January 6, 2021
New York Times investigative journalist Leslie Kean speaks with Cypress Springs High School journalism adviser Michael Damante and Cypress Springs journalism students via Zoom on Dec. 9 to share stories about her career and advice to student journalists.
By Mya Banks and Kelsey Crowder, Cypress Springs HS
Jan. 6, 2021—Leslie Kean, an investigative journalist for The New York Times, spoke to Cypress Springs High School journalism students on Dec. 9 via Zoom to discuss the span of her career and share advice. Having established herself since the mid-to-late 1990s, Kean has pushed to inspire change and motivate youth within the journalism field.
“I met Leslie last year when she spoke to our mutual friend Professor Jeffrey Kripal's class at Rice University,” said Michael Damante, Cypress Springs journalism adviser. “Since then, I've interviewed her for my own book ‘Punk Rock and UFOs: Stranger Than Fiction,’ and we've remained in touch. She is a kind, compassionate human being and a great journalist with a wealth of knowledge to share.”
Kean is not only a well-established journalist but a well-rounded author. Kean first got her start by co-writing her first book with author Alan Clements called “Burma's Revolution of the Spirit: The Struggle for Democratic Freedom and Dignity.” The book not only established Kean as a journalist but set up her career that led to bylines in the Boston Globe and The New York Times.
“I certainly didn't take the root of a conventional journalist,” said Kean in the session. “I never got any formal training in journalism. In the 1990s I had a very close friend who had been in Burma and he had been on the frontlines, assisting people who were rebelling against the brutal dictatorship. He came back with all this incredible information that needed to be out in the world. I started helping him do that and I got very interested in the struggle for democracy. We ended up writing a book together about it.”
After writing the book, Kean’s journalism career took off.
“As a result [of ‘Burma's Revolution of the Spirit: The Struggle for Democratic Freedom and Dignity’] I was invited to a radio station called KPFA in Berkeley, Calif. The guy who interviewed me said, ‘Let’s write some stories together on Burma.’ He was a very accomplished freelance and broadcast journalist. His name is Dennis Bernstein. We did all these stories together and in the process of doing them, he mentored me as somebody who had co-authored a book who knew something but had never really published articles anywhere. He was the one that helped structure it, how you have to back everything up, how you judge a source, and how you structure it.”
Kean’s first piece with The New York Times was published on Dec. 16, 2017 and was about the Pentagon's secret UFO program titled “Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon's Mysterious UFO Program.” She refers to it as her “most important article that she’s ever done in her 20 years of writing on Burma and things before that.”
During the session, Kean also provided advice to student journalists on how to be successful within the career field and what makes a good journalist.
“You want to present both sides of an issue, be objective and very discriminating about who your sources are,” Kean said. “You want to provide people with good credentials who you can trust, who are reliable and whose words matter. You want to think about what information is important and what isn't and being able to research.”
Kean’s work and explorations for discovering the truth have pushed and inspired upcoming journalistic authors within their writing as well.
“We need young people to go into journalism because they have open and flexible minds and can bring a fresh perspective,” Kean said.