Joe Davidson has been telling stories all his life.
As a boy in Troop 105 of Detroit, he’d tell friends about his Scouting adventures — from camping in the woods to taking the train to visit the Michigan state Capitol in Lansing.
As a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, Davidson provided readers with on-the-ground reporting about apartheid in South Africa. He was there to cover Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment, release and victorious presidential election.
As an educator, Davidson has parlayed reporting experience into practical advice, coaching journalists at the Gannett News Service, University of Maryland and Poynter Institute, among others.
Time after time, Davidson’s storytelling skills have gained national recognition. He’s twice been a Pulitzer Prize juror. He won a Peabody Award as part of a Washington Post team. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Black Journalists — an organization he helped found.
These days, Davidson writes the Federal Insider, a popular Washington Post column on the federal government.
As Davidson continues to tell important stories week after week, he hasn’t forgotten how his own tale began: in Scouting.
Joseph Davidson Jr. became an Eagle Scout on Aug. 10, 1965, as a member of Explorer Post 105 of the Detroit Area Council (now part of the Michigan Crossroads Council).
He has followed the Scouting movement throughout his career and even takes regular camping trips with a friend he met in Scouting.
In the spirit of fairness befitting a story about a journalist, I should also point out that Davidson says he was relieved to see Scouting open its doors to anyone who wants to join, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
“I’m glad Scouting changed, albeit late,” he says.
He cares because he’s rooting for the program he calls a vital part of helping young people Be Prepared for a changing world.
“Scouting can play an important role in helping youth prepare for this ever-changing future,” he says.
I contacted Davidson by email to learn more about his story and ask him 5 Quick Questions. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.
1. What were some of your favorite memories from your time as a Scout?
Joe Davidson: My favorite memories include the camaraderie with friends that continues today, the camping and other field trips, the parties in high school with Scout friends, the involvement of our parents, particularly our fathers.
2. Your journalism career has taken you to interesting, challenging situations around the world. How did Scouting prepare you to face those challenges?
Davidson: I always try to Be Prepared. Scouting helped develop an ethical base, which is important in journalism and daily life. Honesty is critical in journalism, and Scouting fosters that.
I was in Northern Nigeria years ago with a group of journalists when the hotel lights went out. I had a small flashlight with me because I was prepared. I go on annual camping trips with a Scouting buddy, even in our 70s, so I certainly feel the Scouting influence on those trips.
3. As a founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists, you worked before such an organization existed. Why was it so important to form this organization, and what challenges is NABJ still working to overcome?
Davidson: When we started NABJ in 1975, there were not many Black journalists in mainstream media. We founded the organization to increase those numbers from entry positions to the highest levels. We also pushed for fair and accurate coverage of the Black community in all aspects of life, from everyday things like birth and wedding announcements and obituaries to community, political, economic and international news.
Things are much better now, but our efforts are still needed.
Being an NABJ founder is one of the things I’m most proud of in my career. Another proud point: introducing my mother to Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg before he was president of South Africa, when I was the Wall Street Journal correspondent there. One regret: I don’t have a photo of my mother and me with Mandela.
4. What will be the role of journalism when today’s Scouting-age youth reach college and enter the workforce — perhaps to start their own careers in journalism?
Davidson: Journalism has been changing quickly over the last couple of decades. It is now digital first. The print product, which I still love, remains important for many people, but far more get their news from electronic sources.
That movement will increase during the coming years and decades. This provides many more avenues for journalism. Scouting can play an important role in helping youth prepare for this ever-changing future.
5. Scouting and journalism are two institutions that have been around for a long time and have adapted to meet the needs of their audiences — while remaining true to their values. How can we ensure that both of these great institutions last for a long time?
Davidson: By being prepared, as the motto says. That means preparing our youth for today’s and tomorrow’s technological advances while grounding them in the ethical and journalistic values that are central to both institutions.
Thanks to Bruce Andersen for introducing me to Joe Davidson.
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