Posts Tagged ‘Willie Geist’

Good morning New York from the Times Square Sheraton.

Good morning New York from the Times Square Sheraton.

About fifteen minutes into a session about working with faculty and administration at private schools, I noticed that all fifteen blazer-clad students around me were leaning forward in their seats, nodding and compulsively scribbling notes.

I think I found my people.


Who says print is dead?

Being surrounded by hundreds of college journalists with similar interests and passions, not to mention facing similar problems daily in their newsrooms, and attending lectures by people who have “made it,” all in the amazing setting of New York City has been an indescribable experience. The End.


Walking the streets.

Just kidding – I will do my best to describe it but please know it is better than I convey. Here are a few of my top lessons from day 1:

 The media is still a great place to be:

Keynote speaker William Geist talked about how journalism is such a dynamic industry that, despite what we are told, has many opportunities for us if we work hard enough. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

  • Yes you are hearing that newspapers are dead, but there are so many exciting opportunities. Get in the door. Keep your head down. Work heard. Show a work ethic and a willingness to do what it takes.

  • Anybody you talk to who has made it in media has some version of the story where they felt stuck and under appreciated.

  • If you stop being hungry and curious and you just want to hang out with all the cool people and get invited to cocktail parties, then maybe it’s time to start thinking about doing something else.

Me covering "Occupy Wall Street." A wee bit late.

Me covering “Occupy Wall Street.” A wee bit late.

I love design  / design is a writers best friend / if you make it hard for a reader to read your paper, they probably wont:

I couldn’t decide between the three titles so I didn’t. I promise no stories in The Beacon next year will have three titles. But all three are true – GO DESIGN. As primarily a writer, I was excited to immerse myself in design during the first day of the conference. The following notes are a compilation of ideas from the session “Chicken Noodle Soup 1” and a private Beacon critique Joey and I attended with the very experienced Gary Metzker.

  • White space is your friend. It makes your paper look more professional and easier to read.
  • Keep the headline and the deck together in news articles. In living, it is okay to split them up. Put fillers and ads towards the bottom and right. Avoid using more than one pull quote per story or page unless it is a very long story.
  • Photography is not just about getting the right shot. Where and how you place the photo is very important. The best photo and story always go on the front page. Always. The front page picture should also feature students. Apparently students won’t be fighting over the newspaper stands when old white guys shaking hands or sitting in a cubicle are on the front. Who knew? If the front page photo is good enough, it alone can carry the page. Always put the caption and byline below the photo, not in it. Avoid using multiple photos of the same size on the same page or putting photos by ads.

When all else fails (even technology), doodle the pope.

Private schools like UP are required to post a variety of forms online.

    • Clery Act: includes a crime log and statistical report for the last three years of crime.
    • IRS 9-90: searchable data about financial details about the school
    • Ed.gov: by searching “Equity in Athletics” and reading the form UP filled out as required by the NCAA, we discovered that coaches of women sports teams make significantly less than coaches of male sports teams at UP. There’s a story idea right there!

    Don't tell me you didn't rush to the Public Library first thing when getting into town too.

    Don’t tell me you didn’t rush to the Public Library first thing when getting into town too.

  • We don’t suck!
  • Although this is pretty obvious (cough *Columbia Awards* cough), this conference definitely confirmed that we are doing a lot of things right.  Improving writing and design is a continual process, but I am lucky to be joining Ed Board next year on such a thriving, successful paper.
  • And that is only day one.
  • IMG_3363
  • Cheers!
  • Kelsey Thomas

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5th Avenue New York City
Photo by Kate Stringer

I woke up this morning with sunburned eyes. I think it was from spending all yesterday staring at the sunlight reflecting off glass buildings. I shouldn’t have stared for so long, but it was impossible not to act exactly as I felt: like a Pacific Northwest child seeing the big city for the first time. Building. So. Tall. What?! Luckily the sunburned eyes didn’t prevent me from seeing the world of journalism with fresh eyes as I visited CMA sessions that challenged me, The Beacon and perhaps even a few people back home, to be a little better.

Thanks for the spin…but what really happened?

Tough interviews are no foreign territory for a reporter. Whether it be controversy, grief or simple nervous habits, some sources find answering questions to be more terrifying than death. David Simpson, former AP assistant bureau chief, gave great instruction for helping crack (or gently understand) a difficult source.

