New York Times photojournalist Al Drago speaks with Elon journalism class

By Ginna Royalty

Al Drago’s Twitter profile picture

Al Drago started taking pictures when he was 16. He continued to dive into the world of photography and journalism in high school, and when he came to Elon University in 2011, he even photographed his own move-in day.

While at Elon, he worked with both The Pendulum and Elon Local News and was a photojournalist intern with the Durham Herald-Sun, the Burlington Times-News, the Raleigh News & Observer and the Baltimore Sun.

Drago spoke to Professor Janna Anderson’s Reporting for the Public Good class today and gave the students an inside look at life as a photojournalist.

“Every holiday you’re going to be working, you’re going to be embracing it, you’re going to be loving it,” Drago said.

He spoke of his time at Elon, what it took to get where he is today and advice for aspiring journalists. He connected with the students, showing them his first “selfie” from 2005 and made jokes about the “Elon bubble” and being an overworked student.

During his college years, Drago told his professors that work came first for him, and luckily most of them were understanding.

Drago tells a story of one assignment that changed his life. “It was a Tuesday, I was in my house and there was an ELN assignment I wasn’t attending and I got a call from the News Observer and they said ‘We have a triple murder in Chapel Hill, how soon can you get there?'”

Drago’s first picture in The New York Times

He was in the middle of shaving and said “10-15 minutes” even though the drive to Chapel Hill was actually around 40 minutes. He threw the shaving cream off his face and sped over to Chapel Hill.

The picture he took ended up being the one every outlet wanted.

“I woke up to my phone blowing up, I had hundreds of tweets and messages from newspapers,” Drago said.

It was the first time his photo was in The New York Times, but it definitely wouldn’t be the last.

After Drago graduated in 2015 he worked as a photographer for Roll Call in Washington D.C. and then moved on to working for The New York Times, where he covers the White House, Congress and national politics.

Drago explains the differences between Snapchat and Instagram

Drago is one of three photographers for the Times who follows the president everywhere he goes, whether it’s in the motorcade for a speech or traveling on Air Force One to accompany the president on a weekend trip.

He gave students great tips for getting the job or internship you want: network with anyone possible, cold-email editors asking for advice and work ferociously. He worked nonstop.

At one point he had an unpaid internship with the Raleigh News and Observer from 2-10 pm, covered Durham Bulls games from 10-11:30 and then went over to a distribution plant and worked from midnight to 5 am.

Drago also talked about the hardships that came along with working so hard during college. Whether it was keeping up with school work or missing social functions and spring breaks, it wasn’t easy to get to where he is now.

“For all the photos, I could also you show you all the things I missed,” Drago said.

Drago is a big fan of using Snapchat and Instagram to share pictures. He said the main difference between the two is that “Snapchat prioritized content creation over consumption. Instagram flips that formula.”

Drago ended his presentation giving advice to the students: “You have to have “me” time or you’ll totally explode.”


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