Maraniss: "Why are people the way they are? Why do they do what they do? What are the forces that shape them? What I'm trying to do is understand them at a level that actually adds to the public discussion."
Despite the volatile nature of the journalism industry, Pulitzer Prize winner and Madison native David Maraniss believes the enduring aspects of the trade -- finding the truth through reporting and telling a story well -- remain as important as ever.
"The formats, in the end, are not that important," Maraniss said Monday at Edgewood College. "What's important is the human need for story, and the ability of story to explain, define and give meaning to all of our lives."
Maraniss' speech was part of the Simpson Street Free Press Speaker Distinguished Lecture Series, and the Washington Post associate editor offered concrete advice to the young writers and reporters involved in the organization.
"Lay the foundation for a lifetime of writing," Maraniss said. "It's never the same story. Every human being is different. Every story has its own organic flavor to it, and it's trying to understand that matters."
After Maraniss' father, who was an editor at the Capital Times "lit a pilot light" in him by proclaiming that he'd be the best writer in the family, Maraniss decided to pursue a career in journalism. Acknowledging that pursuing a career in journalism today can be frustrating, Maraniss offered a note of optimism Monday night.
"I think it's great that all of you young journalists have people... who believe in you, and I hope they light your lights, too," Maraniss said.
Despite embracing the digital age, Maraniss stressed the importance of going straight to the source while researching. Maraniss is encouraged that there are aspiring journalists who are dedicated to delivering high-quality and authentic writing.
"I've found that the energy and the desire to write and to be journalists is greater than ever," he said. "In this world of superficial celebrities, tweeting, social media and blabbing and blogging, there's still a really healthy group of young people who want more than that, and who write things that matter and search for the truth."
Maraniss's career spans decades, and includes biographies of former President Bill Clinton, baseball legend Roberto Clemente, Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi and President Barack Obama. Maraniss is currently working on a book focused on the culture and collapse of Detroit.
"What drives me as a writer and as a journalist is to try and figure out why," Maraniss said. "Why are people the way they are? Why do they do what they do? What are the forces that shape them? What I'm trying to do is understand them at a level that actually adds to the public discussion."