Want to be a war correspondent? Lessons learned by the Center’s Danielle Church

My Talk with NBC Correspondent Stephanie Gosk: the good, the bad and the ugly side of journalism

by Danielle Church

Ever since I’ve been in college, two words have followed me: war reporting.

The first time I ever saw them is when I wrote a research paper for an English class just to understand more about what war reporting really is; the second was when I met a man while working at a hotel in Chicago who led reporters around the Middle East; and now, I had the chance to actually interview someone who was, at one point in her life, a war reporter.

Stephanie Gosk is a national correspondent for NBC News. She has covered everything from the Flint water crisis to Laquan McDonald’s death in Chicago to the war in Iraq.

While Gosk was in Baghdad, her mother – an elementary school teacher – was driving home from work in the states. She was listening to the radio when they started to play the audio of an American kid in his late 20s, who had been kidnapped, being beheaded in Baghdad. Knowing that her daughter was there, Gosk’s mother immediately pulled to the side of the road where she began to shake and cry.

She wouldn’t tell Gosk that story until years later though.

“I felt terrible about it,” Gosk said. “I really did and the trouble is…the tricky thing for family and friends is that they watch the stories that you do in places like that and the stories just by nature show the worst images of that moment. I mean it honestly looks like it’s a constant running gun battle and the truth is that it’s not as dangerous as it looks on T.V.”

That doesn’t mean gruesome events don’t happen while covering wars though and according to Gosk, it certainly does exert some guilt knowing that as a reporter, you’re only there for a short time and get to eventually go home, while people who live there can’t escape the war zone. She said there were a couple of years in Iraq where there were three to four car bombings a day, but her team was able to help a lot of the Iraqi’s.

“We did actually help them, a lot of Iraqi’s that we worked with ended up coming to the U.S.,” Gosk said. “We had translators that we worked with that became our friends and colleagues.”

The best way for war reporters to deal with the guilt is by helping those around them and by doing their jobs to the best of their ability.

“You try to do your job as best as you can and make sure that you tell their stories as accurately and fully as you can so people understand,” Gosk said.

Above all, Gosk reminded me of the importance of always providing a human element to the story. While she was overseas, she said one of the hardest things to do was not get caught up in which media organization was in the most dangerous spot and would potentially get the only shot.

“Sometimes because you’re so caught up in it, you’re not telling that human story,” Gosk said. “So, it certainly was developing a sensitivity to that and explaining on a human level what it was like to be there as opposed to ‘they shot, the other guy shot back, they moved forward,’ that kind of stuff. Instead of just that play-by-play to make sure you convey that humanity and sometimes you don’t think about doing it when you’re in that environment.”

Whether in a war zone or in the United States though, Gosk says one of the worst parts about being a journalist is talking to a person who just lost someone in a tragic way. It’s not the first time I’ve been told this. I once had a conversation with WGN-TV’s Marcella Raymond who has covered crime for years, and she explained to me how it still doesn’t get easier for her despite the fact she’s been doing the job for so long and now only works a few days a week.

I’ve thought about this a lot because as a 21-year-old, I can’t imagine having to walk up to a person’s doorstep that just lost someone they loved in such a terrible way. It’s part of the job though and based on all the advice I’ve received from Gosk and Raymond as well as my professors at DePaul, the best way to handle it is to just be a human in that moment.

It’s our job as reporters to show people respect and be a human, it’s not just for the sake of our stories but for the sake of our sources who just lost someone dear to them and who deserve to be treated as human beings – they aren’t just a quote for the story.

I’ve especially learned this having to interview a sexual assault survivor and a disabled person for the first time this year. In those situations, I’ve felt I’ve truly been able to apply the advice I’ve received from my mentors to handle the situation in the best way possible.

In the end, the sexual assault survivor told me I did a good job of making her feel comfortable despite the fact she and I had conversations back and forth about doing the interview because it would be filmed for a broadcast segment.

I felt like I had done my job correctly and I was able to tell an important story, especially from my source’s point of view. Although I have never been in a war zone, these are the types of situations that prepare me for the difficult interviews I will eventually have.

Between running around to get the best sources, long hours, deadlines that loom over your head and stories that almost never go the way you expect them to, journalism is most certainly not a glamorous industry. It’s not just about the byline that gets put in the newspaper or on the website, and it’s most certainly not about the glitz and glam people might think T.V. is all cracked up to be. There’s so much more work in it than that.

