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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Understanding the three buckets: a conversation with Cynthia Tucker

By Emma Oxnevad

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Cynthia Tucker wants to set the record straight on commentary. While journalism has traditionally been distinguished by the “three buckets”— reporting, analysis, and opinion writing— she worries that the lines between the three are beginning to blur.

Tucker said that the rise of digital journalism has muddied the waters between fact-based reporting and commentary, which relies on a writer’s ability to convey an argument.

“In the heyday of print, it was easy to see the distinctions visually. because the opinion section of the newspaper was clearly labeled,” she said. “…But now that we have moved to the digital age, even with the labeling, it’s really harder to see. Literally, it is harder to tell what you are reading, so those who are not already schooled in the distinctions might be easily confused.”

She also attributes this lack of understanding to the mislabeling of cable news programs, which often impart subjective opinions, as objective reporting.

“MSNBC, CNN has a lot more commentary than it used to,” she said. “And Fox labels itself as, what, ‘fair and balanced?’ But it is, of course, unfair and unbalanced. And it’s not news.”

Tucker highlighted Fox—which is well known for its conservative programming— as being particularly harmful, describing the level of influence it can have on otherwise uninformed viewers.

“If you grew up watching Fox News if you’re 20 years old and you come from a conservative household, or you believe that is the news, you have no idea of what straight news sounds like,” she said.

Tucker said that this lack of media literacy concerning the proverbial three buckets was brought to her attention, in part, by her work as the Journalist-in-Residence at the University of South Alabama.

Tucker often assigns her students to acquire a digital news subscription and select a reported news piece to discuss in class; she said that oftentimes, her students will select a column rather than the assigned “straight news” format.

“My first year teaching at the University of South Alabama I didn’t even understand that my students didn’t know the distinction,” she said. “I didn’t understand that I needed to go back and teach them what an opinion piece was. So now I spend a lot more time on that.”

In an attempt to combat this lack of media literacy, Tucker said she repeatedly emphasizes the importance of consuming a variety of publications to her students.

“I tell them over and over again, listen to NPR, read the New York Times, the front page of the New York Times, the Washington Post,” she said. “Listen to the evening news on the big three legacy networks ABC NBC [and] CBS. I emphasize that over and over.”

When discussing the future of commentary, Tucker stated that she believes the practice is going “back to the future,” in reference to news being used as a partisan vehicle, as they were in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

“If you look at what is happening today. You see more and more news entities that are full of commentary dedicated to a particular point of view, even those I respect,” she said. “…So, I think we’re headed back to a time when commentary, or at least reporting, that supports a particular ideology will be most of what we get. I regret that. Because I’m not sure that’s what we need.”

 

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Trump’s Press Revolution

A Conversation with Gerald Seib

by Justin Myers

Under Donald Trump, the presidential press room became a lions’ den branding journalists the “enemy of the people” and labeling sound reporting as “fake news.” With President Joe Biden now in office, these relations have begun to improve significantly, but his anti-media stance lingers in the rhetoric of those who still support him, still haunting political reporters.

Trump’s anti-press rhetoric, as with many aspects of his presidency, broke Republican party norms. The GOP, with its never-ending wariness towards institutions of all types, has always been skeptical towards journalistic media. That wasn’t new with Trump. What was new, however, were the heights to which the former reality television show host took that skepticism to.

Gerald Seib, executive Washington editor for The Wall Street Journal, in his new book “We Should Have Seen It Coming: From Reagan to Trump — A Front-Row Seat to a Political Revolution” follows how the business mogul-turned-president crafted a radically new system of party values that were an extreme departure from his Republican predecessors.

“People wonder two things: how did we get to the point where Donald Trump was the Republican president and the leader of the conservative movement when he was so unlike Reagan?” Seib said. “And then, secondly, they want to know, ‘Where does this go from here?’”

How did we get to this point?

Having grown up in a largely red-blooded community on the northernmost border of Springfield, Illinois, I lived in close vicinity to many of the political movements in Seib’s book leading up to and following Trump’s election. Despite this background, I have always been consistently taken aback by the degrees to which Republicans grew such vitriol against the press under Trump — a plague that affected many people I grew up around.

“It was an obvious political tactic to try to generate enthusiasm at the [party] base because, if you can attack the ‘liberal’ press, people will rally to that,” Seib said. “I think a lot of the attacks on the press that you saw from Donald Trump were calculated to appeal to base voters, not a reflection of genuine sentiment.”