Steven Pinker said it right when he remarked “each side sincerely believes its version of the story, namely, that it is an innocent and long- suffering victim and the other side a malevolent and treacherous sadist.”  David points out that people spin stories to make them align with their beliefs. His advice is to acknowledge everything a sources says, including PR opinion, but keep asking for facts. Is that what actually happened? Do you have evidence to back up your claim that our campus is safer than it’s ever been? Do you have surveys that show students think our school is the best? Keep asking for evidence, keep pushing for facts. The truth, not PR people, will set you free.


Reporter Kathryn Walters takes notes during a panel on “tight bright writing”
Photo by Kate Stringer

Sources sometimes like to dismiss reporters’ questions as irrelevant when they are really just hesitant to give an answer. David recommends push-back questions to counter these statements. Why is that an unfair question? What is the point I’m missing? Are you telling me that as a fact or your opinion? Ok, I wrote down the spin, now would you please answer my question? (Simpson).

Some of the hardest interviews to conduct involve grieving sources. How do you interview a student whose best friend passed away?  David’s advice is to cause as little harm as possible. One of the most important tips is to never demand an interview. It is ok to respectfully  ask, but never pester, never demand. When talking to a source, make sure to emphasize the deceased person’s life rather than death. David says that many people will feel better after talking about their loss with a reporter. Additionally, David encourages letting the interviewee know how sorry you are for their loss. Even though words like these seem inadequate, David points out that nothing you could say to an individual who has lost a loved one could ever be adequate. The important thing is to show you care.

For the sources that find it difficult to express anything in verbal form, David recommends asking the obvious: Are you having trouble talking about this? What do you find hardest to talk about?  Why?

International freelancing post-graduation

Imagine leaving the comfort and security of solid ground and jumping off a precipice into the unknown. Without a parachute. Without a back-up plan. Without any way of knowing how far or how hard you would fall. For speaker Julia Waterhous, this terrifying unknown adventure was her post-graduation plan.

Julia decided to do international freelancing in Delhi after studying abroad and feeling moved by the difficult livelihood of India’s trash pickers, people who salvage recyclable materials from landfills for profit. She was advised to make a documentary rather than write a story to those that so many people had already written and published. The risk? Living in a strange country typically dangerous for women. Working with a group of people the police didn’t like. Abandoning the career field for a year. Oh ya, and no money.

Despite the obstacles, Julia realized she didn’t want to live with the “what if” of missing out on an opportunity she was very passionate about. With a kickstarter account, Julia made enough money to travel to Delhi and film the trash pickers. Currently Julia is working on the documentary, editing 3,000-4,000 video clips.

Talk about audacity.


Beacon Staffers outside NBC
Photo by Nancy Copic

Willie Geist

Sometimes, being a journalist requires the impossible. Willie Geist recounts a time he was expected to host a television show from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and make a live appearance on a show next door at 7 a.m. Luckily he had a time turner, more commonly known as a commercial break, sprinting skills and an extra staff member to cover.

Willie Geist co-hosts MSNBS’s Morning Joe and co-anchors The Today Show but hasn’t forgotten that he started out his career by driving a kid-napper style van delivering wine. Willie was candid and humorous as he gave a ballroom full of aspiring journalists advice on working up through the hierarchy of journalism while being true to oneself.

“The right reason [to be a journalist] is because you’re hungry, you’re curious, you’re someone who doesn’t want to be invited to all the cocktail parties,” Geist said. “[Journalists are] people who see injustice, want to know why it’s happening and hopefully change it.”

Willie recommended finding a big-name company like NBC or CNN and starting at a lower job and rising up rather than transferring from company to company laterally. However, he pointed out that rising through the journalism ranks takes patience and time and that many journalists who “make it big” at some point feel stuck in a rut in terms of mobility and progress through the job world.

Some of the wisest and most comforting advice of Willie’s was this: “Writing is the whole deal, if you can write, you are self-sufficient.”

Killing the puppy dogs and the semicolons…and other tight bright writing tips

Tight and bright writing by Peggy Elliott gave advice very similar to William Zinsser’s On Writing Well: think about what you write! As a writer I’ve found it easy to use phrases sewn together by society without thinking about what they mean. Actual truth, barely notice, end result, basic fundamentals, cleverly disguised, erased completely…Why do we use redundancy so eagerly? Because it’s easy. The phrases sound familiar and simple. Why would we question them? Yet this is what the session demands. Kill off the puppy dogs and kitty cats. A puppy can be no other animal than a dog – it’s not necessary for the reader above age five to hear this redundancy.

