WATERVILLE — Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Catrin Einhorn has had to ask some difficult questions over the course of her career, whether it was her work exposing a culture of sexual harassment at Ford Motor Company, documenting the life of Syrian refugees in Canada or covering the deployment of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

On Monday, she shared some of the approaches she and other journalists have taken to navigate those hard interviews with a small group of students and members of the public at Colby College.

The lunch-time talk, part of a series of programs planned around the college’s 66th Elijah Parish Lovejoy Convocation, focused on how to ask pointed questions while also showing empathy and putting one’s subjects at ease.

“I think the reason (Colby) wanted me to come here was students, whether they’re going to be journalists or whether they’re going to be researchers in other areas, I think we probably have some techniques and strategies that can help,” said Einhorn, who was part of a team of reporters who won the Pulitzer Prize for public service in 2018 for reporting on sexual harassment and misconduct across industries.

“We’re at a time in our country where people are not very good at speaking to each other and having hard conversations with each other. So I suppose really any American approaching a conversation with curiosity and empathy might serve us all well.”

The discussion, which was also attended by the recipient of this year’s Elijah Parish Lovejoy Journalism Award, former Denver Post editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett, was part of a new approach by Colby’s Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs to programming around the award, said Director Patrice Franko.

In years past, Franko said Colby has offered discussions for student journalists in conjunction with the award, but this year was interested in extending the effort into the community.

“I see writing as being more centered in community, and in the past it was really a limited cohort,” Franko said. “What we wanted to do was make this more outward looking, so we were looking at the Colby community and the downtown community and trying to draw in students and people as writers from across the spectrum.”

The Lovejoy award, presented annually since 1952, is named for Elijah Parish Lovejoy, an Albion native, Colby graduate and journalist who was killed by a pro-slavery mob in Illinois in 1837 as they fought against his work for an abolitionist newspaper. It recognizes courage, integrity and character in journalism.

Other programming around this year’s award included discussions Sunday and earlier Monday on shrinking newsrooms and the implications for democracy and local communities.

Plunkett is also being recognized for his work defending local journalism after he wrote an editorial earlier this year criticizing the owners of his own newspaper in the wake of newsroom layoffs.

Sophie Lary-Kaplan, a senior at Colby, said she was drawn to Monday’s talk by Einhorn because she is a fan of her work and was curious to learn about how she develops stories and tackles different subjects, including Einhorn’s work on sexual assault and misconduct.

“I think the way you go about reporting on sexual assault, or any sensitive or taboo topic, it’s very interesting, and I especially wanted to hear her approach as a female reporter reporting on sexual violence,” Lary-Kaplan said.

In her talk, Einhorn pointed to examples from National Public Radio’s Terry Gross and Ira Glass in discussing how to tackle hard interviews. Whether it’s approaching the victims or alleged perpetrators of sexual violence or trying to interview a public official about something they don’t want to talk about, she said it can be helpful to “go in sideways,” by making small talk or asking easier questions first.

She also stressed an approach of “calm curiosity” when it comes to interviews and trying to make a subject comfortable. And she said it’s okay for a journalist to show emotion, or even cry, in an interview.

“I don’t mind showing people that,” she said. “I think it’s okay to get a little emotional. It’s authentic. It’s who I am.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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