Brian Ross is not afraid of danger.
ABC News’ chief investigative correspondent sat down with nearly 50 people at a Berkeley College Master’s Tea on Tuesday afternoon to discuss his experiences tracking down news around the world and on Wall Street. From jumping out of a hijacked plane to running up against lawsuits, Ross said his job takes him to extremes. Audience members, many of whom said they had an interest in journalism, said they were impressed by Ross’ prowess.
Ross discussed his travels, including a trip to Colombia, where the Drug Enforcement Administration told him he had been targeted by a drug cartel for possible assassination. (He had been reporting on a cartel’s assassination of a leading presidential candidate.) When he returned home from a reporting trip in Nicaragua, Ross’ plane was hijacked and he was held captive for three days and nights in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. While exiting the plane, Ross said he did a swan dive onto the tarmac, adding that he still has a scar on his head as a result.
“Fundamentally, journalism is about finding information and doing stories,” Ross explained. For this reason, he predicts journalism will always be in demand. “It’d be a bad thing if people weren’t asking hard questions,” he said.
Ross has been asking hard questions for 39 years. He has traveled from Bangladesh, doing undercover reporting at a Wal-Mart textile factory using child labor, to China, where he once attempted to purchase an illegally harvested kidney.
When asked about the ethical boundaries he faces as an investigative journalist, Ross responded, “At ABC, we are actively told we can’t break the law.”
But Ross said he found his biggest challenge is working for large companies that shy away from risk. Ross said he has been sued about a dozen times, and while things always turned out fine, he said it can be hard to know how far to push a story.
Ross also gave advice for students interested in pursuing journalism, which he said allows reporters to put the “spotlight” on contemporary events. Students interviewed after the talk agreed.
Catherine Osborn ’12, who organized a workshop session with Ross earlier that day, said he is not just an impressive journalist, but also a great storyteller and captivating speaker.
“You can tell he’s based his career on firm presentation of truth,” she said.
Haley Cohen ’11 said Ross has her dream job.
But not everyone in the audience was equally enthusiastic about becoming a journalist. Tully McLoughlin ’11 said he enjoyed the talk but is not attracted to the competitive nature of investigative journalism.
Indeed, competition is inherent in journalism, Ross said.
“Journalism is cutthroat,” he said. “On a daily basis, we’re trying to get NBC’s stories and keep our stories from them.”
But that is not to say competition is bad.
“The great thing about capitalism and journalism is it’s competitive, so it drives people,” Ross said.