“The immersion of this life, the addictiveness, I think that people mistakenly think, more often than not, that we're addicted to the adrenaline, when in fact, the amount of work days we’re actually in combat, in actual fighting, is extremely low,” Pulitzer Center grantee Jane Ferguson said. “But what we're addicted to is the sense of place and people and this whole world that we get to step into and become part of ... Learning to live in different worlds is very hard to do.”
On Thursday, September 7, 2023, longtime international correspondent Deborah Amos joined Ferguson, an award-winning journalist, at a Pulitzer Center webinar to talk about Ferguson's recently released memoir, No Ordinary Assignment.
Ferguson is a PBS NewsHour correspondent and contributor to The New Yorker. Her memoir takes readers on a journey from her childhood in Northern Ireland to her early days as a freelance correspondent for CNN International in the Middle East and Africa, often working alone to film and report her stories.
“I included a lot of these childhood impressions because … the whole point of the book was what on earth makes a person become like this and do this kind of work and live this kind of life," Ferguson said. "I connected the dots right back to my earliest memories.”
Ferguson is now teaching a semester course at Princeton University. There, Amos is a Ferris Professor of Journalism in Residence. Asking Ferguson about her favorite parts of teaching and lessons she is telling students, Ferguson shared that, while the industry has changed, journalism itself has not.
“Journalism, at the heart of it, is no different, you know?" Ferguson said. "I talk to them about great storytelling, attention to detail, clear, simple language, and good writing. I think that humanistic approaches remain no matter what. If I could give one takeaway that I want to always tell students, it’s that … at the end of the day, journalism is getting in somewhere and getting information out and getting people heard.”
Amos, who has spent much of her award-winning career at National Public Radio, asked Ferguson how she encourages young female journalists to pursue a foreign correspondence career, although the job is difficult. Amos reported on the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crises, the economy in the Middle East, the Arab youth surge, and more.
“I just got tired of reading books about, you know, just an upward trajectory of career,” Ferguson said. “That's not how it works. You get the crap kicked out of you all the time and you get back up and you keep going. It was extraordinarily difficult, but I didn't, there was nothing else I wanted to do. And the reality is, and I write about this a bit in the book, the work was so meaningful to me and loved it. My life, broadly speaking, on the road was extraordinary.
"At the end of the day, there's nothing more important than an extraordinarily meaningful life, you know, and I knew what I had was something precious, to have a calling and to follow it and make it a reality.
"Again, just refuse to accept defeat and then find that it is an incredibly worthwhile pursuit in life. For me, that was the payoff and it was amazing. And there were moments in my life where … you do think about your own mortality because we do risk our lives, you know, not to be dramatic, but there are times when we really do. I remember thinking if I were to, God forbid, shuffle off this mortal coil on assignment, this would have been a life worth living. I would think that journey was extraordinary, and that mattered to me.”