The Pride Behind “Ni de aqui, Ni de alla” and Advocacy Journalism with María Elena Salinas

By: Izabella Grimaldo

A voice that isn’t “ni de aqui ni de alla”- not from here nor there, but from both- María Elena Salinas is one of the best-known news anchors in broadcast journalism. Having immeasurable amounts of experiences with Univision allowed her to develop as a professional and as an individual to showcase the passion she had, which later became her duty to fulfill.

Salinas spent almost four decades at Univision as an anchor and reporter where she showcased the issues, heroes and sheroes the Hispanic community in the U.S had to offer. In 2019, after her time at Univision, she became a news contributor to CBS News, highlighting issues that emphasized the importance of the Latino vote throughout the country.

A pioneer in her field, Salinas assures she is not lonely at the top and is only accompanied by the best: her colleagues and her community. She has paved the way to further expand the narrative of Latinos in the U.S through her duty and passion.

“It’s not lonely at the top because they have a lot of people, especially journalists that have done great things…I think we’re all committed to our community. That’s just something that’s innate enough,” said Salinas.

She was raised in a family that was a reflection of the millions of working-class individuals in Southern California. Salinas held on to the constant narrative a lot of Chicanos hold onto- ni de aqui ni de alla– not from one place or the other. The reality is you won’t ever fit into just one community, you will always fit in two. Which makes you twice more of whatever you want to be, twice as smart, twice as hardworking, and twice as talented.

The story of Latinos in the U.S has evolved so much over time, from a growing population to our stories that unfold over time.

“I think that we have made a mark in this country, as a Latino community. But not enough yet. I think there’s so much more room for growth, because one of the challenges that we have going forward is that we are the largest minority in the country. We are the second largest voting bloc in the country. Yet sometimes we’re treated as if we were foreigners in our own country,” said Salinas.

To search for normality means assimilating and accommodating to a country that dims the light of others. Your duty as a journalist is to create a platform and advocate for those lights to be at least a little brighter.

“I know that for years, we were accused of advocacy journalism, as if advocacy journalism was something bad. And it’s not. Because it’s one thing to be an activist. Another thing is to be an advocate. People don’t realize it, but when you advocate for something, if you cover women’s issues, you’re advocating for women,” said Salinas, “So what is the difference between advocating for your community? It’s a much larger group, of course, but I think it’s important to do so. And I don’t think that there is anything wrong with advocacy journalism, with pointing out our trials and tribulations in the media. It’s not something that we should be ashamed of, on the contrary, I think it’s something that we should be proud of.”

The topic of having pride was and always will be a point of conversation among all U.S born Latinos, especially those who have had the opportunity to advance within their community. The tradition of carrying your pride in everything you do is dependent on those who have done it for far more years. As they build this tradition, they build a platform for younger generations to gain the confidence to continue. Making it easier to say- no eres de aqui ni de allá, pero de los dos– y con orgullo.

“Use your voice, don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough and don’t be afraid. That’s one of the best pieces of advice that I can give is don’t give up because fear paralyzes us…Just think what would you do if you weren’t afraid? And just think of the possibilities. Échale ganas, go for it, y no te dejes. Never allow anyone to tell you that you are not good enough or smart enough. Because you are,” said Salinas.

 

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History’s unique repetition, and other musings from a couple of corn-fed Bama boys

By Marcus Robertson

In some ways, the news is the same today as it’s always been: full of people looking to make a difference in their communities.

“We have a simple mission,” Chicago news legend Steve Sanders told me. “Tell the damn truth.”

Sanders, the longtime anchor for WGN, has had a long, impactful career in journalism that many could only hope for. And although we’re from different eras, Sanders shows how across time, journalists are cut from much of the same cloth.

He got into the field after being “entranced” by ABC’s coverage of Watergate in 1972. He felt a moral call, and what he saw on TV inspired him. Here was an American president – a wartime one, at that – whose corruption was being uncovered and aired every night in prime time. Journalists were to thank for that, and Sanders wanted in.

I can’t help but think about the parallels between Sanders’s journalistic upbringing and mine. We were both drawn by a sense of civic duty, and we were both inspired by seismic political stories (mine was the story of Russian ties to the 2016 election of Donald Trump). Then there’s the “Southern thing”: Sanders and I are a couple of college dropouts from Alabama, albeit separated by a few years.

