New York Times

‘WORK HARD NOW AND PLAY LATER’: PHOTOJOURNALIST AL DRAGO VISITS ELON TO SPEAK ON NETWORKING UP THE LADDER

Multimedia journalism by Mariah Posey | March 31, 2017

Al Drago is a photojournalist and class of ’15 Elon alumni. He is based in Washington, D.C. covering all things politics and currently works for the NYT as a contract press photographer for President Donald Trump. He visited journalism professor Janna Anderson’s class this Friday to talk about his experience at Elon and networking.

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Al Drago in Philadelphia at a Hillary Clinton event in 2015 taken by one of his friends that he shared on Facebook.

Al Drago has been working since he was 16-years-old and by the age of 17, had daily bylines. It was a family trip to Boston more than 10 years ago that provided the 2015 Elon University journalism alumni with his first photography experience. Now, after delving into photography and journalism in high school as well at Elon, he works as a contract press photographer for The New York Times covering all things politics.

During the final months of Barack Obama’s presidency, he traveled with the then-president as a pool photographer covering the transition, the inauguration and first 100 days of President Donald Trump’s term. Currently, he and two other selected photographers are responsible for following the president everywhere he goes.

This Friday March 31, Drago revisited Elon to speak and share his wisdom on branding and networking to other journalism students.

Drago's Top 8When Drago was a student at Elon, he knew that internships were key. To remain focused on them, he made a piece of paper listing the different publications he could potentially work at ranking them on the level of achievability. He knew that he could work at The Burlington Times-News easily, but at the top level he listed the ones that were his dream jobs: The New York Times and the Washington Post.

“I knew I was going to work there someday,” Drago said. “And now I am.”

He didn’t know how it would happen, but something he had learned from journalism professor Janna Anderson stuck with him: if you want to be at the top, start out on top.

“You can advance your career in the first five years out of college more than you can in the 15 years after college,” he said. “Then, when you’re 30 you can have your cushion job and relax and go to Ibiza.”

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Al Drago speaking during his presentation.

Drago kept his career goals at the forefront of his college career spending most days outside of class and in the community shooting real stories with real people.

“My Elon experience was based around the journalism I did, the journalism I committed,” he said. “And it was great because I got a four-year archive.”

He hit the ground running joining on-campus news organizations such as The Pendulum and Elon Local News, but knew outside experience was everything.

Some advice an editor gave him was, “You’re not going to get hired off of shooting on campus because it’s a bunch of 18 to 20-year-olds and that’s not what the real world looks like.”

“I started networking day one and cold-emailed editors,” Drago said. “Of course I said I want to work for you but also, ‘I love your photos. What camera settings did you use? Hey, these are the photos I took this month.’”

Eventually, editors took notice of his work and noticed that he was improving.

“I ferociously worked,” he said. “I knew what I wanted so I worked non-stop.”

Ultimately, his drive to work and ability to put himself out there got him hired at The New Times doing what he loves for a living at the age of 24. His multiple internships at the Durham Herald-Sun, Burlington Times-News, Raleigh News & Observer and the Baltimore Sun set him apart and gave him the opportunity to continue developing new skills.

His biggest piece of advice for aspiring journalists is to put yourself out there and “know your worth.”

Find his Twitter and Instagram here.

 

Journalist and New York Times’ best-selling author Kevin Maurer speaks on the thrill of war reporting

by Mariah Posey | March 15, 2017

kevin-maurerReporting on war is risky and rewarding, but not every journalist is able or willing to do it. But for Kevin Maurer, a freelance journalist and co-author of New York Times’ best-seller, “No Easy Day,” the opportunity to report on war felt like something he was meant to do.

After landing a job at the Fayetteville Observer in January 2003, a little over a year after the September 11 attacks, the chance to report overseas quickly fell into place. By early March the same year, he was reporting in Iraq.

“As a young reporter, the war was the story,” Maurer said. “It was the one story I felt like I had to cover somehow.”

He spent the next eight years between Iraq and Afghanistan working on numerous stories. He realized that he enjoyed being in the midst of all the chaos, always anxious to return after getting back to the states.

“It’s weird in that you go a couple times and there’s a romance to it,” he said. “There’s something to being over there in that situation. I only find that it gets stressful after the fact.”

Maurer found that living as an embed, he gradually became a part of the unit. But that connection made it nearly impossible for him to get the full story. So according to him, he never tried to.

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Graphic by Mariah Posey

Instead, he said his reporting “tries to put a human face” to the soldiers he was writing about.

“That’s the other dangerous side of being an embed,” he explained. “You’ve gotta continue to make sure you’re doing your job even though you’re starting to like these guys.”

Though that relationship can be easily blurred, Maurer stressed the importance of transparency between a reporter and his sources.

