Journalist Susan Chira ’76 Discusses Career at “The New York Times,” Future at “The Marshall Project”

Susan Chira ’76 was the International Section Editor for “The New York
Times” for seven years.

A former Deputy Executive Editor of “The New York Times,” Susan Chira ’76 has devoted her professional life to journalism for the past 38 years. Chira, who has won five Pulitzer prizes with various reporting teams, spoke about the key moments of her career and future plans on Friday, April 5, in the Mural Room. Chira’s visit was part of the Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Author Series, a series sponsored by an Abbot grant that features women who identify themselves as authors and organized by Saffron Agrawal ’21.
Chira primarily worked in the international section of “The New York Times,” ultimately becoming a Deputy Editor of the international desk and Editor of “The Sunday Review,” the opinion section of “The New York Times.” According to Chira, this time period allowed her to report and edit major world events that were meaningful to her.
Chira said, “I became the International Section Editor in 2004, which lasted until 2011. Such tenure allowed me to run coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was also the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, and all of that was just such an incredible time for international news.”
Chira was part of the first class of women who were admitted to Andover; however, her interest in journalism did not surface until her college years at Harvard University, where she became President of the “Harvard Crimson” and decided to pursue a career in journalism.
Chira said in her talk, “When I was attending Harvard, a former friend from Andover had recommended me to try out the ‘Harvard Crimson.’ Though it was a huge time commitment and lots of work, I just fell for it and loved the reporting. I was still not sure whether I wanted to go professionally or not, because I still interested in academics and theatre. But I began to feel that it would be more urgent for me, in this rapidly changing contemporary world, to go into journalism.”
Mary Muromcew ’22, an attendee of the event, said that she appreciated Chira’s message that true passions do not necessarily need to be discovered early for a successful career.
“At Andover, she did not write for The Phillipian, yet she became such a successful journalist, attaining one of the highest positions at ‘The New York Times’ in the end. I feel like there is a lot of pressure [at Andover] to find your passion immediately, though I discovered from the talk that it is okay to not find your true interests in high school,” said Muromcew.
Chira joined “The New York Times” as a writer in 1981 and became an editor in 1997; however, after 20 years of editing, Chira realized that she missed actively writing articles. In 2016, she took up an investigative article about sexual harassment in Ford factories, as it was her personal goal to cover more gender issues.
“I particularly wrote a lot about blue-collared and factory women, because I wished to know what type of harassment happens in non-privileged settings. I happened on an example of Ford, where we saw that the equal employment opportunity commission has settled with Ford for a sexual and racial harassment case at two factories in Chicago. I was enjoying the process of finding the truth and writing about these gender issues,” said Chira.
Chira will soon become editor-in-chief of “The Marshall Project,” a non-profit journalism organization that investigates the inequities of the criminal justice system. According to Chira, her interest in social justice inspired her to take the position.
Chira said, “The founder of ‘The Marshall Project’ believed that there was not enough journalists who focused on the unfair elements of the criminal justice system after seeing executed teenagers who were falsely accused of rape. More journalists, including me, are being recruited, investigating the racial disparities and sentencing, as well as abuse of prisoners by guards and inability to get proper mental health.”
Chira continued, “It is very small compared to many other forms of media, but it is currently in growth from and is my responsibility to widen the lens of our investigations. It is a great opportunity to do something different, and I thought it would be a great next chapter for my career as a journalist.”
Attendee Sam Katz ’19 admires the mission of “The Marshall Project.”
Katz said, “The ambitions of ‘The Marshall Project’ and what she aspires to do seems amazing. I am rooting for them, and I fully support their cause. I can not be too optimistic about the success of this project, considering the power and the money that is in the prison industry today. Still, I appreciate how she is stepping down from such a prestigious position, to be part of an upcoming and newly established organization.”
Agrawal, organizer of the series, expressed her admiration for Chira’s continued interest in investigating different elements of the society.
Agrawal said, “I was already fascinated by areas of social justice before the talk. Therefore, hearing about her work that will happen in ‘The Marshall Project’ was very intriguing to me. Since she has also spent most of her career writing about gender issues, I enjoyed listening to her insight and view on that topic as well.”