From a small mill town to the big city – the power of curiosity and determination

By Sadie Fisher

I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, packed with paper mills and power plants. I lived alongside working-class adults and quickly learned the power of a good work ethic, determination, and tenacity.

Producer Mary Murphy also grew up in a small town. Just thirty minutes outside of Providence, Rhode Island, her hometown was full of blue-collar folks working in mills. “I think it was really good to have spent the first 14 years of life in a small working-class town,” Murphy said. “It was just really good training for life.”

Her father became more and more successful with his career and because of how small Rhode Island is — Murphy became accustomed to brushing shoulders with powerful people.

“I think that that really helped me as a reporter,” Murphy said.  “I didn’t shirk from talking to people and I wasn’t afraid of power or timid in the face of power.”

She is now an Emmy award-winning writer, producer, and director. She started as a columnist at the New York Post and had a few more reporting jobs before transitioning to CBS News as a producer.

Now — she has her own production company where she’s created projects, films, and documentaries, including her work for PBS on author Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and the life of Helen Keller — but that wasn’t always her dream.

“I loved books,” she said. “I thought, you know, being an editor or working for an editor or some way, being around books would be really great.” Murphy graduated with an English degree and went to publishing school — but her curiosity and determination to get a job landed her first reporting gig.  She heard a columnist speak at a college lecture and decided to send her resume to him.

The reason she got an interview and the job? “My dad was an accountant, and he was outfitting his entire office with computers which was like a big deal and nobody else had done that.” She went with his employees to an institute to learn word processing – using a groundbreaking piece of technology at the time. And because of this curiosity to learn, she became a columnist at the New York Post.

Her career in hard news ended when she left CBS in 2005 — and that’s when she let her passions take over.  “I was out on the street trying to figure out what to do next and I did a variety of things,” she said. “And then what I did was my To Kill a Mockingbird movie, which I kept calling my love project.”

That love for what you do is what Murphy said journalists need to have. “If you really want to do something just keep doing it.” It may be hard, she said, but if you love it, it will be worthwhile. And although she said news cycles have changed and the way people ingest their news have shifted, the role of journalists will always stay the same.

“I think everybody needs journalists. I think it’s in the public interest.” Murphy firmly believes, “It’s always going to be important and valuable.” New journalists, she noted,  must be diligent with what they see online and that “you should never take what anyone says at face value.”

She understands that it’s easy to fall down the trap of trying to be right or proving a point — but that journalists need to remember that it’s important to stay out of that mindset.  “It’s not our jobs as journalists to win an argument or to even engage in an argument,” Murphy said. “It’s our job to report it down the middle and that isn’t always popular right now, but it’s very necessary.”

Murphy didn’t let curiosity kill the cat — in fact — it’s the thing that has kept her career going. “I think you have to stay curious. I learned to be resourceful and to have the conviction of knowing I had a good idea.”

As my college career ends and my journalism career begins, I’m going to keep my curiosity alive and focus on the truth. And I’m well on my way to joining Mary Murphy as a journalist from a small mill town.

‘Objectivity is the foundation of all the work a journalist does’

Phil Ponce speaks about the importance of unbiased reporting after 4 decades of working at WTTW

By Richie Requena

Phil Ponce retired from Chicago Tonight earlier this year after more than 30 years reporting, hosting and paneling for the show. The veteran says he is somewhere in the baseball idiom of “going, going and gone,” but not quite gone from the world of journalism. Ponce after all, is still lecturing on interviewing at the University of Loyola.

As a host, Ponce has been able to hold balanced conversations on politics and hold fire to the feet of guests who would rather not directly answer his questions. Ponce leaves behind what his colleagues call “a face” on the Mt. Rushmore of Chicago Tonight, interviewing notable guests such as then senatorial candidate Barack Obama, Elmo and Rita Moreno among others.

I reached out to Ponce, who now gets to enjoy his time off to be with his family, about objectivity in journalism; and how the lens of objectivity has changed over time. With objectivity, comes credibility, says Ponce. “If you’re perceived as non-objective, then I think you lose your main thing which gives you professional (credibility.)”

Ponce says that the opinion of a reporter should try to stray away on how they cover a story. “The focus should not be on the reporter the focus should be on the story the reporter is covering. If you are seen as a non-objective reporter, then all of a sudden, you’re no longer relevant.”

