Journalist Jill Abramson Sparks Curiosity

Celeste Huang-Menders ’22, Jill Abramson, and Shelby Lynn Williams ’21 discussed the state of journalism during the January 31, 2020 assembly. (Photo by Julia Mahony)

Journalist Jill Abramson spoke at a George School assembly, highlighting the newsworthiness of the current political moment. She spoke about how it is not intellectual curiosity that is in decline, but rather trust in institutions that is on a downward slope. Jill currently who writes for The Guardian and teaches at Harvard University, traveled to George School on Friday, January 31, 2020.

English Department Head Colette Weber, who had invited Jill to campus, lauded Jill’s many accomplishments as a journalist, including her three published books. She did not, however, shy away from Jill’s controversies, such as her questioned departure from The New York Times. “I was looking for speakers who have had experience in journalism and could speak about what it is like to be in the media today in a world of ‘fake news,’ the decline in readership, and so on,” stated Colette.

Jill discussed the double-edged sword that is social media, and its role in “democratizing the news” but also putting people into “silos, which are kind of like echo chambers that have intensified the partisan divide.” She also stressed the importance of being able to identify the difference between news and opinion.

Her commentary on journalism itself was optimistic and directly addressed to the students in the audience. She spoke about how jobs in journalism do exist for those who are hungry to tell stories, how reading leads to better writing and told the students that “the key to being a good reporter is going into each story with a willingness to be surprised.”

Students were excited by Jill’s presence on campus, and happy to engage with some tough questions about her career. “We don’t tend to have a lot of controversial figures here and it brought out a lot of interest in the community,” said Sophia Francesco ’20. When a student asked her about leaving The New York Times, Jill admitted that she was fired, though was advised to say that she had decided to step down. Jill told the audience of her thought process: “I spent my whole life dedicated to telling the truth. I’m not going to stop now.”

In a more intimate Q & A session following the assembly, Jill learned that many of the seniors were reading George Orwell’s 1984, leading to a lively discussion of the relevance of the book in today’s political climate.

The conversation turned to the craft of writing. Michael Clark ’20 asked “What does it really take to captivate a reader? What do you think it takes to be a captivating writer?” Jill replied, “You do so through the language that you learn to write with and added that a lot of it is also “realizing that it’s seduction at the very top of what you’re writing to try and hook your reader.”

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