It’s about telling stories, informing the public about the things that really matter. However, to say that journalists don’t receive anything great out of being a reporter would be a complete lie, and Gosk sums it up perfectly.

“One of the great things about doing this job is it gives you an incredible perspective on life,” Gosk said. “You’re constantly being exposed to people in different places, going through a variety of different challenges and that allows you to appreciate your own life in a different way. And then a very close second to that, (journalism) is such a dynamic job, you’re constantly learning new things, you’re going to new places, that, to me, continues to be a thrill…that to me is still exciting and I can’t imagine that I’ll reach a point when it’s not.”

As a student I haven’t traveled quite as much as Gosk has, but I certainly can relate because stories have brought me to different parts of Chicago I might otherwise have never visited. Gosk couldn’t me more right – for any journalist that is truly passionate about what they’re doing, there are a multitude of perspectives on all the things happening around us in this world, and I can’t think of a better way to see them firsthand than by being a journalist, war reporter or not.

 

A Sunday Morning Maestro

What I learned from Rand Morrison in 13 minutes and 53 seconds

By Deni Kamper

 

Rand Morrison has one of those resumes that makes budding young journalists utter obscenities of amazement under their breath. 10 Emmys, two George Foster Peabody Awards and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards. He’s produced everything from the crime-solving newsmagazine “48 Hours” to “Century of Country,” a 13-part series on the history of country music. These days, Morrison serves as the fearless, yet unimposing, leader of “CBS Sunday Morning”. In terms of career achievement, life experience and even temperament, Rand Morrison and I have just about nothing in common. But while I was picking – or more accurately – nervously fumbling around his brain, he said something unexpectedly honest. In response to the cliché question, ‘Why did you become a journalist?,’ Morrison didn’t give me a watered down response about the search for the truth, a love of writing or even the joy of telling stories. He said, without skipping a beat, “I have a relatively short attention span, I love learning about new things and finding out about stuff that I never knew before…” This wasn’t exactly an earth-shattering response, but I was startled by how earnestly I related to this admission. In many ways, journalism is a terrible career choice. The hours are absurd, the pay is dismal and the stress is constant. But if you’re like Rand Morrison, and dare I say, myself, you make these sacrifices for the privilege of a never-ending opportunity to learn about the world.

Morrison has undeniably conquered the art and the business of journalism. Serving as the executive producer of “CBS Sunday Morning,” he has reached what many would consider the gold standard of journalism: telling the stories you want to tell. To many outside the profession, this probably sounds more like a job description than an ultimate goal. But any rookie – and in some cases veteran – reporter will tell you that robberies and farmer’s markets aren’t going to cover themselves. Reaching that coveted level in the field of journalism is no easy feat and is not a sure thing for any reporter. This fact is not lost on Morrison who admits (selfishly, in his words) being able to do the stories he wants to do is his favorite part of the job. His advice for all of us twenty-somethings toiling away in college newsrooms and studios is to work hard, be patient, and keep an open mind. But most importantly, he believes in dreaming big. This last piece of wisdom may sound like the central theme to a corny children’s book, but it’s coming from a journalist who once hung up the phone on then-presidential-candidate Jimmy Carter because he was rushing to cover an airline crash at O’Hare Airport. Morrison laughs as he recalls this particular day which sticks out in his mind even decades later. At the time, he had no way of knowing where his career would take him and although one can always hope for the best outcome, hope will only take a person so far in this business. In the words of Rand Morrison, “…you need to be driven and dedicated and you need to dream big.”

 

 

Reporting—and words—matter

NBC’s Harry Smith stresses human element of reporting

By Brenden Moore

Since breaking into the news business more than 40 years ago, NBC News correspondent Harry Smith has interviewed multiple presidents, covered the toppling of governments, reported from war zones and everything in between.

But it is a 1987 story about 18 Mexican migrants found dead in a boxcar near the Texas-Mexican border that stays with him to this day.

Smith, then a young CBS reporter, went to Mexico and talked with the family members of the deceased, putting a human face to lives that otherwise would have been forgotten.

“We went to the area in Mexico where these people came from and we met their brothers and sisters, their moms and wives,” Smith said. “The moms talked about the money their sons sent back. The wives said we no longer have a dirt floor, we have wood on the floor here. And we have a refrigerator. They’re actual human beings who will do the work no other Americans will do.”

