Tag Archives: Medill School of Journalism

Tipping the balance for equity in OpEds

Katherine Lanpher at the Chicago Core Seminar

More than a week after a double session of the Chicago Core Seminar of the OpEd Project held at the Medill Chicago newsroom (part of the Medill School at Northwestern University where I am an assistant professor of journalism), I am still buzzing. I am electrified by the energy and ideas of the nearly 40 participants, their expertise and their intentions to change the world with specific knowledge and insight to share across platforms with the public.

Non-profit ceo’s, academics, researchers, lawyers, a doctor, a judge, social media experts, publishers, teachers, executives and even a member of the Secret Service, spent six hours focused on how best to articulate a balanced argument that will produce an intended outcome.
It almost sounds like the beginnig of a good joke” “A doctor, lawyer, teacher, Secret Service agent and a social media expert walk ito a bar…”

With seminar co-leaders Zeba Khan, Katherine Lanpher and Deborah Siegel, all in from New York for the session, we delivered a day of instruction, feedback, interaction and at time hilarious encouragement. We discussed and debated the upside of being outspoken and deliberate with specific knowledge.

“If you write something of consequence, there will be consequences,” Lanpher warned. “The alternative is to be inconsequential.”

Gina Marotta, managing director of StepUp Women’s Network in Chicago, rallied several members to particpate in the session, while representatives from Northwestern and DePaul University, all were vocal and engaged. We are anticipating their published viewpoints.

The more people moving successfully through the core seminars and sessions of The OpEdProject, the closer we get to tipping the balance toward gender equity or at least diversity of viewpoints in mainstream media opinion pages. The latest byline count from the OpEd project shows small gains at the traditional sites such as NYT and Washington Post, with an increase from non-staffer women but on “pink topics.”

More work to do. More seminars to offer. More voices to hear. More new knowledge to share.We can try again, same place, January 15. The OpEdProject is back in Chicago to continue to make a difference.

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News of The World sleazy then & now

In 1987 I was a feature writer and columnist for the Dallas Times Herald, now defunct. I was sent to London to cover the February 14 wedding of Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark, to a nice Dallas woman, Diane Burgdorf. (She has since divorced Thatcher and remarried, as has he.)

The news hook for my covering the wedding is obvious.

I managed to produce one to three stories a day for several days leading up to the wedding– business stories, fashion stories, Dallas socialite guest stories– and sent them by modem, that at the time, was the size of a briefacse.

Along the way of covering wedding-related events in London, I met a young male reporter from News Of The World. Maybe it was Nigel or Mark or Owen or Clive, who knows. He was my introduction to tabloids and Fleet Street.

The really funny part is he offered me money– I think a few hundred dollars– if I could confirm for him whether or not Mark Thatcher’s bride was a virgin. He wanted to include that in his news story about the nuptials.

“Now exactly how would I do that?” I asked.

He was not sure. Of course I did not take the money and I called my editor, Dave Burgin. We had a good laugh.

The next day the same reporter asked me if I wanted to disguise myself as a member of the Hotel Savoy staff and sneak into the wedding as a server. He planned to dress like a waiter.
We would both get scoops.

I called my editor. He told me to stop talking to the reporter.

True, this was Three Stooges, bumbling, unethical, stupid reporter stuff. They serve now as anecdotes I can tell my students at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. But it was wrong then.

The unethical practices over the decades that made the News of The World sleazy then are what made it sleazy enough now for Ruper Murdoch to kill it.

Hacking into the phone lines of victims is outrageous and so obviously wrong not just for an ethical journalist, but for a thinking, compassionate human being that the paper deserves to go under.

It is even more stupid than trying to determine the chastity of a young bride. Or dressing up and pretending to be someone you are not.

Good riddance.

The Dallas Times Herald did not deserve to close, but died because of a poor economy and bad business decisions.

And though I am sorry the 200 reporters at the publication lose their jobs as of Sunday, The News of The World deserves to die. And even though it is a British tradition, I won’t say “Long live the…”

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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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To Medill Grads: “Greatness is not a byproduct of timidity”

MSJ grads Jordan Turgeon and Kelsey Bjelland (me in center)

It was the best, most positive convocation I can recall in the past 15 years as a faculty member at Northwestern University’s Medill School. More than 150 undergrads and close to 100 masters graduates met in Cahn Auditorium to face the future. And they were well-prepared. Their first words during launch were well-considered, well-crafted and welcome. It was a morning filled with “real hope and real optimism.”

