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How My Work in the U.S. Postal Service Informs My Ambitions in Photojournalism

By July 25, 2022Features

I first knew I wanted to be a journalist while studying at the Sorbonne in Paris.​ I began watching local news broadcasts nightly as a way to perfect my French. I took notice of how the reporters presented their stories, and most appreciated the stories that informed or helped people. It made me want to do the same.

CHARLESTON, SC: Anthony Bourdain dines at Fig Restaurant while filming CNN’s Parts Unknown in Charleston, South Carolina on April 25, 2015. Pictured is photographer David Scott Holloway, the show’s still photographer.

Like many American expats before me, I fell in love with Europe. I found myself comparing the history, language, and culture to what I experienced in the United States. I thought maybe my love of travel and observation would make me a great fit for journalism.

I found myself drawn to great visual reporting and so I began to admire the work of great documentary producers like Ramita Navai, who shows such courage in covering hostile environments. I took notice when a documentary came across as authentic, like Anthony Bourdain’s travel films. Work like that filled me with grand dreams, and I imagined myself in David Scott Holloway’s shoes, shooting authentic visuals around the world.

Unfortunately my life’s goal of doing work like that has gone unfulfilled, and I eventually learned I would have to settle for whatever work I could get.

A back-to-work program got me my current position as a Mail Handler at the postal service, which, unlike news reporting, has preferential hiring for veterans. That ambition to work in journalism stayed with me though, and in my free time I started taking online courses to learn more about the field. I got a mentor through Military Veterans in Journalism and I signed up for “English for Journalism” with Coursera and “Newsroom Readiness” with Poynter.

BORDENTOWN, NJ -7 NOV 2020- View of a delivery truck from the United States Postal Service (USPS) on the street in Bordentown, Burlington County, New Jersey, United States.

I didn’t initially think about the postal service as a stepping stone into journalism, but as I learned more about the role of the fourth estate in my courses I realized both institutions, journalism and the postal service, have quite a lot in common.

The U.S. Postal Service has a mission “to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people.” This mission, written into U.S. law and administered by the executive branch, is pretty similar to the functions of journalism that are meant to unite, inform, and empower the American people. With the country as polarized as it is today, binding the nation together is a worthy goal for both institutions.

Thinking about mail handling in this way helped me to take pride in my work, even if I saw it as a temporary career stop. I hope every journalist holds a service-oriented mindset as I do in my work as a Mail Handler. Recognizing the importance of service to journalism, I started to look for ways my day-to-day work could teach me more about the work I aspire to – news writing and journalistic photography.

Professor John Cotton at the University of Pennsylvania says there are five principles of ethical journalism: truth and accuracy, independence, fairness and impartiality, humanity, and accountability.

Truth and accuracy are fundamental to my work at USPS in Boston. Americans rely on us to get them their mail every day. I take pride in my work even when I’m only sorting mail – placing it in the correct postal packs and loading it onto trucks. Performing this work faithfully and accurately keeps Americans informed. My colleagues and I at the USPS hold ourselves and each other accountable and take missorting personally. It’s probably why the Post Office is consistently ranked as one of the “most trusted” federal offices by the public.

When that trust of the postal service is called into question – as it was by many during the 2020 elections, it becomes clear how important Cotton’s concept of “independence” is to the post office. When it comes to something like mail-in voter ballots, it is no exaggeration to say democracy itself depends on the post office to be free from outside interference.

Megan Brennan, the former USPS Postmaster General, focused on consistent service to the public during her tenure.

Fairness and impartiality are probably adhered to more by the postal service than by the leading mass media outlets. The USPS doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, well-educated or not, liberal or conservative, we treat your mail exactly the same. Maybe those people with Wall Street Journal subscriptions are the same people who pay a little extra for shipping insurance, but the service really tries to be affordable for everyone and treat them impartially. If you walk into your local post office wearing louboutins and holding a Gucci handbag, you’re still going to stand in line with everyone else and receive the same quality of customer service as the guy wearing Carhardts and holding a sheetrock saw.

Cotton’s journalistic concept of humanity is also one the USPS aspires to. As the former Postmaster General, Megan Brennan, said in reference to medication deliveries, “We’ve always been there for you, and we always will be.” Most folks have a closer and more cordial relationship with their mail carrier than they do with any journalist covering their area.

The USPS has been a cornerstone of American society throughout our history, and I am glad to have contributed to that legacy during this chapter of my life. I’m also grateful my work at the post office has relieved my housing insecurity and enabled me to pay off my student loans. I’ve drawn all the insights I could from these humble beginnings, and I am ready to take steps in a new direction. I plan to carry this perspective with me as I set out on a new career as a photojournalist.

Addison Jureidini, the author of this article, is an Army veteran and aspiring photojournalist.