Smith spent 25 years at CBS before jumping over to NBC in 2011. Though the boxcar story was very early in his tenure at the former, Smith said it still resonates with him today and perhaps shows an important aspect that can easily be lost in the daily grind of journalism: the human element.

Indeed, Smith has made a career of listening to regular people and telling the stories of their lives, something he believes is more essential than ever following an election where many journalists misjudged the mood of the country and downplayed President Donald Trump’s chances of winning.

“One of the things that happened in this election cycle was that we as media were not doing a very good job of listening to the country,” Smith said. “We were paying a lot of attention to the candidates. We were not paying attention to the actual human beings.”

Smith was among the few mainstream media members who believed Trump had a legitimate chance. Why? “Because I get out of the office,” he said. “It’s just the truth.”

“The difference is really made when you get on a plane or drive your car, go someplace and look at somebody face-to-face and hear what they have to say,” Smith said.

Though Smith mostly does feature stories nowadays, he still tries to read newspapers for at least two hours every morning to keep up with what’s going on.

“I still want to be ready. I want to be prepared. I think of the things that I’ve learned through this whole process is preparation is really key,” Smith said. “When you go out that door to do that story, you’d better be armed with as much homework as humanly possible before you get there, so you know which questions to ask, where the pitfalls are, what’s at stake. To me, that’s what it’s really about.”

Smith said that no matter if one is covering Donald Trump (Smith believes the media still hasn’t figured out how to cover the president) or the local zoning board meeting, journalists must take the assignment seriously as “people are invested.”

“The jobs you’ll often get to start will not be great, or they’ll feel like they’re not great. And … if you go to work for a small television station or a local newspaper, you get sent to the zoning board meeting. And if you think that’s a death sentence, then you should quit.”

And, of course, Smith said not to forget the human element.

“It goes back to the beginning of the conversation, if we go there with open eyes and open ears and an open mind, we might be amazed with the story we come back with,” Smith said.

 

 

The whole truth and nothing but the truth

By Danielle Church

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend I was not expecting to have. He asked me, “What are your views on the media manipulating stories?” Not entirely sure of what he meant by that, I asked him to explain himself, to which he replied “Is there biased reporting or is it just the way people construe the story?”

Then a week later, a person I had just met said to me “You want to be a journalist? Ok, let me test you. What makes a good reporter: someone who is unbiased or someone who tells the truth?”

I told him good reporters would only answer one way to that question: they do both.

It’s not unusual for anyone who is studying journalism or even a professional to be in those types of situations. People will constantly look at you and question whether the journalism industry is really trustworthy. I can’t even count on one hand the amount of times someone has seen me with a video camera and microphone on the street and asked me what I was doing only to have them tell me “Good for you. We need more people like you out there,” when I wouldn’t tell them my opinion on an issue.

I once stood in front of Trump Tower in Chicago and had a guy come up to my T.V. news partner and me. He was asking us what we were doing and then wouldn’t stop asking us whom we were going to be voting for in the presidential election. He was one of the people who said the world needed more reporters such as my partner and I.

That man and most people act as if every journalist was corrupt in some way. But the truth is, there are very good reporters out there who are unbiased. Sure, my generation of student journalists will be the next ones to take over but there are still plenty of reporters doing great journalism right now.

It can be especially hard to do at times because journalists are, after all, human too. But it’s something we commit to as soon as we say, “I’m going to be a reporter.” We must put aside our stances on certain issues and focus on objectivity.

That’s right, objectivity is not dead.

Reporters are not advocates; they are simply putting all the information out there for people to make their own decisions.

In an era where fact-checking, “fake news” and “alternative facts” are going to change the way the journalism industry approaches things, being objective will be key so reporters can maintain their credibility and give the public accurate information.

Lewis Wallace is an example of a reporter who was fired from his job at American Public Media’s “Marketplace” because he wrote a blog about how objectivity is dead on his personal website.

Wallace, a transgender reporter, felt very strongly about speaking up for certain minority groups, especially with a Trump administration in office. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with that – if he wasn’t a journalist. Wallace failed to stick to one of the utmost titles a reporter must have – remain neutral.

