Journalism is a craft, not a career

49437737_62e56cddfd_mMost who attended the 29th Foster-Forman Conference will agree that Dean Baquet’s commentary on journalism was refreshing and reassuring for us aspiring journalists here at Penn State. Usually, we are bombarded with statements such as “Journalism is a dying field” or “What we need more of are math and science majors.” Yet Baquet, the managing editor of THE New York Times, is optimistic about the future of journalism.

“You’re entering the profession at a truly wonderful time,” he said. He even went as far as to say that he is envious of the opportunities we will have in this new age of technology and that “the best journalism is being produced right now.”

Not only did he make me feel better about my career choice, but he also completely altered my view of what the role of a journalist means. For such a successful man who had his own humble beginnings growing up in Louisiana, with no books in his house and a mother with a third grade education, it was fascinating to hear him say “Don’t get so caught up in your aspirations.” It’s as if he’s saying Go wherever the wind takes you, and eventually you’ll end up where you’re supposed to be. Perhaps he ended up at the NY Times by taking his own advice of simply taking that job that teaches you something you don’t already know.

One of the most important things I took from Baquet’s speech is that reporting is more important than analysis. And he is right. We need journalists who are willing to be witnesses and among the action. That is where real news comes from, and that is how journalists can accurately inform the world—not from in a chair in walled newsroom.

McCurry's most famous photograph titled "Afghan Girl" He took the photo at a refugee camp along the war-ridden Pakistan-Afghan  border

McCurry’s most famous image titled “Afghan Girl”
He took the photo at a refugee camp along the war-ridden Pakistan-Afghan border

When Baquet said this, I was reminded of Steve McCurry, a Penn State graduate, who is a well-known photojournalist. I did a presentation on him for my photojournalism class year, and was amazed at the situations he put himself in for the sake of his “craft”. He has smuggled himself across country borders, has been in the midst of war and has even had near death experiences—But as a result, he has produced some of the most iconic and eye-opening photographs the world has ever seen. When Baquet says that he fears the loss of witnessing and reporting, I think he means that he fears that journalists will become passive.

So get out there! Travel the world, learn new things and have the time of your life doing it.

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4 thoughts on “Journalism is a craft, not a career

  1. Hi Jill — I just wanted to highlight two parts of your post that I hope you’ll think about and your classmates will comment on:

    1. I am so glad that you noted Baquet came from a background that doesn’t scream “budding journalist.” How do you — and the class — think that background may have affected the way Baquet practices journalism?

    2. Quoting you here: “When Baquet says that he fears the loss of witnessing and reporting, I think he means that he fears that journalists will become passive.” This is a fascinating concept. What would a passive journalist do (or not do), and what would an active one do?

    Lori

  2. Lori,

    Addressing your first question, perhaps Baquet’s background caused him to be more observant and innovative. Instead of information being shoved down his throat by someone else, he learned to teach himself and therefore was able to learn what he wanted to learn. I guess that’s why he is such an advocate of taking the job that teaches you something new! To be honest, I am really not quite sure how he went from what some would call a “disadvantaged” past to a prominent journalist. It would be fascinating to here that part of his story!

    In regards to your second question, I think a passive journalist would be content just getting by and doing the bare minimum. Nowadays, especially with Twitter and various news sources, it is easy to get access to information without physically being where a particular event happened. It would be easy to just stand on the sidelines and let others do the work for you. Basically, I interpret a passive journalist to be someone who is afraid or unmotivated to be among the action in the world, witnessing it firsthand. An active journalist, on the other hand, would show passion and a desire to be in the midst of news even as it is happening, which may even be dangerous at times. They would also pursue interviews, even if it is uncomfortable.

  3. Both of your thoughts make a lot of sense, Jill. And I would like to hear more of his personal story, too! Think about this: Do you think that as someone who didn’t come from a life of privilege, he has a different perspective on society than those who do? One of the key points of diversity in a newsroom is having people from different backgrounds who may seem things differently. At least, that’s how I’ve always felt.

    Lori

  4. I like how you mentioned Baquet’s background of not owning books and his mother having a third-grade education. I wrote that down in my notes too, because it proves how successful people who come from nothing can be. My mother, for example, was an orphan, coming from a poor family of 12 children. She was the only one to go to college, where she got her Masters in teaching. I love hearing stories about people who are driven enough to follow their passions, despite the factors in their life that may hold them back. In response to Lori’s comment, I think his background affected the way he practices journalism because he is truly practicing out of passion and he reports because it is what he wants and loves to do.

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