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Convocation Review: NPR reporter Danielle Kurzleben talks policy, politics and pundits

Danielle Kurzleben ‘05 returned to Carleton last Friday, January 10, to deliver a convocation speech entitled Re-writing Your Stories. An NPR reporter based in Washington, D.C., she is currently covering the 2020 United States presidential election with a focus on gender politics and economic policy.

During her time at Carleton, Kurzleben was uninterested in politics. She wanted to become a journalist, but started out in economic journalism, working for U.S. News and World Report and Vox. She began to grow her interest in politics, before eventually being hired by NPR.

The main takeaway at Convocation was that pundits and reporters are not the same. She emphasized that the trust in real journalists should not be decaying the way it is in the current political landscape. She also warned people to avoid cliches, arguing that they are prefabricated stories that can cause you to warp the real story or miss important information you might not have expected. To illustrate this, she explained how when she is having conversations with voters in her work as a reporter, she needs to listen to their political opinions, rather than making judgements based off of their demographic characteristics. She also advocated for people to read the entirety of articles. Headlines, she said, are written to pull you in; don’t freak out until you’ve read the whole story. There is important information at the bottom of news stories that almost nobody reads.

Most of the questions from the audience revolved around her work as a journalist and the 2020 campaign. People wanted to know how they could make themselves more educated consumers of news and media. When asked what her favorite convos she attended as a student were, she admitted that she was an infrequent attendee, but recalled Dennis Kucinich and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (Ben and Jerry) as being highlights.

Her presentation was engaging, funny and gave valuable advice to students as well as information on the 2020 election and candidates. Her relatability as an alumna was refreshing—in particular, as she described, her sense of imposter syndrome during her time at Carleton. She told the audience about the culture shock she felt coming from rural Iowa and meeting “worldly” people at Carleton. However, she said she wishes she could tell herself now that if she would have gotten over her fears and talked to people, she could have seen how interesting they were.

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