Commencement speaker and 1988 Medill MSJ grad Evan Smith charmed and informed the faculty, parents and students with his take on the future. The ceo and editor-in-chief of the newly launched The Texas Tribune told the crowd “greatness is not a byproduct of timidity” at this vibrant time of “news entrepreneurship.”

He urged the students he called iGrads as the “first generation of digital natives” to understand that this is “a great and exciting time to be looking for a job in journalism and its related fields.”

Recognizing that “the state of the media business– by this I mean the sad, sorry, unsettled, listing, sagging state of the media business– creates unprecendented opportunities for smart people” to create and launch innovative ideas.

It is a time when students are “able to be not just an intimate witness, but an active participant” in the revolution that is changing media forever, Smith said.

Smith offered three pieces of advice similar to what I often give my students in Reporting & Writing as well as Multimedia Storytelling.

1. “Build and burnish your personal brand.”
2. “Embrace risk.”
3. “No ingraved invitations.”

This year at Medill we have started teaching students how to begin to build a professional brand as a journalist, an idea that was unheard of just five years ago. We teach students to use social media to create a professional identity that will set them apart from so many others as hungry as they are for a position in the evolving media landscape.

A few weeks ago I told the students in my last spring class of Multimedia Storytelling that the single most important thing they can do at Medill and in life is to try. Enter into a challenge not with trepidation but with the eagerness to learn something completely new. Approach a challenge not with dread but with excitement. You cannot learn unless you try and you just might fail.

Try. Fail. Try. Succeed. Repeat.

I often tell students that no bad grade, no good source and no graceful sentence will land on them when they open a window. You must seek it all out. You earn a poor grade, just as you earn a good one. You find the sources and the evidence you need to back up your story. None of it lands on you like inspiration from some fictitious muse. You must create the opportunity.

Saturday was an uplifting morning. I met the parents of students who have been in my classes and have been my advisees for years. I have written several hundred recommendations for the members of this class of 2011.

I won’t call anyone out by name, so as not to slight anyone, but I told several parents that they can be proud of their son or daughter. The student was respectful, enterprising, bright, engaged, eager and diligent.

It was a day to celebrate. Just as I did for my son Weldon at his graduation last month from University of Wisconsin-Madison, I was celebrating for the students who have sat in my lectures or panicked in my office over classes to register for the next year. Some of them hated me for the current events quizzes and the AP Style tests, but I know they all learned a great deal. They learned how to report and to write. They learned to meet a deadline. And hopefully they learned that anything they dare to create is possible.

Try, I keep saying to students. The secret to succeeding in the real world? The same as it is in a class on Monday and Wednesday 9 a.m to noon.

Try. All you have to do is try.

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Moms, don’t blame your kids for your own shortcomings

My sons did not make me a liar.

The dog ate my homework. My kids made me lie in my newspaper review. Both are wrong.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist and reporter Paige Wiser apparently was none the, when she submitted a fabricated review of a “Glee Live” concert last week and was fired for it.

Not that she was covering the war in Afghanistan or anything, but she lied in her column. In a newspaper. She lied. We cover that in the first course at Medill, “Reporting & Writing.”

She blamed her kids. When all she can really do is blame herself. She should have gotten fired. Sorry to be harsh. But this is why. It slashes the credibility of working mothers everywhere, and not just working mother journalists.

I know it sounds odd coming from a single working mother of three who is sole support. I realize I should nod my head and say I understand, send her a reassuring comment on her Twitter account. But I believe excusing her unethical behavior because she is a working mother is like excusing Anthony Weiner for exposing himself to young women online because his pregnant wife travels a lot. No, the two are not the same. They just give me the same reaction: incensed.

You cannot blame someone else for your behavior.

While a lot of women journalists, pundits and bloggers have jumped on the bandwagon to say the real problem is it is hard for working mothers to juggle everything, I cannot disagree more with that as an excuse.