The best way someone ever explained to me why reporters need to stay neutral was by my professor and Chicago Sun-Times, NBC5 and Chicago Tonight reporter Carol Marin. She once told my Advanced Reporting class about how an AIDS group wanted her support, but she declined because she felt as though people who were against the group would not feel as though they could speak to her about their own concerns. At first, it might sound a little crazy that you can’t support groups such as the American Heart Society, American Cancer Society, etc.

When you become a part of those groups though, you are taking a side and that can be detrimental to your stories because readers may interpret it the wrong way. They may think you are covering the American Cancer Society because you support them.

The best way that my professors put it is when you decide to be a journalist, you agree to some of your rights being taken away. You cannot vocalize your opinion on issues whether it is on social media, in person or even the newsroom. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion, but keep it to yourself. It’s like walking on egg shells when you state your opinion aloud because as soon as people know the way you feel about an issue, they are automatically going to assume you are reporting a certain way because of your previous post, conversation, etc.

As a journalist, you must be the person on the sidelines watching everything unfold and reporting it fair and truthfully. That is one of the cardinal rules of journalism after all.

Now, it’s not to say that it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. This year has really opened my eyes on why I need to keep my opinions to myself, which can especially be hard to do around friends and family. After conversations in my Advanced Reporting class though, I completely understand why objectivity is not dead and it’s a necessity in the journalism industry.

At the end of the day, no reporter is trying to “manipulate” his or her audience as my friend might have thought. Sometimes it’s just harder for some people to separate their bias from their reporting – which I don’t condone, but think about the last time someone asked you to give up a stance on every issue you’ve taken a side on. But the truth is journalists must remain neutral. It’s also up to readers or viewers though to always be skeptical, stay informed and make their own decisions at the end of the day.

 

 

Diversity in media more than an abstract goal

By Jessica Villagomez

Center for Journalism Integrity and Excellence

Newsrooms across the country are looking for ways to capture a variety of perspectives from multiple demographics of people. In seeking these different perspectives, the traditional newsroom model finds itself dealing with a fatal flaw— many of the people, communities and experiences they desire to capture in writing are often not represented in newsrooms themselves.

Of the 42 reporters in the New York Times’ Metro department, only three are Latino, according to the New York Times. New York City has the second largest Hispanic population in the country, yet the demographics of the department that prides itself on capturing New York City’s news doesn’t reflect the city, not even by 10 percent.

This leaves the few reporters of color to become representatives of the minority populations they write about. The burden of representation, the concept that people of color feel a pressure to accurately, objectively and holistically represent a marginalized group is real because of the small amount of reporters of color in newsrooms.

During the summer going into my senior year of college, I interned at HOY Chicago, a Spanish-language daily newspaper under the Chicago Tribune Company. HOY Chicago is unlike any local paper within Illinois and throughout Chicago. As a bilingual publication, reporters, writers and editors at Hoy are committed to report on issues affecting the Latino community in both Spanish and English. Accessibility to news is one of Hoy’s largest priorities, focusing on assuring that Chicago and World news is broken to all populations of Latino households including but not limited to immigrants, Spanish-speakers, or “billenial”, bilingual millennials. Hoy is the largest circulating Spanish-language daily newspaper in Chicago, the website states.

Within my first day I immediately noticed the hard work put in by the reporters working there. Long hours and juggling multiple articles at one given time is commonplace in any newsroom, but there is built in additional stress knowing how important the work you are doing is for a demographic of people. Given that Chicago also has one of the largest Latino populations in the country, I hoped resources would include hiring more reporters to alleviate pressure on current editors and recruiting more writers would be a priority. However less than 10 editors and writers produced the paper and were therefore in charge of producing the news for their audience, every day.

Lessening the burden comes by prioritizing and valuing work produced by reporters of color. In order to get well-rounded newsrooms that are reflective of the communities they report on, a greater push through increased diversity hiring must first occur.

 

 

 

 

 

Clarence Page is coming!!!! What is fake news?

2-time Pulitzer prize winning Tribune columnist Clarence Page is coming to the DePaul Center for Journalism Integrity & Excellence on February 7th to speak to students in the morning and address a larger DePaul gathering at the Union League Club at 5:30P.  He will take a long  look at the last election, the new administration and what it all means for journalism in our time! We can’t wait!