In his book Seib describes how the former president utilized the same advertising tactics he gained through his reality T.V. experience to build up a personal brand, appeal to swathes of Republican reporters and protect his own self from scrutiny.

“The reason those … intimidation tactics are there is an attempt to stop the watchdog role that reporters and journalists play,” Seib said.

The Washington Post reported that Trump made 30,573 inaccurate or misleading claims over the course of his presidency, leading to plenty of reason for why he would want to attack the watchdog reporters. To accomplish this, Trump stood at rally lecterns and sat at the Resolute Desk, calling out reporters and news organizations by name, and built around him a new movement which hurled constant vitriol against those news outlets not branded with the Oval Office’s seal of approval.

“You get attacked by Trump supporters no matter what you write,” Seib said. “You have to have a thick skin.”

So, to ask the second question behind Seib’s book, where do we go from here?

As a DePaul journalism student who has spent most of my college days plagued by constant headlines of so-and-so from such-and-such newsroom getting kicked out of a White House press briefing, I’ve been asking myself this question a lot.

“What Donald Trump did was [that he] chose to fight every day with the media that covered him,” Seib said. “It was a relationship very much filled with animosity, and dangerous in some ways.”

Seib recounted stories of reporters forced to hire security guards to watch their homes around the clock due to threats they received at Trump rallies.

“There’s nothing like that in the relationship between Biden and the press or, really, most politicians and the press,” Seib said. “What you’re seeing in coverage of the Biden administration is a return to kind of more traditional … give and take between the White House and the press that covers it.”

If there’s any consolation to journalism students such as myself about to break free from the safety net of academia into a real-life newsroom battered by Trump’s press abrasion, it’s that Seib, who has interviewed every president since Reagan, sees Trump as an outlier.

“What you’ve seen in the last four years is not normal,” Seib said. “It doesn’t define the relationship between journalists and the people they cover or between journalists and the people they write for or broadcast for. It’s not a healthy situation … [but] it’ll change, and I think it will evolve back towards something more normal.”

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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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Staring down the job market during a pandemic

By Emma Oxnevad

I hear all the jokes about the less-than-ideal career prospects for post-grads. I laughed along—most of the time. But the pit in my stomach grows with every passing remark and with every thought of life after college.

In a move of extreme pragmatism, I threw myself head-first into the world of journalism, spending my four years as a student juggling positions in student media, internships, and various freelancing gigs. I even managed to get some sleep along the way.

I spent my time as a student confident that I was setting myself up for success, primed to enter the daunting realm of professional journalism with a well-equipped arsenal.

Then, the world was indefinitely shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The onset of the pandemic saw a staggering number of newsroom layoffs across the country, pausing long careers and leaving experienced reporters on the hunt for whatever open positions were left behind. Even though I still had another year of school to go, I had to shut my eyes. “This will all be over soon,” I told myself.

Well, it’s not over. As we approach one year of living under a global pandemic that has fundamentally changed life as we know it, it is high time to accept that this is the new normal.

My time as a student will end in four months. From there, I won’t be able to rely on the crutch of being a “student journalist.” The time has passed for me to laugh and mumble a joke when asked what my plans are after graduation. I’ll be on my own, and I’d be lying if I said the prospect didn’t terrify me.

The economic fallout of COVID-19 has impacted journalists at a disproportionate rate. But we are the profession best equipped to handle such a disheartening time for employment.

Journalists are, by the very nature of the profession, adaptable; working irregular hours, moving around the country, and previously facing the brunt of the Great Recession, in which media layoffs surpassed the 20,00 mark.

The job hunt amid an ongoing global pandemic is going to be a long, frustrating road, regardless of one’s career path. There are times where it may feel hopeless and one may feel inclined to give up and wait for life to “return to normal,” an increasingly abstract concept. But if there is one thing all journalists know, it’s that the bumpiest, most treacherous paths are often the ones most worth going down.

My expectations for my first reporting job have always been low, so as not to set myself up for failure and disappointment. The pandemic has shrunk them even more.

But I’m willing to pound the pavement—virtually, until it is safe to gather with others— and fight for my spot in a professional newsroom; I’m willing to hear “no” a hundred times over if it means I can hear “yes” even once. And it is the time spent as a student journalist—full of unanswered messages, getting stonewalled and spun by my university, and a few sleepless nights here and there— that has prepared me for this most intimidating endeavor.

