education — The Education of a Journalist
The sub-title of Clarissa Ward’s book “On All Fronts: The Education of a Journalist” captured my eye the moment my friend gifted this book. I wrote a short review here and wanted to expound on my thoughts through a longer form.
To me, The Education of a Journalist was full of meaning on both a personal and bookworm front, and the different facets of it will later on resonate through Ward’s book. At one point, it was about the education and upbringing that made her a journalist, her worldview and background in shaping her interest in languages, stories and later a calling to bring light to stories in the Middle East, specifically in Syria. On the other hand, it was also about the education that Ward received through covering stories in war-stricken areas, about relationships built and ultimately teaching her about humanity, despite the barriers in culture or language.
“Perhaps this is why I continue to feel such passion for my work, not withstanding the frustrations and limitations. Certainly, it was the reason I started doing it after 9/11. As well as the need to inform and explain, there is a compulsion to humanize, to make real what is surreal and foreign, to remind the viewer that beyond the geopolitics of power and the brutality of war and the clashes of culture, people are people.”
On a personal front, looking at these five words brought a fresh perspective that I needed for the new year. It got me thinking back about one of the main reasons I applied to study communications in college, of using different mediums to communicate and simplify ideas to people — of being a photojournalist. Probably also one of the reasons why I decided to start this website, of going back full circle of what I wanted to do and express through images but explore it in different ways.
I first got to really know about the field of photojournalism when I was working on an individual work assignment in junior college and the topic for that year was “Risk”. Semantics wise, it was just one simple word, yet at that point of time my head was really going “How in the world was I going to write an essay on this that had no head nor tail, and I had to be convinced myself? What point am I trying to argue? What kind of risk? Do I even understand what is risk? Can it even be eaten??” It can be anything and everything in the world at the same time.
I wanted to do something interesting, yet not too far-fetched where I had no idea what I was writing. I can’t remember what exactly gave me the idea, or maybe it was just pure direct relevance that somehow I decided to brood over the idea a bit more on people in and at war (If you’re at war, you’re in a high-risk area therefore talk about things related to war!) Honestly this random linkage of thoughts can be anything, I can even write about dengue-infected neighbourhoods where residents have a higher risk of infection but it was less fun so that didn’t happen.
Long story short, I nailed the idea on writing my essay on war photojournalists, the risks they faced with a specific mention of Steve McCurry and his work with the National Geographic, where he was known for being the photographer behind the iconic The Afghan Girl image that graced the magazine’s June 1985 cover. Not just physical risks like death, but just like how Ward will go on to share in her book, the emotional rollercoasters and depression experienced being a conflict reporter, of dealing with the adrenaline rush of wanting to cover and finish a story that could possibly! save! many! people! but also the wave of helplessness thinking about the randomness of privilege and stark reality at the same time.
In some way, her heartfelt feelings expressed in the book were relatable, as if if I had pursue a photojournalism career, I might also be opting to cover international stories. To go into areas where I could be in touch with all sorts of people from different walks of life, to remind each other through my images that people are still people, no matter where you’re from.
I have friends who are full-time journalists and while not everything’s a bed of roses, their gift of writing, passion in covering their beat or just tenacity to cover stories that are often out of their comfort zone continue to inspire me. I believe the education of a journalist is not just specifically for a reporting career, but also very much transferrable in skillsets to other jobs or disciplines. To learn how to build deeper empathy and connection with people, to put inexplicable emotions into neat words and overall in writing and reporting news, you not only educate the world but also yourself as a human in this journey called life — this can be priceless.