Freshman journalists connect with alumni professionals

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Journalists Landon Jones ’66, Griff Witte ’00, and Jim Merritt ’66 shared their experiences with students from the Class of 2016 at a recent reception in Princeton. (Photo: Courtesy Charles R. Plohn k’66)

“I can’t believe they let me do this and pay me for it.” That’s how Landon Jones ’66 described his career in journalism to a group of 20 Princeton freshmen who gathered at his home April 7. 

Jones, a former managing editor of People (and former editor of PAW), said journalism has allowed him to satisfy his curiosity about virtually any subject. His speech kicked off “An Evening of Journalism and Writing,” organized as part of an ongoing effort to create a special relationship between the Class of 2016 and its “grandparent class,” or the class that will have its 50th reunion when the freshmen graduate.

Previous events have included a Campus Club pizza party and an oyster-eating contest at Blue Point Grill (during which Dominique Ibekwe ’16 ate 65 oysters in two minutes). “Tonight’s event will have a somewhat higher intellectual component … but the same spirit,” Class of ’66 president Charles Plohn Jr. said in his introductory remarks.

The evening’s speakers were generally encouraging about the journalism profession, despite its financial challenges. Washington Post deputy foreign editor Griff Witte ’00, son of Michael Witte ’66, said he appreciated the opportunity to be “constantly discovering” as a foreign correspondent. “Your preconceptions about the world are almost always wrong,” said Witte, who is teaching a course at Princeton this semester.

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Landon Jones ’66, left, talks with Martina Fouquet ’16. (Photo: Courtesy Charles R. Plohn k’66)

Meanwhile, Jim Merritt ’66, another former PAW editor, said he had initially entered the field with negative assumptions, such as that pay and hours were sub-par and that reporters had to occasionally “be obnoxious” to get the stories they wanted. Those things were sometimes true, he said — but there were perks as well, such as a quick turnaround for seeing his name in print.

After the short presentations, the freshmen met with the three journalists in smaller groups over dinner, asking questions about the profession and discussing their own writing ambitions.

“We all really learned a lot,” class council member Gwen Lee ’16 said. “It was absolutely amazing that all the students who went were so engaged and able to walk between rooms and really get to know each of the speakers.”

 

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Tara Thean ’13 is an ecology and evolutionary biology major from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.