Peter Eisler ’85

DEGREE: B.A. in English

JOB TITLE: National affairs correspondent, Reuters

FAVORITE TRINITY MEMORY: My favorite memories involve being on the quad—Ultimate Frisbee, snowball fights, playing guitar with friends on spring afternoons.

What types of stories do you cover for Reuters? I work mainly on longer-term investigative projects. My editors don’t put a lot of boundaries on what I cover. If I can convince them a story is worthwhile, they give me the time and resources to chase it. We just spent 18 months on a seven-part series exploring deaths and litigation associated with police use of Tasers.* The project identified more than 1,000 cases where people died after Taser shocks, often in combination with other force, and it documented hundreds of wrongful death suits stemming from those fatalities. In 20-plus years of investigative reporting, I’ve explored everything from hospital safety to nuclear weapons proliferation. It’s like writing a graduate thesis every time.

What do you enjoy most about your work? It’s incredibly rewarding to do work that has a positive effect on people’s lives. Many of our projects expose failures in government programs and public policy, and when those stories trigger official investigations, hearings, or regulatory changes that address those problems, it brings a very tangible sense of accomplishment. Plus, I get to pick a subject that interests me, learn everything I can about it, and, when I’m done, pick another subject and do it again. It doesn’t get any better than that. 

What is The News Literacy Project, and what is your role with it? NLP is a national program that puts journalists in middle and high school classrooms to teach students to be educated news consumers and well-informed citizens. I’ve been teaching for NLP in classrooms around Washington, D.C., for about a decade. The curriculum aims to help kids understand the standards of quality journalism and distinguish reliable, well-sourced reporting from biased or intentionally misleading information. It also stresses the importance of the First Amendment and the critical role a free press plays in our democratic system.

Why do you think its mission is important in today’s world? The seismic shifts in the way news is delivered and consumed have created an incredibly ripe environment for people seeking to manipulate public opinion. It’s exploited by domestic groups and individuals seeking monetary or political gain and by foreign agents intent on inciting public discord and weakening confidence in government institutions. I think it’s fair to say this is one of the most serious threats facing our democracy, which relies on a well-informed populace to function effectively. So it’s absolutely critical that we equip the next generation with the skills to distinguish credible reporting from misinformation, propaganda, and opinion.

How did your experience at Trinity help prepare you for all you do now? Trinity sparked my intellectual curiosity—it’s where I learned to enjoy learning—and that’s played a far more important role in my career than any specific college class or program. I had no interest in journalism when I was at Trinity; I didn’t write for the Tripod or pursue news-related internships. So, when I finally got into reporting, I had to start very low on the career ladder and work my way up. The lessons Trinity taught me about being inquisitive and open to new ideas propelled me at every step.  

Was there a professor who was particularly influential? Sadly, many of my favorite Trinity professors have died. Jim Miller, Jack Chatfield, and Thalia Selz all taught me to think critically, argue confidently, and write with strength and precision. My adviser, now-retired Professor Dirk Kuyk, taught me the basics of news writing in a one-hour meeting at his office before I interviewed for my first reporting job. If it weren’t for him, I surely would have failed the newspaper’s writing test and spent my life as a struggling musician.

What was the most memorable course you took at Trinity? Two lit courses really fired my interest in 20th-century history and politics: “Literature of the Counterculture,” taught by Harold Martin, a visiting professor and former president of Union College, and “Literature of the Depression,” taught by English Professor Jim Miller. My Shakespeare classes with Milla Riggio were terrific, too.

* Eisler and his team were honored by the White House Correspondents’ Association in April 2018 for the seven-part story on the police use of Tasers.