Year 5 meet journalist Jessica Donati

Year 5 received an insight into the world of war-reporting and political journalism when Jessica Donati, the Wall Street Journal analyst for the US State Department and Foreign Affairs, visited the school. Jessica, currently based in Washington DC, originally joined the paper as chief of their bureau in Afghanistan in 2015 where, for three years, she reported on the ongoing war and humanitarian crises there. Prior to this, she operated as part of a team of journalists for Reuters in Libya whose work was chosen as a finalist in the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 2012.

Jessica began her session by asking the boys where they think our news comes from, how it is gathered and where in the world are there armed conflicts. The boys proved themselves to be well-informed and they revealed an impressive level of knowledge of world affairs. Jessica gave them a brief outline of her work in Afghanistan and opened the floor up to questions and comments. Boys’ questions included: how do foreign reporters prepare to live and work in a country where the culture and traditions may be unfamiliar to them; is there any special training that war-reporters receive to prepare for danger; how does your editor help you in an emergency?

Jessica admitted to the boys that she finds the journalistic rule of writing in the active voice difficult to follow. Her editor often tells her off for submitting reports in the passive voice which she then has to change, often within a very tight time-frame! To prove her point, Jessica challenged the boys to orally compose what appeared to be, at first, a simple war headline in the active voice. There followed an interesting debate that would not have been out of place in an undergraduate linguistic seminar…until, finally, the boys discovered what the difficulties would be if the CAUSE of the event was unknown!

Jessica also gave the boys an insight into travelling as part of the Washington press entourage on Airforce 2 as they follow Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, around the world to cover US foreign policy stories in countries such as North Korea, Japan and Poland. Boys gave thoughtful and mature answers to her questions regarding what team-skills should one possess to be a successful journalist since so much of the job is about meeting and talking to people.

At the end of the session I revealed that Jessica is actually my ‘baby’ sister and that I am very proud of all she has achieved. Jessica then admitted how nervous she felt before talking to the boys. She told them they were ‘awesome’ (her words) and they would make fine journalists one day. Later that evening we spoke, and she told me how struck she was by their knowledge and intelligence, and by the maturity they showed when discussing some of the issues we touched upon. She asked me to thank the boys on her behalf for giving her such an uplifting experience.