Yes, it is hard to juggle it all as a working mother. Working single fathers too. But millions of us don’t take the shortcuts, do what we know is wrong professionally and ethically. Don’t lump us all together and say women cannot perform at peak because we have given birth. Or adopted. Or stepped in as a step. Or take care of an elderly parent.

Yes, it is hard to juggle it all, just as it is for men who do the same thing as single parents, like my brother Paul, a widower raising three kids and running a manufacturing company, attending every volleyball game, concert, meeting and even serving as Team Mom. Or my brother, Bill, raising five children as a widower.

When we start to trade in our kids as an excuse, we undermine all women who have been trying like hell for the last 100 years to reach parity in the workplace. To me it feels as gruesome and impossibly unlikely as saying you can’t expect a woman to attend a meeting because she may have PMS. I am offended.

Yes, I empathize. In 15 years of paying for childcare for three kids in five years without a husband in the house, I broke out in hives, panicking to the core if the phone rang at 6 a.m. Because if a sitter cancelled, I had to completely rearrange my life, get three boys to separate schools, or drop off a toddler at a friend’s so I could make it to my class at Northwestern University. Where I could not act as if any of my homelife was a problem. Continue the lecture. Teach the three-hour undergrad or seven-hour grad class.

Once I had to bring Colin and Brendan to the lecture hall with me, where they ran in and out, banging on the locked doors to get back in. It was not pretty. I have had to write newspaper and magazine columns at 3 a.m. because that was all the time I had. I have met book deadlines without any sleep because I would not tell an editor that the laundry and the wrestling tournaments took up too much of my time. I have given speeches with a few hours of sleep. But I would just do it.

I am free of that worry now. Weldon, Brendan and Colin are 22,20 and 17. They drive. They are mostly independent. My oldest graduated from college last month. I have not had to pay for childcare– except for someone to stay overnight when I travel for work and the older two are away at school– in five years.

Raising these three sons alone and working since they were 6, 4 and 1 makes me a lot of things, but it does not make me a liar. It does not make me fabricate, plagiarize or say I saw something I did not. It doesn’t make me type something I don’t know for sure and pretend something that is not true is true.

I am not saying I am a perfect parent. Or beyond reproach professionally. I have probably trimmed a lot off my performance as a mother, professor and journalist just because it is hard to excel in all arenas all the time. But I have not compromised my code of ethics.

I am in the same business as Ms. Wiser. I am a journalist. I am an author. And I teach and model for the next generation of journalists how to behave professionally. I show young women that yes, you can do it all. You don’t have to pick truth over lies. You can be successful, even with pictures of your kids all over your office.

There was another way out. This is what I would have advised Ms. Wiser: Call your editor. Say your kid is sick and you had to leave. Stuff happens. I understand completely; I am still traumatized by the memory of the itchy six weeks of chicken pox in our house the winter of 1996. And the flu the boys passed around that kept me sleepless for three days.

When something happens as it did with the Glee concert, you are transparent. After calling your editor, you are apologetic. You suggest to your editor that you find who tweeted about the end of the concert. You contact the blogger. You quote the person. You write about how you had to leave, you write your opinion based on the 75 percent of the concert you saw, and you fill in with the attributed info. And you end with the line: “Note to self: Never again.”

You keep your integrity. You keep your job. And you keep all the other working mothers in the world from rolling their eyes and muttering under our breaths that you just gave our bosses a reason to mistrust our integrity, while we silently pray that the babysitter won’t cancel so we can go to work the next day.

Having kids doesn’t give you a handicap. It makes everything a little more complicated. Not impossible. And it sure doesn’t give you a free card to do the wrong thing.

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No More Front Page Pineapple Boy!

Chicago Tribune front page ad May 14, 2011

 Last Sunday’s Chicago Tribune made me crazy. OK, it was before I had coffee, but after I retrieved it from my doorstep the old-fashioned way, instead of my from my laptop, I looked forward to reading the feature about a local kid who had a pineapple growing out of his head. Nooooooooooooooo. This was not a feature photo. This was an ad.

     Inside was the real front page. With an enormous girl on the left with an orange in her mouth. Ick. Another ad.

