Lessons from a Journo-Diva

Copyright Thomas Angermann

SPJ is accepting submissions from students, faculty and alumni for short blog posts about life at the J-School. If you’d like to contribute, contact sz2212@columbia.edu.

By Ariana Giorgi

I’m about three months into J-school, and I’ve already learned some valuable lessons…

1. From my professor: Unlearn the word “like”

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Chances are if the word “like” is infiltrating your everyday speech, you don’t think you sound like a valley girl… like, amiright? You probably haven’t even realized how often you say it.

Many of my teachers and professors in the past have preached the discontinuation of the horrid four-letter L word, and I always thought it was just a generational difference. That is, until my reporting professor not only reiterated this but also specifically called me out on it. He would count on his hands (sometimes running out of fingers…) how many times I said “like” in a single comment without even realizing it. As funny – and slightly embarrassing – as it was, I realized how ridiculous I sounded.

Now I’m conscious of using “like” when I talk and have started to wean myself off of it (with success… thanks professor!)

2. From my peers: Dress to impress.

Yup, the days of sweatpants in class are over. I mourned accordingly with continuous days of cupcake eating.

The J-school is filled with people from different walks of life, including those who have been dressing professionally for years. I’m not saying you have to dress like Katie Couric every day or be prepared to have your outfit judged Joan Rivers (Heaven forbid!), but dressing as if you had someone to impress gets you in the professional-journalist mindset. It can also be as simple as a nice shirt with a pair of jeans, I promise.

3. From New York City: Be ready for anything

You are going to encounter difficult situations with frustrating people, and the only way to stay happy is to handle as a mature human being. Remember that people come from different backgrounds and have fascinating life experiences to share.

Oh, and watch out for street rats on trash day.


Letter to the Liberian Government

March 14, 2012
Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs
Executive Mansion
P.O. Box 9001
Capitol Hill, Monrovia
Republic of Liberia

To the government of Liberia:

Last week, Mae Azango published an article in Front Page Africa that detailed the destructiveness of female genital cutting (FGC). Though the practice remains part of Liberia’s traditional customs, it should not be free from public criticism.

The death threats Ms. Azango currently faces for writing about FGC are abhorrent. They threaten the fragile foundation of Liberian democracy just as FGC threatens the safety of close to two thirds of Liberian women. The Columbia University Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) accordingly urges you to ensure that Ms. Azango, her family, her sources, and her newspaper are protected.

Madame President, the strength of any democracy is tied to the freedom of its press. Ms. Azango’s reporting should be met with praise, not punishment; with veneration, not violence.

“A journalist is the lookout on the bridge of the ship of the state,” our school’s founder, Joseph Pulitzer, wrote more than one hundred years ago. Do not get rid of your lookout. Right the ship.

Both the Committee to Protect Journalists and Amnesty International have called for Ms. Azango’s protection. We are pleased to hear that the Liberian National Police have told Ms. Azango that they will be launching an investigation, and we implore them to bring her tormentors to justice. That a country where two of this year’s three Nobel Peace Prize winners were born could also give birth to such intimidation is unacceptable.

A fellow at New Narratives, a media development NGO run by a team of Columbia Journalism School alumni, Ms. Azango is an extended member of the Columbia Journalism School family. We do not condone family members having their lives threatened.

On behalf of the students at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, we therefore call on you to protect Ms. Azango, her family, her sources, and her newspaper.


Jake Heller
President, SPJ Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

Mohammed Ademo
Vice President, SPJ Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism