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I have written for the New York Times for nearly 20 years about a variety of topics. Recently I have focused in large measure on higher education and I have a new bestseller out, "Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be," about the flaws of the college admissions process, how not to be freaked out and how to use college well.
You can learn more about my work at
If you could pick one NYC restaurant for your last meal, what would it be and what would you order?
I would go to Szechuan Gourmet on W. 39th not because it's the best restaurant --- hell, they don't even have decent booze --- but because it's the site of so many memories, and thus the source of so much comfort. For my last meal I'd want to be bathed in that kind of familiarity and warmth (plus the restaurant's dumplings and cumin lamb and wok-fried prawns are all amazing). Restaurants are more than a few great dishes. They're theaters of memory, arenas of loyalty, little threads that run through and connect the different chapters of our lives.
Mr. Bruni - when you are dining at Popeye's, do you prefer the spicy fried chicken, or the mild fried chicken?
Hah! I can't remember the last time I dined at Popeye's! I'm not even certain I've ever dined there. I've certainly eaten LOTS of fast food in my time, so it's not that. But in truth I don't eat much fast food anymore. I'm just not fond of it. I'd probably do the mild, I have to say. Most of the mass-market spiciness I've encountered is either overbearing or muddled.
What do you feel media's role is in addressing issues that are publicly contentious but scientifically rock solid, like vaccines or climate change?
I cringe when I turn on the TV and see a vaccine proponent---which is to say a sane human being---getting equal time with a vaccine denier. It suggests that there are equally legitimate perspectives in opposition. There aren't. The media needs to be much, much more careful and not let its appetite for tension and conflict -- the on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand approach --- distort reality and common sense and truth. Vaccinate your children. Vaccinate your children. Vaccinate your children.
What do you think the future holds for higher education?
I fear that it's only going to get more expensive and that the current admissions mania, with some kids competing ever more fiercely for the finite spots at the most selective schools, will intensify. BUT. We can change that. We can, as consumers, stop buying into the notions that expense = value, that exclusiveness = value. If more and more parents and students stop buying that notion, more and more schools will have to stop selling it.
A couple of months ago you wrote a column about how even as a gay man you feel uncomfortable holding your partner's hand in public. Even in liberal places like NYC. Do you think this is a generational problem, or do you think there needs to be something changed about how we're raised?
Good question. Part of it may indeed be generational. I'm 50, and lived much of my life in an America where, except in VERY particular neighborhoods, it was a bold and eyebrow-raising gesture to hold your same-sex partner's hand. So maybe the hesitation I feel is created by that history. But as I said in that column, I've been taunted in my own liberal Upper West Side of Manhattan neighborhood. The occasional person does gape, and it's possible to draw a catcall, a putdown. I think the instances of this can be made fewer, to a point of almost never happening, if kids are raised not to see LGBT people as curiosities, as people deserving less success. It's my belief that more and more kids are indeed raised this way, but not all, and that's a shame.
Firstly, I'm a big fan of your column, and I frequently read it. Thanks especially for your pieces on the college admissions process; they've helped me through a tough senior year so far.
I'm currently the op-ed columnist for my school newspaper, and three-quarters of a year in, I've found it extremely difficult. I've tried to write multiple pieces over the year about my views on various school policies, and I've tried to work in a similar way to what I see in columns like yours, and as I was taught in school. However, the teacher running it continually blocks me by severely limiting the type of speech that I can put out in a piece, and forcing it to be very mild, often in a way that diminishes the piece's power to nothing.
I was wondering what your view is on a situation like this, and the role of free speech and opinions when it comes to school papers. Should the speech be open? Or is it right to restrict any criticism of the way a school is run?
It's very hard for me to answer without knowing more particulars. I certainly believe in free speech, and I don't think your IDEAS should be censored, unless they're somehow gratuitously abusive to others in the community. Provocative and critical are OK, but there are lines that can be crossed. I don't know if your ideas are being censored or if some of the editing concerns matters of taste. Much editing does, certainly at The Times. Is the teacher correcting your usage and grammar or really telling you what's OK to think and not? I don't think we can hash the whole thing out here, but in the age of the Internet, you have other ways to get that writing out.
What's your go-to weeknight meal to cook at home?
I love salmon and bake it all the time. And if your fillet is fatty enough, just putting it on a non-stick aluminum sheet in a glass baking dish and brushing it with mustard and blasting it with dill do the trick. I go with high heat, like 425, for just 13 minutes or so, because I do not like my salmon overdone. And then I make a big salad: arugula, cukes, tomato, some shaved cheese, just a bit of olive oil, salt. All you need.
Born Round is one of my favorite books and I feel like I just got a bonus paragraph. :) Thank you!
Aw, thank YOU. That makes me very happy that Born Round found its way to you and into your heart. Thank you, thank you.
What city's growing food scene has you the most excited to visit?
I'm consistently surprised by the strides that Portland, Ore., keeps making; you can go back just one year after your last visit and find more. I think Charleston, S.C., is a city to keep an eye on, though it's a weird, awful moment to mention the city. I was there just months ago and my meal at The Ordinary, which isn't new but isn't very old, was among my favorite of the last year.
Working for a major media mogul, and having expertise in higher education, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing young journalists and what are some solutions to that problem?
The biggest challenge facing young journalists is to find a way to do substantive work --- not just staccato blasts of attitude, but pieces of real emotion and probing and information --- and be paid fairly and adequately for it. The journalism economy is very difficult right now, certainly for traditional kinds of work. It's never been easier, in one sense, for a young writer to be seen: the Internet is meritocratic in that way. But being seen in a way that enables you to pay the bills and keep doing what you love? That's tough. Doable but tough. And that concerns and saddens me, because there are many great would-be journalists out there whose work I want to read over time --- whose careers could be a joy to behold -- and they may not be able to stay the course and stick with it.