   First reaction: I was so glad I had written the book in 2008 about the changing front pages of American newspapers. Because then, I seriously had no idea that the next step past anecdotal leads, citizen journalism and non-news (the point of the book, Everyman News) was a big ol’ ad of a kid with a pineapple growing out of his noggin on the front page. Honestly, it upset me all week.  

Really, I am teaching students at the Medill School of Journalism to strive to be on the front page, the home page, the mobile screen with their excellent journalism. Do I have to say, well, maybe your hard work and enterprising journalism will now take a back seat to Pineapple Boy?    

    Today I trepidatiously approached the rolled Chicago Tribune on my doorstep. Phew. Two feature stories, a huge photo of Derrick Rose, a banner with an Oprah Winfrey photo and a vertical column teasing into four stories inside. All of it defensible for newsworthiness.

 Oh, yes, and a little sticker from Brown’s Chicken giving me six free corn fritters and a teeny ad (compared to Pineapple Boy) on the bottom from Target announcing sales on Doritos, corn, Pepsi and ground beef. I guess the editors are back from vacation and the ad department backed down.  

   I know the Trib is in bankruptcy proceedings. But really. If you don’t want to give me hard news, (and we know print is not about that anymore, just go and read the book, ok?) then give me fluff. Give me enterprise stories, give me photos, give me illustrations, weather or analysis.

Just, please dear God, never, ever, ever again give me Pineapple Boy.

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Oprah, don’t let the liar get you down

 

Oprah, please don’t apologize. Please don’t talk about the liar ever again. You are better than this.

It is beneath you to spend so much time on someone who could not disclose that his complicated story was not a cautionary tale,  but a fairy tale altogether. And fretting over his insincerity causes me a million little anxiety attacks. 

I don’t watch Oprah in the mornings not because I don’t want to watch Oprah  in the mornings. When she airs in my market at 9 a.m. , I am either in the car on the way to work at Northwestern University’s Medill School where I teach journalism students to write the truth, or I am already standing in front of an auditorium full of students, talking about reporting,writing and telling the truth in multimedia platforms.

So I watch at 11 p.m. for many reasons, and not the least is because I am a big fan. A big grateful fan.

So I squirmed through her interview last night with James Frey, the author of the made-up A Million Little Pieces, who purports not to care much for the truth. In his Oprah interview, he sounded all Midwestern English adjunct professorish with his interpretation of reality and his Tropic Of Cancer accolades, talking about how he was really like Picasso who didn’t really look like his distorted self-portrait and that he only agreed to say it was a memoir so he could get an advance from the publisher.

What a bunch of baloney.

In spite of his writerliness, Frey tells a million little lies in the book that apparently caused Oprah her biggest headache in 25 years. And he does not look or sound like a man filled with remorse. 

I have read and heard this morning about how tricky it is to tell and vet the truth in a memoir. Just ask Greg Mortenson about Three Cups of Tea.

But the truth is telling the truth is not hard at all.

My first book, a memoir, came out in 1999. It took me three years to write the painful story of my experience with my husband who was violent.

Having been a journalist for 20 years by that time, I was excruciatingly mindful of the need to perfectly articulate the truth, as a journalist, with the details, the facts and indisputable realities bolstering my story. The publisher had lawyers. I had a lawyer. I had documents for every claim.

And my ex-husband was a litigating attorney. So I had to be sure to get it right.

Every description was accurate, every moment recalled was double-checked with another source. The idea of telling a story that was not truthful would ruin my career as a journalist, professor of journalism and slay my integrity and credibility.

It is not that I  dared not. It never occurred to me to even try.  

I was extremely lucky to be a guest on Oprah’s show in June 2002 discussing that book and my writing book as well. The path to Harpo Studios was lined with dutiful and diligent producers and lawyers. I took tough questions in scores of interviews over the weeks, months and years from 1999 to 2002 to earn the chance to have Oprah ask me questions about my books before an audience of millions. 

I cannot fathom getting to that point on the tails of a big fat lie. But that is me. Some authors and journalists apparently consider misrepresentation a marketing plan.