As a young man, Sanders saw the evolution of George Wallace from a fairly progressive lawyer and judge into a staunch segregationist when his first run for governor floundered against a race-baiting opponent. Similarly, I watched as Trump morphed from a self-professed New York democrat into an anti-immigration conservative populist.

“I’m afraid he was a proof of concept,” Sanders said of Trump’s ambition-fueled political shapeshifting. I don’t disagree, but I think Wallace deserves some of the credit: not only did he adopt a racist ideology in order to win power, he also later pulled a complete reversal when it became apparent he wouldn’t win otherwise. It worked.

Despite all the ways the news is the same is ever, the obvious fact is that the industry has changed enormously in the last two or three decades.

“For this new generation, the news is harder than it was in my day,” Sanders said. “There are fewer resources for a lot of news organizations, and fewer staff members. So you end up having to work harder to reach fewer people than I did.”

I have no doubt he’s right. I expect my writing career to be hard, and my job prospects to be uncertain at times. But according to Sanders, I have a leg up on my peers; a “geographic advantage,” as he put it.

“As Alabamans, we’re natural storytellers,” he said. “We grew up telling stories on the front porch, always competing to see who could tell the best one.”

Sanders retired as arguably the reigning champion of the front porch, the South’s finest storyteller.

I bet the crown is just my size.

Doing something different everyday –– journalism is a lifelong career of new somethings

by Rebecca Meluch

Doctors study medicine. Historians study history. Lawyers study the law. And journalists, well, they have to be prepared to study anything and everything.

Before she became a Washington Post political columnist, Karen Tumulty covered Congress, the White House, economics, business and elected officials for the now defunct San Antonio Light, Los Angeles Times, TIME Magazine, and The Post.

Growing up, Tumulty knew she wanted a career that would be different every day and allow her to learn more about people, “Well, I think I was just curious, and I really wanted a job that wasn’t going to be the same thing day in and day out. And certainly, journalism has been that,” she said.

After Tumulty left the San Antonio Light, she became a political correspondent for TIME Magazine in 1994. She said that the transition between the two really forced her to evolve.

“I learned you really have to be flexible,” she said. “It was still a magazine that came out once a week. So, your whole metabolism was gearing it, you spent the whole week gearing up for whatever you were going to be turning in on Friday, it was a different process.”

During her career, Tumulty has worked on many long-term projects like reporting on the changing politics in West Virginia to tracking down a Vietnam veteran who gave former President Obama a military patch in a hotel elevator during his campaign in 2008.

But the real challenge for Tumulty was writing and publishing a book.

I observed that Tumulty’s weekly columns typically span between 600 and 900 words. Her book, “The Triumphs of Nancy Reagan” is over 600 pages.

 “So, I, to tell you the truth , didn’t know all that much what I was doing,” she said. Although Tumulty has been in the journalism industry for over 40 years, writing a book was a tremendous learning experience –– literally. She spent at least two years just researching about Nancy Reagan, and the entire publishing process culminated to four and a half years.

The idea of writing the book wasn’t her own and prior to writing it, she didn’t realize how complex a person the former first lady was, but she was up for the task and for something new.

“Nancy Reagan, this wasn’t my idea. It was an idea that my publisher Simon and Schuster came up with. And they came to me and said, ‘Do you want to write this book,’” Tumulty said.  “But I just really had no idea how complex a person she was going to be, or, you know, all the many, many ways that she influenced policy, which is not something we necessarily associate with our first ladies.”

Two to three sources may do the trick for a 600 to 900 word story, I can only imagine the amount it takes for a 600 page book. To write a book about Reagan, Tumulty needed to interview people who may have known her while she was first lady –– and that itself was also a challenge.

Nancy Reagan passed away in 2016 at 95 years old. Some of the people Tumulty interviewed about Reagan were also in their 90s, like George Shultz who was Secretary of State at the time of Reagan’s presidency. “He [Shultz] was 97 years old when I talked to him,” Tumulty said.  “In fact, he just died a few months ago, at the age of 100. There were a number of people I talked to like that, you know, really, we’re coming to the end of their lives. And I think, in some cases, [they] decided they were going to tell these stories now or the stories were never going to get told.”

The book-writing process was long and challenging but for Tumulty, it was something new and different from writing a column. Journalists sometimes need something new.

