Chris Johns, editor in Chief of “National Geographic,” talked with students in the VACA and science departments and at lunch this Monday. Johns is the father of Noel Johns, a Senior nursing major at EMU. He has accepted the role of being commencement speaker for the class of 2015.
Johns was attending Oregon State University when he discovered his passion for photojournalism. He noted that while studying Organic Chemistry, he discovered that he was less interested in agriculture than he thought and thus decided to try some photography and journalism classes. Johns refers to journalism as a “calling” for those who want to “find the truth.”
Johns talked about his understanding of the purpose of “National Geographic,” saying, “We tell meaningful stories in unforgettable ways…we give voices to people who may not have one…in a way that excites and engages people.”
Johns explained that “National Geographic” takes most of their profits and sends them into scientific research and exploration; this is where most of the magazine’s story ideas come from.
“‘National Geographic’ is built around people who are out there,” Johns said, half-joking, “not people who are sitting around in a tie like me.”
As advice to the group, Johns encouraged anyone interested in pursuing a field in journalism to “find your own voice.”
Gesturing to the computers in the advanced media lab, Johns noted, “These tools are just a means to an end. When you learn to use those tools, you’ll learn to amplify the voice of those you meet. Once you become skilled enough, you’ll disappear, and those other people will be louder.”
This concept appealed to Senior Rebekah Graham, who said that she “love[s] that Chris wants his photographers to discover and tell their own story instead of being assigned a project they feel obligated to complete….This approach gives journalism freedom and results in a wide variety of topics that are revealed to the public.”
Graham also enjoyed listening to Johns’ recollections of previous stories the magazine had run, especially when he told the class that with current technologies, scientists have the ability to reintroduce Woolly Mammoths within the next few years. She said that she is “stunned at what we are hypothetically capable of with science.”
Melinda Norris, Sophomore peacebuilding and Environmental Sustainability major, commented on Johns’ approach to criticism about global climate change.
“I liked that he would stick up for his beliefs, but he would also be willing to listen to other people’s opinions and ask why they felt differently than he did.” She added, “That is what we learn to do in my classes. Not just disagree with a person, but try to understand their side of the story.”
-Bethany Hench, Sports Editor