Remembering George Ramos

July 26, 2011


I was sad to read of the death of George Ramos, veteran reporter, Pulitzer Prize winner and my journalism teacher long ago.

George taught basic reporting at USC when I was in school in the early 1990s, and it was my privilege to take his class (though it certainly did not seem so at the time). George had a style that was all at once aggressive, refreshing and totally maddening to those of us who were trying to pass his class and, more important, earn his respect.

George had some solid philosophies about how journalists should be trained, and those of us who teach journalism today could learn a thing or two from his ideas.

George was one of those teachers who did things differently, and to great effect. He docked you points for using the phone, because he believed that reporters should go out and talk to people. He held his final in the newsroom at the Los Angeles Times on a Saturday, because he believed students should cover real news events and not just sit in a classroom. He held office hours over tacos on Olvera Street.

On our second class, he announced that I was the “whitest” (his words) student in the room, and that I would therefore be covering Compton for the entire semester. I was indeed white, overconfident and from Orange County, so there was little to offer by way of argument.

The ensuing lessons about how to meet people, ask questions, gain trust and practice quality journalism in an environment that was culturally and economically different from what I knew endured throughout my entire career. I had roughly 85 teachers from grade school to graduate school. But George Ramos was the only one I called when I began teaching journalism myself.

I know there are many reporters working in newsrooms throughout the country who were influenced by George, and many of us were shaken by the news of his passing. I have exchanged many emails with his former students, as we carried the news to one another.

It is my hope that we carry his lessons, too.

Glen Justice has worked on staff at The New York Times, Bloomberg News, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Times-Picayune. He currently owns and edits DIY Boat Owner and Mad Mariner magazines.