“I really think that a mix is the most satisfying. On the one hand, you get the real rush of doing something right on deadline,” Tumulty said. “But I really would go crazy if that is all I did. I would also go crazy if four and a half year projects were all I did too. So, I really do love having a mix of things. I think it sort of keeps me on my toes and keeps me fresh.”

Journalism is a forever evolving industry that requires the people in it to adapt and try new things. As a young journalist, I don’t know yet where this career will take me, and I find that terrifying.

But if someone like Tumulty, who has been in the industry for over 40 years, is still curious, learning and reporting in new ways –– I know that I too, must keep an open mind.

I’m not quite ready to write a book though.

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Going Back to Basics with Rehema Ellis

By Becky Budds

NBC’s Rehema Ellis wasn’t born knowing how to cover stories like Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 though her poise and skill make it seem like that. What prepared her is something she learned from legendary broadcaster Roger Mudd who said, “report what you know. And if you don’t know something, don’t pretend like you do.”

This advice has served her well during her 40 years in the business. After graduating college, Ellis got her start at KDKA TV and radio in Pittsburgh, eventually moving to WHDH-TV in Boston, and finally landing at NBC News in 1994. In 2010, she was named the chief education correspondent on NBC’s Nightly News where I’ve watched her countless times on my TV.

I always thought there was a special secret to becoming a wildly successful journalist like Rehema Ellis. Something professors don’t tell you in JOUR 101 and 102, a code you can only crack by being the best. But through my conversation with her I realized that simplicity and adherence to fundamental principles is all you need. They call it “going back to basics”—a return to a simpler way of doing something or thinking about something.

In journalism that means asking those 5 W’s and an H. “Who, what, when, where, how and why. If those questions are asked, every single time you will get to the truth,” said Ellis. And getting to the truth, she says, has never been more important.

As media literacy falls and the lines between opinion and facts are blurred every day, it’s a journalist’s job and duty to be as unbiased and accurate as possible. “It’s not my job to speculate, it’s not my job to imagine, it’s not my job. I’m not a pundit, I’m not a columnist. I am a reporter,” she said. “So, I want to report on what I know. What I see. And I leave it to other people to draw conclusions about the information that they have been given.”

What may seem obvious, can be easy to forget. Everyday there are journalists who voice their opinions online or forget to verify information. There are journalists who aren’t asking the right questions. That’s why Ellis says it’s important to “read, read, read, and read some more.” Politicians will constantly try to spin you and inflate the truth, so “it’s important to exhaust yourself with material and be prepared to almost know the answer to the questions you’re asking,” she said.

Stressing again how important it is to stay unbiased, she says it’s important to read things you like and things you don’t agree with. Read everything and read it often. In order to better be a better reporter, “it’s important to know the opinions that are out there,” she said. The viewers will thank you for it.

Ellis says her days at NBC differ greatly from those at KDKA and WHDH-TV. At local stations, there are morning shifts and night shifts. But “when you get on to the network, you are the shift. From the beginning until the story is over,” she said. “It’s very tiring. It’s very taxing. But it can be very rewarding because you feel like you own that story. And so, at the end of the day, no one is more tuned into that story than you.”

Ellis’ experiences covering Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, the Haiti earthquake and more, taught her that journalism is a lot like fighting fires. “We go where there is a fire. We put the fire out and then we leave, she said. “We never tell you what it takes to rebuild. We never tell you the long lasting and sustained agony and pain and anguish, that’s day to day. We don’t do that because the definition of news is what’s happening now.”

It’s a reminder that we don’t always have the answers to every problem and that behind the headlines are human beings.

If you watch any of Ellis’ stories, it’s no surprise that her trophy shelf is stocked full. Throughout her career she’s received many awards for her storytelling such as local and national Emmys, Edward R. Murrow Awards, Associated Press awards and awards from the National Association of Black Journalists. She’s also a recipient of an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Journalism. Awards that an aspiring journalist like me could only dream of.

At the end of our call. She cautioned me about success and left me with this, “Awards and accolades are wonderful, but they just are not very comfortable to sleep with,” she said. “At the end of the day, I hope that you make certain that you have a full life. Because the fullness of your life will enhance the intensity of your reporting.”

But they don’t teach you how to have a full life in a textbook or a classroom. That’s something we as young journalists must find out on our own. And in an industry filled with long hours, strict deadlines, and a never-ending news cycle, that can be hard to do.

