"He's a rockstar in the Journalism world" - Elena Stauffer
"He's a bada**" - Pascal Albright
Both of these terms could, and do, easily apply to former New York Times columnist Joe Sharkey, however, he is first and foremost simply a journalist. His is a life which has been perpetually dedicated to the journalistic processes of observation, questioning, and criticism. Especially criticism (see his blog). From his decade spanning career as a working journalist for such news organizations as The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Wall Street Journal, to his line of published novels including Above Suspicion which is currently being given the Hollywood Movie Adaption Treatment, everything he does reflects his love for and dedication to fundamental Journalistic method. This passion for his work can undeniably be seen when one meets him in person, as I had the pleasure to yesterday when he came in to give a presentation on what it means to work as a Journalist in the 21st century.
A grand adventure! That is how he posed working in the Journalism field. And in his case that interpretation is most certainly true. As us Journalism Diversity Workshop students sat paying ramp attention, he regaled us with his tales of experiences had while on the job, including a rather famous incident in Brazil involving a midair collision between two airplanes (yes, he was in one of them) and a consequent hardscrabble landing attempt on a secret airstrip owned by the Brazilian military in the secluded reach of the Amazon. Following the successful landing and Joe's survival, he and the rest of the passengers were held and interrogated by the Brazilian military for a period of approximately 36 hours. After a terrible ordeal of incessant questioning and detainment, Joe was charged criminally (he made sure to empathize this in his presentation) by the Brazilian government (see title) and was made to leave the country. To this day, he is not allowed to enter Brazil. On his blog, Joe Sharkey.com, he cites rampant Anti-Americanism and Political Opportunism in Brazil as being the guiding forces behind the treatment of himself and his fellow American passengers, who were all blamed by the Brazilian government and media for the accident, despite evidence pointing to fault on part of the air traffic controllers who are responsible for, yah know, ensuring two planes aren't going to freaking collide with one another!
Besides his exciting stories of near-death experiences and societal outcasting, Joe also gave us a mini-course in thinking as a journalist, a skill which he said to be important whether or not one decides to pursue Journalism as a career or not. He gave us an example, designed to stimulate our brains so as to enhance our ability to make connections between various observations. The example he gave was the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, located right here in Tucson, Arizona. He got us to consider the base not as some isolated occurence, but as a facet of the Tucson infrastructure, both cultural and economical, with its own effects on both. He wanted us to consider what these are effects are, as well as what they arise from. Are the effects Environmental? Economical? Why is it having these effects? Are they positive or negative? By who's hand are they occurring? Do these effects arise as a result of events happening on the larger national scale? The group never answered these questions; that wasn't the idea behind the activity. Instead it was meant to get us to all think like Journalists, considering an occurence from all possible angles, reviewing the relationship between various events which may seem isolated and innocuous, but could be having deep effects on one another and others outside of their little bubble. This, in particular, I found incredibly inspiring and frankly a little reassuring, as I am someone who spends a lot of time (to the point of utter madness, in some cases) trying to understand issues to an all-encompassing degree. It's nice to know that I already routinely practice this procedure, and furthermore, that that will prove a great benefit to me should I decide to pursue a career in Journalism.
Overall, my experience with meeting Joe and viewing his presentation were both remarkably positive, and it imbued within me me a strong feeling of inspiration in the face of this Journalistic rockstar, one which continues to this very moment. The presentation also served to get me excited for what I might experience on my potential career path practicing Journalism. To think that I could participate in a plane crash and be subsequently held at the mercy of an American-hating government while undergoing intensive interrogation ultimately resulting in me being branded a threat to society and losing access to a particular country fills me with a strong feeling of anticipation and excitement. Joe Sharkey is a perfect model for all aspiring Journalists, as well as existing Journalists, past Journalists. All Journalists really. Someone who uses their mind well in an effort to observe, question, and criticize. Someone who, even in the face of extreme adversity and opposition, upholds the civic duty of a Journalist to seek and convey the truth, to the benefit of the collective public knowledge and their consequent ability to navigate through our complicated world and make the best possible decision for themselves and those around them. As a Journalist, an author, and simply a person, he displays these qualities and then some. Which can sometimes have the result of one being given criminal treatment as he did, but in my opinion, that only makes him cooler. As Pascal so eloquently put it, "He is a bada**". A bada** indeed.