Multimedia reporting by Emmanuel Morgan
New York Times photographer Al Drago started out as every other person in the room — a student trying to survive in one of the toughest communications courses Elon University has to offer. Now, perched at one of the most sought after destinations for journalists, Drago returned to his alma mater to inspire students, saying that the work they invest in now will has lingering effects years later regarding their career.
“My Elon experience was based upon the journalism experience I did,” Drago said. “I had this fantastic four-year archive.”
Drago spoke to Professor Janna Anderson’s “Reporting for the Public Good” class March 30, an intensive course he took in the spring of 2015 that has students reporting on multiple weekly stories and challenging them to use multimedia tools. Drago accepted the challenge and took it a step further, choosing to report on stories well outside of the “Elon bubble,” a native term describing the narrow goings-on of Elon. Drago reported on-the-ground on the triple homicide of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students and also in Baltimore during the riots after Freddie Gray’s death. Drago said he sacrificed his grades and his social life, but he believes it was all worth it.
” I ferociously worked,” Drago said. “I taught myself everything I wanted to know. I dedicated everything I did to advance.”
Drago won the White House News Photographers Association Student Journalist of the Year award in 2015, and his work was published internationally by the BBC and the New York Times while he was still an undergraduate. Originally from Durham, Drago immersed himself in photojournalism immediately. After working for Elon’s student newspaper, The Pendulum, Drago interned at the Durham Herald-Sun after his freshman year. Afterwards, he freelanced for the Burlington-Times News and interned with the Raleigh News and Observer. After landing an internship with the Baltimore Sun, Drago moved to Washington, D.C. and worked for Roll Call. When he was in the nation’s capitol, he said was persistent in carving out his desired career. After pestering the New York Times for a while, he was hired to cover Capitol Hill. Since then, he extensively covered the 2016 campaign, the final days of President Obama’s last term and now covers Donald Trump’s early presidency.
Still, he credits his success to the skills he learned at Elon.
” Put your head down and work,” Drago said. “Learn one skill at every class.”
Drago mentioned his eight rules to succeed in the industry, which includes knowing your brand and including personal time for yourself.
But the one thing he constantly emphasized was the need to be different and challenge yourself.
” You have to be willing to step outside of the bubble and risk it,” Drago said.