By Nancy Copic, Beacon adviser
A few conference highlights compiled from 19 (!) pages of handwritten notes:
Keynote: Byron Pitts, reporter for ABC’s “Nightline”
This keynote was more inspirational than many sermons I’ve heard, and I’ve heard a lot of them. Byron Pitts may tell stories for a living, but his personal story is as compelling as any he’s reported as a network correspondent.
Raised by a young, low-income single mother in Baltimore, Pitts said he didn’t learn how to read until he was 12 or 13. Around that time, a “specialist” diagnosed him as mentally retarded and advised his mother to institutionalize him. “Because you’re a person of limited means,” Pitts quoted the man as saying, “we recommend you put him an an institution.”
His mother wouldn’t have it, didn’t do that. What she did is take her boy to church. A lot. She also wore a pendant in the shape of a mustard seed, a symbol of the faith that guides Pitts today.
“Raised Baptist, educated Catholic,” he says.
Pitts ended up at Ohio Wesleyan University, where, as Pitts puts it, a professor saved his life. But first, another one told him he didn’t have what it took to succeed there. That news hit him hard, left him crying in a hallway on campus. Another professor, who was new to campus, noticed him crying and asked what was wrong. When he told her what the other professor said, she set him straight and told him not to give up. He stayed and he graduated.
Flash forward decades. Pitt is a famous Emmy-winning television journalist and he’s on the Board of Trustees at Ohio Wesleyan, who invites him to speak at graduation. Pitts tells his story at the ceremony, including the part about the professor who made him cry. After his speech, that professor, humbled and contrite walks up to him and tells him he’s sorry.
Did I mentioned he also was a stutterer when he was younger? “Being a stutterer has made me a better listener, ” he says
What bothers him? Indifference. He sees journalism an antidote.
“My profession needs you,” he said to the room full of student journalists from all over the country. “You are needed not just to speak the truth. You’re needed to help this world be better.”
Pitts thinks one of the most remarkable stories is about the resilience of the African American people as a race.
“I am the hope and dream of a slave,” he said. “My worst day is the best day for my great grandparents.”
Also, he writes thank you notes to everyone he interviews.
I think that’s remarkable. So is the fact that he stayed at least two hours to talk one-on-one with students who lined up to chat with him.
Of course, Malika was one of them.
FBI Strategies of Interviewing
This was engaging. Clare, Cheyenne and Malika also gave it good reviews. Here are the strategies:
- Withhold judgment- Keep your feelings to yourself. Monitor your posture and tone. Give your source room to be who they are. (Verbal abuse does not work.)
- “Joining” Use language that shows you understand things from the other person’s perspective.
- “Mirroring”- Mimic body posture of the person you’re interviewing. If he leans back, you lean back (but not right away.)
- Show curiosity- Use your body to show your curiosity. Nod at what they’re saying.
- Active Listening-Resist the urge to formulate your next question.
- Pay attention to personality types. Are they “thinking” types or “feeling” types?
Bonus tip for students: If your nervous for the interview, tell your source. It may create empathy.
Glossy Standards-The Ethics of Magazine Reporting and Editing
This panel featured:
- Deborah Blum, Pulitzer-Prize winning science journalist and director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT
- Hank Hersch, assistant managing editor at Sports Illustrated
- Andrew Seaman, chair of the ethics committee for the Society of Professional Journalists and senior medical journalist for Reuters in NYC
- Derek Kravitz, contributing writer and news editor at The Wall Street Journal; researcher/instructor at Columbia University School of Journalism
The focus of this panel was fact checking and ethical debacles such as the Rolling Stone Rape story that was later discredited and actor Sean Penn’s (called “the ultimate freelancer.” by Andrew Seaman) much-maligned profile of drug lord El Chappo Guzman.
One interesting tidbit; If you’re a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and your published story needs to be corrected, the process is “incredibly embarrassing,” according to Derek Kravitz. You have to fill out a long form, which is circulated among several editors.
Big takeaway:”Keep that skeptical part of your brain always active.”
I lucked out with my chaperoning assignment. I escorted a group of students (from various universities from across the country) on a tour of the New York Times.
Due to security concerns, we were not allowed to take photographs in the newsroom. But the lobby is interesting and was fair game. There’s a unique electronic art display that siphons words and phrases from the NYT’s 150+ years of archives and runs them like electronic teletypes across dozens of mounted screens that look like elongated smart phones.
Another interesting symbolic architectural element of the building: There are two banks of elevators. One for the editorial staffers, the other for people who work in sales and marketing. Get it? The business side should never mesh with the editorial side. Or so that was the thinking way back in 2007.
The courtyard (or “lobby garden”) of the building features sedges, ferns and birch trees, an earthy contrast to the surrounding steel and glass.
One of the most relevant sessions at the conference was called “Manage Your Digital Workflow.” It was presented by Roman Heindorff, founder of Camayak.
Tips I found most relevant here:
- Brand every piece of content.
- Improve the access outside contributors have to pitch ideas to your newsroom
- Only invest in writers you see a future with. You can’t keep shoving resources at people who just kind of stick around the newsroom and don’t grow.
- Show reporters their metrics; show them their stories relative to their peers
- Reward people. Incentivize (pizza?)
- While working on a story is a good time to start promoting the story vis social media to get a buzz going.
And in our down time, we went to The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. The topic of the night: Donald Trump’s racist supporters
One more thing: The Beacon came in Second Place in the Apple Awards. Not bad!
-Nancy Copic, Ass’t Director for Student Media