For The Privilege Of Being A Reporter

For the Privilege Of Being A Reporter

by Carol Marin & Don Moseley

The day after Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton for the presidency of the United States, an impassioned email arrived from one of our students.  In it she asks critical questions for anyone hoping to work in the world of news.  And anyone who currently does:

 Hi Don & Carol, 

This is probably going to seem like an odd request but I was wondering if, as the directors for the Center for Journalism Integrity and Excellence, you would send out an email or a statement or something to DePaul’s Journalism program reminding students that one of the pillars of good journalism is objectivity. Since the election, I have seen a lot of my peers posting on various social media sites either they’re (sic) personal thoughts on the outcome and Donald Trump or showing their support for one cause or another. I don’t know if they think this doesn’t compromise their objectivity because they are still students or if they don’t see it as compromising, but having spent the last several months with the both of you grappling with how journalists should conduct themselves in all situations, I think a reminder about the importance of at least maintaining the appearance of objectivity would be useful. 

Thank you for reading my rant.

          Even the most seasoned among us need reminders on a regular basis.

In 2004, I had just joined the Chicago Sun-Times and was writing on deadline for that November election night that pitted incumbent president George W. Bush against Senator John Kerry.  And for the United States Senate, democrat Barack Obama against republican Alan Keyes.

There was a newsroom meeting right before the polls closed.  Managing Editor Don Hayner gathered all of us into the conference room and I will never forget his words: “Gather the vote totals and the facts.  I don’t want to hear a single one of you voice your own opinion in that newsroom.  Are we clear?”

We were clear.  Why?  Because he was.

And we should be as well.

This is a marvelous profession but for the privilege of being a journalist, we voluntarily give up some of the perks of being a citizen.  We keep our personal view to ourselves, not vomited up all over Facebook and Twitter.  We take care to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.  And if we have a conflict, we divulge it.  We go to every story and every interview with an open mind and listen.

If that was a “rant” our student sent, it was a rant worth reading.

And re-reading.

-30-

Have Passion For What You Do

Rather, former news anchor at “CBS Evening News,” spoke Friday night at a community conversation held by Poynter in St. Petersburg, Florida. Included in the audience were members of the Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists, with journalists from 70 countries.

“This is a once-in-a-generation election,” Rather said, “because I think it will reverberate for quite a long time.”

Before this election, Rather said, it was a given that fact and truth counted for something. Politicians were held accountable. The country has never had a campaign that went as low as this one did, Rather said, or one where both candidates both had such negative approval ratings.

But it’s worth remembering, he said to the citizens and international visitors in the audience, that freedom of the press is enshrined in our Bill of Rights.

“In our system of government and in our society, a free and independent, truly independent, fiercely independent press is the red beating heart of democracy.”

With a few exceptions, Rather said, the press didn’t distinguish itself in this election. Now, it’s gut-check time.

The press now must do three things to cover President-elect Donald Trump, he said.

One, ask tough questions. Two, “and perhaps more important, ask tough follow-up questions,” he said, not for the benefit of circulation or ratings or demographics, “but because these questions need to be asked.” And three, the press has to dig deep with investigative reporting.

It’s gone a bit out of style, Rather said, “but it’s going to be needed over the next year and a half to two years in particular.”

All of that has to happen in an era that Rather admitted was a different one from his own, when deadlines happened every day, every other day if you were a star. Now, journalists are expected to tweet, Facebook, blog and more.

“There’s a deadline every nanosecond,” he said.

And that leaves less time for actual reporting.

Still, he said, it’s hard to think of a craft, profession or skill whose standards have endured for so long.

Rather took questions from the international journalists in the audience, but his answers may resonate with American journalists now, too. What advice did he have for journalists who feel threatened by their government?

“Some days, in some ways, danger is my business,” Rather said. “That’s what the craft is about.”

He knows what it’s like to balance journalism with family and bills and obligations. He had to make those choices himself, including trekking into Afghanistan in 1980 after the Soviet Union invaded. His wife and daughter asked him not to go, Rather told the audience, but he told them it might be one of the great stories of his generation, and he wanted to get it.

There are a lot of downsides to journalism, Rather said.

“But when it’s at its best and you’re part of it, you have a sense of being part of something bigger than yourself,” he said.

The evening’s last question: What advice did he have for women to help stay in journalism?

To be a journalist and to be a good journalist, Rather said, requires passion. Do you have it? Can you develop it? And then, can you sustain it?

Journalists might not make a lot of money, the odds of being famous are so small it’s not even worth thinking about, he said, “but you can live an adventurous life, and at the end you may say some of what I did counted. Some of it mattered.”

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