But no matter where I’m at in my career, I’ll always remember to go back to basics: stick to the facts, report what you know, and read constantly.

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The Balancing Act of Broadcast: A Conversation with Érika Maldonado

By Joanna Talabani

If you’ve seen Érika Maldonado anchor the nightly news on Univision Chicago where she’s been for 16+ years, you’ve grown accustomed to the flawless woman she presents in HD. You might be surprised to learn that beneath the glamour, the broadcaster has struggled with self-image as a result of it. This is why she advises against getting into the industry if you are drawn by the cameras and the adoration. “That might satisfy you for a while,” she cautions.

But after her broadcasts, she describes going home and removing the makeup and feeling like she was wearing a mask. It left her questioning which version was the real her. She understands that’s part of the business, telling me “It’s a two-way street and this is a visual media.”

Érika had an image that was carefully curated by the news director, image consultants, and makeup artists that consisted of hair extensions and fake eyelashes that did not feel like her. But she tells me that when you work for a network, it’s a reciprocal relationship and one can’t just do what they want. “I agreed to that. And when I didn’t like it anymore, I found a way without being rebellious, with working with them, to make them understand that I didn’t feel comfortable wearing that anymore.”

Érika did not get into the business to be fawned at. To her, being a journalist means, “that you are in a life of service. You serve the community, by giving them information and empowering them.” But she cautions that she has learned to not give all of herself away, especially during the pandemic.

She was working 18-hour days and going home and trying to respond to the 200+ messages a day on social media she’d receive from people who reached out to her asking for help or information or just to vent to someone they saw in their living rooms every night. She continues, “So it’s about service, but you have to learn …to draw the line, because it cannot become your life. Because then you are consumed and then you have nothing else to give, because if you’re exhausted, how can you help? And so, like always, you have to take care of yourself first to be able to take care of people. And so that’s very profound. That’s the balance.”

Balance is something that comes up a lot in our conversation. She tells me that is what I should strive for in my pursuit of objectivity as a journalist, while acknowledging my bias. “We are always permeated in the story, whether we like it or not. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing either.”

This is what allows her to connect with people as a journalist. “If you totally remove yourself from it, then there is no human component in it. And it’s way harder to connect to the people that you’re trying to reach.”

She worked hard to get to where she has from her native Venezuela, and she’s seen a lot of colleagues burn out along the way. She has coworkers who show up to the same tragedies she does that consciously detach themselves from what they are reporting on. “They arrive to places and they’re super cool and they just want a sound bite, and they get out and that’s it. And the story doesn’t touch them, but they also don’t touch the story or have an impact in people’s lives. And to me I have always forced myself not to be that way, not to get closed.”

Not being closed has taken a toll on her emotional and physical health, though. “You pay a big price for it,” she tells me. She had a hormonal imbalance due to stress that led to a weight gain where she was viciously attacked on social media by viewers who noticed. She has been on antidepressants for depression and anxiety. She reflects on this period of her life, saying “My life was perfect. I have my dream job in Chicago. I have no real tangible problems. Why am I depressed? And somebody came to me and said, Érika, how many shootings have you covered this week?”

That was a particularly rough week where she had covered over 10. In one of the instances, she was even the one to deliver the tragic news to the family. “And then I realized, Oh my God. But of course, I’m depressed. I’m dealing with death all the time.”  She knew she had to change something if she was going to continue in this career.

“I always now go back to my meditation when something has affected me deeply. I can find back that center and the balance. I found that way late in my career. I would have embraced it in my twenties instead of my fifties, but so be it.” She tells me gracefully, “It arrives at the moment that it’s supposed to arrive.”

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Say ‘Yes,’ Find a Mentor, Become an Expert –– Evan Osnos on a Career in Journalism

By: Francesca Mathewes

From the look of his bylines and literary successes, you wouldn’t guess that Evan Osnos got his journalism start at a small paper in West Virginia called the Clarksburg Exponent Telegram.

At the Exponent-Telegram, he worked as a photographer –– “and not a very good one,” he laughed in a phone interview. Osnos, who now works for the New Yorker, spoke to me from his car, the clicking of his turn signal punctuating each sentence.

“I wanted to go to West Virginia and work for a while I was kind of interested in the tradition of basically documentary photography in the south, which had a lot of a long pedigree,” Osnos said. From there, Osnos landed at the Chicago Tribune in 1999, where he had worked as a metro desk intern during summer break from Harvard University.