Peggy also advocated for the death of the semicolon in news writing. While she admitted that her generation was an avid semicolon user, she said our generation uses it too incorrectly to be allowed free reign. Rather than semicolons, Peggy advises splitting long sentences into two separate ones. While I equate the death of semicolons with discrimination against the Oxford comma (one of the more horrible crimes of AP style), I managed to put aside my differences and enjoy and learn from Peggy’s suggestions for better, tighter writing.

Kate Stringer

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Today was the first day of the College Media Association we Beaconites are attending here in New York City, and here I am, sitting in the lobby of the Sheraton Times Square Hotel, ready to collapse after a very long day of journalism craziness! Our very early day started at about 6 this morning, when some of us got up early to get on line to reserve spots for media tours on Monday and Tuesday. Kate and I are going to Hearst Tower (or, Hearst Castle, as I deliriously told the sign-up lady this morning), where many magazines, like Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, and Marie Claire, are published.  So that will be fun! I am really excited to get a closer look at the magazine industry.

The first session I attended this morning was called “Tough Interview? You Can Do it!” presented by David Simpson, a college media adviser who has written for the Associated Press and many other publications. He was a really engaging presenter, considering it was 9 a.m. (more like 8 a.m. with the time change, which felt more like 5 a.m. for us West Coast girls!). He had a lot of really good tips for dealing with difficult administrators or PR people who don’t want to talk, or aren’t very forthcoming when they do talk to you. He emphasized the importance of being professional, which was a no-brainer, but I took away from him some really interesting points. One way to get the facts straight of any story is to have the source tell it in chronological order so you can catch any errors of logic or inconsistencies. He also said that while it’s important to be prepared, sometimes for whatever reason, you just can’t always be 100 percent put together, and so it’s better to admit this to the source so you won’t have to scam your way through an interview. Probably the biggest thing I took away from him was the importance of listening to your source, and not just thinking of your next question, because you may miss something important if you do. And if you are still really nervous for an interview, a little self-affirmation can go a long way.

I next went to “Just Do It: International Freelancing Post-Graduation,” which was given by a recent college graduate, Julia Waterhous, who decided to follow her dream of freelance journalism in India, and the steps she took to get there. The biggest thing I took from this presentation was the importance of courage and determination in following whatever dream you may have. As someone who loves to travel and learn about different cultures, I thought it was a really fascinating presentation.

The keynote speaker today was Willie Geist, who’s basically done every job there is in journalism, from writing to editing to producing to hosting all these different morning shows, including the 9 a.m. hour of The Today Show. He was such a funny and engaging speaker! He had some really great insights about breaking into the business. He said there is no set way to get involved in journalism. You just have to go for it and see where it takes you and where you may possibly end up. Also, a journalist must often be flexible and versatile to be successful. As he so eloquently put it, “15 minutes after talking about the sequester, I’m across the street making meatloaf with Martha Stewart.”


Willie Geist!

After some lunch, I attended a presentation called “Tight, Bright Writing and Editing,” by Peggy Elliott. It was mostly about how you can make your writing more concise and neat, which I personally really want to improve on. I learned about getting rid of redundancies, like “actual truth” and “future plans,” and the difference between “due to” (implies debt) and “because of” (cause and effect) in an article. I know I use “due to” a lot in my articles, so I was really happy I learned how different these two phrases actually are! Little things like these are what make the difference between good writers and great writers!

“Becoming a Pitch-Perfect Writer” was my next session, and this one was a bit different from others I had attended so far. It was about getting your foot in the door if you want to freelance for magazines or even newspapers. The key, according to the presenter, Rick Marshall (who was really funny and laid-back) is to know how to pitch your ideas to potential editors. He talked about strategies such as understanding the tone and audience of the publication you want to freelance for, keeping your pitch concise, being as timely as possible in regard to current events, and not overreaching with your credentials. Good things to know for any career you may choose to go into!

The final session I attended was a showcase called “Insider Tips from a Metro Editor on Snagging Internships and a Job,” and it was a really good session at first, with lots of helpful tips like getting in contact with potential editors for “informational interviews” cultivating as many relationships in the workplace as you can, and encouraging us to even seek out non-editors, like parents or friends, to help with article construction. However, when he opened it up for questions, it gradually turned into one big brag-fest where it seemed like everyone who asked questions tried to outdo each other in how many internships and how much real journalism experience they had. Oh well. Not every session can be a winner, I guess.

Right now, it doesn’t seem like my brain could possibly contain any more new information, but there’s still a day and a half to go! I am so excited to learn more as these days go on. Now, to a bit of R&R before tomorrow’s round 2!


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