A World of Understanding
Doug Heuck '84 knows firsthand how suddenly the national mood can shift from boundless confidence to deep pessimism. He became the business editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1999, just in time to witness the boom turn to bust.
"I came in at the peak of this fabulous time of excess where no dream was too big or outlandish to succeed or make someone disgustingly wealthy," says Heuck. "It's remarkable to me how quickly the euphoric mood of our country has changed to a tone of fear and hunkering down."
But Heuck's long journalism career has taught him that few things stay the same for very long. "How long this bad period will last is a good question," he says. "It's just as rational to be optimistic as it is to be pessimistic. I think things will get better."
For a guy from Cincinnati, Ohio, who literally grew up in a house with a white picket fence, journalism offered Heuck a chance to figure out how and why things change. "I had a relatively sheltered life," he says of his upbringing. "But my work as a reporter wasn't about rebellion. It was about exploration. Some people become reporters because they want to change the world, but I just wanted to see and understand it."
And he wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty in his search for understanding. Not long after arriving at the Post-Gazette in 1985, Heuck spent two weeks living on the streets of Pittsburgh as one of the city's homeless. The result? A first-person series entitled "I Am Homeless." In 1990 he spent four months exploring "the projects" of Pittsburgh. The resulting series revealed a community filled with crime and drugs that the city's housing authority director had publicly called a "utopia."
Of the stories Heuck has written, he says the homeless series was his favorite. During his fourteen days living on the streets, Heuck donated blood plasma to earn money and slept on sidewalks and under bridges--any place that seemed remotely safe. He experienced hunger, cold, friendship, and the threat of violence. Coworkers from the newspaper, who didn't even recognize him, avoided eye contact and walked around him when Heuck, as a joke, asked them for money.
"I don't know how many risks people take in life, but the homeless piece was certainly a risk for me," says Heuck. "Newspapers play many roles, but I believe that newspapers should play the role of a watchdog at times."
After the homeless series ran, the tables were turned on Heuck as a reporter when he became the subject of radio talk shows and television newscasts. The Post-Gazette was flooded with calls from people who wanted to know how they could help the homeless of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Heuck's first job after graduating from Kenyon with a degree in political science didn't foreshadow the successful career that was ahead of him. He worked at a weekly newspaper in Brooklyn, New York, for two weeks before his editor fired him. "My editor was only a year older than I was. He had gone to Harvard and seemed to think that he knew almost everything," says Heuck.
As Heuck was descending the stairs of the newspaper building after getting canned, the editor said, "You better find a new line of work.You'll never make it in this business. You have no curiosity."
That was too much for Heuck. "I marched back up the stairs and persuaded him to let me freelance. I don't know if he was intimated by my size or what," says the former College football player who is six feet and two inches tall. "Despite what he said to me, I think I've always been very curious. I find it interesting to explore subcultures and places that are different to me. Communities that are off limits are where you often find the best stories."
In 1983 Heuck was awarded the College's Anderson Cup for founding the Gambier Journal, a monthly publication that covered national issues as well as campus news. His current role as business editor, as well his investigative reporting on welfare reform and children in city schools, has taken him a long way from his days of interviewing former College president Phillip Jordan
"I do miss writing," says Heuck, who lives with his wife, Marylynn Uricchio, the society editor at the Post-Gazette, and their three children. "But one of the reasons I was no longer interested in writing in-depth stories for the Pittsburgh newspaper was that despite your best intentions, if you're going to tell the truth about a complex and intense situation that involve's someone's life, it can be a very difficult thing for them. When everyone they know reads about them and sees them on the front page of their local paper. It's very traumatic for some people. I always pay a great deal of attention to that."
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