Blazing lights and towering skyscrapers aside, the reason I was so jazzed about visiting New York City was the opportunity to get an exclusive walkabout around the offices of media companies. The CMA offered a handful of tours throughout the four-day convention to places like CNN and the Wall Street Journal. Those willing (and crazy enough) to fork even more media madness onto their convention schedule could sign up at 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday.
Nothing gives one media maven street cred like a willingness to pop (read: crawl) out of bed at 6:30 a.m. to sit in a hallway, hoping to beat the line and win a coveted place on a tour group. So, naturally, I was loitering into the hallway at a quarter to 7, chatting with fellow convention-goers and hoping my jetlagged humor wasn’t offending anyone.
Told that I could pick only one media tour, I chose Democracy Now! – a station I regularly connect with when I volunteer at KBOO FM. As a bonus, the tour was held at 7:00 a.m. the next day, meaning I wouldn’t miss any conference session.
The office and studios of Democracy Now! were both everything and nothing what I’d expected: casual, homey and filled with an independent-media vibe. We were offered much-needed coffee and heavenly cookies while the education director Simin Farkhondeh gave us a quick summary of Democracy Now!’s founding and mission. It was intriguing to hear about the role of Democracy Now! in fighting homogeneous media conglomerates that control what passes through news outlets. We discussed the role of the audience in creating show content, what social media plans they had in place, and where they saw the station heading next.
While my heart belongs to print journalism, broadcast will always have a special glamor for me, and getting to watch the incredible Amy Goodman and Juan González host an hour of the War and Peace Report was a true privilege. Almost even more exciting was sneaking back into the production room and have the friendly staff give us a rundown of the equipment being used. Also, it was just plain fun to toss around terms like “syndicated” and “board op-ing” and know everyone understood my broadcast terms.
At the close of the news hour two Democracy Now! interns gave us a tour of the office, and nearly everyone stopped working to chat with us and cheerfully answer our million questions. I learned an immense amount about the work of archivists, translators and producers, so it was no surprise to realize we’d spent almost four hours total on the tour.
Heading back on the subway to the conference one of the folks who was on the tour mentioned that the ProPublica tour still had spaces open. So at 2:00 I showed up in the lobby, smiling hopefully and sweet-talking my way into the tour group. Since I hadn’t signed up, I knew I was running a risk at being turned away by security once I reached the ProPublica office. But $.5.00 of subway fare was worth the risk, and I blithely “borrowed” the name of a student who hadn’t shown up when the security guard asked for my name. Luckily, we didn’t have to produce ID, and that’s how I snuck into the office of ProPublica – an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism.
Minhee Cho, the communications officer quickly summarized ProPublica’s mission, and then let us ask her questions about the details of how the organization works. She was remarkable frank, talking about the trials investigative journalists face, shared funny stories and moments of triumph. We peppered her with questions, seeking to understand how ProPublica was changing the landscape of investigative journalism.
Eventually we ran out of things to ask, and she led us about the office, introducing us to journalists and mentioning the fascinating work they were doing. We didn’t have much time to chat with the reporters, and many of them were occupied pouring over documents or speaking with sources. Yet seeing them hard at work, bring hidden truths to light, was a very inspiring end to an educational and enlightening day.