In my classes I tell my students about the dangers of fabrication and plagiarism, about how each journalist needs to fiercely protect the brand that is his or her own byline. I tell my students to be proud of every word that goes beneath their names and to be able to defend it vigorously. Because your words live forever.

Be genuine in your writing, I tell them, whether telling the story of a fire or telling your own story. 

I also give writing workshops, mostly on memoir, and have one slated for this summer through Northwestern. And I tell those writers eager to publish their stories that they own their own history.

So here is what I know. About writing, as a journalist. As a memoirist: You own your truth. You own the right to tell it, so you do not have to be intimidated by anyone who attempts to thwart your storytelling. Because as I wrote in my second book, writing can save your life.    

But no one can save you if you lie. You don’t have any rights to lie just so you can get a contract.

It is not tricky at all. It is a simple truth. So go ahead. Tell it.

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Editors Try This: 100 Story Ideas in 100 minutes

  We’re not doing a great job as journalists covering issues of gender and family. I gave a presentation to the Associated Press Managing Editors and Suburban Newspapers of America editors at the Chicago Sun-Times last week and dared the editors to come up with 100 story ideas after my 100-minute talk about stories at the intersection of the economy and gender. 

 Before we broke for lunch, half the room said they did. We’ll see how many of those stories get reported, written and published.

But today The Wall Street Journal defies logic, facts, stats and anecdotal realities from thousands of sources and declared there is no wage gap. Really? On Equal Pay Day? It’s making me crazy. As a journalist, as a woman, as a journalism educator, as a parent of sons, as a thinking human being.

It’s the same old story of viewing the news through a lens of denial. 

I wrote about it in “Everyman News,” in the chapter, “Diversity of Thought Shifts Content.” If we cannot achieve parity of gender and race in newsrooms, and according to ASNE, (The American Society of Newspaper Editors) we can’t, then we can for sure make a point in our coverage of trying to be inclusive in our sourcing and expansive in our brainstorming. OR we can keep saying what is real is not really there.     

     The recent White House Council on Women & Girls’ report, “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being,” contained the seeds for hundreds of story ideas and in particular broke down the wage gap. Compared to all workers:

•Black women earned 71 percent

•Hispanic women earned 62 percent
•White women earned 82 percent of what all men earned
•Asian women earned 95 percent
•White women to white men: 79 percent
•Black women to Black men: 94 percent
•Hispanic Women to Hispanic men: 90 percent
•Asian women to Asian men: 82 percent

     Read the rest of the report.  Absorb and dissect its contents. Among some of the stats are that women experience the highest poverty rates.It’s just that simple. If realities are denied, then the realities of the gender make-up of sources for the journalism is also denied.

•In 2011, only 27 percent of sources were female: The Gender Project
•In 2010, only 24 percent of the people heard or read about in print, radio and television news are female. In contrast, 76% – more than 3 out of 4 – of the people in the news are male: Global Media Monitoring Project
 
More from “Who Makes the News” on news  subjects:
-24 percent of the people heard or read on traditional platforms like newspapers, television and radio were female in the sample.
-23 percent of the news subjects on the 84 websites monitored were women.
•Story focus:
-13 percent of the news items in traditional media focus specifically on women.
-11 percent of the online news stories were centered around women.
•Authorship:
-41 percent of stories reported on traditional platforms were by female reporters in the same countries as the Internet pilot. Overall, 37 percent of stories in the whole sample were reported by women.
-36 percent of the news stories in the online samples were reported by women.
•Stereotypes:
-46 percent of the stories monitored in traditional media reinforced gender stereotypes, while only 6 percent challenged these stereotypes.
-42 percent of the online news stories were found to reinforce gender stereotypes and only 4 percent challenged them.

      OK, so it is quantified, and we are sick of reading the same old stories from the same bylines (PMS or pale, male and stale as my friends call it). Aren’t we sick of assigning and writing those stories too? 

I challenged the editors to go beyond the usual suspects and the same old thinking.  Come up with 100 story ideas today. Now.

