John Darnton Visits The School of the New York Times, Discusses Career



Last Monday, John Darnton, former New York Times journalist, foreign correspondent, and writer of five novels, visited students at The School of the New York Times, and detailed significant aspects of his career.

Mr. Darnton has worked in journalism for over 45 years, working first as a copy boy, then moving to larger roles, covering crime, fires, murders, suicides, and the police.

During his presentation, Mr. Darnton discussed his views regarding the media and how it is presented today.

“We are in a cocoon, and we are fed news we want to read,” Mr. Darnton said during his presentation. “ For instance, Fox news gave a very different report on various events than NBC.”

Mr. Darnton discussed how to sort out true news versus false news.

“Downright lies are a disservice to democracy,” he said.

Mr. Darnton also described the five novels he wrote towards the end of his career.

“I wrote a book about called Neanderthal, which was about a the hypothetical situation where a small group of group of them were still alive today and how scientists discovered them,” Mr. Darnton said. “The first book worked out so I wrote four more.”

Mr. Darnton told students stories regarding his time working as a foreign correspondent at The Times.

For his first assignment overseas, Mr. Darnton traveled to Nigeria.

“If someone wrote something bad for their press, it was considered unpatriotic,” he said. “We were put into jail and kicked out of the country. When the state oversees the media and you cross that line, you’re in trouble.”

After Nigeria, Mr. Darnton went to Poland, where the press was controlled by communist government.

“We couldn’t get stories out of the country, so I had to secretly send them with people who hid them on their journey out of the country and brought them to America,” Mr. Darnton said. “Not a single person refused.”

“His voice was calm and expressionless even when talking about his family being imprisoned in Africa or hiding his stories in stories in packs of cigarettes soon to be brought over borders by strangers,” audience member Sophie Rockefeller said. “He’s obviously a worldly personal with a fascinating life, but for the entire talk, he spoke to us like he was just an average guy.”

In Spain, Mr. Darnton’s friend was kidnapped and tortured for information.

A major lesson, Mr. Darnton learned was the way a newspaper could play a violent role in a nation, he said.

The main things Mr. Darnton learned during his travels abroad was that democracy requires free press, and that totalitarian government is very bad under free press, he said.

“He taught me that journalism is an adventure,” Ms. Rockefeller said. “He spent his career pursuing stories and making them available to the public, as they should be, in the face of oppressive governments, which I found compelling because it’s a noble way to live.”

In the next few years, Mr. Darnton plans to teach journalism courses at City University of New York, possibly about fake news and the internet’s role in the media.

“I want you to all keep an eye out for the news. It’s vital for us to become consumers of news,” Mr. Darnton said to his audience, granting them his final words of wisdom.