When asked about her favorite part of being a journalist for The New York Times, Diana Henriques glossed over the paper's 150-year history, unsurpassed prestige and distinguished journalistic standards.
Instead, she said she enjoys working with "some of the smartest, most interesting, most screwball people in journalism."
Henriques spoke last night as part of the 17th annual Foster Conference for Distinguished Writers, designed to bring students together with some of the best reporters and writers in journalism.
Henriques, a financial reporter for The New York Times since 1989 who has won the Goldsmith Prize and the Worth Bingham Prize, spoke to a crowd of about 300 students in the HUB Auditorium.
Henriques opened her remarks by reading from the openings of several of her articles.
"I was a little surprised to be asked to do a reading for my work.
A reading seems to be more for poetry than for journalism," she said.
Each of the three articles she read from began with an anecdotal lead, an essential part of what she called the "magical" task of pulling a reader into a story.
Henriques introduced the third story, a company profile of Cantor Fitzgerald, as "one that I still have a problem reading." The bond-trading firm lost 658 employees, or almost three out of every four, in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Henriques said.
During the moderated portion of the presentation, Henriques spoke about covering the 2001 attacks.
"I worked for about forty days without a day off. All our reporters did," she said. "You were so tired you could barely keep your eyes open."
Henriques kept a journal chronicling her coverage and emotions of the attacks, and distributed an article she wrote from journal entries several months after the events.
"The hardest part for younger reporters was feeling like they were intruding into the private grief of the families," she said. "I just kept telling them, 'you're not intruding, you're bearing witness.' "
As a financial investigative reporter for The New York Times, Henriques practices "long-form journalism," routinely writing articles topping 11,000 words.
She said she is optimistic about the future of in-depth reporting, even as the Internet becomes more prevalent.
"In some ways, the playing field has been leveled by online access to documents," she said.
"In other ways, we're going to have a challenge in getting it to the readers."
But paper does have some advantages as a technology for communications, Henriques said.
"If someone sees something on the Web that's the length of one of my stories and they want to read it ... they print it out," she said.
Aspiring journalists should work hard to develop the tools they will need in the future, and to develop confidence in their reporting talent, Henriques said.
"If you don't want to do this more than you want to do anything else, then don't, because it's too hard otherwise," she said.
Stephanie Durning (junior-broadcast journalism) said she enjoyed the presentation from what she called someone "in the know."
"I thought it was really great. She wasn't boring, she was really animated, and because she's from New York, you know she knows what she's talking about," she said.