Perspectives in Journalism, a World View

Recently I taught a three-week summer journalism program for high school students. It is the third year I have been part of this particular program. We always had a handful of international students, mostly from China. However, this year half the class was students from China ranging in age from 15-18.  I knew this year would be different,  but I had no much how it would change my perspective on being a journalist.

The students did the usual assignments, we attended press conferences, events, and statehouse hearings. They wrote stories and created video packages. Generally, on the weekend, we have the students research the First Amendment, but this year, we changed it up. The students broke into groups and presented the roles, rights, responsibilities, and risks of journalists around the world. Each group was assigned a country, including the United States and China. During the presentation about China, one student stopped midsentence, saying they could not say something critical. This was a child. I cannot imagine my children, or any American student at that age having to worry about what they say about their government. Just let that set in for a moment.

There was a time when we were discussing LGBTQ rights and how in the United States. The discussion turned to how, at one time, you could be arrested in the United States for being gay, and how the LGBTQ community is treated across the world. Our student from Peru weigh-in, and then a student from China was called on. The response, “we don’t talk about that.” Again let that sink in, this is a 15-18-year-old.

We had a professor come visit and talk about their work across the world as a journalist and mentioned being sent to China for Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. The students from China listened intently and nodded. What we did not know is many of them had never heard of the protests. Only learning about it by looking it up online after that presentation. One of the teaching assistants compared it our nation blocking all information about Kent State.

As Americans we read, watch and listen to news about China and the Chinese government, but do we ever stop and think about the people living that and other totalitarian governments? Maybe you should. I know I am looking at international news with that perspective and reading more international news sources rather than just American based media.  Understanding what the Chinese people are being told is essential for understanding their culture. As Americans, we need to become more worldly in our knowledge.

We are fortunate in the United States. You may love or despise our government, yet we will not be placed in jail for merely expressing an opinion. Reporters in this country can question and hold those in power accountable without fear of being sent to prison, or even death. That is not the case across the world.



Lessons from the Future

I teach a Television News Producing class. It meets twice a week. The goal of each class to create a newscast. During the semester the length of that newscast grows, right now we are at 13 minutes of content. It may not seem like a lot, but those of you who have produced know it can be a challenge. Two reporters put together a package and do a live shot, there is a weather person, a sports person and two anchors, in all, there are 14 students in the class this semester. The students work together to get the show on the air in just three hours.  Producers, you understand how much of a challenge this can become. The students choose the content, and how it is presented.

I am not here to brag about what a great newscast these students create each class, in fact, there are always mistakes and things that could be done better.  This is a learning experience after all. However, the lessons go beyond proper broadcast style writing, knowing which story is the lead, and a reporter is ready for a live shot. This class is a lesson in teamwork and trust.

The students have learned quickly if one brick falls the walls will come down. If you have a person who does not load video correctly, it will fail, if there is no spell check on lower-thirds you fail, and if the person running prompter does not pay attention, that’s right you fail. Most semester when I teach this course the pressure is high, and it takes several weeks for the students to “click” and learn to work together. Not this semester. This particular group of students has from day one displayed a sense of unity, teamwork, and compassion.

As a group, these students seem to understand everyone learns at a different pace and in different ways, and rather than get frustrated when a student is struggling they pitch in and help. However, they do not do the work for the student; instead, they mentor and explain. They all have the same goal, create the best newscast possible. When a student is having a tough day, they rally and help. There is no bickering, no comments of one person not pulling their weight in the newsroom, just a combined goal to get it done.

There is a lesson to be learned here, that compassion and understanding in the workplace can result in success. How many of us have gotten caught up in the negative attitude of a newsroom and done nothing?  A new approach may make the world of difference. Embracing the individuality of each person on the team, and helping them be successful will benefit everyone.

I hear from so many people that the next generation does not work hard, they are not focussed, and just don’t get “it.” Maybe it is the older generations that need to sit back and learn. I am quite impressed by the character of the students in my classroom each semester.



The Relationships of Journalism

Journalists know the best stories are about people, and include emotions. In the classroom I often get the question how do you find those stories. My answer, remember journalism is about relationships.

The first relationship is that with your audience.

