Lessons from a Luncheon.

I attended the 14th annual WCBS 880 Working Women’s Luncheon this afternoon. One of my professors, Mary Alice Williams, extended the invite to journalism students to have a chance to network and learn a few things about broadcast journalism. I’m really glad I went, for I learned so much in the two hours I was there.

WCBS-TV co-anchor Kristine Johnson was the guest, with Pat Carroll, an anchor of the WCBS 880 Morning News, as host of the interview and Q&A session. I learned a lot from what both women had to say. It was a little comforting, given the growing uncertainty of my chosen career field, and following the firing of Jill Abramson at the New York Times amid all the inequality and lack of diversity in newsrooms around the US, and, dare I say, the world.

Johnson and I have similar backgrounds, in the sense that we both moved around a lot while young (she was a military brat, and myself being a diplobrat). She, too, had an epiphany of getting into journalism while starting at college at the University of Nebraska. And, she minored in political science as well.

She gave some great advice for the few students present. Regarding internships, Johnson said to “be proactive, don’t be shy, introduce yourself, and ask if you can take on more responsibilities.” She added that what she learned behind the scenes helped her get to where she is today. That is the whole point of doing internships, after all. Now it’s just a matter of getting one.

It was comforting to hear that throughout her career her patience was tested “so many times.” A news director once told her that reporting was out of her reach, but she clearly proved him wrong. Johnson also said that in this profession of journalism, “you have to have a clear mind, it really helps.”

Calling attention to your strengths, especially as a woman in this male-dominated world, is very important. You have to remind people every now and then. Having genuine passion doesn’t hurt, either, as well as wanting to be challenged every day.

One question an attendee asked was about the thin line women face when being perceived as assertive or aggressive. “There are times where I feel like you have to be the B-word, especially for something you feel strongly about,” Johnson replied. “Because I don’t always show that side, people listen [to what I have to say]. Also [having] confidence, how you treat everyone [from the janitor to your supervisor]. Choose your battles carefully.”

I did ask about how she felt about Abramson being fired and how it may affect women in the media, but she said that we all don’t really know what happened.

Johnson stressed that “a good anchor needs to be a good reporter.” This brought to mind something another anchor on another network said to me earlier this year on a tour. He said something along the lines of, “Now they’re just hiring anchors with pretty faces with no reporting experience.” Johnson knows what producers, directors and camera operators want, and that really helps with her broadcasts.

“My success came in being myself,” adding that she’s very thankful for her failures. She likened co-anchoring to dating, “[chemistry] is either there or not.” Carroll added, “It’s like ballroom dancing or figure skating.”

I know I’m not the only who feels that “social media expertise” is not as important as being a good writer/reporter/editor, but that is the reality of this business. Johnson is a self-professed reluctant Twitter, but she does recognize that it is a great platform, especially when interacting with her audience. “As a mother, it scares me. There’s a lot to keep track of.” True, but we can’t deny it can be a great news wire service that you can customize, depending on who you follow, etc.

A woman approached me at the end of the luncheon. She had not heard my question, which was, “How do you feel about Jill Abramson being fired from the New York Times and how it could affect women in the business?” She said it was a great question, but it obviously was a difficult one to answer, especially with how recent the episode was.

I mentioned an article by David Carr, an obvious insider to the event. In his latest Media Equation column, he had heard from some of his younger female colleagues. One of them said, “I really don’t see a path for me here. Are we O.K.?”

I’m wondering the same thing. It’s great that there’s a little more diversity in top editorial positions with Dean Baquet replacing Abramson, but I’m female. And Black. The woman who approached me simply said, “That’s something you could work towards.”

Yeah, I could work towards that, but just how many more obstacles are in my way now? I can’t even get an internship.

First Week Back

It’s been over a week since my last post, and I’ve just completed my first week at SUNY Purchase. It’s already been challenging, but in a much needed way. I have been asked to think even more critically, and to not be afraid to speak my thoughts. I am really looking forward to the discourse in my classes, and to being busy, for a change.

I have tried to check out the college’s student-run publications with not much luck, but it was the first week after all. It can take a while for things to pick up. One of my classes has provided me with two things that I could possibly publish here. One of them is that Janet Reitman, who wrote the sensational Rolling Stone article Jahar’s World on Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, will be having a conversation with one of my professors, Chris Raymond, who is also a freelance multimedia journalist, writer and editor with experience in today’s popular men’s magazines.

So, being a new student trying to find her footing at a very different college will take a lot of getting used to, but I am happy to be busy again. At least for now. I am still having my views on Touré’s book still simmer. I want to have the time to choose the right words.

Fast Company’s (Possibly Innocent) Mistake

Early Tuesday morning, August 26, Ann Charles’ piece on what she believed to be 25 of the Smartest Women on Twitter was published. Surely enough, it was shared on social media, especially Twitter, where it was received not so well amongst those of color.