Ponce broke down the three things he did while at Chicago Tonight to make sure his reporting is free of bias. Doing the homework, being aware of your own biases, and having your work looked over.

Doing the homework

“I tried to understand a topic, so I know where (the) landmines are, in terms of where the different viewpoints lie, what the different arguments are,” said Ponce. Ponce says this has been able to help keep it balanced. I can only imagine how important it is to know “where the third rail is,” as he put it.

Being aware of your own biases

 “All of us have biases. We live in a culture that has biases in so many different areas… stereotypes about race and ethnicity, religion, social class,” said Ponce. “We’re not immune to the culture. We have downloaded biases and downloaded stereotypes and downloaded prejudices because that’s the nature of the culture.”

“And if anyone says, ‘Oh, I’m completely unbiased  and I don’t have any prejudices’ —-  I don’t buy that. We can’t help it, we live it, we are of this culture. The thing that’s important is to be aware of it, know when you’re wrong, and check yourself.”

Have your work looked over

 “One of the things we do at Chicago Tonight is we share our questions with who will produce the segment.”

“It’s a system that helps make sure that we’re balanced. It’s not a foolproof system, but it’s a pretty good system.”

Ponce was open to talk about a time where he felt that he was not fair enough. In a 2015 panel he did with then mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, Ponce drew groans from the crowd when he began a line of questioning with Garcia about his son being involved in a street gang.

Ponce spoke to John Kass after the panel saying he “missed the mark” with the line of questions he had and told me he “went overboard” with it. He said he apologized on air for it and to Garcia as well. He said, “People are judged over the course of a career and there will be scar tissue along the way, but you’ll learn from it.”

“When you mess up, say you messed up. It’s not that hard,” said Ponce. “You can always do a follow up piece, or do an editorial note in retrospect, (say) we missed some points in yesterday’s article.”

Being mathematically objective may not be attaining, says Ponce. “But day in and day out, if you are attempting to do your job in a good faith way, I think you will be serving the profession and our audience as well.”

 

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Going into Journalism with a Helmet On

by Ally Daskalopoulos

What do you get when you take a downstate Illinois journalist, a few corrupt governors and the messy innerworkings of Illinois politics?  Well, you get one of the best named statehouse reporters in the country, Dave McKinney.

McKinney was in fourth grade when former president Richard Nixon gave his resignation speech in 1974.  Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post reported on the Watergate scandal and the events that led up to Nixon’s eventual resignation. It was Woodward and Bernstein that started a revolution of journalists upholding their role in holding the powerful accountable, and reporters from McKinney’s generation followed in their footsteps.

“It became a calling in a way, I always knew I wanted to write,” said McKinney in a Zoom interview. “I remember having this euphoric feeling of I’m doing what I love and I’m getting paid for it,” he said.

McKinney started out at the Daily Herald newspaper covering municipal government in the Chicago Suburbs. McKinney explained how he immersed himself in local government with each assignment.   “Understanding how government works is really important,” McKinney said.

Hearing about McKinney’s local stories reminded me of my own novice investigative reporting. As a young reporter, it was daunting speaking to someone who got to be in the same room as powerful political leaders on a daily basis. I wondered if journalists like McKinney ever felt nervous or scared of what the future held.

On our call, McKinney sat at his desk with a framed photo of  Illinois’ thirtieth governor, Henry Horner, behind him. After interning at the Chicago Sun-Times in the mid-80s, McKinney was always trying to get back there. So, in 1995, McKinney began what became a 19-year career at the Sun-Times as the Springfield bureau chief. For nearly two decades, McKinney covered six governors, countless elections, policy implementations and Obama’s rise to power.

According to McKinney, statehouse jobs are unfortunately often overlooked.  “In Illinois more so than other states, you need an understanding of the criminal justice system, because there’s so much corruption.” McKinney was there when former Gov. George Ryan was convicted of conspiracy, racketeering, money-laundering and fraud. He was also there when former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached and became another Illinois governor who went to federal prison.

In 2014, McKinney proceeded to cover future Gov. Bruce Rauner. What he did not anticipate was that covering Rauner’s campaign would change his career in a different way than before.

McKinney resigned from the Sun-Times that same year. The events leading up to his resignation started when he began investigating a story with Carol Marin and Don Moseley. Together they reported on Rauner’s former company and his alleged intimidation of an ex-business partner.

“You can’t get any better than a court document,” McKinney said of his investigative process on the story.