Because reporters don’t give up.

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Don’t meet your heroes, they say

By Joanna Talabani

I remember being a kid and watching Christiane Amanpour on CNN. I was enamored with her poise and her elegance. She went into the trenches of fire reporting on trouble in remote parts of the world. She had a funny last name like me, and she still worked her way to the top of a global news channel. While I was lacking the British accent, maybe there was room for me up there, too.

The days where I used to stand in front of the television with a hairbrush as a surrogate microphone mimicking her live coverage are (mostly) in the past. And while I would love to one day be able to thank her for giving me such a profound reverence for journalism at a young age, I don’t know that I could do so without fangirling.

See, whenever I meet someone I admire, I have a hard time taking off the “let me appease you” hat and putting on the “ask tough questions” hat. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact I’m a student and most conversations go like this:

Potential interviewee: Hello?

Me: Hi, my name is Joanna Talabani and I’m a student at DePaul University…

Potential Interviewee: *click*

Me: Hello, hello? Did we get disconnected?

So, when a conversation doesn’t go like that and someone actually gives me the time of day, I feel indebted. I owe them an easy interview, not to be interrogated. Of course, the journalist in me knows that isn’t true, but it’s hard to persuade the googly-eyed fan sometimes.

I recently interviewed someone whose mind I put on the highest pedestal. We’ll call this person “Joe Schmo.” Schmo is an amazing journalist in his own right, and very accomplished. I was intimidated when we were still just chatting over emails. He uses hard-to-pronounce words in his text lingo. “Um” and “like” aren’t in his vocabulary. They are very much, unfortunately, still apart of mine.

I praised Schmo and his talented prose before our interview came to fruition. As prepared as I was research-wise, I don’t know if I could have fully prepared for how I’d feel actually probing him. Don’t meet your heroes, they say. I get why that’s an adage now.

Schmo, as polished as he always is, wanted to know what I was going to ask him beforehand. All my journalistic training has told me never to release questions to the interviewee prior to talking. At best, it ruins the live energy and prompts them to give canned responses. At worst, it will be used to rehearse an effective dodge strategy.

So, did I do what all my journalist professors have advised me to do since the beginning of (college) time? I did and I didn’t.

My journalistic training has taught me to think for myself. I don’t take things for face value and I question everything. Including this steadfast rule about sharing questions. I sent Schmo a few sample questions to peruse before our interview. Why did I do that?

Because of whom Schmo is. He is not a politician I’m trying to nail. He isn’t a controversial public figure. He’s someone who was gracious enough to share some of his expertise with me as a student. And if having a few questions helps him maintain the polished demure image he’s known for, what’s the harm in that?

Here’s where I think there could be harm. If Schmo was someone I, or others, were very critical of. If Schmo was convicted of wrongdoing, corruption, or misconduct. If Schmo was an allegedly guilty party and not just someone who has anxiety about public speaking. But I’m not aiding the next Blagojevich in worming his way out of tough answers. And my journalistic training has taught me to be able to identify this kind of gray line.

For the record, Schmo was not the most pleasant person to interview. His ego could barely fit on the screen with him. He spoke disparagingly of other journalists. Now, reading those books of brilliance of his somehow don’t hit the same.

Schmo was just someone I admired, but it got me thinking back to my journalistic hero, Christiane Amanpour. Could I risk ruining the physical persona of my childhood dream? If the opportunity arose, would I opt to keep her shelved away as inspiration to reference in the back of my mind?

I realize that what she represents to me is too precious—not just a dream, but a culmination of that dream. I might want to share a cup of coffee, but interview her? I think I’ll pass.

You know how they say don’t meet your heroes? I’m fine with meeting them, just don’t ask me to interview them.

 

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Hacking the Algorithm and Its Use for News, Promotion and Activism

By Damita Menezes

The online world has been a saving grace for mankind during the Covid-19 pandemic. With economies shutting down and businesses moving online, there has been hope for folks who have the privilege to work/study in front of a screen. And social media has helped people connect with one another now more than ever.

Before the pandemic, it was common to be exposed to articles documenting the negative aspects of social media and how we must limit our online use to have social interactions IRL. When everything moved online, we relied heavily on Zoom, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Slack, Reddit, Discord, LinkedIn, etc to stay updated with one another personally and professionally.