Television, radio, newspaper, digital each platform has an audience. As a journalist, it is your job to deliver stories that engage and enrichen your audience.  Know your audience!

Thanks to the digital world more organizations than ever have insight into the online audience.

There are plenty of ways to research your audience. Nieman Reports talks about the importance of making the significant relevant by understanding the audience.

Building trust with your audience takes time. The Knight Foundation released a report in September 2018 about why people do, or do not, trust the media. The report called Indicators of News Media Trust shows most Americans believe that trust can be restored. The good news from the Poynter Institute is trust is being repaired, especially when it comes to local media. An article published in August 2018 called Finally some good news: Trust is news is up, especially for local media shows the importance of building that relationship with your audience.

One way to earn that trust is to produce content relevant to their daily life, and show the impact of the story. I have often said my best stories came from the playground. When my children were younger, I would pick them up from school each day and talk with the other moms. Through listening to their concerns about education, the economy, crime in the neighborhood I was able to tackle the issues impacting the community.  Newsrooms may know more about their audience thanks to social media and other digital tools, but that does not entirely replace the reporter who goes into the community and talks with people. That connection to your audience will help build trust and give you a strong understanding of the values and stories that are important.

The second relationship is with your sources.

Similar to building trust with your audience, you need to build trust with your sources within the community. This does not mean only tell the positive side of a story and never report when your sources that may have a negative impact on the community. Building trust with your sources translates to being honest with them, tell the person you are interviewing on the street where and when the story will be published and that it will be online as well. The Ethical Journalism Network has published Ethical ground Rules for Handling Sources. The article covers issues including anonymous sources, and when human rights trump the source’s right to privacy. Journalists have to consider sources at every turn. How you treat your sources will follow you from one job to the next.

The third relationship is with your colleagues.

Journalism does not happen in a vacuum. It takes a team to produce that newscast, newspaper article, radio story or online content. There are editors, sales team members, researchers, and even interns. It is essential to respect each role of the process and understand they are working as a team. Walk into a television newsroom, and you see the reporter working with the assignment desk, producers and possibly others. If there is a lack of trust or respect at any level, it can impact the final product.

Working in a newsroom can take an emotional toll. The stories can be difficult to tell, but it is the job. Having a positive newsroom environment means understanding some days will be tougher than others, and supporting one another.

From RTDNA  here is an article about what news teams need from their managers.

What news teams wish managers did more

The organization then presented the other side, what managers wanted from the news team.

What news managers wish the staff did more

There are a lot of similarities in the articles, most importantly each wanted the other to be a team player.

I am currently teaching a TV News Producing class at Emerson College in Boston.  The key to doing well in that class is working as a team.



Why Journalism?

Dear Students:

Why did you choose journalism? Along with the lessons about writing, reporting, and editing I genuinely want you to answer this question. It is not an easy career, it changes rapidly, and there really is no such thing as job security. So why journalism?

“Fake News” is a term heard and seen daily. What does it really mean to you? Will it have an impact on how you do your job? Are you ready to enter a career that appears under attack? What will you do differently?

During the summer I co-taught a 3-week intensive program for high school students. It was shocking to hear how much mistrust they when it came to the news media. “Everyone is lying,” was a phrase often spoken by these well educated young students. So I asked in return, “why journalism?”.

Gone are the days when mass media was all on the same page. You chose a network for news, read the local paper, and the stories were there. It was a common ground across America. We all worked from a similar set of facts and stories. Today that has changed, people tailor their news to fit their lifestyle, there is no common ground. So what will you do as a journalist to inform your specific audience?

The students this summer talked about a lack of balance in the media, “everyone leans left or right,” was the comment. Is that indeed the case? What can you do to restore faith in the media? Several students cited transparency, adding each media outlet should admit to the bias and let the reader or viewer decide for themselves. It was a worthy discussion.

What is the role of journalism in today’s society? Is it to tell the truth? Inform society as a whole?  I think the more important question is, what do you see the role of journalism in the future?

So why did you choose journalism? I look forward to helping you find the answers.


Angela Anderson Connolly

Affiliated Faculty Member/Journalism

Emerson College