Tag Archives: broadcast

Journos: Stop the flaky questions

The same week I gave the “Art of Intverviewing” lecture to the first quarter graduate students here at The Medill School at Northwestern University, a few working journalists conducted some bad interviews.

The attempt by the Australian journalist to tell the Dalai Lama a Dalai Lama joke fell flatter than the pizza with everything. Which brings me back to my lecture on interviewing: Be professional. Be respectful. It’s your reputation and your byline.

I don’t imagine interviewing the Pope with “The pope, a rabbi and a monk walk into a bar…”

Which brings me to Chris Wallace on Fox News asking Michele Bachman if she is a flake.

Let me be clear, I am not a Fox fan or a Michele Bachman fan. But as a journalist doing the interview, your bias should not be so transparent. It was arrogant of Wallace to put her down and make her defensive. My instinct is there is gender bias at play here; I do not recall anyone asking Jesse Ventura during a running for office interview if he was a flake. Or the same for H.Ross Perot. Ventura could have body slammed the interviewer. Perot could have bought him to death.

Which brings me back to the interviewing lecture. Sources beget sources. Show a sincere wish to get it right.

Under the heading, “Don’t fall in love with your subject,” I also advise students to remain objective. The flip side is also true. “Don’t be a hater.”

I have interviewed people who make me uncomfortable, I have interviewed people I disagree with personally, but I still hold to the adage: “It matters how you ask and what you ask.”

I tell students to consider how you phrase the question. Consider the order of the question. Consider the sensivity. Consider the tone and the way you speak. Consider your body language.

Toward the end of the lecture, I ask them to above all respect the source and the information. You need the information. You need the story. You need to be accurate. The reader needs to trust you will get it right every time.

I remind students there is no such thing as a dumb question. I say that because it is worse to have a correction in a publication or broadcast than to risk the subject thinking you are a little dense. Be sure you understand before you walk away. Make sure you understand your notes. Underline difficult concepts for follow-up questions. Believe that a good question yields a good answer.

After seeing these two professional interviewing failures, I will revise the prespcription that there is no such as a dumb question. Yes, there is. You can tell the Dalai Lama a Dalai Lama joke. And you can call a candidate for president a flake.

I am cutting this post short. I have an interview in a half-hour, a profile for a new book I am writing. And I need to follow my own first rule of interviewing: Be prepared.

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Guts is not the problem, but training is the solution


I have guts. A lot of guts. Guts is not the issue.

Recently Poynter.org’s Mallory Jean Tenore wrote that Minnesota Public Radio’s Eric Ringham claimed women and all others who felt left out of the public discourse in opinion pages of mainstream media needed to “summon up some guts to dive in.”

Women journalists have more guts than most anybody I know. For the Journalism & Women Symposium annual camp held in Texas last year, the t-shirt read, “Don’t Mess With a Woman Journalist.” We are not generally a timid bunch.

Many, many men and women journalists have been protesting for years about the inequity of gender –and color– refelcted in bylines and guest shots on opinion pages, broadcasts  and Internet sites for years. For YEARS. I did a chapter on it in my 2008 book, Everyman News: “Diversity of Thought Changes Content.”

Every once in a while, a gender-balanced or predominatly female byline count of a opinion or home page will feel fresh and victorious. And then it’s back to the same old same old.

Which is why founder and director of The Op-Ed Project Katie Orenstein is bringing the show to Chicago June 11 for a day-long core seminar with journalist, author and broadcaster Katherine Lanpher as workshop leader.

In bringing the Op/Ed Project to Chicago, partnering with Women of the World and Northwestern University’s Medill School, where I am an assistant journalsim professor, the goal is for thought leaders in the area to feel compelled to show up and spend a day learning how to be seen and heard. Diversify the conversation.

Because it isn’t about guts and it isn’t about surveys, updates and byline counts. It’s about having your voice listened to amid the noise. It’s about making a difference. Being the change. And not just screaming at the wind.

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What I Believe for NPR’s This I Believe with Bob Edwards

Earlier last month I was one of four local authors who read an essay at NPR’s “This I Believe” event at Fourth Prebyterian Church in Chicago. NPR host Bob Edwards interviewed me briefly after I read, ” A Father is Born from Many Strangers,” whihc will be included in the upcoming book, This I Belelive: On Fatherhood in May.

More than 1,20o people were there including my y oungest son, Colin, and Coach Mike Powell, and his wife, Elizabeth. I wrote about how Coach Powell is a father figure in the lives of all my boys, a role he volunteered for as their wrestling coach, mentor and friend. 

What the applause and the excitement around the event told me is that the voices of individuals resonate with many. Elaborating on the history of  This I Believe  , executive director Dan Gediman spoke of the rich historical context of the views of contributors–celebrities, statesmen, journlaists, citizens all part of the project. In the 50s, the published collections of This I Believe essays outsold the Bible, Gediman said.

