David Shuster Shares His Strategy
Research, knowledge, passion make for good journalism says MSNBC journalist
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
From the set of MSNBC's Washington, D.C., studio, you can't miss noticing how much David Shuster enjoys covering the lighter side of current events. You can also see the intensity he brings to reporting on critical issues. Shuster is the co-host of MSNBC's 3p.m. news program and is a regular guest host for the network's popular show "Countdown with Keith Olbermann."
Shuster's enthusiasm for journalism started at a young age.
"Our family would watch the evening news every night, and we would sit around the dinner table and talk about current events," Shuster said. "So, my brothers and I all became very interested in the news, reading the newspaper every day."
Shuster worked for his high school yearbook and newspaper before becoming involved in broadcast journalism at the University of Michigan campus radio station. After graduating from college with a degree in political science, Shuster worked as a field producer for CNN and then as a reporter for Fox News. In 2002, he moved to rival network MSNBC as a correspondent for "Hardball with Chris Mathews."
Today's 24-hour news cycle demands that journalists be able to discuss a wide range of topics and search out the stories that capture America's attention. Shuster has scoured the globe for news, reporting on events as varied as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the selection of Pope Benedict XVI in Rome.
He says that newsworthy material can be found just about anywhere; it is only a matter of viewing it in a bigger picture. Deciding what information is important in the context of a story and how to convey it to the audience are critical skills for a journalist. Shuster believes that the most important news "is a story that tells you something you didn't know before you heard it, and it's a story that tells us something about our world, our community, or how we live our lives."
Shuster told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps that Hurricane Katrina was the most difficult and one of the most memorable events that he has ever covered. He reported from Biloxi, Mississippi—one of the most devastated cities—as the eye of the hurricane passed over the region.
"Just to see the devastation and how much people were impacted was something that, I think, those of us who were there will never forget," he said.
A 30-foot storm surge and 125 mile-per-hour winds bombarded Biloxi for hours, leaving a path of destruction. One family that Shuster met had ridden out the storm on the second story of their furniture store. They were very worried about some of their customers, who could not afford to leave Biloxi before the storm.
In situations like this, it's sometimes difficult for reporters to maintain their composure.
"As the tears are coming down their eyes, the tears are coming down yours, because it is a compelling, dramatic story," said Shuster. "And sometimes the only thing you can do as a journalist is try to then take that emotion that you're feeling and let the pictures, the sound, and the story convey that to your viewer. So they don't hear the emotion from you, but they hear it from the people that you're talking to."
Interviewing a subject can be one of the most interesting, and one of the more difficult, aspects of broadcast journalism. Whether interviewing a politician or a celebrity, Shuster believes that having a keen understanding of the facts can always help a journalist find the truth.
"I need to understand the facts really well so that I know that if they're shading the facts or saying something that may not be true, that I can try to sort of correct them or challenge them as to why they're saying what they're saying," he said.
Although it may seem difficult to challenge a famous or important person in an interview, Shuster says being prepared makes all the difference.
"If you've done your research, if you've done your homework, it becomes a little more natural," he said. "The material is what gives you the confidence to do that. The people who are most effective and talented, to be able to do that interview, they let the material carry them through."
Shuster feels that the most important things for a young journalist to learn are how to think critically about an issue and how to write well. He says his writing skills helped him land his first job in the business.
He also stressed the importance of reading and learning new information in order to keep up with the ideas and events discussed in broadcast news every day.
"Beyond that, is to follow your interest," Shuster said. "There is always an area of journalism for you."
More Tips from the Pros
For more tips from professional journalists, check out the Scholastic Kids Press Corps Tips from the Pros page.