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.
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.
When 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.”
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.”