In most fields the advice “You don’t want any friends” would sound ludicrous, but in the high stakes field of journalism this advice is spot on. Susan Antilla, an award-winning journalist and published author knows that in the world of journalism one mistake can make or break a career.
Antilla came to Fairfield University on Feb. 12 to offer some insight for students aspiring to enter the highly competitive field, but not without caution.
“It’s easier in some ways to break in but there’s a downside,” Antilla said. While the internet has expanded the networking capabilities of individuals and allowed anyone to post their work publically in online blogs, these new freedoms do not come without responsibilities.
Antilla relayed the story of a young rising star in the field named Jonah Lehrer. After being published in The New Yorker it was discovered that he had recycled earlier work and even gone so far as to plagiarize a Bob Dylan quote. Once discovered his career was over as he had lost all credibility.
Plagiarism is one issue journalists must avoid at all costs. However, Antilla had many other insights to share with students.
“Listen and listen and listen,” Antilla said. “If you’re doing an interview and hear yourself talking too much you’re doing something wrong.” While it’s important to push for the best quotes, it’s equally important to be an accurate listener so the story relayed is as close to the truth as possible.
Antilla also advised, “if you make a mistake own up to it.” According to the Knight Foundation, even once Lehrer admitted to his mistakes he did not sufficiently own up to his choices. The Knight Foundation hired him to give a speech apologizing for his errors and afterword regretted even paying him, further burying any potential there may have been to revive his career.
To avoid this, Antilla said it is important to “be humble” and “stay humble”. Don’t let initial success get to your head and remember your obligation is toward objective reporting and not your own fame.
When asked by students if students looking to pursue journalism should attend graduate school, Antilla said , “I think it’s better to just get a job.” She said once she had broken into the field, “I didn’t think my master’s degree made a difference at all.”
In the end, Antilla cautioned students, “you don’t make a lot of money.” Students looking to become rich and famous should probably find another career. Antilla says she does it for the “psychic income,” and any passionate person with a dedication to the truth and the idea of social justice will know exactly what she means.