I love Robert Krulwich, the NPR Science correspondent and co-host of the brilliant RadioLab because he has the ability to turn a story ion it’s head, tell it in the most intereting way and make me stop and listen.
Others love him too because a few days ago he gave the commencement speech to the Berkeley School of Journalism class of 2011. You can read all of it and you should becuase it’s very entertaining.
But I swiped the last quarter of his speech and it’s worth a read:
What do you do next? Well, the obvious option is to go to Conde Nast, Sports Illustrated, MTV. They’re there. You can go in and pour coffee for the person who sharpens the pencil for the person who writes the copy and work your way all the way to the top. That’s what Charles Kuralt did. And in his day, with his talent, he did it very fast.
But here’s another way.
It’s not easy. It’s not for everybody. Just something to think about.
Suppose, instead of waiting for a job offer from the New Yorker, suppose next month, you go to your living room, sit down, and just do what you love to do. If you write, you write. You write a blog. If you shoot, find a friend, someone you know and like, and the two of you write a script. You make something. No one will pay you. No one will care, No one will notice, except of course you and the people you’re doing it with. But then you publish, you put it on line, which these days is totally doable, and then… you do it again.
Now I understand that if you’re married, or have a kid, you can’t not make money. And I know that it is not fun, it’s the opposite of fun, to juggle rent payments with car payments, to fudge medical bills, to play roulette with your credit cards, to have bills that must be paid month after month after month, that don’t go down, and I know about friends and siblings who didn’t go crazy, who didn’t try to become professional storytellers, who became normal things, like sales people, and doctors and teachers and are now moving into homes, buying real furniture and making you feel like you are slipping backwards in the world for the sin of following a dream. I know about that.
But let me tell you what I’ve also seen.
I’ve also seen, in my most recent area, science journalism, I’ve seen people do just what I’ve proposed. I’ve seen people, literally, go home, write a blog about dinosaurs (in one case), neuroscience, biology. Nobody asked them. They just did. On their own. By themselves.
After they wrote, they tweeted and facebooked and flogged their blogs, and because they were good, and worked hard, within a year or two, magazines asked them to affiliate (on financial terms that were insulting), but they did that, and their blogs got an audience, and then they got magazine assignments, then agents, then book deals, and now, three, four years after they began, these folks, five or six of them, are beginning to break through. They are becoming not just science writers with jobs, they are becoming THE science writers, the ones people read, and look to… they’re going places. And they’re doing it on their own terms! In their own voice, they’re free to be themselves AND they’re paid for it!
How they managed, I don’t know. Some of them worked by day and wrote by night.
Some lived with their parents. Some must have struck deals with spouses or with friends.
But I notice, because I talk to them, and now I often work with them… I notice that they get courage from each other. They’ve got a kind of community. At first it was virtual; they wrote each other. Then they met each other. Now they support each other. Watch out for each other. One day, I imagine, they will get and give each other jobs. And they share a sensibility, a generational sense, that this is how “we” do it.
News, after all, is a spin of words and pictures. It’s a kind of music. There are beats in a newscast, a newspaper story. Ed Murrow sounded like Ed Murrow. Huntley and Brinkley sounded different. Anderson Cooper, different still. When you grow up in different decades, you laugh at different jokes, hear different machines, (typewriters versus computers, pinball machines versus Mario Brothers), you hear different ads, jingles, songs, sounds.
When you talk or write or film, you work with the music inside you, the music that formed you. Different generations have different musics in them, so whatever they do, it’s going to come out differently and it will speak in beats of their own generation.
The people in charge, of course, don’t want to change. They like the music they’ve got. To the newcomers, they say, “Wait your turn”.
But in a world like this… rampant with new technologies, and new ways to do things, the newcomers… that means you… you here today, you have to trust your music… It’s how you talk to people your age, your generation. This is how we change.
After all, when it began in the 1930’s, Time, the weekly news magazine, was a radical idea created by young Henry Luce and his college friends. The New Yorker got its beats from young James Thurber and his buddy E.B. White, and their boss Harold Ross, I was at Rolling Stone when Jann Wenner put together his amazing gang of writers, designers, critics, photographers. Then Ira Glass did it again with Gen Xers. Each of these groups have a shared feel; they are expressing something that belongs to their age, their time.
So for this age, for your time, I want you to just think about this: Think about NOT waiting your turn.
Instead, think about getting together with friends that you admire, or envy. Think about entrepeneuring. Think about NOT waiting for a company to call you up. Think about not giving your heart to a bunch of adults you don’t know. Think about horizontal loyalty. Think about turning to people you already know, who are your friends, or friends of their friends and making something that makes sense to you together, that is as beautiful or as true as you can make it.
And when it comes to security, to protection, your friends may take better care of you than CBS took care of Charles Kuralt in the end. In every career, your job is to make and tell stories, of course. You will build a body of work, but you will also build a body of affection, with the people you’ve helped who’ve helped you back.
And maybe that’s your way into Troy.
There you are, on the beach, with the other newbies, looking up. Maybe somebody inside will throw you a key and let you in… But more likely, most of you will have to find your own Trojan Horse.
And maybe, for your generation, the Trojan Horse is what you’ve got, your talent, backed by a legion of friends. Not friends in high places. This is the era of Friends in Low Places. The ones you meet now, who will notice you, challenge you, work with you, and watch your back. Maybe they will be your strength.
If you choose to go this way, you won’t have Charles Kuralt’s instant success. It will take time. It will probably be very lonely. A living room is not a news room. It doesn’t feel like one. You know you’re alone. And on the way, you might get scarily close to not being able to afford a living room.
But what I’ve noticed is that people who fall in love with journalism, who stay at it, who stay stubborn, very often win. I don’t know why, but I’ve seen it happen over and over.
So, here, for what it’s worth, ladies and gentlemen of the Class of 2011, is my graduation advice. Some of you will say, “This is a fantasy. Pay this man no attention,” but hey, you invited me, so here’s what I’ve got:
If you can… fall in love, with the work, with people you work with, with your dreams and their dreams. Whatever it was that got you to this school, don’t let it go. Whatever kept you here, don’t let that go. Believe in your friends. Believe that what you and your friends have to say… that the way you’re saying it – is something new in the world.
And don’t stop. Just hold on… and keep loving what you love… and you’ll see. In the end, they’ll let you stay.