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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Freelance Journalist Talks Up His Trade

    Kevin Heldmanspent seven and a half days in a New York City public psychiatric ward. He wasundercover for the magazine City Limits, writing an expos’eacute; about poorly trained staff, illegaladmission procedures, problems with medication, lack of substantive treatment,and what he identified as many other serious problems with mental health care.

    Heldman, afreelance journalist, spoke to an introductory journalism class at Stony BrookUniversity on Tuesday about how rewarding his career has been, despite thedangers and frustrations of freelance journalism.

    Heldman haswritten many stories that required him to be in very dangerous situations. Hehas spent time exploring ghetto conditions in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, analyzinginternal problems faced by U.S. military forces in Korea, living in a Londonhomeless shelter for two months, and 7 1/2 days in the psychiatric ward.

    ‘Spendingtime in the psych ward was way more difficult than I thought [it wouldbe],’ Heldman said. ‘It was definitely a disturbing experience.’

    Heldman saidthat the patients did not know when they were getting released, were not alwaysaware of what medication they were receiving, and were not given adequate socialsupport.

    After speakingof his own frightening experiences, Heldman explained why he did such things.

    ‘If youfeel scared but you like something or feel it’s worth doing, you do itanyway,’ he said.

    Heldman alsooffered a few tips about careers in journalism. He said that journalism is apopular pursuit, but that there are not enough openings for all of thehopefuls.


    ‘Rememberthis,’ he said. ‘Everyone goes through unbelievable amounts ofrejection.’


    Heldman spoke ofthe other frustrations of a career in journalism, noting that writers arealways in a position where someone has to approve their stories. Thesubjectivity of readers and editors is always a factor.

    ‘It’sreally frustrating,’ Heldman said. ‘You have to go in thinking’I’m not gonna give up for a long time’ Otherwise,you’ll be disappointed.’

    To be a goodjournalist, it is tremendously important to be empathetic, Heldman said.

    ‘You candraw stuff out of people,’ and write a better story, he said.

    Although he saidhe always wanted to be a writer, Heldman made the point that it is beneficialfor journalists to ‘mix things up’ so they do not suffer burnout.Heldman has taken a year-long break from his intense reporting, becomingcertified as an EMT. He is now working on becoming certified as a volunteerfirefighter.

    ‘You can beanything and write,’ Heldman said. ‘Writing doesn’t have to beyour only thing.’

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