By Danny Bennaton
Published: May 9th, 2018
Brooklyn College professor Mark McSherry is not only a highly accomplished news journalist and editor – having worked for Reuters, Bloomberg, London Sunday Time and many other well established news outlets – as well as being the sole journalist who confirmed the identity of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorist Ian Davison (who shot and killed three Israeli civilians in 1985), but he’s also a man with a pertinent message for all aspiring journalists and writers: “If you do not have a portfolio of work, then you are not going to get a foot in the door at any media company, so I spend a lot of time making sure that students get a portfolio.”
McSherry instructs his students on how to write, design, and publish their own newspaper and magazine in his classroom using Adobe Suite because according to him, “If I’m not teaching skills to help students get a job, then why am I here?”
He believes that versatility is the key to a successful career. He also says that students need to “get as many skills as [they] can. [They] will need them if [they] want to stay employed.”
McSherry was born in 1963 in West Lothian, Scotland. He was raised in the coal mining village of Stonyburn, where his father worked underground as a coal miner since the age of fourteen. “A tough life!” he said. “But by the time I was born, he had become a truck driver – he loved… being out on the road all week.” His job was to deliver truckloads of malt and barley to whisky distilleries to make Scotch – a massive industry for Scotland. “I’m very proud of what he did, and so was he.”
McSherry was one of nine children born into a Catholic Irish family, with his mother holding full time jobs of raising her children and working as a cook and cleaner for others. “She was a real tough mainstay in the village community. A role model… everyone knew my mother…you didn’t mess with Cissie…not if you were smart.”
That generation of Scottish working-class people was the “real deal,” he says. They were workers and “slacking was not an option.” McSherry himself worked in a cookie factory when he was 17, digging dough for six months before he went to journalism school. To him, “a factory floor at 5 a.m. on a dark winter Monday morning is a sobering experience…a slice of real life most folk don’t experience.”
But making cookie dough was not that young man’s dream. Since the very early age of seven, he would read the newspaper every day, “especially the sports section” because his team, Glasgow Celtic, was very successful in the early 1970s. As he entered his teenage years, he would read the game reports and think he could do better than what was written, which led him to think, “What a job – you get paid to go to the game, and all you have to do is write who won and how? Easy as pie!”
After graduating high school, he was offered two careers: a banker at The Bank of Scotland and an apprentice journalist with The Scotsman newspaper group. “I decided in three seconds to be a journalist…OK, one second.”
The real appeal of being a journalist for McSherry was the power to ask powerful questions and possibly receive powerful answers. “You can phone or confront any person in power and ask questions they don’t want to hear. I love stirring the pot. As a reporter you have to be very skeptical and assume powerful people are often up to no good. That’s the job! We are not in the PR or marketing business – hell with that! Skepticism! Question everything! If your mother says she loves you, check it out and verify it!”
At age 17, he attended what is perhaps the best journalism school in the United Kingdom, the Thomson Journalism School in Newcastle, where he learned libel law, government and shorthand. The school frequently tasked their students to visit small towns nearby they had never heard of to walk the streets and talk to people. The school would maintain that if the students couldn’t find news stories, they might want to consider a different career.
After graduation, he worked on The Edinburgh Evening News, where the editors convinced him not to go into sports writing and to be a “proper” news journalist. After three years in Edinburgh, he went back to Newcastle to work on the morning paper The Journal, which was the “making of me,” McSherry reflects, because it gave him the opportunity to do news and sports, which was and still is his passion.
At age 22, after two years of experience at The Journal, McSherry did freelance work and worked at The Sunday Mail in Glasgow. Then another two years later, at age 25, he became the chief editor of a free weekly newspaper in Edinburgh, which he regards as “the best job [he] ever had, because [he] was in control.”
“We grew up much faster in the 1980s – you had to learn fast,” he said.
After his time at the newspaper in Edinburgh, he traveled a bit from Hong Kong to New Zealand, then back to Edinburgh to get his MBA and work at Bloomberg News. He finally settled in New York in 2003 to work for Reuters, covering stock markets, company news, and investments.
In 2009, he left Reuters to teach and since then he combines his teaching with various writing and editing jobs. “I hope to pass on the skill I learned in over 29 years as a journalist. I worked with some of the best journalists in the business and learned so much from them. They gave me so much of their time and their expertise. You need to pass on that experience and pass on those skills. It’s only right that you do that.”
He stresses that aspiring journalism students “need to really focus hard to be a journalist and achieve accuracy, accuracy and accuracy. Source all the information yourself. Do not copy from other news platforms – get your own information. Don’t be lazy.”
Finally, he has this to say to aspiring BC Journalism students: “The journalism facilities and professors at Brooklyn College are fantastic, so students here are very lucky.”