As journalism students graduate this year, they’re entering an industry that’s actively fighting back against President Donald Trump’s “fake news” label. To date, Trump has had an adversarial relationship with the media – his administration even went as far as barring several publications from an off-camera press briefing in February. With attacks on the media coming from Trump’s Twitter account regularly, the job of journalists is especially critical. That’s why when the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism students graduated this weekend, the school enlisted Univision anchor Jorge Ramos – who has for decades used his platform effectively and brought light to topics that deserve more coverage – to offer some words of wisdom.
Ramos started his speech by laying out the importance of journalism today. “This is a very difficult time to be a journalist,” he told the students. “But also, in our generation, it’s never been more important than today to be a journalist.” Mixing a little bit of humor into the speech, he dropped some knowledge on how to approach their careers. Since we couldn’t all be there for the commencement ceremony, here are five of Ramos’ tips that can help all aspiring journalists:
Don't follow in his footsteps.
While older generations of journalists became anchors because of journalists like Walter Cronkite, Ted Koppel, and Barbara Walters, Ramos believes newer generations should look in a different direction.
“This profession is changing and the world is changing so fast that all rules don’t apply any more. So before we go any further, let me just say one thing: Do not do the same things that I’ve been doing for the last 30 years,” he said. Since 1986, I’ve asked my viewers and the audience to tune in to our newscast in Spanish every day at 6:30 p.m., but if they do it one minute before or they do it 31 minutes later, I’m not there. I’ve disappeared.
“I have been a news anchor for half my life, and I honestly do not know if this role will continue, the anchor role. But what I do know is that to be a journalist nowadays is to be precisely the opposite of an anchor. As a journalist, first of all, you have to know how to move from one story to another, from one country to the next, in more than one language and using the latest technology in order to communicate better.”
You're only as trustworthy as your byline.
Mexico requires that journalists become certified, but it’s not the same way in the US. “The question is why should people trust you? Should they trust you simply because you say you are a journalist? And what’s the difference between what you do, what we all do, and people posting on Facebook Live or on Twitter? There are countries in the world that require you pass an extensive exam and have a certificate in order to consider you a journalist. That’s what I had to do in Mexico. You need a certificate to say yes you are a journalist, and if you did not have that certificate, you were not a journalist. This is not the case here in the United States we don’t need a license to report. That means that your reputation as a journalist is based solely on your reporting.
“There are many journalists that I trust because time after time, they report the truth. When they make a mistake, and we all make mistakes, they correct it in a very public and transparent way. To be a reporter in its most basic definition is to inform the world as it is, not as we wish it would be. So in that case I do believe in objectivity, if 20 people died in a terrorist attack, we say 20 and if we don’t know what happened, we simply say it. People don’t expect us to be gods but they do want us to be honest with them, those are the basics.”
Journalists decide what gets covered.
“The really good reporters go beyond the basics. You didn’t go to school just to push the record button on your cell phone. You didn’t go to, you didn’t come to Berkeley just to be a tape recorder, if you still remember what a tape recorder used to be. That’s journalism as a selfie, you in front of the news, nothing else. And that’s not really very interesting. Journalism, real journalism has an ethical and a moral component to it. We have to make choices all the time. If we decide to cover America or Europe, and not Africa, that’s a choice.
“If we decide to concentrate on celebrities and cat videos instead of the real causes of inequality, social justice, or climate change, those are real choices. Every single decision that we make as journalists is personal, subjective, and could be changed. What I’m telling you here is that journalists decide what to cover and not the other way around.”
Push for answers.
Jorge Ramos has no issues pushing the people he interviews so that he can get answers. And the reason he’s been able to do it is because he thinks of two questions.
“I believe in journalism as a public service. I think the most important social responsibility that we have as journalists is to question those who are in power, to challenge them. If we don’t do it, no one else is going to do it.
“When I do interviews with influential people, with powerful people, I’m always thinking about two things: If i don’t ask that question, no one else is going to do it. that’s the attitude that you have to have. And also think that you will never talk to that person again. If that’s the case, then you’re not looking for access all the time. You’re not just trying to be nice. If you go to that interview thinking, ‘It’s me, it’s my responsibility, and I’ll never see that person again,’ the interview will go completely different.”
Sometimes you have to take a stand.
Though journalism school emphasizes the importance of being neutral, Ramos says that there’s times when you must take a stand.
“So when are those situations? Whenever you’re faced with racism, with discrimination, with corruption, public lies, dictatorship, and the violation of human rights, I think you have to take a stand as a journalist. Neutrality is not always the best option for a journalist, or for a human being. I know that you might be trying real hard just to have the two sides of the story, but that doesn’t mean that by being neutral and having two sides of the story that you’re going to get to the truth. That might not be the case, so sometimes you really do have to take a stand… Neutrality always helps the oppressor, never the victim.”
Check out the entire speech below: