Be creative with a Journalism degree, you can do just about anything with it
David Thigpen saved a woman’s life with his story on the “Bootsy Collins”, an American funk musician, singer, and song writer in the 1990s — the story exposed “Collins,” who was not the real rock star but an imposter who had been staying over at this young lady’s dorm for weeks, before she read Thigpen’s story on the Rolling Stone.
Thigpen is the Director of Undergraduate Programs and the creator and curriculum designer of UC Berkeley’s new journalism minor which made its debut last summer. His writing as a journalist have appeared in the many renowned publications. In addition to his work in the field of journalism, Thigpen serves as a Research Affiliate at the Institute for the Future, a non-profit research organization that hopes to develop a vision and a strategic plan for its clients.
Journalism to Thigpen means more than just writing — it is a way of critically thinking about the world and actively interpreting the myriad of information. How do we know what is true and what is not? How do we make sense of something? How do we create meaning? For Thigpen, learning and effectively telling other people’s stories help him create something of value from the work he does.
Starting off his career as a reporter for the TIME Magazine in New York gave Thigpen the opportunity to go out in the world, meet new people, and get different experiences every day.
“I love the fact that journalism opens doors for you when normally they wouldn’t be open,” Thigpen said. “You get to cover a great variety of things which allows you to learn so much about the world.”
TIME Magazine, an American weekly news magazine published in New York City, was one of, if not the, most popular leisure reads of the American public. In fact, in the early 2000s, the Time Magazine had a circulation of 5 million copies per week.
But the emergence of the internet made Thigpen’s life a lot more complicated as the new form of technology and digital media put journalism in a state of crisis.
“After three rounds of layoffs, I decided that I couldn’t live that way,” Thigpen said. “I just left. I believed in myself and my skills to find me something else that I love to do.”
Thigpen was right. He quickly found his new calling — policy and research. People would have thought that transitioning from another career field would be difficult but for Thigpen, journalism transitioned seamlessly to public policy. He attributed this ease to his skills in writing and reporting.
“This is true for any decent journalist,” Thigpen said. Knowing how to write helped him bounce around and fit into a variety of job circumstances because “anyone needs someone who can write well.”
Rod Falcon, Research Director at the Institute for the Future who collaborated with Thigpen on various projects said “David’s journalistic mindset and craft is very compatible with Future’s research and given him the tools to uncover stories or signals of change that have the potential to scale and bring about wider change.”
Earlier this year, Thigpen published an academic article — Universal Basic Income: What is it, and is it Right for the US? — for the Roosevelt institute where he explored the history of universal income ideas and evaluated some endless debates about the topic. In fact, his skills as a journalist helped him craft this academic paper about complex issues in simple and direct terms.
“I think that cities cannot succeed on the level it expects unless everyone participates. There are too many non-participants right now, and that is the problem that needs solving,” said Thigpen. Thus, providing accurate and easy-to-understand information for the public are some first steps in addressing this “political and social problem.”
Moving between public policy work and journalism was able to stimulated Thigpen’s curiosity about a lot of things and taught him the way to find information and connect facts to see patterns.
In fact, Thigpen’s brainchild, the summer undergraduate journalism minor program reflects exactly this shift to embrace new technological mediums of journalism. The world has come a long way since the print age — today, digital media has replaced print to become the everyday necessity.
“When it comes to reporting, traditional skills are still relevant and fundamental,” Thigpen said. “But a wider range of skills are needed on digital media. That’s where the future is and it is what I was thinking about when I designed the program.”
The minor was over-the-roof successful — with an expectation of around 20 applicants, Thigpen carried rolled out the program with 155 students. Former students Vivienne Mo and Leafy Yan spoke of the program highly and said that this program helped them become “better writers, researchers, and more skilled consumers of information.”
Journalism is not dying. To Thigpen, although the form of journalism might be evolving, it still remains vital to a smooth functioning society as people struggle to find meaning in a very fast-moving and confusing world.
“It informs and inspires us. Personally, it is my way to better understand the world,” Thigpen said.