My fellow mundus students and I have been so lucky to have Mark Schapiro teaching and training us analytical journalism since the end of April. Mark Schapiro is a longtime investigative journalist, who previously published the book Exposed. Besides teaching journalism, he is currently employed at Center for Investigative Reporting and writing on a new book about the backstory to carbon footprints, due next year. I took the opportunity to interview him for my blog, asking all the questions I didn’t dare to ask in class.
Mark Schapiro at Danish School of Media and Journalism, Aarhus
I know you don’t have a journalism degree, so how did you become a journalist?
– I never felt the need to go to journalism school. I just knew, coming out of uni that I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to understand the world better. I had a strong sense of social justice. I wanted to reveal what I perceived to be abuses of power. The most important ingredients for a journalist are curiosity and an interest to understand how things work.
What did you study at university?
– I have a BA in politics and literature from UCSC. I didn’t even think about going to journalism school. It never occurred to me.
How did you get into journalism, then?
– I’ve had some great editors who helped me to work better. During my studies I worked at a Santa Cruz local paper where I had a column about local politics. My editor told me: “Work on this writing. It’s deadly and lead. I’ll give you another chance. If you can’t improve your writing it’s not gonna work.” He scared the hell out of me, and I learned to write urgent, clear and active.
Where did you work after graduating?
– I got an internship at Center for Investigative Reporting. I got to be a little junior person for six months. Then they hired me to be a junior reporter on environmental stories. They taught me a lot. I left the Center after five years – I wanted to work overseas. I started working for The Nation, who sent me to Paris as editor of The InterNation. The InterNation was the first effort to do investigative journalism across national borders. After that I did 15 years of freelance in New York and went back to the Center in 2003.
What motivated you to get into teaching?
– 5-6 years ago I started thinking I might have something to say about journalism, and maybe I had something to teach. Teaching is learning experience. I like teaching – it’s interesting for me as well.
Do you ever think that you should have studied or worked in a different field?
– If I hadn’t gone into journalism I would have studied law. International law. How you exercise legislation across national frontiers. Definitely law school.
What are your favourite writers, both fiction and non-fiction?
– My biggest source of inspiration are probably fiction writers. Gabriel García Márquez. You learn from him. He is a source of inspiration and teaches you how to take your reader on a journey somewhere new. He has an amazing way to take you somewhere new, somewhere you didn’t expect to go. Also Phillip Roth. He has a particular style of long form writing. You learn how to deal with time changes, from one perspective to the next. The very nature of changing time perspective. He is marvelous at that. Time and transitions become effortless. Of non-fiction writers, Ryszard Kapuscinski who was mentioned in class also. He was writing about the essential current of conflict in society, the essential storyline of change. Tom Wolfe is a great non-fiction writer as well, combining tremendous journalism with vital writing dynamism to show you that very good journalism.
Do you have any advice for emerging journalists?
– The advice I would give is: find a topic you really care about. Find a topic you care enough about to wake up in the morning and think about. And: develop areas of expertise based on your knowledge, your own interests and experience, where you can add something new to the understanding.
Thank you Mark!