Pomona Alumni in Journalism Write “The First Draft of History” – Maggie Fick ’07

Maggie Fick stands in front on an open-air shop in Africa.

Since 2017, Maggie Fick has been the Nairobi-based East Africa deputy bureau chief for Reuters. In November, she will take up a new London-based job at Reuters reporting on the European pharmaceuticals industry as part of the global health and pharma team. Earlier in her career, Fick was West Africa correspondent for the Financial Times, Egypt correspondent for Thomson Reuters, AP correspondent in Egypt and South Sudan, and a field researcher for the Enough Project. After graduating from Pomona with a major in international relations/African politics, she was a Fulbright U.S. Student Research Fellow. Says Fick, “Im a proud Pomona alum and grateful for what the college gave me.”

What attracted you to journalism?

My interest in journalism was first piqued shortly after I graduated from Pomona, when I was on a Fulbright research fellowship in Niger. It wasn’t until a couple years later, when I was working as a field researcher in South Sudan for a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, that I met a bunch of journalists (both seasoned foreign correspondents and younger freelancers) and decided I had to jump ship from my relatively more stable job and give it a try. The reasons I couldn’t stay away were pretty standard ones people associate with the profession: Front row seat to history. Writing the first draft of history. Meeting people who are important because they are making news. Meeting people who are not officially important but who are interesting and who share their worlds with you in the course of interviewing them.

How did your Pomona College experience prepare you for your career?

Pomona gave me tools I use every day as a journalist:

  • How to ask good questions.
  • How to listen well to the answers.
  • Healthy skepticism of the standard narrative or take on something.

What has surprised you about being a working journalist?

More than a decade into becoming a journalist, what continues to surprise me (and often excite me, sometimes exhaust me) is that when I start the day, I generally have an idea of how it’s going to go, in terms of meetings or interviews or time spent writing. But there’s always the chance that there’s going to be a major piece of breaking news that will turn everything on its head and knock all the best laid plans aside. That keeps me and my colleagues on our toes.

What has been your most memorable experience so far in your career?

I certainly will never forget the elation of people in South Sudan on independence day in 2011, or the fear of people in Iraq after the ISIS invasion in 2014. More recently, though, I find myself reflecting on the experience of covering Ethiopia during an initially exciting and later incredibly sad period in that country’s fascinating and long history. In 2018, I traveled from Nairobi, where I was then based, to Ethiopia and interviewed lots of young people in a few different parts of the country. They had sharply varying views of how the appointment of the new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, would change their lives and Ethiopia’s path. Some had very high hopes and expectations, and some were angry and defiant. What stays with me about this experience is how prescient the warnings, predictions and concerns of young people from different communities ended up being.

What energizes you as a journalist?

People energize me. Some journalists are excellent writers and a bit more on the solitary and analytical end of the spectrum. That’s not me. Reporting is my strongest suit, and I get a ton of energy from spending a day out interviewing people and then talking with my colleagues about the story I’ll write. I also love working closely with colleagues on a big story. This is partly why Reuters news agency, where we tend to work either in bureaus or on beat-focused teams, suits me.

How does a journalist do work to be proud of in these polarized times?

By working hard every day to report the news with integrity. To me, this means adhering to the core principles of journalism—for example, ensuring that I contact each party mentioned in an article to give them the opportunity (and a reasonable amount of time) to comment before the article is published.