Last Thursday, Los Angeles Bureau Chief of the New York Times Adam Nagourney visited the school, answering questions about journalism and commenting on the current status of the media. Nagourney is a former political correspondent for the New York Times during the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns, and has covered key stories such as President Obama’s election and the obituary for George H. W. Bush.
Nagourney, a long-time friend of History Department Chair Dr. Daniel Link, offered to come to the school during his time in NYC.
“Given all the current questions about the trustworthiness and reliability of the media, I think it’s important that students get a chance to interact with journalists as much as possible,” Link said.
While at the school, Nagourney led a discussion in a question-and-answer style format in Link’s AP U.S. History class.
“Usually, speakers come to assembly and you don’t have a chance to interact with them in a classroom setting.” Mandy Liu, a member of Link’s APUSH class (11) said. “It was nice having someone like him come to school.”
Liu thought Nagourney’s story was inspirational because he first started working at a small paper, but by pursuing his passion he was able to reach his dream job, Liu said.
“Everyone needs to start somewhere,” Julia Goldberg (11) said. “It doesn’t matter where you start, but that you start.”
In a subsequent I period discussion at the Berger Faculty Dining Hall, Nagourney answered questions from a small group of students. Students asked about his career path, job responsibilities, and ways to improve student journalism abilities.
Nagourney started his career from an interest in college student journalism, he said. “I instantly knew journalism was something I wanted to do.”
“I was attending Purchase college, and one day an editor of the paper, the Load, came over and asked if I would like to write a story,” Nagourney said. The publication had a small budget and we had to type our stories into columns around two inches across. “Back in those days, we used an electric typewriter – a substantial technical challenge because of the inability to easily format layouts.”
Once Nagourney broke into the field of journalism, he had sudden realizations about the people working at the Times, he said. “Inevitably, you realized that everyone is fallible and human. You realize that the Times is really good because if one person has a bad day, five other people will have a good day. There’s nothing like watching these very honest and fair people work.”
Nagourney also shared tips for aspiring writers. “When doing an interview, take a recording, and shut up and let the person talk,” Nagourney said. “When you’re out covering something, you want to capture the moment.”
“Nagourney stressed the tactic of not only using factual statements, but statements that convey powerful emotion,” Conner Dwin (10), who attended the I period discussion, said. “I’ll be using these skills in my journalism practices.”
Nagourney said one of the most important things to do was to observe your surroundings, a tactic that Goldberg is utilizing in her student journalism career, she said.
Furthermore, Nagourney spoke about maintaining relationships with contacts to keep up-to-date and accurate information. “The contact list is one of the most important tools you have as a reporter,” Nagourney said.
Besides discussing his career path, Nagourney also addressed the current state of the media with respect to bias and unfair criticism, as well as the imminent future of newspapers.
“Fox caters more to conservative viewers and MS to liberal ones, and that might influence story selection and how they are framed, but I don’t think anyone distorts facts, not intentionally.” Nagourney said.
These stations also have commentators who express their opinions quite openly, Nagourney said.
Nagourney spoke about the changing state of journalism, Yesh Nikam (11) said. “With advances in technology, more people have gotten their word out, but that’s not necessarily good. You can’t always differentiate what’s factual and what’s wrong,” Nikam said.
The Times, however, has built a reputation over the years for accuracy. “It’s just in the basic DNA of the paper,” Nagourney said. “When we get stuff wrong – which we do – we write corrections and let people know. And stories, especially sensitive ones, are carefully edited and fact checked.”
With the utilization of social media platforms such as Twitter, one can state what immediately pops into their mind, Nagourney said.
Nagourney’s discussion reflected ideas shared in the history department about source validity “We think it’s crucial for students to look at a variety of sources, read widely, and ask themselves if there other news sources they could be looking at,” Link said.
Part of the reason that the country is in the state that it’s in is because you have a large number of people who are only getting their news from one source, Link said.
Nagourney discussed how for many outlets, it’s important to break stories as quickly as possible, Eli Bacon (11) said. “The news cycle has become quick and composed of countless blogs, and it’s difficult to find sources you know are trustworthy. Nagourney showed us a new perspective of how journalists from the Times go on about verifying stories.”
Nagourney also commented on how language shapes the perspective of readers and how newspapers have adapted to the circumstances. “[The word] ‘liberal’ was demonized by opponents of Bill Clinton, so many newspapers have adopted the word ‘progressive’. For the topic of abortion, if you’re against abortion, are you anti-abortion, or anti-choice? Pro-abortion, or pro-abortion rights?” Nagourney said.
The discussion was an opportunity to think about what it’s like to write for a general circulation newspaper, Link said. “For the Record students, I hope the discussion gave them a sense that what they’re doing now might be something to do in highschool, or something as a career.”
“[For highschoolers interested in journalism and politics], read newspapers. Read the Times, the Washington Post, the Economist; figure out who you think are good writers and follow them,” Nagourney said.