Courtesy of RICHARD BENEDETTO
Adjunct School of Communication and School of Public Affairs Professor Richard Benedetto, with his neatly-coiffed white hair and tweed sports jackets, looks to be the perfect stereotype of a professor, but, in reality, he has another claim to fame.
In 1982, he became part of the founding team of the weekday newspaper, USA Today. He worked there for 24 years as a political correspondent before retiring in 2006. In addition to teaching, Benedetto now writes for Politico, a political news publication and Web site based in D.C.
Before the beginning of Benedetto’s success, he was first introduced to newspapers during his childhood in Utica, N.Y.
“The newspaper was a staple in my house, in my grandfather’s house. We always had newspapers,” Benedetto said. “It was a ritual — my father would come home from work at 5 p.m. and the first thing he would do was read the paper.”
In high school, Benedetto wrote for his school’s publication and discovered a love of politics.
“I was very fascinated by a debate that was taking place at the city council meeting - whether or not to put a traffic light or a stop sign at a particular corner,” Benedetto said.
Despite his early exposure to print, Benedetto did not always want to be in the newspaper business.
“I didn’t think I was going to be a journalist right off the bat,” he said. “I was basically a liberal arts student.”
He graduated from Syracuse University in 1965 and went to work for the Buffalo Evening News, where he was not a reporter but a public relations writer in the promotion department.
Soon, Benedetto decided to go back to school - this time for journalism.
After finishing his graduate degree at SU, Benedetto returned to Utica in search of a job.
“I went back to my home town,” Benedetto said. “[I] got a job as a city hall reporter there and did that for five years.”
In 1976, Benedetto left city hall for the state capital. He worked for the Gannett News Service, now the largest newspaper publisher in the U.S., according to the company’s Web site.
While working in N.Y., Benedetto said he won a prize for a piece in which he exposed the deplorable conditions of halfway homes housing mental-health patients who had been released from state institutions.
In 1982, Gannett approached him about being a part of a new paper they were working on that would be based in D.C. and have a national focus.
“They asked me to be on the team, so I worked with them — with USA Today — to get it started,” Benedetto said.
At the time, that meant living in D.C. for six months and flying back to Albany on weekends to visit his wife and four daughters, including a set of triplets.
The triplets, who were 3-years-old at the time, would greet their father at the airport every Friday and see him off again every Sunday.
“At one point there, they thought I was living at the airport,” Benedetto said. “All through my career, the challenge was traveling ... You have to have a wife who’s willing to pick up a lot of the slack, which [my wife] was, and at the same time you try to maximize your time with the children as much as you can.”
At USA Today, Benedetto furthered his work as a political correspondent: he covered four U.S. presidents, at times riding with them on Air Force One. He said it was very different from the investigative work he had done in Albany.
“When you get to Washington, and you cover the White House, it’s not that kind of beat,” Benedetto said. “You can’t do the watchdog journalism ... What you do at the White House beat is you try to keep the president honest by being skeptical of everything they say.”
Now in retirement, Benedetto thinks fondly of his career, but he said he is happier now that he has time to teach and to relax.
“I don’t miss the day-to-day rat race anymore,” he said. “It was a long grind.”
Benedetto said the average workday was at least 10 hours long.
During his last days at USA Today, Benedetto wrote a memoir about his career called, “Politicians are People, Too.” University Press of America published it in 2006.
These days, Benedetto said he has one ambition left in life - “to write a novel.”
For those students at AU seeking to go into journalism - and more specifically, into coverage of the politics - during this time of tumult for the field, Benedetto had one piece of advice: “Study history as well as journalism,” he said.
Benedetto said the challenges of teaching were, in fact, very similar to the challenges of journalism.
“To be a good journalist you have to study, to be a good teacher you have to study,” Benedetto said. “Each has its own difficulties. I think that physically reporting is harder. Intellectually, teaching is probably harder. You have to know even more, and you have to be able to defend what you’re saying in class ... But a lot of it is similar ... Basically what you’re doing in reporting and you’re doing in teaching is the same thing. You’re teaching people. You’re giving them information, and they’re learning something from your story or from your teaching.”