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Q&A with David Graham, ’09

Published By DukeJournos / published on: September 12, 2019

Meet DukeJournos member and DEMAN Weekend 2019 panelist David A. Graham '09, staff writer at The Atlantic.

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You have been at The Atlantic for close to eight years covering mainly politics and global news, both of which are categories covering a great deal of territory! Do you have a favorite distinct topic area on which to write?

Honestly, probably music—my favorite pieces are about the intersection of music with American culture and politics. But that doesn’t necessarily pay the bills. These days, it seems like it’s all presidential politics all the time, but I’m eager for the moment when that changes.

What piece of work are you most proud of from your career so far? Why?

Part of the fun and the curse of journalism is that once you knock out one story, love it or hate it, there’s another one to write.

At the moment, though, the answer is probably the oral history of the Clinton impeachment I did recently for our print edition.

What has been the most challenging piece you have ever had to write? Why?

There are a lot of stories that have been emotionally challenging for content, or particularly complicated to write, but the one that always sticks with me as a nightmare is when some harebrained editors decided we should “poll” 100 random New Yorkers on the street about Anthony Weiner. Never mind that this was not a poll in any scientific sense. With minimal help from some lollygagging interns, I did eventually manage to harangue enough people on smoke breaks to get to the century mark.

Did you always know you wanted to be a journalist? If so, were there any steps you took while at Duke (outside working for The Chronicle) that you think were instrumental in launching your career?

Not always, though from the time I read Russell Baker’s Growing Up in middle school I was captivated and had a sense I wanted to at least try it in college. From the time I filed my first story at The Chronicle, I was pretty sure I was hooked. An internship after junior year was fairly crucial, but I think most important non-Chron thing I did was to take classes on interesting topics and learn to think critically about many things, synthesize ideas, and write better.

Do you have any major “do’s” or “don’t’s” for young Duke alumni looking to get into this business?

I say this advisedly, both for fear of inviting a flood of emails and out of awareness that the line between asking for help and pestering can be tough to navigate, but: Do not hesitate to draw on Duke connections. They were essential to me getting jobs in this business, and most Duke grads are eager to help. I don’t really have much to offer to the people who helped me, but I can pay it forward to other Duke grads. I talked to a student recently who was reluctant to send an email to someone they knew, at a publication were they wanted to work, which was hiring. Don’t do that! Work the system.

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