Back at the metro desk as a reporting resident, Osnos got to work covering everything under the sun –– from the U.S. Census in 2000 to Chicago’s segregation problem. However, he always had his eye on foreign correspondence.

“I was always trying to think about I could learn, as a metro reporter, skills that would help me eventually when I was able to get overseas,” Osnos said.

Having studied Chinese and living in China during college, Osnos felt he had a leg up when an opening for a China correspondent opened up at the Tribune.

“I put my name in, and I said, ‘I’d like to apply for this job –– I’ve lived over there I speak Chinese,’” Osnos said. “And they were like, ‘who are you? You’ve been here, like, 10 minutes. So no, you cannot have this job.’”

Although initially getting denied, Osnos said that his application gave him the opportunity to explain to the hiring managers who he was, what his background was and essentially, plead his case. This caught their attention and taught him his first valuable lesson in journalism.

“Apply for things, even if you think you’re not the perfect candidate yet,” Osnos said. “It assigns to [managers] that you want to be that candidate, and that you are hoping to get there and that you recognize that there is something beyond what you’re doing at the moment.”

Following his yearlong residency, Osnos was sent to New York City to work for the Tribune as their New York correspondent, which was followed almost immediately by the attacks of September 11, 2001. After 9/11 and the U.S.’s declaration of war on terror, Osnos was first in line to be sent off to report from Baghdad for the Tribune, which he attributes to his expression of interest in becoming the China correspondent.

Once in Baghdad, Osnos quickly began learning a new set of lessons.

“One of the key lessons I learned was, trust your instincts, in some respects. It was pretty clear, pretty quickly, if you were up close and, on the ground, that things were going very, very badly,” he said. “There was this widening gap between the puffery and nonsense that the official spokespeople were putting out when they talked about the progress of the war and what you were finding when you stepped outside of the official confines and went around the country and went around Baghdad and hung out with Iraqis.”

This, Osnos said, was an unpopular observation, and attempts to write about the war in this way were met with scrutiny from those in the George W. Bush administration who supported the war.

Although Osnos didn’t speak fluent Arabic and had not ever been to the Middle East before, he said that another lesson in journalism kept him afloat during his years as a war correspondent.

“Attach yourself like a barnacle, to older, more experienced reporters, and listen to and study and see how they do things,” Osnos said. “[Journalism] is such a strange business, we don’t really have a textbook, we don’t really have a completely fixed science, there’s so much about this job, which is just intuition and improvisation, and a little bit of armchair psychology and a bit of private investigation. So, the only way you can really learn it well is by studying people who are really good at it.”

In 2005, he an leveraged an offer from the Washington Post to continue in Baghdad into his dream job as the Tribune’s China correspondent. From there, he used his unique positionality and expertise on China and Chinese politics to seize an opportunity to write for The New Yorker after learning that their reporter in China was on their way out.

“[U.S Ambassador to the United Nations] Samantha Power has a good line about this,” Osnos said. “The best way to be a young professional, in whatever business, but particularly in journalism, is learn to do one area of specialty really, really well, and really pour yourself into learning everything you can about that one thing.

And then also be willing to do whatever else it is that the institution asks you to do,” he continued. “That’s like a great combination.”

Osnos, now wrapping up a book tour for Joe Biden: The Life, The Run and What Matters Now, is set to publish his third nonfiction book this fall and remains a staff writer for The New Yorker –––– mostly stateside, these days. When he looks back on his life and career, two things resonate with him the most: first, foremost and unabashedly, are his kids.

“Until you have them, you don’t really recognize how much they are also a product of the whole series of choices you made along the way,” he said. And second, is the immense privilege of it all.

“Honestly, I feel outrageously grateful to have the chance to do this job. It is a tremendous privilege and fun and nourishing and hard –– but hard in the best sense,” he said. “I’ve been really lucky to be able to go around and meet people at various places in the world who are going through really dramatic, sometimes very painful, sometimes really exhilarating moments. To be able to try to make an official memory of that… feels worthwhile.

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Sally Ramirez is on her show’s beck and call 24/7

By Damita Menezes

In a low ceiling room with three TV screens behind her, a couple more in front of her, and 3 pairs of eyes and ears each, Sally Ramirez proudly lives the demanding life of an executive cable news producer.