As many of the people I happen to follow pointed out, there is not one Black woman on the list, let alone not enough diversity for a brand/magazine that prides itself on “inspiring readers to think beyond traditional boundaries & create the future of business” (via Fast Company’s Twitter bio).

This led to many intelligent, practical,  and opinionated netizens to come up with their own lists, quite a few them holding more than 25 members. Not to say that the women on Charles’ list are not great role models or anything, but it did strike a cord in those who are in minority groups in America today (why we are still considered minorities is something I’ll never understand, but oh well). The lists had women of all backgrounds and different fields having done things that have contributed to the public’s understanding of the world we live in today, be it technology, activism, journalism, writing, and so on.

It was nice to see that Fast Company took notice and tried to make amends by publishing More on Those Smartest Women on Twitter, where they said, “We squandered the opportunity to do the same with our initial Twitter list” when trying to re-affirm what they state in their Twitter bio. They even asked for more feedback on who else readers would add to the list, with a “please”.

This got me thinking. While some may have just looked over the  original list and paid attention to the accomplishments of mentioned women, many felt some type of way when they did not see someone they could easily identify with. Charles even wrote that making the list “[included] seeking out the most influential and profound leaders across a diverse set of industries and interests. As the Twitter ecosystem continues to grow, it’s an ongoing challenge to find new, unique, and interesting sources of information with fresh points of view.”

Yes, there are a lot of people on Twitter today – about 554,750,000 active users as of early last month. So this was daunting task for Charles, and a matter of her own opinion. I’m not saying that this was a bad list; just that certain demographics did not feel represented well, if at all.

With more women chipping away at the countless glass ceilings in this man’s world, it was refreshing to see both women and men make up their own minds as to who else is contributing to attempting to make this world more equal for all. We all are different, yet we all have a sense of wanting to belong somewhere, especially with people we can see ourselves in.

Hopefully this will bring more attention to movers and shakers of color.

Editing Others to Also Editing Myself

I came across this link on Twitter earlier today, on editing your own work on lifehacker.com.

I was a copy editor of the student-run paper at my previous college, and my job entailed making sure work to be published was in the Associated Press style, was grammatically sound, that spellings were correct, facts were accurate, and so on. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would, and I am considering looking for copy editing positions in the near future, aside from becoming a journalist.

I did write a few pieces, and wish I had written much more, but I was more worried about coursework, and I was working part time at a very popular food and beverage chain. I will write more about that later, for I would really need to choose my words carefully on that one.
I got the impression that I was tweaking others’ work to make them more clear and easy on the eye, especially for those who laid out the pages of the publication.

Since I’m starting to write and publish myself here, I should also start editing myself. I should have been started. I think I’m a little scared to read my work after it’s done. I write when I really cannot shake the urge to do so. I feel I just flow better, and that quite a bit comes out when I’m in this state. I’ve realized that not all criticism is bad, and the only person I can compete with, without losing it, is myself. I am trying to be the best writer/journalist I can be, after all.

Caroline McMillan breaks down the process, the first step being to print out your work. McMillan writes:

As any writer or editor will tell you, critiquing someone else’s work is much easier than deconstructing your own, because outside eyes bring a fresh perspective. To approach your own work critically, you need to simulate this “outsider” perspective by viewing it in a form other than the one you wrote it in.

I don’t need to say how obvious this is.

She also talks about taking a break, deadline-willing. The more time you have from your piece, the more mistakes you may see and better amendments can be made.
Then there’s reading it aloud, and this calls to mind my Voice & Diction class I took last semester. You do want our words to flow, and if they do when read aloud, the piece looks good, and you look good as a writer, too. Right?

Writing for the people you want to read your work is something to always keep in mind. Too many words is not a good thing. Being that I’m a consumer of information, I do find myself getting bored sometimes as an article goes on, even though the subject may interest me, simply for all the possible page turning, scrolling and/or clicking I may have to do.

The next stop is the hardest. Cutting down your piece, and being “ruthless” about it, McMillan wrote. “[…] this will help make sure that the true meat of your piece is what shines.” You want your readers to get something that could be useful to them from your piece, otherwise you’re not only wasting their time, but yours as well. I have learned this with word limits on essays.

The biggest piece of advice I got from this article was this:

When you make a point […] throw yourself behind it. Don’t give the impression that you’re not sure you fully support your own argument.

That advice stuck with me, and you should pay attention to it, too, especially when your career is in play. Don’t weaken your argument with wishy-washy sentences that start with “I believe,” “In my opinion,” and “You may disagree, but…” You’ll see the difference it makes.

This is not going to be easy to get the hang of. I’m even writing this on my phone, not on a computer. My laptop is not even connected to a printer at the moment. But as I said, I need to start somewhere. If that means scrolling up and down this four-inch window that I have, so be it this time around.

I want to, need to put my best foot forward, and my writing will have to speak for me until I get my foot in the door.