By Alicia Constant
Patrick Henry College
“I wanted to be the great F. Scott Fitzgerald. Journalists were the bargain basement,” Ferguson said.
Yet today, the unassuming man with wiry, shoulder-length gray hair holds the pen behind articles in Time Magazine and the Weekly Standard. How did he get there? At a three-hour Washington, D.C. luncheon on Tuesday, Sept. 21, nine PHC students had the chance to hear his story.
Before Ferguson graduated from Occidental College with a degree in religious studies and philosophy, he went down to the college’s placement office to fill out career aptitude tests.
“The lady at the placement office told me, ‘I hope you realize you have no marketable skills whatsoever,’” he said, laughing. “She was very blunt.”
After graduating, Ferguson spent two years in a rock band, then moved to an adobe shack in Albuquerque, N.M., to write the “Great American Novel.” He tried to make a living by freelancing and sending fiction to magazines like the New Yorker, but ended up with rejection after rejection.
“I realized that if I wanted to do something with the written world, then I should think about the journalism business,” Ferguson said.
Michael Cromartie, Vice President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, organizes the journalism lunches for PHC students several times a semester. The journalism lunch tradition began two years ago as an opportunity for students to make contacts with top-level Capitol Hill journalists over sandwiches and soda.
“It’s a once-in-a-college-career opportunity,” said Dr. Les Sillars, PHC’s associate professor of journalism. “The biggest thing I want my students to get from these lunches is that this is what top
Junior Sarah Saunders said that she was struck by Ferguson’s “down-to-earth” demeanor. “From an outside perspective, journalism articles can seem so perfect. But [Ferguson] put the journalism industry in a very realistic perspective.”
While Cromartie moderated the discussion and asked a predetermined list of questions, students could jump in with their own comments and personal inquiries.
Freshman Claire Rossell said that she will use Ferguson’s insights in her future journalism career. “I liked how he said that to get good quotes you have to be patient,” Rossell said. “It’s the journalist’s job to listen to people, to stay engaged and care. It’s the sincere listener who gets the story.”
“He reminded us that journalism is first about being human,” said student Eric Burk. Even as a career journalist, Ferguson said he still faces some of the same writing struggles as journalism students.
“Do you ever feel like you’re done with a story?” Cromartie asked.
“That’s what deadlines are for,” Ferguson said, leaning forward, a smile creasing his face. “There’s always something wrong. There’s no such thing as a perfect story.”
Yet Ferguson spoke passionately about the career he has come to love. “Journalism is the life of kings,” he said. “It’s the best job in the world.”
Ferguson has also written several books, including Crazy U: One Dad's Adventures in Getting His Kid Into College, which is scheduled for release in March 2011.