Keeping up with all these platforms has been imperative and I couldn’t help but notice how different social media platforms are used differently to communicate different messages with different kinds of friends. The way one communicates and who they communicate with is different in every medium. But where do we draw the line between professional and personal content? How do we separate our styles of engagement and consumption? How do we express our personal beliefs and keep them separate from our professional? Do we need to do that? Also, in light of current situations going on with the Black Lives Matter movement and the involvement of social media activism, how does one find the balance between being “woke” and abstaining from performative activism?

Considering all these questions, this article will provide an idea on how we can manage and seize the power to control the media we consume and make the best use of it, if you are a media person or are an average user of social media.

A little background and Journalism before Twitter

I created a Facebook account when I turned twelve years old in 2012 because of peer pressure and because I didn’t want to miss out on what my friends were talking about every day in school. Facebook was “awesome” for my twelve-year-old self. I could share meme’s, comment on pictures, press the “like” button, tag people, type my thoughts out, etc. I was immediately addicted. My mind craved online validation and along with that came my anxiety and overthinking.

Over time, I have learned how to regulate my virtual being to some extent, but with a new social media platform popping up every 4 years or so, it gets overwhelming. And you will relate if you’re Gen Z.

I got Instagram 2 years later because it was getting popular among my peers and Facebook was deemed to be for older folks. Snapchat came about and was for the real connections; the close friends you want to keep in touch with on a day-to-day basis. I finally joined Twitter in 2016 and recently started using it regularly because it was encouraged by my professors as it is the perfect media to get the latest of the latest news. Having so many social media accounts get exhausting and it gets especially hard to keep up if you’re a journalist.

Social media is a great tool to stay updated with friends and family, but it is also great to stay updated with the news. Many folks rely on their social media feeds for their daily dose of the news. An Instagram poll I conducted involving around 50 participants with an average age of 23 showed that Twitter and Instagram were the leading platforms for their news consumption. A newspaper subscription, TV news and podcasts ranked in 3rd, 4rth and 5th place respectively.

For journalism, social media has enabled reporters and news agencies to promote their work and compete with one another with the latest scoops and commentary. “Journalists are under incredible pressure to not only do their stories for their publication or broadcasting station or network, but they are also under enormous pressure to report on social media,” said Chris Bury, a Peabody and Emmy-award winning reporter and a journalism instructor at DePaul. “My main concern is that it doesn’t give reporters enough time to do their jobs and the result sometimes is that the reports that they do are not as thorough and full as they might be because they’ve had to spend much of their day worrying about Twitter or Instagram.

Before Twitter, longer news cycles enabled thoroughly investigated work. With the advent of Twitter, the 24-hour news cycle has been trimmed to just a couple of hours or minutes and with this conundrum comes the question of journalists’ opinions on social media and the separation of personal from professional.

Keeping up with the Social Media posts and The News

For the common folk, the struggle to “keep up” comes about; The struggle of having different types of friends on different platforms.

“It is hard to keep up with everyone being on different platforms because some of my friends aren’t on Snapchat, some aren’t on Instagram. So, for some people, you don’t know what is going on in their life unless you reach out to them,” said Joey Cahue who studied PR, Advertising and Journalism at DePaul.

It gets even more complicated to keep up because all these platforms have different communication modes. Instagram only does pictures, graphics, and videos. Twitter does tweets, pictures, links, trends, news etc. Facebook is more closed with groups, private profiles, etc. This tempts people to have all platforms to keep up with different modes of communication.

Eight out of the 10 interviewees for this article confirmed with me that they are overwhelmed with keeping up. And with the current unprecedented events, social media hasn’t been too kind on the mind.

With the Black Lives Matter movement lifting off again, on June 2nd, Instagram was filled with black images with the hashtag #BlackOutTuesday to show solidarity and raise awareness. Following those posts were people accusing one another of performative activism.

The positive side of activism on social media is that people have been using their accounts to educate one another and learn more on how they can help the movement and put an end to systemic racism. Without the marriage of a camera phone and social media, the reaction of the injustice that George Floyd endured would not have been this passionate.

It is important now more than ever to keep up with the news and there are many resources out there. If you don’t have a news subscription, I recommend following a minimum of 3 news social media accounts: one for local news, one for national news and one for world news. Listen to news podcasts (BBC’s Global News Podcast and The Daily). Sign up for newsletters that summarize the news very easily.