It is a reminder that the individual yearnings and graceful pronouncements of people from all corners of life make for compelling stories. You only need to be honest and authentic in the process. You know in your heart when words are real, and they can lift you up and connect you with everyone else.

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“Eat Your Fear” For Your Career

“Eat your fear and go for it,” Maria Hinojosa of CNN and public radio fame advised the crowd at the recent Journalism & Women Symposium conference in Texas.  It’s good advice. And advice was what was on hand in the buffet of career suggestions offered at the panel I moderated, “Portfolio Careers.”

Journalists are no longer able to survive with singular specialties. What is required is affinity for change, a mega-nimble approach to adapting to the marketplace and a willlingness to shape your talents to the needs of media outlets and organizations. All of this was evidenced by the panel of superstars who quilt together professions highlighting different interests and passions.

Roberta Baskin, a broadcast investigative journalist with 75 illustrious prizes to her name, has moved from the post of executive director for the Center for Public Integrity, and is now senior communications advisor at the Office of the Inspector General for Health and Human Services. Her years in Chicago and Washington, D.C., working for ABC’s “20/20,” CBS’ “48 Hours” and “CBS Evening News,” as well as “NOW with Bill Moyers,” prepared her for a shift in career where her skills as an investigative reporter help uncover fraud, scams and crimes that harm the American public on a grand scale.

 Arnesa Howell advised the audience to manage time efficiently, as she moves from her posts as full-time freelancer, editor and consultant in Washington, D.C. writing for People, Uptown, Heart & Soul, USA Weekend and adjunct speaking gigs at Georgetown University and American.  

Charreah Jackson is doing it all out of New York as a writer, speaker, editor and family life educator. She is associate editor at Heart & Soul and a social media editor at Siren PR, as well as head of her own communications company, Studio Social.     

Linda Kramer Jenning is the Washington, D.C. editor for Glamour and an adjunct at Georgetown in journalism. A former Associated Press reporter, she has worked as an editor for People as well as in stints in broadcast outlets. She juggles editing as well as freelance work.

Gone are the days of journalists spending 25 years in a single media job resulting in a gold watch, gold pen or party with champagne in the newsroom with a single layer cake. You do what you can for outlets who will contract with you for your efforts. And you make it all work because you need to make it all work.

You eat your fear.

When I was a student at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in the 1970s, every instructor spoke with great reverence about how we should all aspire to be reporters on the national desk for the New York Times. It seemed a noble goal, but I also looked around and decided that if my class that year had 150 students in it, and every class all four years had 150 or more students each, then 600 students every year were told to get the same job at the New York Times.

Chances are they had been telling students for the last 10, perhaps 20 or 30 years the same thing. So anywhere from 6,000 to 18,000 people were right now trying for the same job. And the one person in that job wasn’t leaving.

I learned before my writing career even began that I would make my own way and craft for myself a challenging and fulfilling career out of writing that satisfied me and met no one else’s idea of success.

Now I teach at that journalism school.  In the last 30 years, I have worked on staff as an editor at three magazines and one major daily newspaper. I have freelanced regularly for dozens of daily newspapers, magazines, websites and written for radio. I have written thousands of articles appearing in hundreds and hundreds of media outlets.

I even branched out to non-traditional writing experiments. About 15 years ago, I wrote health briefs for a new company whose idea was to have health tip annoucnements every morning on voicemail at different subscribing companies. Forward thinking we all thought. But not forward thinking enough. Even laughable right about now.  

I am a journalist, but do not have one journalism job. I teach journalism, have published three books, am revising my fourth and brainstorming on a fifth. I have a bi-monthly magazine column, three websites, two blogs. I have three sons and am right now paying two college tuitions. I just finished paying for the basement reconstruction after a flood.  

 I write for money. I write because I love to write, but also because I love to pay the mortgage.

I give speeches. I give writing workshops.  For clients, I have written brochures, slideshow scripts, photo exhibit captions, annual reports, and for a little bit in the 90s I was the parenting columnist for Kellogg’s monthly newsletter, The Best To You. And I am not ashamed.

  As my friend and colleague Lisa Shepard says, journalism is undergoing a revolution. And the rate of change is volcanic.  

Success looks differently in 2010 and far beyond, than it did even 10 years ago. For sure, very, very differently than it did in 1975. There are new ways to get to work. New ways to share your multimedia journalism skills, new ways to produce content and put food on the table and non-sensible shoes on your feet, money in your account and books for your kids.  Ways to brand yourself. Ways to prove your worth and get out there. Ways for people to seek you out.

There is no one right way. Not everyone gets on the national desk at the NYT.

One thing that was so striking about all the women on that panel is that they appeared fearless. They are striving ahead in many different areas, all by choice. 

As Maria Hinojosa said, it is time to eat your fear. Bon appetit.

