On September 7, I attended the 27th Annual Press Club Conference on Journalism at NYU. As a former staff writer, and frankly, an American citizen, I appreciate the role of the press in a democracy. A free press is a pillar upon which this union stands and if the press crumbles, so goes the country. I’m not being old school here – responsible journalism and truth-telling is a civic responsibility. And, as Chris Cuomo says, “Let’s get after it.”
The keynote speaker was Ross Buettner who along with Susanne Craig and David Barstow got after it when the New York Times reporters broke the story of how Trump inflated his ego (and flat out lied) by calling himself a self-made millionaire. Truth was he inherited, squandered, and exaggerated his millions. It’s curious why this story did not have legs, as they say. Maybe it’s that we, the American people, are bombarded with falsehoods every fricken’ day, including on this day, September 11, 2019 – has Trump (DT) no shame? — and we’ve become inured to this shady executive in chief’s penchant for falsehoods and exaggerations.
One question for the keynoter: “Is DT an outlier?” And the answer is, indubitably, “Yes,” the man is an outlier. We, the people, are so much better than this charlatan currently occupying the Oval Office.
Investigative reporters like Barstow, Craig, and Buettner are my modern-day heroes. And like so many people of principle, they choose humility over self-aggrandizement. For example, Buettner admonished, “You always wanna’ be checking your own BS.” Wise words.
Also sage advice: “Don’t be afraid of sounding stupid,” said Alana Pipe in the workshop on Making Data a Routine Part of Your Beat, which featured two additional amazing investigative and data savvy reporters, Irina Ivanova and Will Bedderman, who specialize in using data to unearth hidden stories. These data and investigative stories take time to simmer so this kind of reporting requires patience, which is difficult for me. However, I remind myself to stay on topic and not chase side stories. I am so easily distracted: what’s the shiny new thing? Hey, I tell myself, follow the truth — but make it sparkly. After all, writers are competing for the attention of readers who might prefer shiny games like Candy Crush to the depressing news.
The workshop on Workin’ It: Making It as a Freelancer was chock-full of advice. Hanna Bae (@hanbae) was a fount of knowledge. Here are a few of her suggestions, plucked from my Twitter feed @MaryBethC
- New voices, submit your writing to the WSJ and the Washington Post’s the Lily.
- Use your interests. The topic of academic stress was interesting to Bae so she wrote about specialized high schools.
- Reach out to local bureau chiefs in international settings for assignments and for professional development.
- Peer mentors and friends are the best networking buddies!
- Never pitch on social media; use thoughtfully worded emails.
In the conference’s opening plenary, panelists Zach Fink, Harry Siegel, Ruby Cramer, and Michael Calderone discussed The Media’s Responsibility in Election 2020. How can the press report differently (better!) this time around? Here again, my advice? Do not chase shiny objects!
On a discussion of whether journalists fear for their safety in a climate of hate-mongering from the president, both Ruby Cramer and Michael Calderone agreed that female and people of color journalists receive more hate on social media than their white male colleagues.
Zack Fink spun the current political morass as one that has sparked an uptick in civic engagement, a new “level of wokeness,” calling the current political climate “a backlash to elitism.”
Still, there were calls for greater diversity in newsrooms (okay, that was me). Most of the audience seemed to be young people, women, and people of color yet the panelists and our media’s talking heads are often white, male pundits.
I think that the event was sold out because the Press Club supported college students and young journalists to attend the conference. We need these young people and we need the freakin’ press. Support your local journos.
To join the Press Club, I had to submit a few of my press clippings and pay my membership dues. Growing up, my father was a member of the Chicago Press Club and to me, there was nothing fancier than a night out to dinner with my parents and a bunch of press people. This is still true today!