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.

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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.

Only in America.

I get most of my news from Twitter, and ever since the closing arguments were made on the State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman case on Thursday, I would check my timeline periodically to see what the jury had decided. I decided to not watch coverage of the trail, I read some articles, and that was plenty for me.

Not that I didn’t care about the outcome, I just had a feeling that whatever was decided, a lot of people were not going to be satisfied.

So I waited.

I was on my way home when I read that Zimmerman was found not guilty on all charges. I was upset, yet not surprised. I have a way of hoping for the best while still expecting the worst. I texted and even called a friend to let them know. And of course, my Twitter timeline exploded with all kinds of reactions; I even saw happy ones. Some people tweeted things like “#KillZimmerman”, and others kept tweeting how much they hated Florida and how bad they felt for Trayvon Martin’s family.

All of these thoughts did not surprise me either, because for me, the average person is not so hard to predict when something of this magnitude happens.

I am Black, and I am not American. I obviously have had experiences of people who have looked at me funny, have asked questions about my race, and have changed seats, inched away from me. However, I have never been physically or overtly abused for my race, at least not yet. Maybe because I am female, and I’m not always looking at strangers anyways. I have laughed about racism with my non-white friends while growing up, and still do. It is just ridiculous.

Why I am bringing up racism is because this is what has fuelled many people to feel the way they did/do about this case. Be you for or against Trayvon, for or against George, or simply watching and reading what has unfolded and will unfold, you felt something. Maybe it was some form of relief. Or sadness, you felt your heart breaking. You felt scared in general, or specifically for how Black people, Black men, may be regarded in American society today. You may have lost whatever faith you had in the justice system.

It is a pity how race is still a huge factor when it comes to even the smallest things. It is so easy to bring up, and yet still so hard for many to deal with.

I still have much to learn about America and it’s history, people, and it’s laws, all of which are changing as I type this and when you read this later.

While this is seen as a setback, perhaps people should use the energy that I saw on my timeline last night to try to make positive changes so that this does not happen again to anyone, regardless of race, age, sex, social ranking, etc., among other things. However, I feel that is going to take a while, because most of that enthusiasm waned. Some of it has turned into hatred, hopelessness, fear, and maybe aggression, violence. If nothing incredible happens sooner or later, most are going to return to their mundane lives, and this case will probably be pushed into the furthest corners of their minds.

“‘No justice, no peace’ means just what it says. Whenever you are in a society or community anywhere, if there is not justice there’s not going to be peace. But it doesn’t mean there’s going to be violence.”

– Kojo Nantambu

Some of us will see how this all plays out. If you just look at the way the justice system works, this was a fair verdict. The only people who know exactly what happened that night were Martin and Zimmerman. One of them is dead. One could have told his story, and he chose not to testify, for whatever reason.

Best of luck to whoever was involved in the case, and may Trayvon Martin rest in peace.