Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Be Brave, Then Write

In case you missed it, and you most certainly did, I recently gave the keynote speech at the Arizona Interscholastic Press Association conference.

Lots of high school kids. Lots of potential.

I get to give these talks every so often. I guess it's a sign that I'm no longer in high school looking up at a career in journalism. For this talk, I tried to channel a book I used to find comfort in, "Letters to a Young Journalist," by my former J-school professor Samuel Freedman.


In any case, my talk was called "Get the Story." And for the sake of brevity, I broke it down into three ideas.

1. Be brave. Put yourself in the right place to get the story.

For an amazing example of how to do this, check out Laura Sullivan's 2008 piece on prison overcrowding in San Quentin.

Of course, I also had to summon the intrepid border reporter, Michel Marizco, for the work he did in San Fernando this May covering the presidential elections.

2. Don't be afraid to dig in your own backyard.


Often great stories are right in front of us - in our own neighborhood - if we just take the time to listen to our intuition when we see something and think, "um...that's totally weird!"

Like the time I watched a tanning salon open in my neighborhood shopping complex during the recession. As I told the kids, I think the smallest stories usually always mean something much more.

In this case, the two-part series aired on NPR.

3. Find your voice. And once you do, protect it.

OK. So this one is tough, and most of us are still working on it. But I think once a journalist finds out who he or she is as a writer (or as a photographer or anything else for that matter), there's still a lot of work to be done.

In this final excerpt from my speech, I had just gotten done describing the work of a photojournalist I know who confronted a grisly scene, and then had to come to grips with the reality of covering it.

"The best journalist will be rancidly skeptical when digging out the story. You should be hardened to sentiment for sentiment’s sake; you should weed out the nonsense and the rhetoric of every politician with sharp retorts; you might even have to be a jerk someday to a source who lies to you, and by extension lies to the public. But at the end of the day, you must remember to bear your soul. Remember that you are a person, too. Soak in the insanity of the world you live in, and then use your voice. Do so reluctantly, but do it anyway."