By Alex Veeneman for Generation J
This past June, I began an interview with this simple question: “Why?”
My interviewee, on the other end of the telephone line, was Ari Shapiro, the NPR correspondent who at the time was based in London, taking a brief pause from his reporting to guest host Morning Edition for a couple of weeks from Washington.
I thought it would be a good opportunity to get his take on covering the UK’s most recent general election, and life as an American covering Britain, in an age where American coverage solely featured the Queen, the Duchess of Cambridge (or Kate Middleton as they’d prefer to call her) and the rest of the Royal Family.
Many British media outlets had been engaging with American audiences with this election, which saw David Cameron’s Conservative Party achieve an unexpected majority, the dominance of the Scottish National Party, and changes in the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. It was a story Shapiro covered through his lens as an American.
Yet, I was curious to know why Shapiro made the jump, after years of covering The White House and the Justice Department, beats many reporters would dream of.
“I was excited to be a journalist again,” Shapiro told me, saying he was no longer part of a pack of correspondents doing the same story. “I can pivot from arts to business to politics, and everything in between.”
What he said resonated with me, long after the interview concluded, the initial article filed. It still does.
A year earlier, I had finished my Bachelor’s Degree. Going in, I had no idea what I wanted to do in journalism – all I knew was I wanted to work in it. I was going to see what happened and where I’d end up. That was still my thought process – until I received a notification in early 2012 of a new Twitter follower.
The follower was identified as Kettle, an online publication out of London that was starting up. I reviewed their web site and liked what I saw. I then wrote an email to Leon Wingham, expressing an interest in contributing. Wingham said yes, and I began as a contributor that April. Since then I served as their first political editor, their first media editor, working my way up to Deputy Editor, being encouraged along the way by Wingham, my colleagues, and the most important person who helped me get my start – my mom.
Along the way were wonderful opportunities, from organizing coverage of the prestigious BBC Proms culture festival to interviews with people at the heart of the UK’s current events, making sense of what happened, to something I never suspected I would do – teach, all done from 3,000 miles away, at my desk in Chicago.
I loved what my colleagues were doing, what contributions they were making, and how they made wonderful work, all while trying to get ready for a career in the media. I became interested in the British media, and what lies ahead for it in the digital age. I also made a number of new friends, many of whom I’ve not met face to face, but hope to.
I was inspired, and no time zone difference or international dialing code would change that. If it weren’t for Marshall McLuhan’s vision of the global village, all the technological advances that came with it, and the encouragement I received from my mom and others, I wouldn’t be doing what I do now, and I still wouldn’t have known what I really wanted to do in journalism. All I had to do was speak up.
Three and a half years since that Twitter notification, I maintain that joining Kettle was one of the best things I ever did. I hope to pursue graduate studies in the UK to not only pursue my hope of teaching the next generation of journalists, but to get the education I’ve been receiving all this time about British life in a new way – on the ground.
My fellow Americans, Britain is so much more than the Royal Family. It is one of the most interesting and fascinating places in the world, and in this digital age where the world is connected, it is gratifying that a young journalist from Chicago can be the one who tells these stories, just by doing one simple thing – speaking up.
Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and a blogger for SPJ’s blog network. Veeneman is also an editor and writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter @alex_veeneman.