Keith Bradsher ’86 was your typical overcommitted Economics major – but with a difference. While many of his classmates were interning with financial firms, Keith wrote for the Daily Tar Heel. He graduated with highest honors in Economics and went on to the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University for a Masters in public policy, but he kept his eye on his prize: the opportunity to report on economics-related issues for a national newspaper. Oh, and seeing the whole world would be nice as well.
His opportunities came quickly. During summers at Carolina he served as a stringer in Mexico for US business magazines. At the Woodrow Wilson School he worked at the Los Angeles Times as a business reporter. After obtaining his masters degree, he became an economics reporter with the New York Times. His postings have been in New York (1989-1991), in Washington, DC (1991-1995), in Detroit (1996-2002), and in Hong Kong (2002-present). That’s where he’s been based, but he’s traveled quite extensively. As he says, “Along the way, I’ve done reporting trips to Europe, Africa, South America, the Mideast, South Asia and Australia. I’m still missing Antarctica. The New York Times does cover that continent, but it’s unfortunately not considered a business story.”
Keith has become the go-to guy at the New York Times in recent years on economics and economic-policy issues in Asia. In his words: “I write a variety of daily stories, analyses and features, particularly on economic policy issues.” As a true journalist, though, he knows that his job description is not so neatly defined. Wherever the New York Times needs an expert observer, he’s there. “I’m not limited to covering economics. After Typhoon Haiyan struck Tacloban in the Philippines in November, 2013, leaving the roads lined with drowned bodies and triggering a week of chaotic looting, I lived in the ruins of the city for two weeks and filed articles by satellite phone.”
With a travel resume like Keith’s, it’s irresistible to ask about the most exotic place he’s visited. His answer is all business. “Last July I traveled to Kano in northern Nigeria to interview the emir. There was still a large blast mark on the ground outside his palace, where Boko Haram had killed as many as 500 people a few months earlier. I was deeply impressed with the emir’s bravery in continuing to advocate for polio vaccinations, more electricity and better rail lines. I walked through the narrow alleys of the ancient walled city to visit a tannery full of python skins, crocodile skins and other leathers; the tannery had lost most of its business to synthetic fabric imports from China.”
Many of us in reading this are saying to ourselves: How do you create a career like this? Keith has a simple answer: it starts at Carolina. “My undergraduate work at Chapel Hill prepared me very well — I particularly remember my international economics course with Patrick Conway. My economics training at Carolina gave me an absolutely indispensable foundation for nearly 30 years of economic journalism, helping me to understand abstruse speeches by Alan Greenspan or to interview central bank governors and finance ministers in Asia.”
When asked for a photo for this post, he sent the one above. No peaks, no beaches — just Keith Bradsher, notepad in hand, inspecting a Chinese automobile plant. That’s part of the world, too.