The festival is also about journalism. You don’t get to the ideas without asking the questions, after all. And in the four times we have staged this event since 2018, I have had the pleasure of watching dozens of talented journalists ask the kind of probing, inventive and deeply informed questions that elicit remarkable responses.
Seeing a prepared journalist in command of a live conversation is a thing of beauty, a kind of high wire act that, when done masterfully, can feel like a work of art. Nationally renowned journalists from outlets including The New York Times, National Review and Slate have had these kinds of conversations at the festival, as have reporters from our region and those from our own newsroom who moderate the many panels that fill the festival week.
I have an intimate view of what goes into a successful interview at the festival. As the managing editor here, I help identify the journalists that we bring into the festival, and I work with events director Jake Newman on the incredibly difficult, but crucial, task of pairing them with the right guest. I help some of the Crosscut journalists who are taking the virtual stage with their research and I edit scripts. (And I listen to every one of the interviews as I produce them for later release on the Crosscut Talks podcast). Still, even with my hands deep in the sausage-making, I encounter unexpected surprises and revelations. It is journalism in real time, and it is what makes the festival my favorite week of the year.
This year, more than any of the others, journalism is truly on display at the festival. Among the guests on our keynote track are three journalists who are no strangers to the spotlight, but who are likely more comfortable asking the questions. This means that in addition to seeing journalists at work, festivalgoers will have a chance to delve into the motivations, aims and challenges at the root of some of the most impactful American journalism of the past century.
These guests include famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, who will be talking about the roots of his craft and the relationship between journalism and democracy; Nikole Hannah-Jones, who will take the stage at Town Hall to discuss how journalism can serve as a corrective to the industry’s earlier drafts of history; and Ezra Klein, who through his New York Times podcast has become one of the greatest interviewers working in the news business right now.
I have the pleasure, and slight horror, of sitting in the interviewer’s seat for the Klein session, which will take place virtually on Thursday, May 5, at 5 p.m. As of this moment, I have no idea what I am going to ask him. I have a lot of research and scripting in my future, as well as a couple of sleepless nights and, hopefully, a revelation or two.