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Emmy-winning journalist, John Paxson, shares advice with students

John Paxson, former London bureau chief and vice president for CBS news in Europe, joined Washington State University last spring as news director for Murrow Public Media. Last semester, Paxson visited the WSU Vancouver campus to address faculty and students who share his passion for communication.

Paxson, a three-time Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist, does not fancy himself an academic, but hopes to share the knowledge and skill he has gained over his 35-year career with the next generation of journalists.

Paxson’s eight-week, Pullman-based journalism boot camp provides a venue where students apply didactic theory to real life situations. Nineteen students have already completed the eight-week program that requires just one or two hours per week. Twenty more broadcasting hopefuls started spring semester.

Paxson calls his program a “teaching hospital” in which he shares journalistic technique illustrated with examples from his professional experience. Students compose press releases, news articles and radio scripts about local news, which are then broadcast on Northwest Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”

Paxon is no stranger to poverty or war. He has seen it and reported on it throughout his career. At the beginning of his program, Paxson asked students to identify the link between Mother Teresa’s funeral, the war in Kosovo, Afghanistan, the Oklahoma City bombing and Ronald Reagan.

Paxson’s answer? “I was there.”

“Journalism is your best ticket to the world. You never know where it will take you,” he said.

Paxson grew up and attended school in Missoula, Montana. Following graduation, he took a position with Voice of America in Washington DC, despite not being trained for radio broadcasting.

“If you can write for a newspaper, you can write for radio,” Paxson said.

Ten years later, he became a news editor for CBS Radio and, later, became a TV producer in the CBS Dallas and Los Angeles bureaus. As the network’s London bureau chief, he took a position once held by Edward R. Murrow himself.

Top five tips for aspiring journalists from John Paxson

  • Lesson #1: Be skeptical. Determine if events are real or staged.
  • Lesson #2: Remain neutral, report the news and never force an agenda. Paxson said his students wanted to write about the “awesome” selection of a new coach for WSU. Paxson pointed out that journalists are not cheerleaders.
  • “Look where cheerleading got Penn State’s football team,” Paxson said. “Our job is to keep an eye on the people over us.”
  • Lesson #3: Be the eyes of the people. Practice a “lack of belief,” asking difficult questions and presenting the answers to the audience.
  • Lesson #4: Be digitally literate. Paxson shared the story of Erica Norris, who was hired by Ellen Degeneres because of her impressive online application.
  • Lesson #5: Be tenacious. Paxson showed a news segment about one of CBS News’ best camera crews. During the war in Iraq, the crew was ambushed, and the cameraman exposed himself to live fire in order to capture shots that would show the world what was happening.

Watch the full lecture online:

 

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2 Comments

  1. Mr. Paxon…I was referred by NPR to ask locally to obtain
    a transcript of the report that was aired Christmas Day,
    2014 about the 100 year old truce that happened all along
    the Western Front during WWI. It was a lovely report, but I have wandered all over the website to no avail. If you
    can help, I’d appreciate it greatly. Thanks, Lonnie Oglesby

    • Hello Lonnie,
      Unfortunately we do not have a transcript of the report or direct communication with Mr. Paxson, as we are WSU Vancouver’s student-run newspaper, the VanCougar. We wish you the best of luck with getting ahold of Mr. Paxson and his report. -VanCougar