By Matt Holzapfel
Al Drago is a contract press photographer for the New York Times where he covers the
White House, Congress, and national politics. While he was at Elon, he worked with The Pendulum and Elon Local News. He also spent a semester studying international journalism in Morocco. Following his graduation from Elon, Al was as a photographer for Roll Call in Washington, DC. He covered the final months of the Obama presidency, the presidential transition, and the inauguration and first 100 days of President Donald Trump. He is one of three photographers for the Times that follows the president wherever he goes.
“Here we have Al Drago, class of 2015,” said Professor Janna Anderson proudly introducing her former student.
“Hi! I’m Al,” began Drago. He mentioned he had taken the same Reporting class that he was now addressing, so he felt our pain.
Al began with a few photos of himself “P.S.C.”, which he said meant “Pre-Snapchat.” He said he was always a goofy kid who loved photography. He even shot his own move-in day in 2011 at Elon. “My Elon experience was based around the journalism that I did.”
“After junior year I interned with the Baltimore Sun,” said Drago “I covered Obama the same way I cover Trump, the same way I cover Paul Ryan. I cover them all the same way.”
“Does anyone have any questions?” asked Drago as he paused, “what do you guys wanna hear about?”
“Whether it’s money or it’s on-screen credit, you gotta know your price,” explained Drago while recounting a story about how he was contacted by several large news organizations after writing an article about a shooting in the area.
“The main question is these stories are great but how do you these yourself?” Drago went on. “I would send a photo from a press conference (to major editors) and they would say ‘hey why are you taking a photo of a press conference, we need action.'”
Al told the class about how one summer at Elon he spent working an unpaid internship and another job at a newspaper distributing plant which was paid. He said he would work from 2 p.m. to 5 a.m., but no worries, he got his sleep from 5:15 a.m. to 2 p.m. everyday.
“I dedicated everything I did to advancing myself professionally,” explained Drago. “I think you can advance yourself more the first five or ten years out of college than you can the rest of your life. Work hard now, play later.”
Drago said he tried to learn at least one new skill at every place that he worked, “I still don’t really know how to use flash he jokes.”
Drago put up his “Top 8 Tips” on the screen, “It would be Top 10 but we’re on deadline remember?” it read at the top.
Al Drago’s Top 8 Tips
- You are a journalist, don’t forget that
- Know your brand, own it
- Your future boss WILL see everything you post
- Everything you learned in COM 100 and Media Writing will be your bread and butter
- Social Media and keep on changing and evolving, roll with it
- Always cover your bases, but sometimes you’ve gotta risk it
- If you want to be on top, start out on top
- Don’t forget to stop and take a selfie every once and a while
“Social Media will keep changing,” Drago explained his tips. “Did you guys here Facebook is doing the Snapchat thing now?” “Do you guys remember Vine? Vine was like a thing.”
“You just gotta roll with it and have fun.”
“It’s not too late for this summer! There’s a ton of internships still available, there’s a ton still available for this summer,” Drago said. “Wherever you want to intern or work one day, reach out to them now. There’s like a 40-80 percent chance the Times hired me because I annoyed them, and I’m okay with that.”
“Get outside the bubble and risk it, make something no one else is going to make.”
“Everything is different and that’s okay,” said Drago. “For TV you have your cut and dry basic package, for Facebook put up the clip that never made it to air.”
Professor Anderson interrupted with a story about the press from the back of the room. Her story was about Tom Hanks and a coffee machine and the press, it seemed loosely related at first but upon reading it, the correlation was more clear. (You can read that story here)
Urban exploring is something all journalists should do, according to Drago. “There was a gold mine right near my house and I didn’t even know.” His message was clear, if you don’t get out and explore you might miss so many good stories that you otherwise would never have known about.
Al showed the class an Instagram story he made while visiting the Wizard of Oz theme park in Beech Mountain, North Carolina. “You have to remember a lot of people on social don’t have their volume on You gotta make them want to turn their volume on and want to stay.”
“Having that balance, those friends to have you back and a family and a network to have your back is just as important (as having a successful career),” said Drago. “I worked for the Herald Sun, then Times-News, then I started freelancing. I found a plumbing magazine in South Dakota, they paid me for every assignment. Then after junior year was Baltimore Sun, then I went to Morocco. I know I don’t talk about it (Morocco) very much but it was very important.”
To learn more about Al Drago and his work, check out his website aldrago.com.