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Women Journalists Making Sense Not Noise Across the Border

     

    In an amazing panel moderated by Teresa Puente of Columbia College, Chicago, four young women journalists covering the U.S./Mexico border revealed the dangers, tragedies and critical importance of telling the stories of the chaos at the border. They spoke at the Journalism & Women Symposium in Boerne, Texas last weekend. 

      “How many people need to die so some people at a party can have a gram of cocaine?” asked Judith Torrea, a Spanish-born journalist and blogger. Torrea documents stories out of Juarez, Mexico  about the drug deaths, cartels and daily violence in the violence-torn city for television, magazines and newspapers in the U.S., Mexico and Europe. 

     “We are journalists and we are women and if you have the power, you need to start reporting,” Torrea said.  “Get people to think that if they consume marijuana, how many people have to die for that?”

        Angela Kocherga, Mexico City bureau cheif for Belo Corp., talked about the  urgency of covering “the most violent time in Mexico history.” Access to information in Mexico, where the press is censored, is difficult. “People have to look at Facebook and Twitter to see the crimes. ” She added, “There are not a lot of U.S. journalists doing this coverage.” 

     Monica Ortiz Uribe, a freelance radio reporter said she has a passion to report the underreported stories, particularly the new round of disappearances of young girls from the streets of Juarez. Last week a young woman was taken from a bus and has disappeared, some say as a victim of sex trafficking, and others fear she has been murdered. The stark, desolated city is dangerous because of the safety threats to everyone who lives there, she said.

     “There are daily deaths,” she said.  

      A native of Mexico, Adriana Gomez Lion is a staff reporter at the El Paso Times, where she says her coverage sparks comments from readers that range from congratulatory to incendiary, racist and shocking.  

    All of these women are committing journalism that is crucial to know not just near the border, but around the globe. Whenever anyone harangues about the death of invetsigative, important journalism and the preponderance of dumbed-down, celebrity muck, I will speak of these women journalists who make sense, not noise.

     It was an eye-opener to remind me, and all of us, just what the point is as journalists. Tell the astounding stories the world needs to know. And be courageous enough to do so.

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Fired Up Over Firing

     Early Saturday morning, in the wake of the Juan Williams/ NPR scandal, at the annual Journalism & Women Symposium camp, NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard stepped up to the plate and the podium for an unrehearsed discussion of the case.

         “I don’t believe in off the record,” Shepard said. “The mike is never off.” Shepard went on to explain that she is independent of NPR as the ombudsman. “I am not speaking for NPR.”

     Putting the controversy into context, Shepard said, “No one is let go on just one action.” She added, “This is about a relationship between a news analyst and a network. You cannot say something on another venue that you would not say on NPR.”

    Williams was fired from NPR for comments he made on Fox to Bill O’Reilly. Blogs and media are percolating with opinion both measured and absurd about what was done, what should have been done, what was said and what should not have been said.

     I’m with Shepard here, who for the record and to give context,  is a friend.

    “Context is an important element in journalism,” she said Saturday at the impromptu JAWS discussion.

    I agree. And it’s what I try to teach my students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern. And what I do in all my stories. So let’s not violate that missive oursleves.

   Oh, and for the record? The only people who made me nervous on my flight from San Antonio to Dallas, with a brief lapse before connection to Chicago, were the ones who took too much time retrieving their overhead luggage. I had a few minutes to get from Concourse D to Concourse A, a long way to run and a lot on my mind.

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Maria Hinojosa on Humanity and Journalism

It’s all about the humanity
      Not a love fest, but close.
     At the annual Journalism and Women Symposium 2010 camp  in Boerne, Texas this weekend, legendary broadcast journalist and keynote speaker Maria Hinojosa had the more than 100 attendees on her side Saturday night before she stepped to the podium and said hello. And then she took off her left black suede platform pump to show it off and the crowd of veteran, emerging and acclaimed traditional and nontraditional journalists was hooked.    
      “We’re working journalists in America, telling important stories, how can we complain?” The author, anchor and managing editor of NPR’s “Latino USA,” as well as WGBH’s “One on One with Maria Hinonjosa,”added, “The drama of American life is all around us, how do we not tell their stories?”
      In 25 years as a journalist, including eight years at CNN, Hinojosa has been lauded with awards from Emmys to the Ruben Salazar Lifetime Achievement Award for her work telling stories and documentaries that represent “the drama of American life.”
      Born in Mexico City the youngest of four children, Hinojosa told the story of her petite mother convincing the customs officer to let the entire family go through to meet her father, a doctor already working in Chicago. It is that spirit of determination and confidence that drives her, she said.
    “My agenda is to make people feel things and to talk to people who don’t have a chance to be heard,” Hinojosa said. “My responsbility as a journalist is to find that humanity so we can all have hope.”
    Speaking candidly and without a prepared script, some journalists in the audience commented she could have arrived more prepared. But the standing ovation said it all.
    “I know I am seen as a role model,” Hinojosa said. “And I don’t want to walk away.”  
     

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