Do you take column ideas from readers?
Over 20 years ago, the NYTimes played an early roll in normalizing same-sex marriages, by allowing same-sex couples to submit and be published in the Vows section. When the first listings appeared, I remembered thinking "Wow, if the New York Times is taking same-sex marriage seriously, this is really going to happen."
I would really like to read your column on the decision behind this move, if it's not too late to interview the participants.
Readers send ideas all the time, and I consider and sometimes act on them. I'll mull this one. Thank you for it.
Wow, perfect timing! I am taking a comp class and our final paper is to write an op Ed piece on a little known place in New York. Any suggestions? Any tips on writing the piece? I might be able to get more details on the assignment in an hour or two if you're still here
I'm afraid I won't be here in an hour. A little-known place? Huh. It feels to me like nothing in New York is little-known. That's the glory and sadness of the city. Here's a thought: head to Staten Island. The ferry ride is a delight, no one goes there, there's some pizza to be had and you could write something quite colorful about being in the New York City that everyone looks pasta and forgets, except for its residents and devotees of "Working Girl" (hand raised!)
I've been trying to think of some witty, insightful question about the humanity and generosity with which you write, but I can't, so here's the next best thing: Who do you think makes the best pizza in the United States?
Humanity, generosity, pizza: I love them all! Pizza IN THE WHOLE UNITED STATES? I cannot claim enough of an overview to have authority on that, I'm afraid. I can tell you that two of the pizzas I crave most often, when I'm thinking pizza thoughts, when I'm dreaming pizza dreams, are the clam pizza at Franny's in Brooklyn and the clam pizza at The Clam in downtown Manhattan. I believe that the clam and the pizza have a beautiful thing going on. I'm grateful they met.
Income for holders of Bachelors degrees has been flat since ~2001; this mimics the flat incomes of Americans with only a HS diploma, which it has been since the late 1970s. Since 2001, however, the economy has net grown, by about 20%.
Arguably, those whose income does not grow with the economy are not participants in the economy -- they're simply a fixed cost resource. And the growth in the economy has benefit, instead, the very wealthy.
If you accept this premise -- and you should say so if you don't -- then while more education does increase income, it doesn't address a social problem of growing wealth inequality. As such: if higher education doesn't make one a full participant in the economy, then nothing which could be had on merit alone does. Which forces a conclusion that the American dream is no longer attainable on merit alone.
Do you have a counterargument to this?
This is way too chewy and complicated for me to address well in this forum, with a pithy response. But here's one important thing I'd like to say: Higher education alone is no answer to inequality, in part because LOWER education (so to speak) fails so many---too many---people, who can't even contemplate higher education because they've not been prepared for it, because the game was lost years earlier, because we don't give enough young children in this country a chance. It's not a direct answer to your question but it's an important truth for us all to keep in mind.
You look fabulous, how do you do it?
I will assume you are a comedian, and I will compliment you: You indeed made me laugh. Tell me where your next stand-up is and I'm there.
Haha! A shellfish answer about generosity and pizza! Thanks so much. There are some who say Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix owns the title, btw, and I wondered if you'd been, and what you thought.
I have never been there. I am familiar with the legend. I can't remember when I was last in Phoenix. I melt in heat, like gelato. It's not pretty.
Do feel that "Where you go is not who you'll be" contradicts your background a little bit? I mean you got into Yale and were a Morehead scholar at UNC. You're obviously an incredibly bright guy, it's not like you went to some fly by night school.
I didn't go to some fly-by-night school, no, not at all. I was very blessed. But while you know what a Morehead is, many don't, or certainly didn't when I did that program. So my background is indeed that of someone who took a pass on the most immediately attention-getting name (Yale) for something else, and I don't think I suffered for it, so my example doesn't exactly contradict my point. But my example is really sort of irrelevant. The book and all corners of life BRIM with people who aren't Moreheads or went to state schools less fashionable than UNC and used those places as springboards to great success and (not the same thing) happy lives. I think there is no argument, none at all, that how well you use college ultimately matters more than where you go. That's the book's point and my message. You show me someone who wasted his or time at an elite school, who graduated from it expecting the diploma to do all the work, and who was lazy in his or her career, and I'll show you someone who's struggling in his or her 30s and 40s, unless there's family wealth to cushion the indolence.
I agree. There's rarely any real "pique" in fast-food spiciness anymore, its all this sort of dull pain.
"Dull pain" is a very fair description of that, or of Congress.
Hi there, I am wondering if you have any thoughts or opinions on the Common Core assessment tests? Do you believe that this standardized testing will have a positive effect on the issues that need to be addressed in public education? Or do you think it might detract from the ability of teachers to effectively teach their students?
Just as there's no one-size-fits-all education, there's no one answer to this. There are school environments for/in which Common Core is and has been essential, as best I can tell, because there otherwise wasn't or wouldn't have been enough rigor there. There are other places where the Common Core was less necessary and may be impeding instruction that was working plenty well, maybe even better, without it. And, yes, there have been issues, legitimate ones, with how much testing has gone on and whether kids were properly transitioned to it. But I salute the impulse of the Common Core, which was/is to make sure a certain degree of rigor and accountability enter into the equation at all schools, so that kids aren't left behind. It hasn't proven a perfect solution, obviously.