Alumni Profile

Jonah Kessel '06

Visual Media Specialist, New York Times

What are you doing now?

I'm living in Beijing now, where I cover China for The New York Times' video department. I also shoot still photos for The Times and other publications. Most of this type of photography and video is investigative but also some breaking news photography dealing with human rights or development issues. China's growing role in global politics, economics, social and environmental issues has made this a fascinating position. Outside of the newspaper and magazine world, I work as a cinematographer shooting documentaries for nonprofits and NGOs and commercial video for multinationals. My work takes me around China on a regular basis and often to other parts of the world. In 2012 I landed in about 15 different countries at one point or another. In 2013, I’m continuing my work in China with The Times and have recently started shooting a documentary in Burma for a nascent but feisty online news startup called Global Post.

How do you apply what you learned at Saint Michael's College to your professional life?

My education at Saint Michael's and my professional life are directly related. At St. Mike's I studied journalism, certainly from a global perspective. We learned about traditional journalism but with a focus on new media. I studied abroad twice at Saint Michael's - one semester in New Zealand and one semester in Australia. And today, I live abroad and practice new media for a traditional journalism outlet. They are directly related. In some ways, I might look at my career actually starting when I walked into the doors of Saint Michael's for the first time.

Who was your most memorable professor, or what was your favorite class?

When I think about my most memorable professor, I think about the journalism department as a whole. Regardless of the class I was taking or the person teaching it, it really felt like it was all building toward a single philosophy in approaching the global media marketplace. Messages overlapped and were broadened by looking at the same subject from more than one different lens (please excuse my photography metaphor, but it seemed appropriate!). We might look at an historic event in Mass Com, and then understand the legal implications of that in Media Law and Ethics. Later you might learn about how that event was represented internationally or the technology that made it possible. Everything was connected, which enforced important messages.

The actual size of the department also made this possible. For example, I only had Professor Mindich for one class; however, I saw him and talked to him nearly every day after that class was over until I graduated. Teaching and learning simply weren't constrained to class time. This made it feel like he was my professor long after our class was finished.

What advice would you give new Saint Michael's students?

I offer two pieces of advice. The first: study abroad. The world is bigger than America and if you stay in your own country your entire life, it's easy to forget that. You'll learn more about your own country and yourself in a short time by removing yourself from the environment you grew up in, than you might in years in your home country.

You'll also learn how connected everything is. The world is far more connected than many might think and it's our inability to see that, that creates so many global conflicts - be them social, religious, environmental or economic. I believe the more we learn about each other, the easier it is for us to accept our differences. And to overcome some of the problems we are inheriting from former generations and to help make a better future for generations ahead of us - it's critical to the survival of humanity and our planet that we work to bridge some of these cultural misconceptions. Studying abroad is the easiest way to begin to understand some of these issues and to play a part in building a global culture that is sustainable on earth.

The second piece of advice I offer: dream big. Figure out where you want to be and what you want to do and just go do it. If something is stopping you, identify that obstacle and figure out how to overcome it. Every problem has a solution. Even the biggest goals are achievable if you simply work hard, don't give up and believe in yourself. So dream big and live big. You won't regret it.

Learn What Matters