It was a lightbulb moment during his communication studies degree that determined Jeremy Olds’ stellar career to date. After graduating with first class honours, he went on to earn a MA as a Fulbright Scholar at Columbia University in New York. Now he is Managing Editor at Mastermind Magazine in Paris.
It was while he was studying at AUT that Jeremy recognised journalism was the perfect vocation for him. “My very first day of that third year - I was like, ‘of course this is the job I’m meant to be doing’,” he says. But for sage advice at high school, he may not be where he is today.
“I was one of those students who was quite ambitious and didn’t really know where to channel that energy, so I just trusted the advice of my teacher.”
Work experience at Rotorua’s Daily Post as part of his degree left a lasting impression and it was during that placement that his journalism lecturer, Helen Sissons, planted the seed of Fulbright in his mind. “It was a very formative experience - having the newsroom exposure and having someone as experienced as Helen who was a veteran BBC journalist. “She really helped to chart my course.”
Applying for the scholarship in 2015, Jeremy presented a case for a unique study in what would prove to be a watershed in American history.
“It was a historically unique opportunity to be studying and thinking about journalism in an American context.” Trump won the election the following year which makes his thesis on a death row inmates’ art collective a very special piece of work.
His story explores the ethical quandaries that arise from giving men who have committed horrendous crimes a voice in the wider community through the medium of art. Focusing on a group of death row inmates in Tennessee he follows efforts by educators who worked with the doomed men to raise awareness around capital punishment.
“I actually got the chance to go to death row and sit in on one of these art classes and meet the men. In terms of a reporting opportunity, it felt like something I wasn’t able to do in New Zealand.”
Jeremy is very considered in his response to questions, with frequent pauses as he searches for the precise word, often rephrasing to make for a more perfect picture.
It’s this attention to detail that is fundamental to good journalism, he maintains, along with determination and sensitivity. “You have to be curious about the world and pursue that curiosity, and be willing to follow something until you get to the end of that train. Sensitivity is so underrated in journalism – kindness and sensitivity have, for me, been hugely beneficial values in my reporting. Accuracy is non-compromising: you have to be a stickler for detail. Curiosity, sensitivity, attention to detail.”
He could also throw in a hefty dose of foresight and the ability to spot a trend.
“You’re always thinking in the present and in the future because you have these deadlines.” There’s another quality to being a good journalist that Jeremy doesn’t mention, but illustrates unconsciously: telling a good story.
His story continues with a stint at the Telegraph in London. Then he was enticed to Paris in 2019 by Mastermind’s Editorial & Creative Director, Marie-Amélie Sauvé, “who’s an incredibly impressive woman, a real visionary, and she’s taught me a lot.”
Knowing just two people and speaking very little French, Jeremy took a bold step and, after a year, gradually settled in. “My French was improving; I’d built a circle of friends. And then COVID really changed the spirit of the city.” A curfew was imposed every night at 6pm and the restaurants and museums closed. Movements around the city were tightly controlled.
“It was an intensely hostile place to live for 18 months of the three years that I’ve been here. But since things have begun opening up again, I’m very pleased to be here. I can’t really tell you how much I love living here.”
Jeremy has walked the 50-minute journey each way to the Mastermind offices in the centre of town every day since a public transport strike that lasted a few months limited his options. “It’s beautiful: I walk past the Louvre, past the Paris Opera. I can walk up to Montmartre – it’s crazy to think this is my stroll to work in the morning.”
And that beauty and variety carries on at work. Mastermind is a biannual magazine published in a book format that covers arts, culture, architecture, philosophy and even an interview with an astronaut. “In this issue, for example, you have a fashion editorial by Craig McDean who’s a leading fashion photographer. And then you turn the page and it’s an interview with Judith Butler (American philosopher and gender theorist), so the remit runs broad which makes it a really interesting project to work on.
“You’re always doing interesting mental calculations around timeliness and future-proofing ideas and making sure we are only doing stuff we really believe in and not following things that are popular or trendy or doing the rounds on publicity.”
But the globetrotting has not diminished Jeremy’s love for New Zealand and his appreciation of the values that set him on his path.
“My class (at AUT) was such an incredible group of talent and they’re some of the best journalists in New Zealand today - Jessica Beresford at the Financial Times, Kim Downes on TVNZ, and Kristin Hall (1 News), Alex Mason on Newstalk ZB, Conor Whitten on Newshub.”
Was it a freakishly talented year or a course that produced great journalists? “Both! It’s the kind of course that attracts the people who get into this line of work. The people that year were really here to be journalists and the teachers fostered that.”
Jeremy misses New Zealand – family and friends, of course – but also the ease of New Zealand culture. “When you live in a foreign country, there’s such a process of assimilation and active compromise of yourself that takes place. It’s almost like you’re a smaller version of yourself because you’re trying to fit into the system and its foreign and you don’t quite get it.”
But, for now he’s excited to be telling stories to a much wider audience. “Whenever I try to entertain the idea of doing something different, I can’t picture myself doing anything except journalism.
“I think it’s the best job in the world, truthfully.”
This story was originally published in Insight, the magazine for AUT alumni and friends. Read the most recent issue of Insight for more stories of groundbreaking research and great AUT graduates who are making a difference around the world.