New York Times reporter Caitlin Dickerson offers journalism students tips of the trade
The Office of Global Learning Initiatives never fails to remind me how connected I am to immigration and global issues.
This remained true when they hosted New York Times reporter Caitlin Dickerson, who has worked as an immigration reporter at the NYT since 2016 and was previously an investigative reporter for NPR. She has broken news about the U.S. southern border, investigated child separation under the Trump administration, and shared some of her reporting on the newspaper’s podcast The Daily.
During her time at FIU, Dickerson visited both the Modesto A. Maidique and Biscayne Bay campuses to deliver a keynote lecture titled “Beyond the Border: Immigration History, Policy and Identity.” Her presentation at MMC highlighted some of the immigration stories she has worked on most recently; and, at the end of the talk, the audience engaged in questions mostly around immigration concerns.
During her visit to BBC, Dickerson’s audience consisted of journalism and public relations students. There, she did not spend much time talking about her career journey. Instead, she focused on giving us best practice tips for our careers.
Our journalism professors at FIU already teach us to be careful, fair, objective and persistent in our career, but coming from someone with Dickerson’s experience has a different weight for us students.
As a journalism student, here are my top takeaways from her talk:
1. Relationships matter in journalism. You need to build trust with sources so you can find stories and have more nuanced, accurate information. Dickerson recommended young journalists “make relationships with as many people as much as possible.” But to also treat people like humans, not just like sources of information.
2. Politics and policy are complex, but people are, too. Understand that people have complex realities, experiences and opinions. Be fair to their stories and listen.
3. “People connect with emotions,” she said. So bring emotions into your story. Keep them under control during interviews and reporting, but bring them when you are writing—show the human impact of a story so readers can connect to it. But this does not equal giving your opinion.
4. Know what you are talking about when you are reporting and writing. Read and research before an interview.
“The most important thing I’ve found is to know what you’re talking about,” she said. Because when you know your topic and love it so much, talking to people, doesn’t feel fake.”
5. Be persistent. Understand that people will say no. Sources will reject you. Editors will turn down stories. And that is okay. Learn from each rejection and keep going; keep trying to improve and write your stories.
6. “Never saying no.” Be humble and open to experiences. When you are starting your career or a new job, accept assignments even if you think you are qualified to cover more complex stories. Experience matters and will help you improve.
7. Genuineness and honesty are key. They help you build those relationships and earn the trust of sources, editors and readers.
And, on a more personal note: I had forgotten how much I want to be an immigration reporter.
Dickerson embodied the dreamed career for some us, and I think her talk was just what we needed: a reminder that, as journalists, we can write stories that have an international significance, while holding emotion, trust and genuineness as key parts of our career.