In quotes: 10 top tips for journalists from NPR’s Tom Bowman

Damian Radcliffe

In February, we hosted Tom Bowman and Brigid Schulte at the University of Oregon as Journalists in Residence.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon. In his current role, he has traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan often for month-long visits and embedded with U.S. Marines and soldiers.

As part of his visit to our campus, Tom spent time visiting classes and talking about his experiences.

Here’s 10 pieces of key advice that he shared with young journalists:

1. On getting out of Washington

“You’ll never understand anything is you just stay in DC. It’s a theme park.. you know what people are going to say. You want to go to places and see real people.”

2. On interviewing

“Never go up to someone and pull out the mic. You want to connect with that person as a human being first.”

3. On taking your time

Bowman explained the virtue of talking to troops on the ground, as “there’s always a disconnect” between their experiences and that of their bosses in DC.

“Anything you can do to make people feel comfortable and open up,” pays dividends he suggests.

To do this, he’ll often sit around a camp fire with soldiers, sharing cigars, chips and dips, as a way to build trust, find connections and overcome suspicions of the press.

4. On the value of history

“You have to know how we got to this point.”

Tom Bowman speaking at the University of Oregon in February 2019.

5. On having a thick contacts book

For any beat you cover, you have to find out who you should talk to; and who has the information you need.

“You have to have a good web of sources to do this job.”

6. On being skeptical

“You will get spun,” Bowman cautions.

“Go out with the people on the ground, not just the brass.”

7. On acknowledging the politics

“The higher up [you go] the more political it is.” That’s the same in any organization, Bowman says.

8. On reporting for radio

Observe what’s happening, take notes (physically or mentally) and “in a lull pull it all together.”

9. On reporting in warzones

“You learn to get used to it… [but] you have to find your comfort level.”

“When you first go out it’s like you’re in your own war movie.”

10. On the value of reading

“If you want to be a good writer, read voraciously.”

Damian Radcliffe

Written by

Chambers Professor in Journalism @uoregon | Fellow @TowCenter @CardiffJomec @theRSAorg | Write @wnip @ZDNet | Host Demystifying Media podcast

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