Paul Solman '66

Mike Lovett

Veteran business journalist Paul Solman ’66 is no stuffed shirt.

For a recent “PBS NewsHour” story about Social Security benefits, Solman interviewed experts inside Fort Knox, surrounded by stacks of gold bricks. He went to a tent camp to talk with Occupy D.C. protesters for a story on the relative happiness of liberals versus conservatives.

And to drive home the concept of moral hazard — which happens when corporations take undue financial risk knowing the federal government will bail them out — he tooled around in a convertible with Brandeis IBS professor Catherine Mann. Moral hazard exists in lots of places, she explained: Seat belts and air bags can actually encourage dangerous driving.

A journalist since his days at The Justice, Solman became the founding editor of alternative Boston weekly The Real Paper in the early 1970s, just as stagflation and an oil crisis began to make headlines.

He quit the editorship to devote himself to writing but, when trying to report simple business stories, realized he was “clueless” about economics. A 1976 Nieman Fellowship allowed him a year of study as a first-year Harvard MBA. The business school’s case-study method convinced him there is a way to tell any business story to just about anybody.

In 1983, Solman co-authored “Life and Death on the Corporate Battlefield,” a “better-than-average seller,” he says, also published in German, Japanese “and a pirated Taiwanese edition.” Two years later, he joined the “MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” which has been his professional home ever since. (It was renamed the “PBS NewsHour” six years ago.)

Solman’s weekly “Making Sen$e” reports for the show are exemplars of explanatory journalism, exploring business and economic issues in depth through fun locations, inventive graphics and lively interviews.

In February, Solman finally bagged his best-seller as the co-author of “Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security,” a how-to that’s user-friendly and useful.

“From the beginning,” he says, “I saw business and economics as a lens that would let me report on stories that affect everyone.”

What was your idea of perfect happiness when you were at Brandeis?

It would be indelicate to say, but take a guess.

When or where were you most miserable at Brandeis?

Junior year, after I realized that, post-adolescent but still pre-adult, I really couldn’t go home again.

Who was your favorite Brandeis professor?

Kurt Wolff. He transformed me from an art history major who would never have made it through grad school to a sociology major. His classes made me realize how much this “hip New Yorker” didn’t know and helped inform my career as a journalist.

Where did you usually spend Saturday night?

After Cholmondeley’s, back at my off-campus Waltham apartment, which I moved into early sophomore year, or at my girlfriend’s. And a few times (with her) in a room I commandeered in an empty dorm slated for teardown. The most frightened I ever was at Brandeis? When someone from security knocked on the door one morning and I claimed I was a grad student whom the dean of housing had allowed to spend weekends on campus. (Thank god I remembered the dean’s name.)

What is the most important value you learned at Brandeis?

This isn’t what you mean, I imagine, but the value of practicing, while in college, a craft to pursue later in life, though I didn’t realize the lesson at the time. I worked at The Justice all four years, and was co-editor-in-chief.

What was the most important shortcut you learned in college?

I learned them all in high school.

What do you wish you had studied harder?

Everything. Literally. I spent far too much time perfecting the metric of GPA/hours of study. Example: I “read” “War and Peace” and, under the tutelage of dear friend Carl Sheingold ’66, wrote a 10-page paper on it in one night. (Got an A, a result to which I’m not sure Carl has ever been reconciled.)

What three words of advice would you give to current Brandeis students?

Be here now.

If you could go back to college, what would you do differently?

Take the advice of my cousin, Judith Shapiro ’63, the Joan Baez of Brandeis, who told me to sign up for professors, not courses. My only excuse for not paying more attention in class is that a number of professors really were quite boring. But then, I’m easily bored, which is probably why I became a journalist.

What would your friends say is your greatest strength?

Loyalty.

What would your friends say is your greatest weakness?

Hyper-tasking.

What book do you read again and again?

Ernest Becker’s “The Denial of Death” and Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations.”

What movie changed your life?

“Rock Around the Clock” or “Forbidden Planet.”

Which possession do you most like to look at?

Any number of small works by the New York artist Hank Virgona.

Whom would you like to sing a duet with?

The tenor Jonas Kaufmann, but I would just lip-sync.

Which deadly sin is your middle name?

Pride.

Which bad break was your biggest blessing?

Not getting into Harvard or Princeton (especially Princeton).

On your deathbed, what will you be most grateful for?

Oh, pretty much everything: Both wives (including the first one, Judy Edelsberg Solman ’66), both kids, all seven grandkids, parents, other family, friends, careers and my health, assuming the bed you’re referring to isn’t just around the corner.

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