Jayson Blair Reinvented
by Rahwa Asmerom
The latest journalist caught in a high-profile expose of plagiarism is former Daily Beast reporter Gerald Posner. Although Gawker is speculating that he may set the world record for filched reportage, it is Jayson Blair who arguably holds the title of most disgraced journalist in recent memory. When Blair left his coveted post at The New York Times in 2003, there had been other scandals, most notably the one involving Stephen Glass, former writer for The New Republic. But Blair, young, black and responsible for appropriating and fabricating content for one of the most respected newspapers in the world, was pilloried in the press.
Nonetheless, even as his name continues to echo in the cautionary tales of newsrooms, Blair has managed to move beyond the stigma and reinvent himself and, in turn, his profession. Here he explains how his past mistakes and the discovery of his mental health issues have paved the way for his new career guiding others.
How did you come to embark on a career as a life coach?
I grew up in Virginia. I returned home about a year after resigning from The Times and put my energy into bringing my life back into order. I had spent the first year afterwards recovering and writing my memoir. I knew I had a lot of work to do on myself, both in terms of character and treatment for bipolar disorder, which I was diagnosed with in the weeks following my actions becoming public. About a year after returning to Virginia, I started a support group for people with bipolar disorder that grew into several mental health support groups and eventually a non-profit organization. In my work with that non-profit I began working with area psychiatrists and psychologists, and after about two years one of them tapped me to start a unique form of peer-to-peer, mental health-focused life coaching at the practice he ran. The training to become a life coach dovetailed with my work in peer support and studies I had begun in psychology following my departure from The Times.
You left The New York Times amid a storm of controversy in 2003, what was the aftermath of that like?
The aftermath was extremely painful for me and others. It was a time of great confusion for me as I tried to manage a very personal crisis in a public fishbowl. I did little to lessen the public scrutiny, but, in retrospect, it would have been much easier to deal with in a more private setting. I was very lucky to have the support of The New York Times Company, its union and my family and friends in terms of my medical treatment. I recognize those were great advantages that others are not necessarily afforded. I was also able to access, through the public nature of the scandal, many everyday people who had struggled with mental health problems, or whose loved ones had, who reached out to me in the aftermath.