Carey Gillam is a longtime investigative journalist, author, speaker, and environmental researcher. She is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists – Freedom of Information Task Force and the North American Agricultural Journalists. Gillam’s book Whitewash – The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science, and her ongoing reporting and writing, has led her to become recognized as an international expert on corporate control of agriculture and the health and environmental impacts of a pesticide-dependent food system.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
My family moved frequently due to my father’s extensive travel and always-changing business career. Twice during my childhood, however, we lived in my mother’s hometown, a small rural Kansas community where I ended up graduating high school. It was a wonderful experience, transferring from a busy Dallas middle school to a much more down-to-earth, community for my high school years. Moving so much – 9 times by the time I was 18 – acquainted me with different parts of the country, different customs and cultures, and widely contrasting political views. I learned to appreciate the differences and to see debate and dissent not as something to avoid, but something to embrace as necessary for advancing ideas and policies.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I wish I had learned the art of compromise and restraint – I still could use more of both.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
I am incensed by ‘new media’ ideals that teach your journalists that the most important measure of a story’s value is how many “clicks” it gets on the Internet. The focus is not on the accuracy and relevance of a story but rather on how to make it go “viral.” I see a real erosion in the tenets of good journalism.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
The two darkest periods of my life occurred when I went through a divorce with two young children many years ago and more recently when my father died from brain cancer. Both events involved deep grief and loss and emotional struggles that at times seemed unbearable. I have a plaque I keep on my desk with a saying I have found very helpful: “The only way out is through.” And I have found it is so true. You cannot avoid the hard parts of life; they are just as important as the easy, fun, joyful periods. So even when it’s hard, get up every morning, tend to your duties, and seek always to be the best version of yourself possible.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
How about two things: First, tenacity, not taking no for an answer. If someone or something gets in the way of my goals, I find another path to those same goals. And second: I don’t fear conflict. I think conflict – in a reasoned, respectful manner – is often essential to success. Too many powerful individuals think they can bully or otherwise intimidate people, especially women, into acceptance of unfair or otherwise unsatisfactory circumstances. Refusing to be cowed into passiveness is key.
What is your morning routine?
For most of my adult life, my routine has started with a good hard workout. Typically I rise at 5 a.m. or possibly as late as 6, hit the gym, get in at least a good hour of cardio and weightlifting, more if I have more time, and then shower and take on days filled with kids and work. Working out is so essential to my mental and physical well-being. My father worked out three times a week well into his 80s, up until just a few weeks before his death.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Maintaining my health -and that of my family – is a top priority and as such, I’ve become increasingly focused on eating organic foods, whole foods and avoiding processed as much as possible. Not only does this practice support more sustainable practices for protecting the environment, but it helps protect the health of my children, I dearly hope.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I make myself a ‘to-do’ list every day and also keep a large calendar on my desk where I write down appointments, deadlines, events, interviews, goals, etc. I include both personal and professional items. My daily workout is on my to-do list, for example. It’s a self-rewarding practice because I feel good, productive after I cross off each item on my daily lists.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
So many books have stolen my heart, or spurred my ambition. I have been influenced by Molly Ivins, who wrote many books about politics and being a thick-skinned journalist who did not back down from a fight; I hope I learned some writing skills from reading Rick Bragg’s, “All Over But The Shoutin’’ and other beautifully written books; and I was inspired into journalism by “All The President’s Men,” by Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward who doggedly uncovered the Watergate scandal. The stories that have always most appealed to me are those about people who refuse to give up in the face of adversity. Tenacity is critical for a journalist.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
I have most often found myself looking to, and inspired by, the words of an American anthropologist and author Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”