Lunch with Ari Shapiro

If you’ve ever listened to NPR, there’s a good chance that you’re heard “Ari Shapiro, White House corespondent,” floating on the airwaves. And if you’ve ever spoken to me, there’s a good chance that you know how much I love NPR.

Today Ari Shapiro visited the University of Portland, and I was lucky enough to be in a group of students that got to sit down with him over lunch to talk about journalism, gift bags, modern politics, and splattering the US President with marinara sauce.

From the moment he whirled into the room, Ari was animated and dynamic and captivating. The young, openly-gay journalist who also happens to sing with  Portland-based musical group Pink Martini and be the son of UP Professor Dr. Elayne Shapiro (my communications professor), starting by giving us his biography. Before a minute of his high-speed speech elapsed, it was obvious that lunch with Shapiro would not be a mundane Q&A.

Sure enough, he was soon telling us a hilarious story about meeting Barack Obama in close quarters for the first time. Aboard a small AF One (“baby Air Force One”) plane, Shapiro and his fellow reporters were surprised by the President’s appearance in their section. Suddenly, Shapiro explained, he found himself in a dilemma: reach below his airplane tray table to dutifully get his recorder and document the president’s words or fail to capture the commander in chief’s statement because atop his tray table was perched a big plate of spaghetti and marinara sauce, and there’s really no way to avoid that diplomatically.

In Shapiro’s words: “Do I splatter the leader of the free world with red sauce or fail at my first task aboard Air Force One?”

With his big smile and wit, Shapiro welcomed all our questions. His advice for young writers and students moving toward the daunting task of real life really resonated with me.

When people ask what I’m going to do with an English degree (“So you want to teach?” no.), I always try to explain that English chose me way back when I started reading early, and all I did was follow it. My philosophy has been: do what you love. If you love something, you’re automatically more motivated to dedicate your time and effort to it, and therefore more likely to succeed.

Shapiro seemed to feel the same.

When I asked why he had so strongly pursued his internship at NPR (he gave up a job teaching English in Greece to take an opportunity at NPR after applying once, being declined, and then accepted to the news company on his second try), Shapiro said he was just following his interest. Believing that the best way to succeed is just to try, to “cast your net wide,” he explained self-reflection as the source of his inspiration.

Sitting around with his housemates one night, he said they asked themselves, “What would make us happy? What do we want to do?”

 

And it’s been journalism, politics, radio personalities, hard interviews, and crazy adventures from there for Shapiro, who never imagined himself becoming a journalist while he studied English at Yale.

He said he thought the news field was dead. But now, citing the explosion of different media outlets like blogging, facebook, and twitter, he said the journalism field has opened up. (the Times had an article on this subject on Monday.) Whether for good or for evil, anyone can be a journalist now. It’s a problem/opportunity that I encounter often in my own writing, communications classes, and job on The Beacon.

Shapiro said he hopes that in the case of these personalised media outlets the best will rise to the top.

Outside of work, Shapiro makes time for things far from journalism, like singing. After inviting Portland music group Pink Martini to his home in DC on their visit to the capitol, “we ended up doing a sing along around my piano,” he laughed. That late night sing-along turned into a gig singing in front of 1800 people when the group invited Shapiro to join them as a vocalist.

Now he makes trips like this to Portland, where he’s performing downtown this week, in between all those AF One flights and meetings with presidential candidates (he’ll soon be travelling around to cover the GOP candidates as they campaign for next November’s election).

I left this luncheon totally “geeking out” over NPR and very motivated by Shapiro’s advice to take initiative and make things happen in your life. Putting a face to the name I often hear on the radio, Shapiro’s trip to UP was a friendly, fun, and really informative visit for the communication studies students and Beacon staff that got to attend.

 

A hilarious NPR/Lady Gaga spoof

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