With 20 minutes of a full conversation and 25 minutes of zoom silence created by interrupting phone calls from her writers, reporters, producers and anchor Shepard Smith, I was witness to her work ethic and passion.

“Once you are committed to being a journalist, you’re a journalist 24/7,” said Ramirez when asked to explain her work routine. “You’re constantly consuming information, reading everything you can, making sure you have the latest information and the latest facts.”

Ramirez is a seasoned producer with more than 30 years of experience in TV news. Her passion for being behind the scenes and love of crafting and storytelling equip Ramirez to produce CNBC’s nightly newscast with excellence.

“I love taking the audience on an experience of storytelling through your show, through your story selection, through your production elements,” said Ramirez. “And hopefully people walk away feeling like they’ve learned something, they’re inspired by something, and it’s memorable.”

The News with Shepard Smith aims to provide a deep, non-partisan coverage and perspective on the day’s most important stories and everyday starts with a clean slate for Ramirez. With everyday beginning with a series of questions, Ramirez relies on the audience, social media metrics and her good ole gut feeling.

“Every day is different, but you have to know your audience,” said Ramirez. “You’re not producing a show for yourself. You’re producing it for your audience. You also now can use metrics. You can see what people are watching and clicking on. But you gotta use your news judgment, your gut feeling, in deciding what you think people need to know.”

With a constantly evolving news cycle Ramirez explains that her show never really goes to bed. “It is never over even after it has aired,” said Ramirez. She and her team are constantly updating with the latest, greatest, freshest, newest, and important information for their audience.

How then does Ramirez balance her personal and professional life? “Finding a balance is really challenging, I’m not going to pretend I have one. I don’t think I do; I could be better at it,” said Ramirez.

For people wanting to get into the journalism business, Ramirez warns to get ready for a life of sacrifice. “It is not a family friendly environment. And it has to be something that you love to do, but I believe this is an important service that we do for our communities.”

Ramirez was always a curious soul and a natural news fiend. But she fell in love with the news when she saw the power of media and its ability to save lives. On the local news side, when Ramirez was executive news director at KHOU in Houston, Texas, she saw how their platform saved lives with the information they broadcasted during the deadly Hurricane Harvey.

“I have a great deal of respect for the power of media. And people in this business need to have a calling for it,” said Ramirez.

In the age of the internet, everyone has the ability to create a website and publish articles and “do the news,” but that’s not journalism. Ramirez doesn’t do the news, instead she practices journalism.

 

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Journalism, Adaptation and Doomscrolling: A Conversation with Karen Ho

by Cam Rodriguez

Karen Ho first popped onto my radar six months ago. At the start of a pandemic that has irreparably changed our lives, I found myself increasingly pushed online for long stretches of time – logging on for class at 9 a.m. and not stepping away until late in the night, after remote work shifts, Zoom happy hours and homework was done.

What started as an act of self-care and a practice of accountability for Ho became a series of daily reminders for Twitter users about the importance of taking care of ourselves in digital spaces. Through her account, Ho reminds herself and her followers to avoid the dangers of “doomscrolling,” or continuing to aimlessly browse online on platforms that incentivize bad news.

“Are you doomscrolling?” a tweet asked meekly, tucked between reports about rising coronavirus cases and anxiety about the then-upcoming election. “Maybe you should stretch, drink some water and go to bed. This scrolling isn’t productive.”

It was the reminder I needed, at 1 a.m., nudging me and others to take care of myself and take a moment – offline. And it was a reminder I and nearly 40,000 followers have gotten since then.

Ho is well-known outside of her ubiquitous reminders. An economics and finance reporter at Quartz, Ho has continued to establish herself in the business beat, fascinated by the role that money plays in society. After stints in print and web reporting, as well as traveling, being a bank teller and dabbling in design, Ho settled on business reporting in her 20’s, realizing there weren’t many reporters on that beat under 25.

“I realized everything had to do with money, and it was sort of like if you knew how to understand money, it was like the Matrix,” Ho said. “You could understand sports, culture, restaurants, industry… fundamentally, it was about power – who’s making money, who’s losing money, and who are all the key characters?”

She made the decision to start the reminders after dealing with her own anxiety and stress online. The tweets, she said, were ways to hold herself accountable in completing the goals for drinking water, taking medication and going to bed early that she had set for herself.