After the story aired, the Rauner campaign went after McKinney insinuating that his wife, a political consultant who never worked on Illinois governor campaigns, was working against Rauner.

Initially, the Sun-Times publisher and editor came to McKinney’s defense. Yet, days later he was taken off the beat which turned into a leave of absence.  McKinney was cleared to return soon after but was forbidden from having a byline on a quick follow-up story to his initial collaborated reporting on the allegations against Rauner. After McKinney protested this order, the Sun-Times agreed to give him a part in the byline. Yet, the paper had already failed McKinney in his eyes.  McKinney felt he had no choice but to quit. Coincidentally, Rauner was an investor of the Sun-Times and the paper quickly endorsed him in his campaign for governor.

McKinney bravely relived the experience for me, calling it a “tumultuous situation.”

“They really pulled the rug out from underneath me,” he said. “My reporting and my integrity were undercut. It was surreal.”

McKinney’s political reporting experience became atypical after his resignation, with time spent at Reuters and now at Chicago’s WBEZ.

On his transition to the NPR affiliate, McKinney looks at it as being much closer to the end of his career than the start of it. “Because of that this idea of radio was invigorating,” McKinney said.

Perhaps the most valuable takeaway from my conversation with McKinney was that it’s not so much where you’re working, but what you’re doing.

“Know there’s a calling to it and a greater good to it. It’s a really important part of our democracy,” McKinney said.

Yet, McKinney warned me that, “you have to go into the profession with a helmet on and be prepared to be pounded.”

After our conversation, I understood that I won’t always be paid well for asking the hard questions and doing a job that many want no part of.

McKinney shared a saying from the university president at his alma mater from the 1800s, “tell the truth and don’t be afraid.”

With his helmet securely fastened, McKinney has walked around with those words in his back pocket throughout his career. Hearing that has made this young reporter a little less afraid.

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A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes

BY ANALISA TROFIMUK

Two crucial ideals have carried reporters through years of the constantly changing field of journalism.

The Associated Press’ Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Michael Tackett has worked for widely circulated publications including the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times. He says that the journalism industry has gone through major shifts since he first entered the field over three decades ago, but that the business still runs on accurate, fact-based reporting.

But in 2021, fighting for accuracy can be a vicious cycle for reporters feeling a constant need to update their stories.

“When I started in the business, there was sort of a time certain when the day was over,” said Tackett. “Now, there’s never a time certain when the day is over, because you can publish continuously 24/7.”

Which can be a good or bad thing. Tackett says the need to always be engaged in stories and the most recent updates does not give reporters time to digest their work.

“It doesn’t always allow for as much reflection as one would like, sometimes it calls for too much reaction,” he said. “I think the more reflection and the less reaction we can put on our stories, the better off we are.”

Reflecting on stories is particularly pertinent when covering politics. Although Tackett earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science from Indiana University in Bloomington, he says he never dreamed he would’ve had a future in political reporting. He unintentionally fell into it, covering his first presidential election in 1988 for the Chicago Tribune.

After covering roughly eight presidential elections, Tackett has learned a thing or two.  “You don’t have to engage in everything. If you engage on social media, I would do it in the context of something that advances one of your stories, not something that advances one of your opinions,” he said.

Refraining from reporting personal biases can be a challenge for all journalists, but especially those just entering the field. Tackett’s tips are to stick to the facts and make stories authoritative.

“If you know that a state is traditionally Democratic, say it’s a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican since year ‘x’,” Tackett said.  And when in doubt of any one fact, no matter how small, leave it out. Misinformation seems to spread faster than facts, which Tackett quickly learned when covering the 2016 Presidential Election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. When former President Trump made claims that were demonstrably false according to Tackett, it took a special type of reporting.

“If he said, ‘we all know the election was stolen’ you could say, ‘Trump falsely said we all know the election was stolen’ and then buttress that with ‘his attorney general, more than 60 courts, in every major election audit showed it wasn’t stolen’,” the journalist said.

It is important to recognize that not everyone will believe what reporters write even when presented with an “avalanche of facts.” But the idea of misinformation spreading faster than the truth is not new. Tackett pointed to Mark Twain, who wrote about this same concept long before the existence of social media.

“A rumor goes halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on,” said Tackett quoting Twain. “He said that in the 1800s.”

Sticking to the facts and taking time to reflect are two of Tackett’s pieces of advice for all journalists, not just young reporters.

