Great Storytellers Presents Carl Hiaasen, Oct. 4, 2022
By Lila Greenberg, B.S. Telecommunication 2022
What award-winning journalist, columnist, and best-selling novelist Carl Hiaasen, B.S. Journalism 1974, loved most about being a columnist at the Miami Herald was representing the shared thoughts and outrage of readers.
“What I always tried to do is be a voice for readers… you want to be that voice that says I feel the same way.”
Hiaasen spoke to University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications students and faculty on Oct. 4, 2022 as part of the College’s Great Storytellers series. Hiaasen was interviewed by Ted Bridis, the Rob Hiaasen Lecturer in Investigative Reporting at the College.
On a walk down memory lane, Hiaasen provided valuable advice for students pursuing the craft of storytelling, delivered with the perfect balance of wisdom and wit. In true Hiaasen fashion, he wasted no time cracking a joke or two and went on to convey piercing yet practical advice to a room full of aspiring communicators.
Hiaasen described his journey from student, to reporter, to novelist. Reflecting on his time at UF, Hiaasen shared how his experiences as a Gator shaped him into becoming a great reporter and helping him land his first job at Cocoa Today. That job did not last long, as the Miami Herald hired him just two years later.
Hiaasen held multiple roles over his distinguished career at the Herald. Most notably, Hiaasen wrote columns for the paper from 1985 until his retirement in 2021. As a columnist, Hiaasen wrote with flair, outrage, and humor, poking at his targets in the public eye. He wrote about corrupt politicians, environmental destruction, commercial development, and other local issues.
He shared with the audience that for him journalism was so fulfilling because it helped change lives. When a story ran, “somebody’s life would get better because something would have to be changed.”
Hiaasen went on to say that “there is no more important job in a democracy than getting the truth and getting the facts into the hands of the people who vote and the people who have to make the decision about who represents them.”
He informed aspiring journalists about the dangers of taking criticism, because no matter what you write – novels, articles, or columns – somebody will always be offended. Instead of reading comments about published work, Hiaasen told them to focus on being true to the job, making sure the facts are right and the quotes are accurate.
As a Florida native, Hiaasen relies on the state as the primary setting for his many novels. He contrasts the romantic image people have of Florida with reality – a collision of many cultures and the unglamorous predatory element that follows, bringing crime, corruption, and public outrage along with it. The Hiaasen name is synonymous with Florida, so it is not surprising that Hiaasen’s novels all reflect his experiences as a journalist in the state.
When a student asked about how to succeed and grow professionally as a communicator in Florida, Hiaasen provided remarks with the sweetest tinge of satire, “there’s no better place to be a journalist than Florida.” He says that the best path is to work in a small market and focus on getting on the front page to get noticed. Then you can climb the career ladder and work for a larger market in the state or move into the big leagues and work for a national newspaper.