Fire seems to be falling from the sky. Reporters hear the sounds of car bombs exploding right outside their building. But T. Christian Miller has never let fear prevent him from taking on difficult problems in his reporting
Miller has covered a variety of topics in his career, which spans more than 20 years and includes four wars — one where he was captured by Colombian militant group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC — as well as human rights, environmental abuses and the 2000 presidential election. In that period, Miller worked for the Los Angeles Times for 11 years, and he is currently the war correspondent for ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative news source.
Journalism as a profession is declining, according to Miller, but it has to exist as a check against moral and governmental abuses.
“The greatest societal problems are present in areas where journalism doesn’t function,” Miller said. “It’s the fourth state — it’s the outside watchdog of government. It’s one of the leverages against power.”
In the early 2000s, when Miller worked for the LA Times, they had a staff of more than 800 and bureaus located across the globe, but since then the organization has been stripped of much of those resources and is struggling to remain profitable. Miller said ProPublica was formed in part to fill the recent decline of investigative reporting.
Miller currently teaches at the campus Graduate School of Journalism, but he will take a break for the upcoming semester as he awaits the publication of his book. The book expands upon the story of the sexual assault he investigated for his Pulitzer Prize-winning article, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape”.
Miller believes UC Berkeley’s environment prepared him for life outside of college and gave him reporting experience he would not have received at a small liberal arts college.
“It’s a big crazy campus where you have to make your own way, and nobody will hold your hand along the way … It’s urban, so all the problems of the world are right in your face,” Miller said. “That made being a journalist at the Daily Cal great. I covered the previous wildfire record, cop calls, riots, murders — stuff you wouldn’t get at a small liberal arts college.”
Although Miller is passionate about journalism, he originally aspired to be a novelist. He joined the Daily Cal because great American novelists from Mark Twain on had first been journalists. After seeing his first story in print, Miller was “hooked” to the craft. Miller continues to write poetry, though he doesn’t have any plans to publish his work. His favorite poets are Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickinson and John Donne, and he admires the modern work of Ishmael Reed, Mary Oliver and James Dickey.
In his many years of reporting, Miller has generally enjoyed covering his stories, but while reflecting on his memories, he chose two that were especially rewarding. The first was bringing a chocolate cake to a refugee camp for a child’s birthday, and the second was telling Marie’s story of sexual assault in “An Unbelievable Story of Rape” in a way that affected a broad audience.
“Those personal intimate stories are the ones that give me the energy to keep going,” Miller said. “Bigger stories move markets — speak to people.”
While being kidnapped by FARC was admittedly Miller’s “craziest” experience, he said the Iraq war was actually more dangerous and that he faced car bomb explosions and even attempted attacks on the LA Times bureau while there.
When Miller is not reporting for the Berkeley bureau of ProPublica, he spends most of his time with his wife and three kids. As a family, they frequently hike and travel together. He still enjoys skateboarding and longboarding, and he more recently found a hobby — or as he called it an “obsession” — with California native gardens.
Miller’s goal for the future is “to write kick-ass stories as often as possible. I want to keep my hands in the experiment that is ProPublica.”
Contact Jack Austin at [email protected].