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Let's dump these four cherished journalistic ideals

This is the transcript of a lecture that I delivered last Friday while accepting the AP-Eunson Distinguished Lecturer Award at my undergraduate alma mater, Northern Arizona University. The ceremony is a joint endeavor between the Associated Press and the School of Communications. Once you've read the entire speech, I think you'll understand why I felt a little nervous about delivering these remarks to the students and faculty. To be honest, I felt quite anxious and many times, while speaking, paused to ask myself, "Should I really read this next part?" To my surprise, the speech was greeted with enthusiasm and heartfelt support. So, I present it to you as well, hoping it finds another receptive audience.


I want to begin with a cautionary note. I didn’t study journalism while in school. I was a music major here at Northern Arizona University and later earned a Master’s in Music from the University of Michigan. I performed professionally as an opera singer for years and never once considered taking a job as a journalist.

My first job in radio was as a weekend classical music host at KNAU, the public radio station that serves north and central Arizona including the Navajo and Hopi reservations. I began reporting just a few months after taking the job when an NPR producer offered to train me; I then took every training course and fellowship that was offered to me. 23 years later, I have anchored shows on NPR and PBS and reported for the BBC, CNN, and a whole slew of others.

My point in relating this history is to show that all my training has had to be on-the-job or finding mentors and asking them how to do things and never, ever turn down an offer of free training. It didn’t matter if I thought the subject was relevant to my work duties or not; if someone offered to teach me how to do something, I said yes.

That’s not advice, by the way. I’m just telling you how I got from there to here.

I get asked to speak at high schools and universities a lot. Over time, I’ve learned not to give advice. I don’t tell young people what they should or shouldn’t do. I don’t give them a list of the ten things successful people do every morning, or the three habits to avoid. Nor do I warn them about what obstacles lie in store, or what mistakes I made that they could learn from.