By Patrick Larsen
Al Drago, photojournalist and Elon University graduate, took time out of his busy schedule to visit Janna Anderson’s Reporting for the Public Good class early on Friday.
Drago spent his time at Elon gathering extensive experience, completing internships at four newspapers and spending time abroad in Morocco. He now works with the New York Times, covering the president.
“Every holiday, you’re gonna be working. You’re gonna be loving it and you’re gonna be embracing it,” said Drago of journalism.
“Knowing that, I kinda got to jump in head first and get a head start.”
Drago began working in high school at the Independent Weekly with dreams of being a sports photographer – just like all high school male photographers, he said.
It was a given for him to jump right in at Elon as well, covering his own Freshman convocation only days after moving in. But that’s not all he did. Again, Drago worked extensively at various internships at Elon. This is a story about one photo that he took for one of those internships:
The story went national and Drago’s photo ended up in the New York Times.
While in college, Drago listed all the places he wanted to work according to how much he wanted to work there, with the New York Times way up in the top tier.
Now, Drago works for that very publication in the president’s travel pool, which follows the president around wherever he goes.
“I’m one of those ten or fifteen people crawling around at the president’s feet.”
Drago’s first tip for getting your work out there effectively – start networking on day one. He started emailing editors when he was only 16. From this communication, editors sent him tips on improving his work for building a strong and appealing portfolio.
Next, “I worked nonstop.” He worked every day the summer after first year from 2 p.m. until 5 a.m. and then slept until it was time to work again.
Drago also encouraged the students to work hard now and relax later. “I think you can advance your career more in the first five years out of college than the 15 or 20 years after.”
Branding is also very important. His brand is very serious to him, but interestingly he mentions dancing and biking at the top of the list and following the president around at the bottom, which is pretty telling of his character. He really means that order.
Another one of Drago’s specialties is using social media to reach new audiences. His work is a blend of everyday Snapchat and Instagram stories and television news packages and he knows quite a bit about how to best use each.
“Snapchat prioritizes content creation over consumption. Instagram flips that formula.”
Along the same line, Drago says that you have to treat each social media platform differently. For example, use Twitter to show your work, but use Facebook to show your work and a little bit that didn’t make it – it feels more personalized.
With each story he talks about, Drago tends to repeat that “I hit all the things I needed to do.” This follows right along with his tips to work hard and use early communications courses to build on.
This comes through again in an Instagram story he did for the New York Times on the Land of Oz festival in Beech Mountain, NC. In only the first three videos of the assignment, he essentially had told all of the important parts of the story told, so the rest is even more open to entertainment and information.
At the end of the day, he sums his “belief in the struggle,” as professor Anderson would say, up in just two sentences:
“I chose work every single time,” said Drago, “and I think it shows.” However: “You have to have me time or you will totally explode.”