Political reporter, columnist and Summer Hill native Salena Zito discusses her new book and Northside love
By: Neil Strebig
Salena Zito may be best known for her description of the contrast between President Trump supporters and the journalists who covered the 2016 Election in a September 2016 article with The Atlantic: “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”
Zito, who grew up in Summer Hill and attended Perry Traditional Academy is currently on tour promoting her new book, “The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics,” which takes an anecdotal and analytical look inside why President Trump won the oval office and the electorate behind a populist movement.
“[President] Trump wasn’t the cause of this movement, he was just the result,” Zito said during a phone interview.
After an 11-year tenure with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review the now, 57-year-old Zito found herself carving out a career following a beat no one else was paying attention to. “No one went out and talked to the Trump voters and understood them,” Zito said. “This movement is trying to tell us something.”
Zito doesn’t fly anywhere. Instead, she insists on driving. She insists on seeing the towns, the people and the communities she’s reporting in. She wants to get to know her sources. She wants to understand them. It is as much a part of her journalistic instincts as it is her Pittsburgh nature. It was due to her tenacity that she not only received national recognition for being the first to get in right in Trump Country, but it also helped restart the career of a veteran journalist.
According to Zito, after the election she was out of a job. “I was walking to the bakery by my house to apply for a job when CNN called,” she said. “They called and said ‘you were the only reporter that got this right and we want you.'”
Since, Zito’s work has appeared in the New York Post and Washington Examiner in addition to a nationally syndicated column.
And yet, despite all that success Zito is still grounded. She’s still a Yinzer. On Monday, April 30 during a book promotion at Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation, the vibe was more family gathering than formal book reading. Perhaps that was due to the cookie table – a Pittsburgh tradition that Zito herself made sure was available for guests, picking the sweets up just moments before the event started – or perhaps it was due to the dozen or more Northsiders and family members that came to support Zito.
“I’ve probably spent more time on the Northside than anywhere,” said Zito.
A frequent presence at the Allegheny Elks’ Banjo Night, Zito refers to her Northside childhood as the “ultimate way to grow up,” citing fond memories of the “old market house in [Allegheny Commons] West Park.”
It is hard not to attribute a portion of Zito’s success to her humble roots and empathy towards neighbors, towards Americans – towards humans. Zito, who is of Scot-Irish and Italian descent, grew up in an eclectic neighborhood that was enriched with neighbors from Hungary and the Mississippi Delta.
“That was the backbone of my upbringing, my understanding of people,” said Zito, adding that “people are the best ambassadors of the Northside.”
“Northside always get the bum rap. I’ve always seen the potential.”
“The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics” is co-authored by Brad Todd. The $28 book is due out on Tuesday, May 8, pre-orders are now available. Salena Zito is a nationally syndicated columnist. Her work appears in the New York Post, Washington Examiner and she is a CNN contributor.