters need to work together to move the future of journalism away from bankruptcy and irrelevance towards profitability and prominence once more.

“Good journalism means good business,” Potter said.

Potter encouraged aspiring reporters to apply for internships. Once secured, he explained, students should use internships to build a network of references and demonstrate initiative.