Experience that started here
Kevin Drew, a reporter for The New York Times, got his start at the Barometer
Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 20:07
It’s a safe assumption that international reporters for The New York Times don’t get much down time.
Kevin Drew, a reporter for The New York Times Global Edition in Hong Kong, walked the pathways of Oregon State University, his alma mater, for the first time in decades yesterday after he offered media students professional guidance.
“Whether you want to work abroad or you’re thinking about your career, you should not be afraid to crash and burn at least once,” Drew said. “If you’re doing good work, you will move up. The hardest part is at the very beginning.”
Drew, originally from Oregon City, happens to be a firm believer in small beginnings. His first job out of college was at a small paper in Southern Oregon.
“My first job was at the Ashland Daily Tidings, I pretty much started at the bottom,” Drew said. “If you’re offered a job, just take it.”
After several years as a reporter in the Northwest, Drew decided to take the first of many “calculated risks” by moving to Eastern Europe. What drew him there was not just a job reporting for an English newspaper, but a connection to that area of the world that was cultivated around age five after he developed rheumatoid arthritis.
“It’s essentially a condition where tissue between your bones inflames and swells, it can be quite painful. Even today there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis,” he said.
Drew’s parents took him to doctors in the Portland and Seattle areas, but they all said the same thing: he may never walk again. Through friends, however, Drew’s family heard about a Russian joint specialist at Shriner’s Hospital in Portland who had defected from the then Soviet Union.
“He did a procedure that was considered experimental, that doctors in Portland and Seattle hadn’t heard of or couldn’t do,” he said. After a six-month recovery period, Drew went through the process of learning to walk again. “He had a very powerful effect on me. He was scary and intimidating and I wanted to please him at the same time.”
At a time when Cold War tensions led to a social stigma against Eastern Europeans in the United States, Drew’s connection to the Russian doctor was unusual, and what later pushed him toward international journalism.
“He started to make me think about people we were supposed to hate, people we’re supposed to mistrust. He got me interested in that part of the world,” he said.
This mentality not only traveled with Drew to multiple countries of the Eastern Bloc, but also to the Asian countries he currently covers for the New York Times. Much of his advice for young journalists is based on obtaining valuable sources and being a good listener, which can only be accomplished through cultural understanding.
“You just have a lot more empathy for people, and it just made me much more open to listening to the situation people are in,” he said. “It put something in me to be willing to listen to people a lot more readily.”
Drew’s professional accomplishments have been deeply rooted in this concept of empathy. During his tenure at the New York Times, Drew has been involved in reporting many of the world’s most famous breaking news stories, including the earthquake in Japan, Occupy protests in Asia and, most recently, the escape of the blind Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng.
Throughout his time in Hong Kong, Drew has reported on issues regarding the Beijing government, the geographical and social constraints between Mainland Chinese and Hong Kong residents, and the identity crisis that he says the major city is currently experiencing.
Based on these experiences, he advises young professionals to have a curiosity and awareness for their current surroundings.
“Be aware of the cultures you’re working in,” Drew said. “The most important factor is being able to identify a good story and being comfortable with different platforms.”
Even with a position at a globally renowned news organization, Drew said he encounters people who pass judgments on the physical effects rheumatoid arthritis took on him. But just as he didn’t when he was a kid, he won’t let that get in the way.
“People are going to be throwing up barriers, they’re going to be making judgments about you,” Drew said. “You’re always going to deal with people who have their own biases. Are you going to let people like that prevent you from pursuing what you want to pursue?”
Joce DeWitt, reporter
On Twitter: @doniler