For the last five years, if there has been a disaster, scandal, trial, election, ruling, or rally in the South, Alan Blinder has covered it. As a reporter for The New York Times, Blinder wrote about the Florida shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February; he’s covered the Roy Moore scandal and the special election of U.S. Senator Doug Jones; and last fall, he was on the ground reporting about Hurricane Harvey and the resulting floods that devastated Houston.
“A photographer and I were there the day Houston was flooding and they were rescuing people from the rooftops,” Blinder said. “I wrote and dictated a story from the middle of the interstate in a driving rain about what we were seeing, and it was on the front page the following day.
“When you’re in the middle of a hurricane and you’re writing for the next day’s paper, you’ve got this laser-like focus on getting the story, and you’ve got to figure out how to tell it in a compelling way in just a matter of hours. Because you’re so focused on that, you don’t really stop and think as much about your own feelings, your own comfort, or your own situation until you’re done…and then you realize you are the coldest you have ever been in your entire life.”
Despite the harsh conditions, high stress of a 24-hour news cycle, and extensive travel—sometimes more than 100 days out of the year—Blinder says he loves his job.
“Are there tragic stories and difficult stories? Absolutely. But there is a certain richness in being able to tell stories, and there is a certain privilege in people letting me into their lives,” Blinder said. “It’s remarkable every day.”
In total, Blinder has written hundreds of articles, covering the aftermath of more than 20 shootings, 15 natural disasters, 10 elections, and dozens of other newsworthy events.
His initial ambition in coming to UA, however, was not to be a journalist. He knew he loved writing, and he was always interested in people and understanding how they tick, but as a young undergraduate, he hoped to pursue medicine, not reporting.
“I wanted to be a pediatric neurologist,” Blinder said. “But I was drawn to journalism because I was a pretty lousy pre-med student. Let’s just say it didn’t work out.”
Immediately after graduation, in the aftermath of Tuscaloosa’s 2011 tornado, the political science major got a job at a local newspaper in Lake Charles, Louisiana, covering business and state government. Within six months, he had moved to D.C. to work as a city hall reporter for the Washington Examiner, and in the course of his 18 months there, he saw scandal after scandal. The mayor was under investigation, the city council chairman pleaded guilty to fraud, and bribery was routinely uncovered.
“It was a really invigorating time to be a young journalist,” Blinder said. “And it taught me the value and importance of local news.”
However, when the Examiner announced that it was going to change formats, covering national politics through more opinion-based reporting, he decided to seek out new opportunities.
Hoping to learn about job prospects in the South, Blinder reached out to Robbie Brown, a New York Times reporter who had interviewed Blinder’s wife, Meredith, about Black Friday shopping in 2011.
“I am not being falsely modest when I say I had no intention of applying for a job at The New York Times when I emailed this guy,” Blinder said. “I was emailing him saying essentially, ‘have you heard of any jobs in the South in your travels?’ His response was, ‘I’m leaving. You want to apply for my job?’”
Blinder did apply for the job, and to his own surprise, he got it in the summer of 2013.
“I always thought I’d go to a larger paper and move up in my industry,” Blinder said. “But I didn’t have it quite on the timeline that it played out as. Frankly, almost five years later, I’m still a little surprised by how events turned out.”