A longer-term project that my boss and I had talked about frequently after I started here was beefing up our supply of alumni profiles to use in our various publications. The “Who’s Who” section seemed to be a natural fit for this, since we could write the profiles, publish them there, then repurpose them later if we needed them somewhere else. When the school counselor approached us about creating a series of articles about alumni for the students to see as role models, it seemed to fit into this same project pretty well.
Wall Street Journal economic policy reporter Damian Paletta, ’95, still uses the formulas and shortcuts he learned for Microsoft Excel in computer class at Priory for his work today.
“I never learned anything more about Excel,” he says. “I’m using the same formulas, and I’ve had front-page stories built on data using those skills.”
Paletta, whose dad Christian is also a Priory alum (’70), started his journalism career working forThe Record. He also played on the football, baseball, basketball and track teams during his time at the school.
He said his fondest memories, though, are of the monks and teachers.
“Fr. Paul gave me a love for math that I still use now,” he says. “Ms. Tumminia and Fr. Laurence taught me about storytelling and literature, and that’s carried through as well. Fr. Gregory and others taught me about the religious aspects of things that have helped me live my life the right way. Having teachers that believe in you, that makes a big difference.”
After graduating from Priory, Damian headed northeast to attend Boston College, where he studied communication and English. His interest in journalism was reignited after spending a semester abroad in South Africa, when his weekly e-mails keeping family and friends up-to-date on his experiences led to encouragement to keep up that type of writing. He went on to get a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and wrote for the Cape Cod Times before taking his position at the Wall Street Journal in 2006.
“Covering economic policy is exhausting, and really exciting,” he says. “I’ve been all over the United States and to places like China, Korea, France and England to cover stories. It’s one adventure after another.”
He says his travels are often to find stories of how government policies affect real people — “sometimes (a policy) works, sometimes it doesn’t,” he says. Those are his favorite stories, he says, but he also enjoyed covering big stories like the recent government shutdown and the financial crisis in 2008. “The government shutdown was really interesting, because in a lot of ways it was Washington at its worst, but it was a historic moment. During the financial crisis, the demand for information was high all across the world, and the stock markets were moving based on our reports. It was humbling; it showed the power of good journalism.”
In his career, Damian says a lot of lessons he learned from playing on the football team have been helpful to him. “It taught me that if you want to be good, you have to prepare. You have to put in hard work. Nothing is easy, nothing comes free.” Football also taught him about the value of teamwork, which helps him while working with other journalists. “You have to count on them, and they have to count on you,” he says.
Throughout his career as a journalist, Damian has picked up a few pieces of advice for Priory students who think journalism might be the profession for them:
- Stay on top of the news. “Read things about topics you might not know much about, expand your world view.”
- Choose and issue or topic and make it your area of expertise. “Master it — it’s easier to get noticed that way.”
- Journalism is a tough business, and things are always changing. “Be swift, think fast and be creative. Think outside the box.”
- Carry a notebook and a pen. “You never know when a story will pop up.”
Damian lives in Alexandria, Va., just outside of Washington, D.C., with his wife Colleen, whom he met at Boston College and to whom he’s been married for 8 years, and their two children, 7-year-old Connor and 4-year-old Megan. Though he doesn’t make it back to St. Louis as much as he would like, he says he tries to keep up with his classmates through social media, “especially when the Cards were in the World Series.”
He says the lessons he learned at Priory have carried over into his personal life as well. “The monks taught me the value of self-respect and of listening,” he says. “They also taught me about the importance of laughter and enjoying every experience, because time passes quickly.” A lesson from Priory that he tries to pass on to his kids is that books are not just stories — “they’re doorways into other universes, and they can change how you see things.”