Author Ted Conover to give Johnston/Words Worth Lecture

The UO School of Journalism and Communication is rolling out its second annual Words Worth common reads program this year featuring Pulitzer Prize finalist and journalist Ted Conover. Conover will visit the SOJC on Nov. 9-10 to speak to students in a variety of classes and to present a public talk titled “Witness of One: Hello and a Pencil” for the SOJC’s annual Richard W. and Laurie Johnston Lecture.

Part of the SOJC’s Writing Initiative, the Words Worth program began as a solution to promote reading and exposure to in-depth storytelling to students across the college.

For the 2016-17 academic year, the Words Worth common read will be Conover’s book, “Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders with America's Mexican Migrants,” which will be handed out to about 300 SOJC students. The book, originally released in 1987, recounts Conover’s travels with a group of illegal immigrants on their journey to America.

Conover said that while attending college, he discovered the field of anthropology and how much journalists can learn from it.

“By spending a lot of time with somebody, hanging out, immersing, breathing the same air and eating the same food, you could do a deeper kind of journalism,” Conover said. “You can turn an interesting immersion and experience of another culture into writing.”

Conover has mastered the techniques of diving deeper into the lives of those he writes about. His firsthand accounts and investigative reporting have made him one of the industry’s most recognizable journalists today.

“All of Ted’s work, including ‘Coyotes,’ combines ethical, sensitive reporting with masterful storytelling,” said Lauren Kessler, UO SOJC Professor Emerita and Words Worth coordinator. “It also tackles big issues in ways that bring us closer and make us care.” 

At the Nov. 10 public talk, Conover said he plans to discuss various strategies to help young journalists find interesting narratives in serious, darker subject matter and to tell those stories in ways that bring the reader along for the journey.

“I’ll talk about how powerful an individual writer can be,” Conover said. “If you find an important subject and a good way to approach it that will interest people, then you’ll suddenly find thousands of people paying attention to you. And you can make a difference.”

In addition to his six books, Conover has written for a variety of publications, including The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harper’s, National Geographic and The New York Times Magazine. He also teaches courses in literary reportage, empathy and journalism at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

In 2000, Conover won the National Book Circle Award for “Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing,” which recounts the year he spent at the New York maximum-security correctional facility working as a guard. Conover’s experience and accounts of the prison highlighted the challenges and troubles festering within the facility by shining a light on its operations, employees and inmates.

Conover’s lecture, which he will deliver Nov. 10 at 4 p.m. in the Global Scholars Hall Great Room on the UO campus, will also be this year’s Johnston Lecture. The Richard W. and Laurie Johnston Memorial Endowment brings professionals to the school for campus lectures, workshops and discussions with students, faculty members and members of the community. It honors Dick Johnston, a gifted magazine editor, writer and war correspondent who devoted himself to high-quality journalism and his wife, Laurie Johnston, an award-winning newspaper reporter, writer and war correspondent.  The project originated as a memorial to Richard Johnston and was made possible with generous gifts from his widow, Laurie, George E. Jones of U.S. News and World Report and the Correspondents Fund.

Story by Amanda Linares, who joins the SOJC’s communications team as a multimedia intern while studying as a graduate student in the professional journalism master’s program. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida’s School of Journalism and Communications and has written for the unofficial school paper, The Independent Florida Alligator, as well as a variety of other publications, including Alachua County Today newspaper and Florida Hospital’s Best In Care magazine. She’s also worked as a guest anchor and producer for WUFT-TV’s Afternoon News In 90 in Gainesville, Florida. In her graduate program, she has shifted her focus from print to multimedia production and photojournalism. Linares hopes to grow her journalism skills across multiple platforms and plans on graduating this spring.