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Eric Gustafson: Foreign Correspondent for The Economist
His talent for writing has propelled Eric Gustafson ‘97 around the world. His curious and compassionate nature has helped him to tell hundreds of stories about thousands of people. He credits UMD with giving him a solid education and concrete skills that he continues to draw upon.
In 2002, Gustafson earned a Master of Arts from the Diplomatic Academy of London. While he took classes at night, he worked for the British magazine, The Economist, during the day. Gustafson began to report on illegal practices in bookkeeping at Selfridges department store, where they kept two accounting systems in order to hide bad investments, similar to practices at Enron. As result of Gustafson’s reporting, Selfridges CEO went to prison and other finance executives paid fines or spent time in jail. The career of the young man from a farm in Princeton, Minn. was launched.
He also studied writing. Two more professors, Thomas J. Farrell and Roger C. Lips, stand out in his memory. “They were both hard professors and that helped me, because after graduation day, nothing is simple. You need to know how to work hard, make the details shine, and always be better than the next person,” he said.
After graduating, Gustafson worked in marketing for a time, but soon discovered that it “felt like I was in a cage.” He decided to explore journalism. He had written for the UMD Statesman. He landed a job as a news editor at the Winona Post in Winona, Minn. “It was just the kind of change I was looking for,” he recalled.
In the summer of 2008, after a stint in Central America, The Economist sent him to cover politics and economics in California, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona. “That summer, of course, the main focus was on the presidential election and whenever any of the top four candidates were out west, I attended their events, town hall meetings, rallies, and interviewed them,” he said.
Gustafson now writes primarily on economics, politics, immigration, and the debate over health-care reform. He continues to be drawn to the human side of complex stories. While attending a lengthy Federal Reserve meeting in Los Angeles, filled with discussions about theories and formulas, he went outside for some air. There he met a former Citibank employee who was shining shoes. For Gustafson, this encounter brought home the meaning “of what’s going on a lot more than a whole week of formulas ever could. To hear his story, how in just the last eight months his whole world had turned upside down. . . That’s a detail I brought into the story to bring things full circle.”
If You Want to Write
He also encourages young people to “Go out and live. Have adventures. Work on a farm or an oil rig. Meet extraordinary people. Meet ordinary people. Listen to the words they say and how they say them. Spend a month in another country or at least a different state. If possible, do not stay at home.” He believes that most good stories are told “by people who step out of their comfort zones.” He admits that when he came to UMD he was “a shy, inward looking guy from that little farm town.” Getting involved at UMD and pushing himself to be better “helped me step out of my comfort zone.” And Gustafson adds, “That has made all the difference.”
Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann, firstname.lastname@example.org
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