Award-winning Journalist Discusses the Power of Listening

April 22, 2013

Lara Moritz '90 presents Joe W. Morgan Lecture

by Veronica Gockenbach ‘14

Award-winning broadcast journalist Lara Moritz returned to Knox College to share her experiences and talk with students about the importance of listening carefully in order to tell a story. She told students that giving her subjects a voice required her to let them speak for themselves.

The 1990 Knox graduate presented this year's Joe W. Morgan Memorial Lecture, "Giving a Voice, Even When It's Uncomfortable," on April 10. The next day, she also hosted an informal discussion with students over lunch as she answered questions and shared personal stories. Both events were sponsored by the Joe W. Morgan Memorial Fund.

During the lecture, Moritz presented video clips from three of her stories: a 6-year-old in hospice care suffering from a rare condition called "vanishing white matter disease," a teen accomplice to an accidental murder, and a convicted serial killer on death row whom Moritz described as "chilling." Moritz won an Edward R. Murrow Award for the story about the death row inmate.

"I believe that everyone has a story, and it's always my job to find a way to tell it," she said.

Moritz has covered stories ranging from deportation in the United States to gas explosions to interviews with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, earning a couple of Emmy Awards along the way. She earned another Murrow Award for a three-year project, in which police detectives with the Kansas City murder squad allowed her unprecedented access to suspect interrogations and other aspects of their work.

"You never know what you're getting into," Moritz said of her stories.Lara Moritz '90 presents Joe W. Morgan Lecture

Through trial and error, Moritz has learned that the best way to get excellent stories is to be quiet. In fact, Moritz said she often begins interviews without a set list of questions, as she believes that the best questions come from listening to what the other person has to say.

"Letting someone tell their stories is the best way to get to the truth," Moritz said, noting that silence either makes people uncomfortable enough that they start speaking or relaxed enough that they are willing to share information with her.

At Knox, Moritz was a creative writing major, a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority, a reporter for The Knox Student, and an editor for Catch magazine. She attended graduate school at the University of Kansas, where she earned a master's degree in broadcast journalism.

Following graduation, Lara interned at KSNT news in Topeka, Kansas, as a photographer and was a news anchor for three years until she was hired by KMBC 9 in Kansas City. Now she anchors the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. news broadcasts.

Moritz won the 2012 Amelia Earhart Pioneering Achievement Award for her reporting. As part of the award, she was given $10,000 to donate to any institution. She chose Knox.

"The professors here really allow you to grow," Moritz said. "As a person coming from a small town, I was taught to be bold, ask questions, to seek truth." She said she was able to connect with the College because of its similar values.

Students said they appreciated Moritz's insights.

Megan Smith, a first-year Knox student from Kansas City, said, "I've seen her on the news, so it was kind of cool to make that connection."

"She's been successful, and she came back here to be able to tell people about that," Smith added. "It was great to hear someone talk about what they were willing to do to pursue their own dream."

Riho Orito, a Knox student from Japan, attended Moritz's lecture and the lunch. She hopes someday to be a newscaster in Japan and said she was glad to hear Moritz's stories.

To students who may be interested in pursuing journalism, Moritz said: "Do it.

"I have never once discouraged anyone from going into the field. If you have a sense of curiosity, you will learn things about yourself from other people. Even if you decide that journalism isn't for you after a couple of years in the field, you will be so equipped to do whatever you want because of all that you learned."

The Joe W. Morgan Memorial Lecture at Knox College is sponsored by the Joe W. Morgan Memorial Fund, created to support educational activities of the College's journalism program.

Ann Lee Morgan, a 1962 Knox graduate, established the fund in honor of her father, a 1934 Knox graduate and longtime editor with United Press International. During his four-decade career, Joe Morgan covered stories including the trial of Alger Hiss, the death of Joseph Stalin, the launching of Sputnik, the first manned space flight and the assassination of Robert Kennedy.