Tag Archives: ABC

Hollywood’s Saintly Moms and Demon Dads

As I watched the Oscars Sunday, I thought aloud that the most unofficial nominations and kudos of the evening went to moms. There was mother praise all around, from the Mominations video pre-awards (when all I wanted to do was see pretty and not pretty dresses) to the campy bit with Ann Hathaway’s mother and James Franco’s grandma.  

  It seemed everyone acknowledged his or her mom. And that was good. Refreshing. The guy with the crazy hair and the short documentary. Then Natalie Portman thanked her mother and said she was grateful for her upcoming biggest role ever– motherhood– and she looked so dewy and pretty I was near tears.

As a mother of three who has not had acknowledgment in a public acceptance speech– to date– I was feeling pretty satsified with all the warm, fuzzy, sincere applause for the jobs mothers do.  One good mother praising leads to another. I was getting ready for a possible close-up. Someday. Or maybe just a call from college from one or both of the older two not asking for something I can do for them. Sure, they say thanks. They do text “Love u.” So maybe I am being a little demanding.  

And along came Charlie.

Does anybody not know who this is?

 I have to say I couldn’t help myself but watch the train wreck Tuesday night in what was possibly The Most Restraint Ever Practiced by A Journalist in an Interview on ABC  by Andrea Canning.  As the porn star and the model goddess snuggled up his twin toddlers in Broll, Sheen chain smoked and drank Orange Crush (right) and made one narcissistic outrageous statement after another. So much so that I prayed, really prayed that in the middle of it all, children and family services would pound down the door and take the kids away.

Lo and behold they pretty much did.  Phew.

Which brings me to the Hollywood mothers who have been scorned for outrageous acts and occasional rebellions, like Octomom, whose crime of having too many kids is really a lack of sense and self. The mother of all bad or mad mommies was Joan Crawford, whose Portrayal by Faye Dunaway in “Mommie Dearest” still occasionally flashes before my eyes, especially when I clean out a closet.  There have been some bad Hollywood Moms, in between, OK Brittany,  but mostly not so many really, really take the kids away in the middle of the night for their own sake moms .

Because here is the thing. It is new to call mothers who work saints. The Working Mom Vs. Stay-at-Home Mom battle has been ongoing since before I had my first son in 1988. Moms did not have to chain smoke, do crack, drink for three days or wreck a hotel room to be called a monster. All she had to do was get up and go to the office. She was selfish, she was about all about herself. She worked.

I have never heard someone call a father selfish because he has a job. You gotta be pretty awful to get labelled a Demon Dad.

As a mother raising three sons, I know how hard it is to be a parent. I know it is harder than it looks, even on “Parenthood” or “Modern Family.” And I think it is great that mothers are getting their due (I was trying to be funny, anyway.) Thank the moms in the speeches. Blow her a kiss in the crowd. Send her a thank-you note.

And for the Saintly Dads out there, sharing in the childcare duties, papying their child support and driving to practices, paying for college?  You deserve your own round of applause. And I won’t blame you at all for believing Charlie Sheen gives cool, goo dads a bad name. Just please do not follow him on Twitter.

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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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All the news you can spin

We played a  game of 52-Card Pick-Up when I was a kid. You probably did too. That was when you didn’t feel up to the complexities of Fish or Crazy Eights. So you threw a deck of cards in the air and whoever picked up the most cards won.

Now ABC News is doing the same thing.

With its new app for the Ipad, ABC News is allowing you to spin, shake, touch, filter, share and engage all the information it has on its news website. Sounds more like Spin the Bottle than a discovery of the day’s world events.

Which leads me to reiterate my belief as a journalist that there is no longer an editor or  gatekeeper, no longer a framework for history as it unfolds.  Just shake your laptop like a snow globe and see what falls.

It’s a presumption that all news has equal value, that all information from the Angelina Jolie interview to maggots on a plane and Chelsea’s wedding cannot be prioritized, organized, grouped together into some ladder of interest.

They say it is about your choice. But really it is not. You have no choice at all what arrives. It is absolutely random.

Shake, shake, shake, shake your news feed. Shake your news feed. 

The presumption is also that you just don’t care what you learn first as a news consumer. That whatever information arrives whenever is just fine by all of us. All of it has the same level of importance.

It is a new take on Everyman News. It is EveryWhichWay News. And it gives me the creeps.

Sure, I don’t have an Ipad and I could just be jealous.   I don’t want to spin, shake, touch, filter, share and engage. I want to read, watch, listen, comment. On what I want and need to when I want to. Not just because the snippet shows up randomly or is the most popular or lands on me like a meteor falling from the sky.

