Former Monitor Editor Joins Mass Comm RanksPaul Van Slambrouck, Principia’s newest addition to the mass communication department, knows all about the value of hard work and humility.
“One thing you learn very early on is that you don’t have all the answers, and if you come from a place of thinking you’re supposed to, you probably won’t be a very good journalist.”
Van Slambrouck has an extensive background in journalism, having spent much of his professional career working for The Christian Science Monitor in Boston.
Although Van Slambrouck has a considerable amount of experience with writing, it wasn’t necessarily his earliest passion.
Van Slambrouck developed an interest in photography at an early age. His family always kept copies of the Monitor at home, and Van Slambrouck was drawn to the black-and-white photographs featured therein. “I think that was the thing that grabbed me most, and in a sense that imagery spoke to me more immediately than anything else at that young age,” he said.
Van Slambrouck studied anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He became seriously interested in photography in his junior year and took a class off-campus as an introduction to the craft. Van Slambrouck graduated in 1972 and quickly enrolled in the Glen Fishback School of Photography, a small private school in his hometown of Sacramento, California.
From there, Van Slambrouck applied for a position as a writer and photographer for the San Francisco Business Magazine, a special publication of the city’s Chamber of Commerce. Said Van Slambrouck, “I really hadn’t done any writing, but I applied. They said, ‘Can you write?’ And I said, ‘Of course I can write.’” Van Slambrouck shared his work portfolio and earned the position, thereby launching his career in journalism.
He joined the Monitor in 1976 as a fulltime reporter after doing some freelance work for the newspaper. Van Slambrouck held a number of titles during his time with the Monitor, including business editor, international news editor, San Francisco bureau chief, and finally editor from 2001 to 2005. Van Slambrouck left Boston in 1989 to work for The San Jose Mercury News, where he and the rest of the staff won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
Van Slambrouck returned to Boston in 1997. He said of the Monitor, “I’m grateful for being trained in a journalistic environment that was that compassionate and understanding and … attuned to values beyond just professional [ones].”
One story in particular lends itself to that ideal. Van Slambrouck said one of his most memorable experiences as editor of the Monitor came during the newspaper’s early coverage of the Iraq War. Several reporters went into the field with American troops to follow the story. According to Van Slambrouck: “It was a voluntary assignment for obvious reasons. It was not something we forced somebody to do, and it was a difficult thing to know you had reporters in harm’s way like that.”
It was hard for most journalists to stay in touch with their editors while in Iraq. Van Slambrouck said the Monitor staff in Boston would go for days without hearing a word of news. But one day around 3 a.m., Van Slambrouck received a phone call he’ll never forget from a distressed reporter.
“She seemed anxious, and she said, ’I’m here in Iraq, I’m with the American troops, and I think we’re about to go into Baghdad.’” Van Slambrouck continued, “The thing that came to me to say was: ‘The most important thing for you to know is that your well-being is way more important to me than this story.’” The reporter calmed down a bit after that conversation and was able to proceed safely with the troops.
Van Slambrouck reflected on that experience for a moment: “It was not a kind of journalistic response, which might have been, you know, ‘Go get the story.’ In a professional sense that should be what’s most important to you … [But] it felt like it all kind of worked in the right way without getting into a lot of human counseling or advice.”
After leaving the Monitor, Van Slambrouck started working on a book about generosity and volunteerism. About a year ago, he was asked to teach a course at Principia College, but was unable to accept the job right away.
In fact, teaching had never exactly been on Van Slambrouck’s “to-do list.” He said: “There was no point in my journalistic career when I was thinking, ‘you know, at some point I’ll go teach.’ And I really can’t tell you why, it’s just that never really clicked for me.”
But Van Slambrouck was ultimately led to accept a job offer, and he’s settling into his Newswriting and Mass Media in Society classes quite well. Junior Will Pappas, a mass communication major, said Van Slambrouck is “really supportive of our work. He wants to be aware of where we are [with our assignments.]” Pappas added that Van Slambrouck’s level of experience is an asset to the classroom.
Van Slambrouck said, “I think I am drawn to challenges and situations where I feel very much like I’m going to learn as much a I’m going to teach.” He added that he’s always looking for ways to make the classroom experience more interactive, drawing on visual media and outside resources for help.
In Van Slambrouck’s eyes, students and teachers should work together to create a meaningful learning experience. “I’m a pretty big believer in collective wisdom, and what emerges from a group in a classroom setting is going to be better than anything any one person could produce.”