Tip from an old school news junkie

If you’re a journalist and you’re finding it hard to keep up with the news online, I asked journalism professor Rick Brown who has no online presence whatsoever on how he keeps up with the news. “I read the New York Times cover to cover, and then I move on to the Washington Post. Then I will go through a whole series of websites like NBC, ABC, CNN and that’s giving me more stories that are more recent. Then I will head to local news like Chicago Tribune and Chicago Suns Times. I will then move on to Politico and the Sports Websites. I will also check the DePaul news media. I repeat the process all day long every 3 hours, for any updates.”

Understanding Algorithms and The Hack

Overtime, these social media platforms have received updates and changed their designs and consumption styles. These changes have either attracted or pushed people away from their platforms, therefore changing user demographics. Examples: Instagram including Snapchat’s stories feature, Snapchat moving the celebrities feed with the friends feed, etc.

The New York Times Podcast Rabbit Hole is an “audio series about how the internet is changing, and how it’s changing us.” While listening to this podcast, I started thinking about algorithms, how we consume media and the ability to customize our media consumption. Algorithms have the ability to shape what we like and dislike. This kind of power can be pretty intimidating and therefore it is up to us to be able to think in retrospect and control our consumption.

I have come up with some changes you can implement on your social media accounts to serve you better without having to create separate accounts for different purposes. At least until Biz Stone and Mark Zuckerberg don’t give us the ability to fully customize our feeds. Also, Stone and Zuckerberg, if you’re reading this, hire me so we can work together to create the best algorithms for the best user experience.

For Twitter:

When it comes to personalizing your Twitter feed, you can really only switch your feed from receiving the “Latest tweets” or the “Top Tweets.” This is limiting when you follow so many people and follow different kinds of accounts. Twitter’s “lists” feature got me pondering over how we might be able to separate celebrities/influencers from close friends from politicians and news companies. When you create lists and pin them, they will appear as separate feeds in your Home feed. In these lists you can add people without having to follow them.

Have a look at my lists for example. And because I have created these lists, I only follow friends and fellow journalists. I have sorted everyone else into these lists. If you think these lists can be limiting to your main feed, there is the option to show the latest tweets from the lists to appear in your main feed.

For Instagram

Instagram doesn’t let you do much either when it comes to taking control of your feed. However depending on how you want your Home feed to look like, I recommend using the “close friends” and “muting” and “post notification” tools to your full advantage. If you want to share something with only close friends, share them in your story under the “close friends” option. If you don’t check Instagram regularly but want to be updated whenever friends post, enable “post notifications” on their profile.

Another important thing to remember is that you have the ability to follow who you want to follow. That person’s content is going to pop up in your feed. If you don’t want to unfollow, you have the option to completely mute them.

The Personal and the Professional for the media creator

It is often discouraged for journalists to voice out their opinions because of the perception that it might be interpreted as biased reporting. Bury mainly uses his social media platform for professional purposes and tries to comment mainly on the 2 topics he thoroughly knows: Journalism and politics. “I feel compelled to as a journalist to stand up for journalists and journalism when we are under attack. I have no problem standing up for journalists when the President of the United States calls them the enemy of the people,” said Bury. “But some journalists can’t stand up because of company policies and they have to be very very careful and I have certainly followed those policies when I was at ABC news.”

Late millennials and Gen Z journalists who also use social media for personal reasons, are often subjected to this dilemma of personal and professional. Student journalist Cam Rodriguez, has tackled this by creating different accounts for different purposes. “I had my first Twitter account when I turned 13 and that account is more for personal stuff and I found that as I got into college, it became harder and harder to maintain a professional outward facing appearance while I had personal interests and profanity and things that I wouldn’t necessarily want an employer to see.” Rodriguez made that account private and created a new public account for journalism only. On the public account, she is more careful with liking and retweeting and strays away from anything overtly political.

This tactic of creating separate accounts is employed by many social media users. On Instagram, this is known as the “finsta.” It is an Instagram account that is extra private to an individual. “Finsta for me almost falls along the lines of trolling,” said communication and media studies graduate John Cotter. “It’s people projecting their complaints and insecurities to a small percentage of people that are in their close friend group.”