To Ho, this is service journalism. “I’m helping people go to sleep every night. Just like if you write a really good recipe, that can be a bedrock memory for people to take care of their families, celebrate a positive event – people remember really good recipes, and they pass them onto friends. That can change people’s lives.”

Broadly speaking, her reminders are also an indicator of the way journalism is changing, and how both online platforms and newsrooms alike are adapting to virtual worlds. And even past that, the influx of reporters of color who are pushing to be “in the room,” a room historically dominated by white reporters.

“Journalism is going through a moment… young people are really challenging not just on the newsroom side, but from tech and engineering – people who gave up really well-paying jobs – to challenge how things are done,” Ho said, citing a story released earlier this week by New York Magazine, which outlined the shrinking divide between engineering teams and journalists when it comes to newsroom discussions about journalistic ethics. “Fundamental processes, like ethics and style, and other stuff as well. And also, who gets to be in the room – who gets to accumulate power? And what does that mean?”

Earlier this year, Ho attended the virtual 2020 Investigative Reporters and Editors conference, where Bob Woodward spoke. Famous for Watergate and, at the time, infamous for failing to disclose damning quotes from President Trump about coronavirus, Woodward spoke on a panel with a Q+A component that Ho engaged with.

“So in your explanation, to be clear, you did not consult with people in the medical community, or in the international health community regarding the possible release of this information?” she asked Woodward repeatedly, referencing his failure to publicly disclose that President Trump may have been aware of coronavirus as early as January of this year.

“There was no information to release,” Woodward shot back. “Can you understand that?”

Online, journalists jumped to Ho’s defense, calling out the long-held icon of investigative reporting for being condescending and rude about a topic within the scope of questioning. Ho agreed.

“Relative to him, I’m a nobody. I didn’t expect it would resonate,” Ho said, laughing. “I’ve been in this business long enough to not be patronized to, or at least I thought I was. But the important thing here is that journalism is supposed to be speaking truth to power.”

“I had never revered him in the same kind of way that I think a lot of American journalists do,” Ho, who hails from Toronto, said to me, commenting about how she didn’t grow up revering films like “All the President’s Men.”

“When it comes to heroes, the interaction really taught me about how, as journalists, we can’t be making assumptions about work… to be a good media critic means that fundamentally, there isn’t anybody that I think is outside of critique, and reassessment of process and ethics and values.”

“And also – I’m a minority. No one’s going to give me the benefit of the doubt. So why should I give it to other people?” Ho asked. “The only person who looks like me who’s been around as long as Woodward is Connie Chung. You can count them – Black, Latina and Asian women – who have been around as long as Bob Woodward on two hands.”

Ho discussed opportunity as a gamechanger for other journalists of color. “Who gets the opportunities to be on Pulitzer Prize-winning teams?” she said. “I don’t consider myself as a candidate for something like an investigative reporting team, because there are just so few of them when you go to a conference like IRE in person and you see people like me. I had nothing to lose. It’s not like the club was going to invite people like me anyway.”

Regardless of not being invited to the club, Ho has staked a claim for herself in the journalistic community. Whether it’s reporting on finance, writing TIME cover stories (“I have it framed above my desk,” she said with a laugh, “like, ‘Oh yeah, I did that!’”) or holding power to account, Ho’s ability to stand her ground and make space for herself like others have had to do before her is inspiring.

And with her reminders? “It’s just nice to help other people. Everything felt like crap for a really long time due to the pandemic. And if I could do, like, one good thing consistently, I felt less useless.”

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Challenging your own premise: a conversation with Rob Stafford

By Patsy Newitt

In lieu of Google and text messages there was file-pulling at the courthouse and knocking on doors when NBC Chicago’s Rob Stafford started reporting in 1982.

Now he co-anchors on weekdays at 5:00 and 6:00pm for NBC5 News. And despite the internet changing the industry, Stafford knows the core purpose of journalism has not shifted. Journalism will always be an effort, “to seek information and try to get at the truth, and to keep asking until you get some semblance of it,” he said, regardless of the medium or process.

This truth, however, hinges on what Stafford feels is the most important skill he’s learned in the past three decades — to always challenge your own premises.

“We have to work harder than ever to make sure we never assume anything when we’re doing a story,” he said. “Always challenge the premise of our own stories, of our own angles, and really push ourselves to do that.”