 Because I don’t care about a lot of stuff that is out there. And I do care deeply about information and news that may not appear just because I was shaking like crazy. Enduring a haphazard arrival of events is not something I embrace.

Life is already like that. My news doesn’t have to be.

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Wake up! It’s Transformation Time!!!

Students in Caryn Brooks’ and my Journalism Methods class

Driving to work last week, where I teach graduate and undergraduate students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, a news story perked me up a bit.

ABC News President David Westin announced Tuesday what he is calling a ‘fundamental transformation’ of his network’s news division that will slash the payroll and re-engineer the way ABC produces news in the digital age. The network is seeking to shed several hundred jobs in the news division, or up to a quarter of the 1,400-person workforce.”

No, I do not have a ghoulish view of someone else’s unemployment. I am sorry 25 percent of ABC journalists are getting fired. But, it has long been the time for all of old media from newspapers to  broadast companies to change tactics. David Folkenflick of NPR goes on to write:

“But Westin says he finds hope in the same nimble approach that helped to ensure the survival of Nightline by keeping costs in check and enabling ABC journalists to get to stories more quickly.

“Much of the work that we do on Nightline today is shot by reporters and producers and edited by them and transmitted by the Internet by the field by them,” Westin said. “Anyone watching Nightline would never think, ‘Oh, they’re gathering their news differently or producing it differently.'”

This should not be news to a news organization. At least not in this century. Since 2003 in some classes and since 2006 in all classes, we have been teaching cross-platform multimedia vigorously across the curriculum, from freshmen clear up to the grad students. Anyone who follows the listserv or local blogs knows just how much grief we as a faculty and school  have endured because of that key move. We were damned for abandoning solid, investigative journalism, becoming button pushers. Criticism was fast and fierce and relentless: It’s nothing  but technology and software you teach. Stick to the old way. The old way was best. Who needs to know Soundslides? Why care about Premiere Elements as an investigative reporter? Where is the journalism? The journalism is in it all.

The reality is to stay alive, a journalism organization has to be nimble. And journalists moreso. That translates to the necessity for reporters to be equipped with a toolkit of marketable skills, all upheld by strong journalism traditions steeped in ethics, accuracy and transparency.

In the first year at Medill, students learn the fundamentals of news judgment, interviewing, sourcing, writing, fact-checking, database reporting, design, photography, audio and video storytelling and a splash of Flash. They end up producing audio and video stories that stand alone,  audio slideshows, as well as strong short and longer form text stories complemented by a barrage of relevant alternative story styles. What that means is they are employable.

To have considered journalism as a sacrosanct estate immune from the consequences of the economy was myopic, archaic and arrogant. And to resist the possibility that any journalist should be able to perform on at least two or more platforms with proficiency– if not mastery– is professional suicide.

I have the pleasure of teaching 15 marvelous grad students this quarter. Those are their smiling faces above.  They are smart, they are engaged and three days a week they are reporting and producing stories on specific beats in the community–from text to audio and video, slideshows and graphics. They will find jobs, they will produce journalism and they will hopefully not complain. 

On a recent American flight, I flipped through American Way magazine and read Carlton Stower’s February 2010 column, “Read All About It” concerning his take on the death of newspapers.  He wrote:

“That printed paper you folded into your briefcase and carried on the plane with you is a tried old dinosaur sadly limping away to its  dying place. All to which I say, “Balderdash!'”

OK, so I have not ever used balderdash in a a sentence, written or spoken, but I agree. It is the content that is important and an audience will arrive if the content is valuable. That means solid reporting and vetted, authentic good journalism  readers cannot get somewhere else faster. Good writing, insightful reporting, fresh ideas played out in a variety of formats. What we teach.    

The ABC story reminded me of a Christian Science Monitor column last May, “Why Journalists Deserve Low Pay,” by Robert C. Picard that initially made me angry at the headline, but then made me agree.  Picard wrote:  

“Journalists like to think of their work in moral or even sacred terms. With each new layoff or paper closing, they tell themselves that no business model could adequately compensate the holy work of enriching democratic society, speaking truth to power, and comforting the afflicted.”

Picard continues: “If value is to be created, journalists cannot continue to report merely in the traditional ways or merely re-report the news that has appeared elsewhere. They must add something novel that creates value. They will have to start providing information and knowledge that is not readily available elsewhere, in forms that are not available elsewhere, or in forms that are more useable and relevant to the audiences.”

They will have to transform. Before it is too late. Our students have until graduation. They will be fine.

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