“Journalism needs people who will practice journalism and not practice misinformation and disinformation,” Tackett said. “Misinformation and disinformation are just true threats to not only the profession of journalism, but to civil society and to democratic living.”

 

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A Collector of Community: In Conversation with Tina Sfondeles on What it Means to Her

By Elly Boes

For Politico’s White House reporter Tina Sfondeles, a career in writing began with a single note.

“I remember [one teacher] sending a note home to my mom that said, ‘you know she’s a great writer when she wants to be,’ which was a great thing for a teacher to say, because it’s showing that you might have some sort of natural talent for something, but you actually have to work really hard,” Sfondeles said. “I’ve had to do that my entire career.”

Sfondeles began her journalism career working for her high school and college newspapers before landing gigs with WBBM-AM Radio, The Chicago Sun-Times, Business Insider and now Politico.

Throughout the process, Sfondeles is most proud of her ability to build community with fellow reporters, editors and other colleagues.

“My competitors were my friends,” she said of her work in Chicago. “We would like piggyback off of each other.”

Sfondeles has reported on a wide range of topics from campaign funding, to President Joe Biden’s favorite cuss words, many of which require what she calls her “reporting brain.”

“I have this reporter brain from being a reporter since my 20s … I feel like it’s kind of more of a natural inclination for me to not show bias.”

When it comes to political reporting, Sfondeles says her community is her lifeline to producing more fair and accurate journalism.

“Journalists see life and death a little bit differently than normal people with normal jobs,” she said. “[Working as a general assignment reporter] was a good experience even though it was very dark.”

And — when it comes to controversy — Sfondeles doesn’t shy away from leveraging her professional support system.

“There have been a lot of safeguards for [me while reporting],” she said. “You’re not totally alone, you can do the best you can do but you also have backup to remind you of that.”

Amidst a global pandemic, recent research demonstrates that a sense of community plays a “significant role in collaborative knowledge creation.”

For reporters, like many employees, COVID-19 has severely impacted their ability to connect with others, often due to remote work environments that happen outside of a collective newsroom.

“I am kind of antsy. I don’t want to be home anymore,” Sfondeles said. “I miss the world of in-person communication.”

As a young journalist Sfondeles took advantage of her newsroom experience at the Sun-Times to chat with columnists and investigative teams alike. “You learn so much being in a newsroom,” she said.

Reporters now are still grappling to find community amidst a constantly evolving public health crisis.

One study published last year found 59 percent of journalists surveyed believed social isolation to be the most difficult aspect of covering the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Sfondeles, this became apparent in the wake of the January 6, 2021 capital insurrection.

After moving to Washington D.C six months beforehand, she was just blocks away from the mob that stormed the Capital building. Initially, she said didn’t think anything of it because of the many Trump rallies in the area after the 2020 presidential election.

“I heard a boom, like, I heard lots of noises. That was scary—that made me feel unsafe in my new home.”

Since then, Sfondeles has utilized her social media accounts like Twitter and an email chain created by White House reporters to restore a sense of mutual support.

“There were really poignant emails about ‘I was there, and it was terrible,” she said of the January 6 responses. “So you did feel a sense of community around people who are impacted by that.”

Over Twitter, Sfondeles remains cautious about mixing her personal and emotional reflections with her “reporting brain.”

“If this is your job, and you have to be on social media for work,” she said, “You have to be careful forever. Like there’s no slipping up.”

In the aftermath of January 6, Sfondeles drew on lessons from the Sun-Times to remain fair in her reporting.

“I think that it’s just important to show multiple sides to things and that was kind of difficult in some cases in doing these stories where someone did something terrible and … you have an obligation to reach out to them and get their explanation.”

Still, her dedication to even the most controversial stories never swayed from her emphasis on community support.

“You have to know that you’re a normal human and you make mistakes, and that you might even need some help,” she said.

For Sfondeles, such support is crucial to her professional life even thousands of miles away from her home in Illinois.

“I mean, those are my family. I still talk to everybody [from the Sun-Times], seriously,” she said. “I feel like sometimes it’s my second beat because I know everything that goes on.”

For aspiring reporters, Sfondeles encourages them to do the same.

“I have collected a community my whole life thankfully. I’m just like a collector of humans, of good humans that are amazing people,” she said offering this advice: “Be yourself and collect people.”

 

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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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