Learning About and Writing About People Who Are Not at All Like You

A November 20 post about the bubble many big city journalists are in said, “Maybe a few former Marines and other military veterans could help those graduates of elite colleges at the Atlantic—and the Washington Post and New York Times—see more clearly.”

My tweet on the post:

Editors should look for reporters who got out of the big city bubble and know something about the rest of America. http://bit.ly/2g0VRuN

A reaction:

Claritza Jimenez ‏@ClaritzaJimenez
@michaelwhudson @bluepencil2 Are these the same editors who focus on Ivy League-educated reporters with prestigious internships?

A good question. I helped select hundreds of interns at the Washingtonian and looking back I think editors tend to be drawn to intern applicants who reflect their own backgrounds. If an editor came from an elite college, I’d bet there would be some bias that way.

My bias was I didn’t care what college an intern applicant went to. While getting a degree from the University of Wisconsin, I majored unsuccessfully in four areas—none of them journalism—and then did a year of law school at Stanford. More important, I had to work my way through college, mostly as a bartender, and I learned more tending bar than in the classroom.

So when looking at intern applicants, I focused on summer jobs. Every summer the kid was a lifeguard at the country club pool? No, thanks. I looked for kids who might have learned something about life.

It took some decoding. You could see kids had dressed up their resumes with summer projects that looked good but made you wonder whether it meant much. That attitude was partly the result of one of our daughters coming home from her DC private high school during her sophomore year and saying that the girls were talking about what they could do in the summer that would look good on their college application. Resume building to get ahead.

I think it all added up to trying to find magazine interns with enough experience in the real world to understand how people not like them lived, what those people worried about, what kind of prejudices they had. The intern applicant knew people who were very different but still okay.

That kind of work experience helps build a journalist’s bullshit detector, something you probably don’t develop at Ivy League colleges and is still in short supply in journalism.
The daughter who went to a private high school in DC got out of her bubble by joining Teach for America after college and teaching science for two years in a largely Hispanic elementary school in Houston. In two years she learned a lot about people not like herself.

I did two years in the Air Force, she did two years in Teach for America—both good ways to get out of the bubble and become a better journalist.



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