What is the difference between a journalist and a historian? This was one of the critical questions discussed at the American Historical Association 2018 annual meeting session, "Creating Popular Narratives: A Roundtable with Journalists." Featuring Pulitzer Center Senior Advisor Marvin Kalb and grantees Richard Bernstein, Tomas van Houtryve, and Allison Shelley, the event focused on the intersection of journalism and historical research and provided a forum for experts from their respective fields to explore the relationship between the two disciplines.
Kalb led off the panel by remarking that "the relationship between history and journalism is intimate, one bleeds into the other." From there, the panelists and the audience spent the next hour and a half discussing and dissecting the similarities and differences between the two fields. Several major themes emerged during the panel, including the importance of journalists studying history, why historians need to engage the public, and advice on how to create narratives for a general audience. The session was part of the "Public Engagement" track at the conference, designed to provide examples of how historians can work with the people outside academic settings. All of the journalists agreed that historians have a role to play in the news media, connecting what is happening now to the events that have shaped the past. Van Houtryve commented that he has "heard so much about the wall, so much about immigration, and so little about the historical context," while Shelley pointed out that historians are needed to counter the inaccurate narratives that the media sometimes perpetuate.
By the end of the session, no one had definitively determined the difference between a journalist and a historian but Bernstein provided an interesting thought. He stated that journalists are trained to live in the moment where it is hard to separate emotions and politics, which is why historians are needed. Maybe the old adage of journalism being the first draft of history is true, but it is only a draft and historians play a role in revising it.