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Compiled by Eric Weld   Date: 2/17/09

Alum, Columnist to Discuss Covering the World

Trudy Rubin ’65, popular writer of the Worldview column in the Philadelphia Inquirer, is among the nation’s most distinguished commentators on foreign affairs, with extensive experience in the Middle East, about which she has written for more than 30 years. Rubin was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for her columns on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Rubin will visit Smith on Monday, February 23, to present two talks. At noon in Campus Center 205, Rubin will offer her insights on Careers in Journalism as part of a Career Development Office series. And from 7:30 to 9 p.m., Rubin will give a lecture, “Covering the Middle East,” for the Working Writers series, in Neilson Browsing Room.

Meanwhile, Rubin responded to questions about her work for the Gate.

Q & A with Trudy Rubin

The Grécourt Gate: What has drawn you during your career to your beat of imparting news from the world’s trouble spots?

Trudy Rubin: I've always been interested in the Middle East, since I was at Smith. And that region continually seems to contain some of the world's most troubling security problems. But beyond that, I'm interested in writing about the areas that are most crucial to American security interests. In the 1980s and early 1990s I spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and then Russia. And now I'm looking to get to know South Asia and Afghanistan better. As a columnist who writes on foreign affairs, and on what U.S. leaders should do, I feel that I should have first-hand knowledge about the regions of most concern to our leaders and to us.

Gate: Do you believe, or have you seen, that your reporting can have impact, positively or negatively, on the conflicts of the people you report about?

TR: It's hard to tell if my reporting has specific impact. I'm aiming to reach readers in Middle America and help them understand what is going on in troubled regions. But I find that the columns that are most likely to have a measurable impact are those that detail specific people or situations where readers can actually try to do something to change the circumstances that I've written about. For example, when I wrote about the lack of Kevlar plates in U.S. soldiers' body armor, or when I wrote (early on) about the efforts of Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, to raise money to build girls' schools in Pakistan, readers were eager to write letters, or give money to work on those specific issues. When I write about the bigger picture, it is impossible to calculate any specific impact.

Gate: Do you find yourself becoming emotionally involved in the troubles of the people about whom you report?

TR: Over the past five years, when I have traveled repeatedly to Iraq, I have become emotionally involved in the troubles of many of the people I've written about, especially those who have worked for Americans and been endangered by it. It is impossible not to feel responsibility for a country that has gone through a new kind of hell as a result of U.S. actions.

Gate: As a visitor to some of the globe’s most violent and troubled hotspots, how do you manage the danger of your surroundings while focusing on reporting the news?

TR: You try to manage the danger by talking to your colleagues, especially those who are based in trouble spots—both local journalists and expats—and following their advice, as best you can, on what to do and what not to do.

Gate: What is the most frustrating long-term situation on which you’ve reported?

TR: Israel-Palestine is definitely the most frustrating because I have been covering that story for 30 years and have watched both sides come incredibly close to peace, and then watched those opportunities get lost through mistakes, or the efforts of spoilers, on both sides.

Gate: Of all the places you’ve lived and visited, to where would you most want to return?

TR: I would like to be able to take my husband to Iraq if it ever got peaceful. I would like to revisit Prague and Warsaw, where I have not spent time since the early '90s. I love traveling around England, where I went to graduate school and got my first job—but I haven't had the chance to do that for years. And I want to spend more time in India. I know I will get to spend more time in China, which is so wedded in many ways to the United States, so I don't need to include that on my wish list.
Gate: What influence, if any, has your time at Smith had on your career?

TR: My adviser at Smith, the late Professor Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, first got me interested in the Israel-Palestine issue, which turned out to be the subject that I have covered for most of my career.


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