Bunch graduated from UM in 1985. Photo courtesy of Joey Bunch
On Thursday, Sept. 27, University of Montevallo alumnus and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Joey Bunch gave a lecture in Strong Hall. Bunch has worked an impressive 32 years as a writer and was eager to share his experiences with the younger crowd of aspiring journalists.
In his question and answer session after his official presentation, he encouraged those in attendance not to let themselves settle when they could continue to improve.
“When you know everything,” he said, “that’s when it’s time to leave.” Bunch described his career as a journey of improvement, with him leaving a job whenever he felt that he had learned all that he could from it.
When asked about student internships, Bunch touched on the importance of honing one’s craft, describing writing as one would describe any other skill: something that must be exercised to improve.
“If you’re going to be a writer than you’ve got to write. Write, write, write,” he said. “Write for free if you have to. Write anything.”
As a former editor-in-chief, Bunch additionally spoke about his experiences with The Alabamian, saying that “The newspaper gave me a lot of confidence.”
“Even if you have to do it for free,” he said, “the payoff is down the road.”
A man who loves stories, Bunch clearly takes joy in bringing other people’s stories to life. Listening to him talk, it was obvious that one of his favorite parts of his job is getting to meet all the people that he does through this line of work.
“If you’re a freak, come sit next to me because I can’t get enough of you,” said Bunch. “The more different a person is the more I want to get to understand you.”
This desire to understand people also extended to people that he might not see eye-to-eye with, or even like. Bunch discussed his past experience covering Ku Klux Klan meetings, resulting at one point in the Klan protesting his coverage while carrying pictures of him outside of the newspaper’s office.
“I wanted to understand them and to understand why they hated so much,” said Bunch. He described it as a combination of low self-esteem that they boosted by holding others beneath them and the fear of the unknown. “A lot of people are scared of what they don’t know,” he added.
Bunch’s love of journalism shone throughout his talk, but there was a darker side to his story as well. He told his attentive listeners about his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of all the terrible things he had witnessed and researched as a reporter.
What seemed to stick with Bunch the most was the work he did covering the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
“For a couple of years after that, if I was staying in a hotel room I would just go ahead and put the towels down on the bed, because I was going to wake up in a couple of hours drenched in sweat,” said Bunch, going on to state that he uses his own experiences with PTSD to help promote awareness of the disorder.
Reflecting on the discipline of journalism as a whole, Bunch said, “It’s like Atticus Finch said, you don’t know a man until you walk around in his skin, and that’s what we as journalists have to do: put ourselves in other people’s skin.”
Listening to this part of his story was tough, and one didn’t have to look hard to see the audience reacting to his words, as they came to see the pain he and other reporters go through while covering stories of crime and violence.
On a lighter note, though, when asked about his time at Montevallo, Bunch talked about how he came to know The Alabamian staff and his ATO brothers as a family.
“There was a sense of camaraderie that I never got from my own family and I think that you get that from a shared sense of purpose,” said Bunch.
Remembering his beginnings on campus, Bunch recognized how poor he was, simply stating, “I was a country boy from a small town.”
“I was keeping it a big secret that I was basically a homeless kid. I didn’t go home in the summer because I had scholarship money that would pay for classes and let me live on campus since I had nowhere to go,” Bunch elaborated.
He added, “I found out later that there were people who knew that. I would get invited to a sorority formal and guys on the fraternity hall would start buying new clothes for me to wear because I couldn’t afford a suit or nice shirt.”
The kindness of his peers moved him and has since caused him to value his time at Montevallo even more.
“Montevallo is the place with fertile soil for growing into the person you want to be,” said Bunch.