Curiosity may kill a cat, or make a great journalist like Paul Moses, a Pulitzer Prize winner, who turned to teaching journalism after working in the field for 23 years. His non-stop curiosity resulted in various achievements, with his book, The Saint and the Sultan: the Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace being the most recent one.
Writing always fascinated Moses, since he started doing it for his high school newspaper. However, only in Brooklyn College, where he currently teaches, did he realize that he wanted to make a career of it.
What’s interesting is that at that time he majored in Psychology, which proved to be a wrong choice for him.
“Psychology was more of a science than I realized when I was beginning in college and it really wasn’t suited to my abilities,” said Moses. “It maybe a good choice for other people, but it wasn’t the right subject for me. I only got BA in Psychology because I’d already taken all the credits by the time I understood it.”
Fortunately for Moses, there was a creative writing teacher, Mr. Miller, who noticed his passion for writing and encouraged him to go on with journalism. Taking literature and writing classes and contributing to his college newspaper, Moses realized that he enjoyed being a reporter. At the same time, he intended to be a college professor after graduate school.
Instead, Moses got a job in The Hudson Dispatch, a newspaper that covered events in Northern New Jersey and his career began. He has written features, news stories, opinion pieces, did investigative reporting and covered the Pope in the Holy Land.
When Moses worked at Newsday, he became the rewrite person, who put together the main story that combined other journalists’ work. For this story, Moses and his team received the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Reporting in 1992. It was about a midnight subway derailment that took place in August 1991, as a result of which five people were killed and more than 200 injured.
While working at Newsday, Moses also started writing articles about religion, again out of curiosity.
Being a religion writer, Moses learned a lot about different religions and once he came across an interesting episode that inspired him to do more research and finally, to write a book about it.
“I read a short passage from Little Flowers of Saint Francis, a medieval book of 1300s,” Moses said. “I read about the encounter between Saint Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malik al-Kamil of Egypt during the Crusades, in 1219. Of course, I was curious to know more. I began to research it to see if it was true. I found out that it was and then I wrote my book suggesting what the story signifies for us today.”
Out of all writing he has done, from fictional short stories to major news coverage, Moses preferred newspaper writing.
“I like the fact that people see my work immediately,” Moses explained. “There is also more connection with the audience in newspaper writing. I don’t write much news anymore and I miss that.”
Despite his passion for journalism, Moses has always wanted to teach. He has been thinking of becoming a college professor since graduate school, so when the job opened in Brooklyn College, where he had wished to work, he took it with pleasure, as he had never planned to stay in journalism for even as long as 23 years. Moses loves working with students and willingly shares his reporting experience with them.
“Of course, there is a lot more to teaching than just telling stories about what I’ve done,” said Moses. “I give a lot of advice to beginning journalists, for example, to be well-informed, to read newspapers, as it is hard to write something without reading something similar to what they would like to write. Another recommendation I give is to be curious and to work on different forms, such as features, reviews or news stories.”
Moses encourages his students to do internships and write for college newspaper, telling them that the most important thing is to get their work published. As far as writing is concerned, there are few hopeless reporters, in his opinion.
“I think it’s possible to teach people how to write journalistically, as long as their writing is ok,” Moses noted. “I see that some students are really improving and I see changes in their writing abilities.”
Looking back at his long career with lots of unexpected turns, Moses is satisfied. At 56, he is an honored journalist, a professional writer, a loving husband and a father of two grown-up children. Even though Moses admits that he would like to write more books and he probably will do so, he is happy with what he has achieved so far.
He said, “I enjoy working with students. I have a chance to write and publish what I have to say. To me, if you can make a living doing something you would want to do even if you weren’t getting paid, that’s the success.”