Cotter doesn’t believe in the idea of a finsta. “You don’t know who you’re trusting. Anything you put on social media, it’s there and glued. Even if it is private. There are screenshots everywhere of anything controversial. As private as you want it to be, it is never private,” said Cotter.

For social media influencers or Youtubers, their lives are often the content. Finding a balance between personal and the professional can be tricky. Youtuber Reese Regan has close to 400k subscribers and portrays her life on social media as it really is. “I don’t really have any private or personal accounts. I don’t have anything to hide that is super private; I don’t have the most interesting life. What you see on social media is how my life is living.” Regan promotes her YouTube content on the same social media accounts she uses to stay updated with a few friends and family.

This minor issue between the personal and professional mainly only arises to folks that make media. For folks who work in other sectors and only consume media, finding the balance between personal and professional can be easily separated with websites and apps. LinkedIn is for the professional and Instagram, Snapchat etc. for the personal.

Final Words

The pandemic has pushed us all to stay connected online but it is important to take breaks from our online lives. I recommend listening to this episode “Dial D for Distracted” by The Happiness Lab which is a podcast based on Yale’s most popular course taught by Dr. Laurie Santos.

Make up what you want after considering all these ideas and conversations, but I implore you not to ignore the real news out there; the news that reports on the decisions that shape our lives.

 

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Misinformed and Falling Short: Trans Coverage in America’s Newsrooms

by Justin Myers

On August 22, 2013, Chelsea Manning released an exclusive announcement to TODAY in which she came out as transgender.

Manning, who was arrested in 2011 for leaking classified government documents to WikiLeaks, expressed desire in her TODAY exclusive to begin hormone therapy “as soon as possible” and that she would immediately begin to be referenced by her chosen name and her choice of feminine pronouns.

The reporting that followed on Manning’s story showed just how ill-equipped newsrooms were at covering the trans community. The ledes of many news outlets, including TODAY, refused Manning’s request, misgendering and “deadnaming” her, the process by which a trans person is referred to by their birth name in place of their chosen name.

In the almost eight years since Manning’s coming out, the news media has shown that it still has not progressed much past the same failing guidelines it applied to its 2013 coverage of Manning.

In 2019, Manning’s reemergence on headlines coincided with the reemergence of her misgendering and deadnaming in several major newsrooms. The following year, actor Elliot Page, star of the movie “Juno,” announced that he was transgender and non-binary and preferred the pronouns he/they.

Page’s coming out elicited from news outlets some of the same shortfalls in their coverage of the trans community that Manning’s did. Notably, NBC Out, a section of NBC News’ website dedicated to LGBTQ issues, tweeted a post deadnaming Page on December 1, 2020 – the same day that Page came out.

What followed was a thread of Twitter users calling out the usage of Page’s deadname in the post, denouncing the news account’s action as “transphobic” and calling for greater responsibility from NBC Out when covering trans issues.

NBC Out responded to criticism, tweeting that the decision to include Page’s deadname arose from the actor’s popularity under the deadname. It further rebuked the claims by saying, “This decision also abides by GLAAD’s guidance when referring to celebrities who come out as trans.”

A media guide published by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) that morning focused specifically on how to report on Page and included the following guideline: “Since Elliot Page was known to the public by their prior name, it may be necessary initially to say ‘Elliot Page, formerly known as [Elliot] Page, …’ However, once the public has learned Page’s new name, do not continually refer to it in future stories.”

Page’s deadname has been intentionally redacted by the author of this article from GLAAD’s quoted guideline out of respect for the actor.

On June 30, 2020, the Trans Journalist Association began as a collective body to advocate for a better handling of stories related to the trans community in the newsroom. Oliver-Ash Kleine, trans journalist and co-host of the podcast “Cancel Me, Daddy,” was one of the founding members, alongside 200 other members of the trans community.

In an article written for Them magazine titled “Most Journalists Don’t Know How to Cover Trans Communities. We’re Here to Push for Change,” Kleine expressed their frustration over their experience with reporting on Manning’s coming out story.

Kleine recounted that they struggled to rewrite the script to not misgender Manning. After a long struggle with the news director at the public radio station they worked at, it was ultimately decided that pronouns would be removed from the story altogether. It wasn’t ideal for Kleine, but it’s all the station would allow.

When it came time to air the story, however, none of that mattered. The anchor, discarding Kleine’s careful bargaining and advocacy, decided it would be best to rewrite the intro how they personally saw fit, misgendering Manning in the process. It was this incident and a career-long uphill battle of fighting for better, more inclusive coverage of trans voices that led to Kleine’s involvement with the Trans Journalist Association.

