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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