This in part springs from the millions of citizens and soon-to-be former administration hailing the media monolith as “fake news.” Stafford knows this message is not something to be shrugged off; it’s a message that journalists need to understand that everyone is coming from very different places.

In his 20s, Stafford described getting an idea for a story and then setting out to prove the idea. It’s easy to find evidence to back a premise and ignore the rest, but he’s learned since to challenge his angles and challenge his sources by questioning their motives.

Challenging our own premises is the first step in combating the widespread misconception that journalists can simply write and report whatever they want and don’t care about accuracy.

“I think a lot of people think we just write something and throw it out there which is not the way it is,” he said. “We have standards… [NBC] wants to see the whole transcript of any interview you’ve done to make sure you didn’t take things out of context. You’re really challenged to defend your stories before you put them on air.”

It’s also a matter of transparency — showing people how journalism works and the ways that our work is checked. We have to show our audiences the process and how our work is vetted by editors, lawyers and fact checkers.

“It’s good to take, in my case, the viewers along in the process of doing something. It’s important to show how you do things and give them a look behind the curtain,” he said. “I think people a lot of times don’t understand the process and it’s important to let them in on that.”

He ended our conversation with key advice: when journalists do make mistakes, we learn from and own up to them. We don’t shy away or deflect. This, paired with journalist’s own efforts to question themselves and question others, are important steps to improve trust.

“I learned that by challenging [ourselves], you always made the story better because people will be asking at home ‘Well what about so-and-so’ and ‘Why didn’t you ask about this.’” he said. “You should never let those questions go unasked.”

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Reporting on the election with all five senses – and from home

A conversation with the New York Times’ Peter Baker

By Ella Lee

Peter Baker’s best ledes just ‘pop up’ in his head. That’s not because the New York Times reporter has all the answers, but because good journalists use all five senses — and ledes combine those senses, as succinctly as possible, to reflect what the reporter has witnessed.

But 2020 has changed the job. Baker, along with most Times journalists, has been working from home since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Reporting journalism is about seeing and hearing and experiencing and feeling and touching and smelling and all those things,” he said. “You can’t do that over a Zoom call, and you can’t do that watching a stream.”

As the 2020 election got closer, those challenges became more apparent. The Times determined early last spring that its reporters would not go to the White House unless it was their turn to staff the press pool, Baker said.

“In the fall, when [President Donald Trump] was doing these rallies, it put us in an awkward position, because rallies are clearly unsafe,” Baker said. “Thousands and thousands of people there, who were not socially distanced and generally not wearing masks.”

Still, he and other Times reporters attended some of Trump’s rallies until a colleague got sick with COVID-19 and the bureau decided not to send reporters anymore.

Reporting on the election from home all-but-eliminated the fundamental aspects of covering a political campaign — sights and sounds, witnessing what energizes and motivates a candidate and their supporters.

“You don’t get any of that doing it from home; it’s nothing the same,” Baker said. “It’s the difference between playing video baseball, and actually playing baseball; you can play a video game, or you can actually go to a park and hit balls. And those are two very different things, you know, it’s just not it’s not even close.”

Despite the world turning on its head in March, one aspect of Baker’s job remains the same, and has for the past four years: Trump. That’s made covering his administration both “wildly unpredictable and wholly predictable” at the same time.

“I don’t think he’s changed; I think he’s just more,” Baker said. “A lot of things he did were shocking, but they were not surprising. He did a lot of things in Washington that just aren’t done for a lot of reasons and he just blew past all sorts of norms and boundaries that other presidents respected. And yet, none of that is really a surprise in the sense that that’s what he clearly made his political career about.”

Trump’s presidency has required journalists to learn quickly — relying on fact checkers to ensure the veracity of the president’s words and adjusting coverage to most productively reflect his antics, like non-stop tweeting.

“I think all journalists kind of wrestle with figuring out what the right level of attention was to give to the various attention-grabbing things he did,” Baker said. “And I’m not sure if anybody ever came up with a completely satisfying formula, but clearly it did evolve over time.”

As the pandemic continues and American politics evolve, so too will journalism. But what Baker says is the most important skill for young journalists to achieve is one that can be harnessed regardless of the circumstances they find themselves in: persistence.

“If you can’t get the information going through the front door, then try going through the window,” he said. “Do whatever you need to do to get what you need for your story.”

 

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