Steven Roberts: On A Legacy of Writers

In the fourth of a series of blogs offering video snippets from Stephen Hess’ numerous interviews with the prominent journalists featured in Whatever Happened to the Washington Reporters, 1978-2012, Steven Roberts, who went from the Harvard Crimson to the New York Times, tells of the influence his family had on his becoming a journalist, starting in the sixth grade.

Whatever Happened to the Washington Reporters is Hess’ latest book, in which he set out to find the 450 Washington reporters he first surveyed in 1978. He tracks them in France, England, Italy, Australia, and 19 U.S. states in addition to the Washington area, locating 90 percent and interviews 283 of them, producing the first comprehensive study of career patterns in American journalism.

It’s hardly news that some journalists go into the family business. So too do bakers and coal miners. But the Roberts Family is approaching dynasty status. Steve and his wife Cokie, of National Public Radio and ABC, write a nationally syndicated newspaper column, and their daughter Rebecca Roberts is a host of POTUS ‘O8 on XM Radio.

Among the other journalists in the Hess book, Joe Albright’s senior thesis in college was a study of his grandfather, who founded the New York Daily News, and brothers Knight and Todd Kiplinger followed their father into the publishing company that had been founded by his father. When asked if going into journalism had always been his goal, Jack Fuller, editor of the Chicago Tribune, replied, “Yeah, oh yeah. My father was a newspaper man and so the fact is I had grown up with it.” This doesn’t’ guarantee that journalism is the right choice. Susan Fogg Braaten reflects, “I went into journalism partly because my father was a reporter…In retrospect, I probably was not temperamentally suited to being a reporter in any of the ways I am absolutely suited to being a teacher.”

Indeed, more journalists credit a teacher than a parent for their journalism career, as does Rich Jaroslovsky (Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News): “When I was 12 years old, I signed up for a journalism class at my junior high school. My God, this is fun!”