Imagine a practice of journalism that involved consistently discovering news and stories by seeking new types of sources through academic, government, non-profit and grassroots organizations. Seek out stories that are hyperlocal, local, domestic or international with local ramifications. Beat the bushes to find story ideas that are citizen-driven and interactive. Learn from think tanks, centers on specific issues and trends. And for goodness sake, pay attention to what is happening out there in social media. And train every one of your staffers to be keenly observant.

It’s what I tell my students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University very quarter, whether in the Reporting & Writing or Multimedia Storytelling classes. I just talked about this yesterday in lab.

Stories looking at gender, family and marriage issues intersect with the economy in a myriad of ways. All you have to do is cast the net for news. Story ideas will swim in. You have to know what you’re looking for, not stop looking at what is there and not throw back a big fish when you can definitely use it in the future in a new way.
  
    According to the White House report, 18 percent of women 40-44 never had a child; 46 percent of women 25-29 never had a child. For me this is the reason Eat Pray Love sold a gazillion copies.   More older women are divorced or widowed. For me this is the reason Betty White and Helen Mirren are hot and hundreds of thousands of women nationwide are into Roller Derby, the latest fitness craze for “women  old enough to know better.”
       
This country has more single mothers and the highest poverty rates are women as heads of households. There is no end to the stories that can come from that sentence. Tell the single and married working mothers paying for childcare there is no wage gap and it is not impacting women and their children across the country.
 
Still, in all of this, I urged the editors in the conference room last weeek also not to just look for stereotypical woe-is-me, half-empty stories bemoaning the economy. I urged them to find inspirational,  multidimensional stories, and to write about the individuals and communities making a solid difference.  And tell the truth. See and report what is really there.
 
We’ll see what happens.

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Arianna Vs. Amy: Two Mothers’ Idealogical Battle

Arianna Huffington

   It was a battle of the Titan Mom and the Tiger Mom in Chicago Thursday night. And I know who won.

   Arianna Huffington, the $315 million woman, spoke eloquently and briefly at the WomenOnCall.org annual gathering in the Crystal Ballroom at the Hyatt Rgency on Wacker to about 500 women. The point was “speed dating for causes,” as Huffington put it, an event connecting volunteers with 76 area nonprofit groups from Working in the Schools to National Able Network.

  The 20-,30, -40- (and in my case) 50-somethings paid $25 to pair up with a nonprofit to volunteer, but mostly to hear from the media titan who recently took her initial 2005 $1 million investment in Huffington Post to Aol.com for a whole bunch more.

   Over the Chicago River and into the Tribune Tower a block away simultaneously –and likely not knowing or caring Arianna was up the street– was Amy Chua, the professor and author of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” before a spill-over crowd who paid $10 each to hear the author speak about why she pushed her two daughters to the brink and why she is proud of it.

   It was an evening of stark contrasts in idealogy, parenting and world view. 

   Introduced by Margot Pritzker, the founder of WomenOn Call, Huffington took to the stage looking all the world like a woman of leisure, perfectly coiffed wearing an elegant black dress– and well-prepared.  She was forceful, inspiring and no-nonsense.

    “Life is not truly meaningful if we do not do something for others,”‘ said the author of 13 books. “When you are giving back to people you don’t know, we are expanding the boundaries of our being.” And the world, she added, “desperately needs more empathy. It’s time for everyone to step up to the plate,” she said.

   Of course she talked about HuffPo, calling it “community solutions” and she invited everyone to contact her and submit stories of their causes. “Two-hundred fifty million people around the world can read about things to motivate them and that begins to transform their lives and they recognize the responsibility to others,” she said.

    Huffington talked about Patch.com, the AOL community journalism project in 900 cities with “profesional journalists and freelancers writing about communities.” She added, “We can cover what is happening in non-profits.”

    I met Huffington in 1988 when I was a columnist for the now defunct Dallas Times-Herald. Back then I interviewed her on her tour for her breathtaking book, “Picasso: Creator and Destroyer.” She was smart, inspiring, and if I remember correctly,  pregnant with her daughter. I also wrote about her in 1999 for the Chicago Tribune, on her “Greetings from the Lincoln Bedroom.” I introduced myself to her Thursday night, reminded her of the interviews,  and she politely said, “Yes, yes,” even though I am pretty darn sure she did not remember. My point is, she was gracious.  

