Nina Easton shares secrets of getting ahead in journalism at Elon University

Kassondra Cloos

NINA EASTON

Never underestimate being nice, always strive for excellence and never underestimate the knowledge that can be gained from reading a few good books.

Such was the advice of Nina Easton, former LA Times reporter and current Washington Bureau Chief of Fortune Magazine, who visited a class of communications students at Elon University Friday.

“Read whatever piece of history you like,” Easton said. “Find a great author and read it, it will help your writing because the thing we hear again and again at the advisory board, we talk about this at every meeting, is that students today do not have writing skills.”

Easton co-authored “Reagan’s Ruling Class: Portraits of the President’s Top 100 Officials,” in 1983, shortly after graduating from the University of California-Berkley. She always wanted to be in Washington, D.C., she said, and gained insight into the political realm while working closely with Ralph Nader.

“Strive for excellence, really strive for excellence in everything you do and the rewards will come your way. Nothing is going to be handed to you, you really have to work hard. I worked my butt off and just be prepared to do that, but if you love what you’re doing, it’s not a problem.”

–Nina Easton, Washington Bureau Chief of Fortune Magazine

“When I graduated, just to make you feel better, it was 11 percent unemployment,” she said. “1981. There were no journalism jobs anywhere. So I went to work for Nader partly because I wanted to be in Washington. It wasn’t necessarily want to work for him, but the freedom it gave me to write this book, to write op-eds, to write magazine articles, from that perch in Washington, write about national stuff rather than go to a local newspaper. I just wanted to go straight to Washington.”

Easton said she does not consider herself to be an activist, but she has always tried to challenge conventional wisdom through her work as a journalist, such as in a story she wrote about how the foster care system in the United States actually does a great disservice to the children it is intended to help.

“They think they’re being nice by not breaking ties with the mother who might be crack addicted,” she said. “And so they keep these kids in and give this mother many many chances even if she’s left the kid on the street or done this or that. So by the time the kid is 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 years old, no one’s going to adopt them and they stay in foster care.”

Easton has also worked at the Boston Globe and currently serves as a Fox News commentator, as well as a member of the Advisory Board for Elon’s School of Communications. She advised students to be proactive about their journalistic careers by deciding what they want to do and where they want to be and just going after it, freelancing to get the attention of larger news organizations.

“Strive for excellence, really strive for excellence in everything you do and the rewards will come your way,” she said. “Nothing is going to be handed to you, you really have to work hard. I worked my butt off and just be prepared to do that, but if you love what you’re doing, it’s not a problem.”

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