Pam Belluck--Serendipity is All
“Chance favors the prepared mind”. Or “Serendipity is All”
Either phrase could characterize Pam Belluck’s entry into the world of journalism. As a winner of a Fulbright in the Philippines, Pam had been looking for ways to become a foreign correspondent, but events brought that goal to fruition sooner than she expected. A few weeks after she landed in the Philippines the revolution toppling ruler Ferdinand Marcos exploded, and she found herself literally in the middle of world news.
And it is also characteristic that reporting under cover of fire at an army base in Manila Pam managed to call her parents back home on Long Island to congratulate them during their 25th wedding anniversary party. “Get down! Get down!” was heard in the background of the phone call as bullets whizzed overhead. A family story now, but nerve-wracking for those at home at the time.
As a young (very young!) female reporter in Asia twenty-something years ago, Pam was intrepid, determined, gutsy and happily unconcerned about the difficulty of succeeding in that extremely macho environment. But it was an instance of lack of concern being a virtue rather than a hindrance—she just barged ahead, did her reporting, got assignments and proceeded to create a career in the face of that opposition.
Her original goal was to report from abroad for a major national American newspaper, but the route to that staff position included a stint at the home office, so Pam eventually found herself working for several years at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Philadelphia Inquirer until finally, seventeen years ago, being hired by The New York Times. Since that time a husband and family commitments have kept her stateside. But her desire to help others, to start discussions that resulted in positive change, never flagged.
Pam has been inspired to use journalism to help the world be a better place, whether it’s by increasing public awareness (cattle rustling in this day and age?), helping expose dangers of opiate use among pregnant women or simply reporting on people who have made a difference in others’ lives (think Island Practice, her newest book, about our own Tim Lepore, MD). Her work at The New York Times included being a National Bureau Chief in the Midwest and New England bureaus. Each time she moved, her husband (also a journalist) and children moved with her.
It was during her time in Boston that The Times decided to create the series called American Album, and Pam recalls looking for the New England candidate in a stack of papers on her desk (one apparently involving a nude bowler in Maine) when she came across the alumni bulletin of the Tufts University Medical School, in which a sentence appeared calling Timothy J. Lepore, MD, the only surgeon on a small island. She picked up the phone, called Tim, and the profile that became Island Practice was born.
But it’s also characteristic of Pam not to gloss over the real problems that might otherwise go unmentioned. It would have been easy to create a feel-good, Marcus-Welby-like profile of Tim Lepore, but it wouldn’t have told the whole story, or contained the nuances that real life demands we recognize. Which is why Pam was particularly determined to use a publisher, Public-Affairs, that respected those nuances and allowed the mixture of light and dark to be conveyed as Pam intended it. If journalism at its best is a way to improve life by solving problems but you don’t write about those nuances, people come to easy answers--and easy answers don’t solve difficult problems.
NantucketChronicle.com recently asked Pam two questions:
Q: How did you know you wanted to be a journalist?
A: I decided to be a journalist because it seemed to combine many of the things I considered most important. First and foremost, I wanted to do something that could make a difference to people, and I think that bringing information to light and conveying what is really going on in the world is an important way to do that. I also liked the creative aspect of journalism—the writing. And I love the fact that journalism makes it possible to explore new worlds and new ideas, to learn new things every day, and to meet and talk with fascinating people all the time. It is a real privilege and I never lose sight of that.
Q: What is your advice for someone who thinks journalism is their chosen way of life (it is a way of life rather than a career, isn’t it? Almost a calling?)
A: Yes, I think of it as a way of life. It is something that you breathe and think about 24/7—or at least I do. As for advice, I guess I would say it depends on the kind of journalism the person wants to do. And of course, the world of journalism is changing rapidly with many of the traditional models struggling and new models springing up. I think the thing that will always be true is that there is no substitute for getting good experience—for actually getting on the ground and reporting and writing stories, and for working with good editors and mentors. It doesn’t necessarily matter whether you get that experience through a formal journalism program—I didn’t—or out in the field like I did. The key thing is to learn the principles of good journalism—not just the craft itself, but the ethics of being an honest reporter and the importance of respecting the people you talk with no matter what their opinions or experiences are.
Pam Belluck is trying to help solve difficult problems we face as citizens of our country and the world, using her integrity, clarity and conscientiousness at work every day. She is journalism at its best.
Pam is currently on-island to attend a Summer Social for A Safe Place: Literary Lights, an evening with island authors that will take place next Tuesday. For further information about the benefit and to buy tickets, click here. She and Dr. Lepore will also be appearing at Bookworks on Saturday, August 11th from 10 am to noon, and at Mitchell's Book Corner on Monday, August 13th, from 5 to 6pm.