    “I’ve had an interesting personal journey,” she said Thursday to the crowd.

    Everyone knew what she meant: a very public divorce, media criticism, all of that. She also spoke candidly of her daughter’s dealing with anorexia and how volunteering for others helped her daughter put her own problems in perspective. As a mother,  I found her comments not exploitative, but authentic.

      A lot has been written about HuffPo not paying its bloggers. I tell my students at Northwestern  University’s Medill School of Journalism to write for money. It’s a karma thing. But the model for blogging is writing for free; if you aim to buy food with your work, then you have to seek outlets where you will be paid. 

      I am writing this on my one of two blogs for free with my goal to promote my ideas, my brand and ultimately my books and speeches for money. Because I have a family with two in college, and a third in college in a year and a half, I write for money more than I write for free. I have a paying job as a professor, I write articles for magazines and newspapers for money. 

      I also give speeches to nonprofits pro-bono each year.  I give back. I have been on boards of directors over the years for many nonprofits: Tuesday’s Child, Sarah’s Inn, Journalism & Women Symposium, and now am on the board of advisors for Between Friends, a domestic violence services agency. I don’t count all the volunteering I do for my boys’ schools and teams, because that is to benefit my sons. It is the stuff you do for strangers that counts.  I was brought up by a mother who said, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” I heard her.

   “The empathy index needs to grow,” Huffington said. And I agree.      

  While she made no public apologies for the free blogging model at her site, Huffington made a case for giving of yourself to causes you believe in. Because it matters.

   “There is far too much emphasis in our media on what is not working,” she said. “We are focusing on our dysfunctionality and perpetuating it.”

         Which brings me to Amy Chua.

      We came late to Chua’s book event; we nestled in the spill over room and watched on a big screen Elizabeth Taylor of the Tribune interview the controversial Tiger Mom. Like Huffington, she was well-dressed, well-coiffed, well-spoken  and well-prepared. But all I heard was whine, whine, whine, complain, complain, defend, defend. Her daughters, her job, her beliefs, her childhood, her students, her stance on boyfriends and sleepovers. She talked about instilling respect and gratitude in her daughters. But respect for her. Gratitude to her.

    When she complained about all she did was work and take care of her family, I had enough. She expanded on her plight of having  two daughters and a husband who shares in the raising of  both girls. We left before it was over.

    It got me thinking back to Arianna and just an hour earlier. She is a single parent to daughters. She managed to write all these books, think outside the box, create a media empire built on ideas. She purports to be about the fourth instinct, or the drive to add meaning to our lives by giving back.  

    “I’m tired of describing problems,” Huffington said. “We need to break that type of behavior.”

      Final score: Arianna 1, Amy 0.

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The $315mm Woman & More J Opps

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_uo4X1SEdk&NR=1&feature=fvwp

After all the criticism about fluff and pouf and the lightness of being Huffington Post, along comes Tim Armstrong, ceo of AOL and plunks down $315 for Arianna’s 2005 Big Idea. Amen.

“We believe in real journalism and original reporting,” Huffington said in an interview after the announcement she would be in charge of all AOL content.

To all the naysayers who say journalism is as dead as Latin the language, I say, “Veni, Vidi. Vici. ” To all my students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern who come in worried about their majors because they won’t get a job at the New York Times, I say double ha. Because they probably won’t. The jobs they get will be at innovative outlets, sites and new projects, non-profits, blogs, citizen journalism cooperatives. Even Huffington says in the interview that she has been hiring veterans “as well as journalists right out of school.”

Two of my Medill colleagues, Rich Gordon and Owen Youngman, just received a $4.2 million grant from the Knight Foundation to launch the Knight News Innovation Laboratory here on campus, pairing Medill students and thought leaders with McCormick School of Engineering students and faculty to develop the next big thing.  

One more time, let’s stop the trash talk of the future of the profession and see this is a phenomenal time for great ideas from men and women looking to innovate, create and put forward content in relevant forms. The world of information is undergoing major transformation and it is disruptive, messy and chaotic at times. And as always the universe rewards a good idea. With some serious cash.

Get thinking. Keep thinking. There’s room for more Big Ideas.

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