“Sources aren’t your friends,” he said. “They’re your eyes and ears. You do everything you can not to burn them, but they’re not your buddies and you can’t treat them as such.”

Vince Beiser delivers talk on how he worked against the grain and uncovered the global war on sand

Multimedia journalism by Mariah Posey | Feb. 27, 2017

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Vince Beiser shows how much U.S. Sand and Gravel Production has increased over the years.

By chance, the story that would gain support from the Pulitzer Center and lead him to writing a book on the same topic was one that was only stumbled upon by the award-winning journalist. When Vince Beiser discovered his story on sand, he proved that great journalists are ones who read and follow through.

“I do a lot of international stuff so I just read a lot of off-beat publications and I just stumbled across this study about the sand mafias in India,” Beiser said. “Come to find out in India, it’s a huge story. Every single day there’s some story in the India Press about sand mafias.”

Luckily for him, the pitching process was a simple one due to his established rapport with Wired magazine and his editor.

“They know me and I know them, and it makes the whole process a lot easier,” he said. “Wired is so picky. They don’t assign many stories. I just crossed my fingers and they said yes.”

Since then, Beiser has been cracking away at his on-going project on the deadly war over sand while taking on a number of smaller freelancing jobs along the way. During his career, he has travelled to India, Dubai, China and all of the United States completing in-depth reporting and has written for esteemed publications such as Wired, The New York Times and The Atlantic.

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Photo by Vince Beiser | Sand dredgers in Poyang Lake by Hamashu village.

Sand is more than grains of rock

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Vince Beiser explains how sand is used in the construction of buildings and cities.

According to Beiser, sand is the most important solid substance in the world. It makes up our concrete, windows, computer chips, phone screens and more.

“It’s the literal foundation of modern civilization,” Beiser said.

It’s all “just sand,” but Beiser said the urban boom is depleting sand worldwide with constant growing city populations. Riverbeds are being destroyed to gather enough sand to support the infrastructure of numerous buildings. Lake Poyang for example, China’s biggest freshwater lake and the world’s biggest sand mine, has 30 times more the amount of sand being scooped out than the amount that flows in from tributary rivers.

Although there are some ways sand can be recycled, Beiser said there isn’t much to be done on a large scale to substitute its use.

“Just the sheer mass we’re talking about, there’s just nothing else on this planet we have that much of,” Beiser said.
beiser-pullBecause of the immense damage being done, governments all over the world are trying to control sand mining. But where there is law and order, there is crime. There has been a rise in illegal sand mining as well as the formation of sand mafias, leaving some unfortunate souls murdered over the valuable resource.

According to Beiser, this lifestyle is bound to be short-lived.

“This whole model of living we have in America is just not sustainable,” he said. “We’re running out of oil, we’re running out of water, we’re running out of fish. We’re just consuming too much.

“We’re just eating this whole planet.”

The American example has also rubbed off on other countries. According to Beiser, with an insanely large and increasing global population, there will never be enough to go around.

“The entire developing world is growing and becoming richer and they want to live like we do, and who can blame them?” he said. “There just isn’t enough stuff on the planet for everyone to live that way.”

The art of freelancing, writing in-depth and self-promotion

Beiser said freelancing “has never been an easy way to make a living,” especially when doing substantive journalism. But it’s still his source of income. Although he said it’s reporting the issues that concern him, he also has to look for different ways to sell it.

“Part of being a freelancer and part of being a journalist is you’ve got to self-promote,” he said. “I’ve got my own little list of radio hosts and TV bookers.”

With enterprise stories such as the ones Beiser takes on, there can sometimes be a competitive nature present. While following his story in India, he bumped into a guy from The New York Times who happened to also be working on a sand story. He knew he had to beiser-tipspick up the pace somehow if he wanted get his out first. Within about three week’s time, he was able to write the story based on the information he had compiled so far and post the story on the web two months before it was meant to be published.

“That one I actually did in a big hurry,” he said.

As a freelance journalist, Beiser explained the challenges faced when trying to determine where to start with finding sources.

“Because I kind of jump from topic to topic, I don’t really build a network of sources like a beat reporter does,” he said.

He suggested reading other stories that have been done involving a particular topic and finding the activists related to them.

“Once you poke your head into that thing, whatever it is, they know the other people to talk to,” Beiser said.

While scoping out the right people to talk to can be difficult, Beiser said that actually sitting down to write everything is typically less stressful. Though he used to overwhelm himself by going over everything before starting to write, he learned that making a bare bones draft and building from there was the best way to begin.

“By the time I’m done all my reporting, I’ve got a pretty good idea in my head of how the story’s going to go,” he said. “I literally go through all my notes and plug stuff in.”