After 11 years of covering hard news in Dallas and Washington D.C., the war in Iraq and the Pentagon, Ernesto Londoño, a 2003 graduate of the journalism program, joined the New York Times as an editorial writer last summer, specializing in foreign affairs and foreign policy.
It didn’t take long for his work to be noticed. The pieces he has written for the Times since October about Cuba and the United States have drawn much media attention in recent days, particularly after President Obama’s announcement of upcoming major changes in diplomatic relations between the two countries. Some of the editorials were translated into Spanish and they “rocketed across Latin America, the Caribbean and Cuba, where it was printed almost verbatim in the official state newspaper, Granma,” according to The Washington Post.
This type of work is a major change from the kinds of news stories on which he built his career, Londoño said, but it is one he welcomes.
“You have to be opinionated,” he said about his new job. “You have to think long and hard about not only how the world works but how the world should work. It can be a tall order, but it’s also very exciting.”
In addition to writing editorials and bylined opinion pieces, Londoño, 33, also has been keeping a lively Twitter feed on foreign affairs. He said he looks forward to his career at the Times.
“I’ve only been doing it for a few weeks, but even in the short time I’ve been doing it, it’s been fun to create conversation.”
Born and raised in Colombia, Londoño moved to the United States in 1999 to attend the University of Miami. While at the School of Communication, he worked closely with The Miami Hurricane, writing on a variety of issues, from library renovations to a profile of UM President Donna Shalala.
The time spent at The Hurricane was important in helping Londoño really learn what it’s like to be a reporter and a writer, he said.
“Reporting and writing takes a lot of work, and over time I got better and learned the basics,” he said. “I started producing copy that was easier to edit and get in the paper.”
As a journalism student, Londoño was in Associate Professor Sam Terilli’s ethics class. Terilli remembers him as “an excellent writer and a clear thinker.”
There were 40 or 50 students in the class, Terilli recalled. “We would argue issues and I could see he always had an interesting point of view and an ability to articulate his ideas.”
After graduating in 2003, Londoño got an internship at the Washington Post, where he was a reporter for a year. He then moved to Dallas to work at the Dallas Morning News. After two years, the Washington Post brought him back to the capital.
He wrote local stories and crime stories at first, Londoño said. When the Post needed a new correspondent in Iraq, Londoño took the job. He covered the war for five years, focusing on stories about the people who were affected by the war, from soldiers to Iraqi citizens.
One of his more touching stories, he said, told of the efforts of an army captain to bring an Iraqi child with a life-threatening illness to the United States for surgery.
It took the captain months to get a visa for the child. When the visa finally went through, he found out the boy had been killed two days earlier.
“That story,” Londoño said, “shows the human element of the war along with the brutality of it.”
After returning to Washington, Londoño covered the Pentagon for two years. He said he is particularly proud of a story he wrote about the possibility that former Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta might have died as a result of friendly fire.
Terilli, who said he has followed Londoño’s career from his early days in Texas, isn’t surprised at his former student’s success.
“What he’s shown in every step is not only real talent, but incredible initiative,” he said. “And he works hard.”
By David Maldonado, Broadcast Journalism Major