Currently, the association offers a style guide and employer guide written by trans people to inform coverage of the trans community and to advocate for better treatment of trans individuals in the newsroom. Notably, unlike GLAAD, they disavow the usage of deadnames for any reason, even when reporting on celebrities such as Page.

NBC Out Associate Editor Jo Yurcaba, who identifies as trans, backed the guidelines set by the Trans Journalist Association denouncing the practice of deadnaming for any reason. Through their personal account, Yurcaba began a thread with the following: “Yes! Newsrooms that are scrambling right now: There are ways to identify Elliot Page without using his deadname in pieces.”

The thread continued with an exemplary example of reporting on Page’s story from Teen Vogue and ended with a retweet of the Trans Journalist Associations guideline against deadnaming, which was also retweeted to the original NBC Out post by Kleine.

Yurcaba further tweeted, “Also if your newsroom is scrambling maybe you should, uh, hire more trans folks,” bringing forth the importance of letting trans voices guide trans reporting.

When trans people lose the ability to advocate for their own fair and accurate coverage of themselves in the newsroom, journalists lose the ability to effectively cover their community and create harm through their reporting. While erasing the trends plaguing Manning’s and Page’s coverage will probably take years to complete, the introduction of conversations in the newsroom on trans issues with full respect given to the trans community, such as those advocated for by the Trans Journalist Association, is a start to reaching a new, more equitable horizon when stories about trans people are placed in the hands of reporters.

 

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 Our Weapon Against Distrust

How we all benefit from a more engaged, approachable media landscape

By: Francesca Mathewes

Whether we as journalists wish to admit it or not, our work is all consuming. Between the often long and irregular workdays, the pervasive nature of social media and the immediacy and relevancy wrapped into nearly everything we do, it becomes easy to feel like “the news” is synonymous with “the universe.” Sourcing, writing, fact-checking and editing feel like muscle memory, obvious processes in the work of truth-telling. We spend years committing ethics and principles of free speech and accuracy to heart –– there is a deep sense of honor and passion that every journalist I know carries with them.

So, it was a bit jarring to learn that most Americans –– 78 percent according to a 2019 Pew Research poll –– have never spoken to or been interviewed by a local journalist. It made me think anecdotally about conversations I have had with friends and family about what I do. Aside from my partner, who stopped journalism in high school, I don’t know if I have any friends who could confidently explain how I approach writing a story. Most of the people I know who have been interviewed by reporters were connected to those journalists by myself or another colleague, and despite my casual rantings and ravings about the legitimacy of certain publications and my constant suggestions of ‘who to follow’ on Twitter, I’ve heard people close to me refer to “the media” in complaints about coverage of the presidential election or metro news.

It perplexes me –– how can the collective media landscape be more diverse and fragmented than ever before, but media literacy be so low? How can we as journalists combat the uphill battle against “fake news,” and the ease of lumping outlets across all mediums together into large accusations of distrust?

I don’t have all of the answers and you’ll never please everyone –– but I think that bringing journalists –– from network affiliates to small online publications alike  –– more face to face with community members and creating more built-in engagement are some crucial steps in the right direction.

Newsrooms can start by asking some important questions internally, first. Although American trust in ‘the media’ was down to 41 percent in a 2019 Gallup poll, that’s not zero –– who are your most loyal subscribers? On what platforms do they listen the most frequently and for the longest? What are you doing to keep the subscribers you have, and what reservations do they still have about news?

Understanding what is working about your newsroom’s connection to its audience and who is tuning in regularly is the first step in understanding who isn’t and why. It could be that some groups aren’t tuning in or logging on to outlets where they feel misrepresented or left out altogether, or perhaps have a negative historical relationship with media that has been left unreckoned with. Perhaps it comes down to more practical issues of access –– Internet connection, cable, time to tune into a show.

It will take time, effort and (when possible) financial investment into the sort of analytical tools needed to have a newsroom that has a data-driven understanding of where it’s just not meeting people. But I believe it’s worth it –– to assume you know what’s working and what’s not is just as heinous as assuming a story before you’ve set out to interview. And if we need a reminder of the danger of a media mistrust problem in this country, the past four years under President Donald Trump and his campaign against media outlets should serve as a warning for the future.

