‘You Can Ask Anything’: Reporter Anne Hull Tells UT Journalism Students to be Fearless

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“As always I feel like a complete fraud standing up here,” Anne Hull said, glancing around at the filled seats of the Joynes Reading Room on Tuesday night. “I’m supposed to be some sort of expert on journalism.” Despite her reluctance to believe it, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with the Washington Post had a lot to offer audience members when she spoke about the ever-evolving world of journalism and the personal standards she has stood by throughout her time in the field.

Hull, who was awarded the Pulitzer in 2008 for her investigative reporting exposing the poor living conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, discussed her journalistic methods when developing a story.

“With Walter Reed I quietly, before asking any questions, just hung out there for about a week,” Hull said. “That’s 60 percent of reporting—just hanging out and being quiet and watching, trying to figure out what’s going on.”

In her 13 years at the Washington Post, Hull has also done notable reporting on the aftermath of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. She’s known for covering controversial topics like growing up gay in the Bible Belt and immigration.

Hull imparted some guidance for any students looking to pursue journalism, addressing issues created by the increase in demand for and consumption of  news.

“You’re working way out ahead of those of us who claim to be working journalists,” Hull said. “You’re writing code, you’re wrestling with analytics and juggling pressures that journalists before you never had to deal with. Each one of you has to decide what your standards for accuracy and truth are.”

She also discouraged aspiring journalists from giving into pressures to conform to “how things should be done.” Instead Hull said to allow innate curiosity to act as a guide when working on a piece.

“I was so embarrassed to ask questions at my desk that I would walk home four blocks to make phone calls, because I thought I asked questions in a way that wasn’t polished and professional,” Hull said. “The truth is there’s no real right way to ask a question. You have to find out what you’re curious about and what you want to know. I mean you can ask anything. It’s a great job.”

Hull’s talk is a part of the Joynes Lecture Series. Sponsored by a grant awarded to the Plan II Honors Program, each month features one or two guest speakers that include scholars, writers, and artists.

Photo courtesy of Matt Valentine.

 

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