Make no mistake –– trust is still earned, not calculated. It is a complicated human emotion, not a data point. Investing resources in identifying areas where audience trust might falter is the first step towards (re)building relationships with those audiences.

Embracing audience engagement has not only proved to increase the stability and improve the future of online business for already-well established publications like The New York Times in their “2020 Plan,” but can also expand coverage to be inclusive of communities of color, particularly in newsrooms with white leadership (many of them).

This isn’t about letting audiences “drive” 100 percent of the coverage. Journalists, at the end of the day, are trained with an editorial eye that enables us to make final calls about what is pursuable about a story and what isn’t. But to continue to make assumptions, and often miss, about who our audiences are and what questions they have, will be our downfall.

Once the gaps are identified, there are near infinite ways to let people in. Block Club Chicago, an online publication with a strong local readership, has a tip line front and center on their website and note at the top of each article the reporting techniques used in the story to increase credibility. Their reporters are embedded in communities they report on, assigned to neighborhood beats where they are able to get news about local businesses opening, conflict with aldermen and the trials and triumphs of people who live and work every day in the city’s neighborhoods.

Other publications, like Chicago Reader and City Bureau host regular events like Second Tuesday and the monthly Public Newsrooms series, which allows publications to join arms with community organizations, activists, teachers and other people who normally serve as sources in order to bring stories to life. This is all about creating more and more avenues for the reader to enter your newsrooms and to engage with the story. It gives citizens –– avid readers or not –– a chance to meet face to face with reporters and understand more about what we do, revealing that we are not anonymous masterminds behind the mask of “the media” at large.

This of course, can all require more funding, I can’t ignore that. Not every newsroom has the spare staff or spare time to be doing things that aren’t direct content production. But creating more sustained opportunities for engagement whenever available –– be that surveys, webinars, newsletters or neighborhood events –– we can expand the reach of journalism and fold more people into the conversation. It can strengthen subscriber bases and solidify the importance our craft amongst the public.  It can be a process that happens alongside communities rather than aside or above them, hidden downtown and seen only on live broadcasts.

If we want to bolster public trust and ensure the professions’ survival, it’s time for every publication to integrate engagement as a more serious part of what they do.

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Off of the internet and into the streets

By Patsy Newitt

Social media and the internet have, of course, altered the course of journalism. News cycles are shorter, Twitter is king and budding journalists are required to know how to do it all: audio, video, photos, live-tweeting and engagement.

But what’s forgotten throughout this narrative is the multitude of citizens who aren’t online.

The internet reaches a pretty homogenous group. Twitter users, for example, are typically younger, wealthier and of the political left, according to a 2019 Pew Research Study. 42 percent of Twitter users have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 31 percent of the general public, and they are three times as likely to be younger than 50.

In Chicago, there is a distinct digital divide, which falls, as many things do in this city, between the North and South and West sides. More than half of the households in Englewood don’t have internet access in their homes and in the South Shore, 46 percent.

Lack of internet access is a barrier — it’s nearly impossible to fill out a job application or learn remotely, let alone stay informed. And while journalists can’t singlehandedly fix access inequity and injustice, they can work to meet people where they are and provide crucial information and resources to those who need it.

But yet, there seems to be little to no effort by news organizations to reach community members offline, or at the very least being in tune with online communities.

This is the essence of community engagement. Newsrooms need to be looking for ways to reach groups that aren’t the Twitter demographics — white, upper-middle class and politically savvy.

Journalists need to leave the newsroom. Journalists need to reach people offline to figure out what they need covered, what information they’re missing and most importantly, how they want to receive it.

And while the COVID-19 pandemic has stunted the ability to meet in person, there are newsrooms that are putting in the work, finding innovative ways to engage with groups who are historically disenfranchised and under covered.

Injustice Watch, a non-partisan news publication for example, is sending copies of their ballot guides into Cook County Jail. Nonprofit journalism lab City Bureau hosts free workshops called Public Newsrooms to be more responsive to community needs.

If journalists and publications are going to paint themselves as those who speak truth to power and give a voice to the voiceless, then they need to be putting in the effort to reach past the digital divide.

You can’t expect readers to adapt to your standards and practices, particularly if those standards and practices are inaccessible in the first place. If you want to be making a difference, if you want to be addressing injustice, journalists need to be finding new ways to reach people.