Job Title: Radio News Producer
Education: MSc in Journalism, Columbia University; BA in Political Science, McGill University
Previous Experience: I previously worked: *At Cambridge Energy Research Associates on a [never-completed] web project based on the book by Yergin & Stanislaw called "Commanding Heights"; *As producer/correspondent for Reuters TV; *As documentary producer/writer for PBS and The History Channel; *Correspondent and Amman Bureau Chief for CNN; *Freelance producer and print, TV and Radio reporter for CBC, The European, The Australian, MacNeil Lehrer News hour and many more; *Producer on PBS's The Kwitny Report; *Researcher/producer ZDF [German] TV and Stern Magazine; *Other: Factory worker, waiter, busboy, cleaner, bartender, audience services administrator, farm worker, carnie worker [okay, for 1 week only] and other.
Best and Worst Parts of the Job: Best part: I get to call up some of the best-informed and intelligent people in the country and the world and have a fascinating pre-interview with them. By the nature of my job, representing the average citizen, I have license to admit it when I am poorly-informed and to ask a smart person to give me a crash course. Most people are very gracious and give me a brilliant primer. There are some self-important people out there to be sure. Congresspersons are murder to pin down. Entertainment industry types are too often too full of themselves. Some people spend all their time trying to figure out what you want them to say because they are so eager to get on the air. But mostly, people are very decent and patient and simply glad that a broadcast news show wants to devote a full hour, instead of a soundbite to a topic they are so passionate about.
Worst part: Deadlines always loom, and you are always distressed that you don't know more than you do. Some topics are so hot (e.g., the Arab-Israeli conflict) that large numbers of your listeners are convinced you are biased towards the other side and hurt that you are - and you are upset that they think so.
1. Strictly speaking, internships are grossly unfair, because people should be paid for their work and often it is the better-off kids who can afford internships. But they are nevertheless an incredible way to get past the mystique and the intimidation factor and the closed doors of your chosen profession to learn a lot in short order. And the news business has been facing hard times --even before the current downturn, so I'd say internships are a great way in to your chosen profession. And they are a valuable experience even if you change career paths.
2. Watch, watch, watch TV, listen, listen, listen to radio and read, read, read papers. Don't worry if you don't get a lot of it. Just doing it is a form of mental exercise --and one day you'll suddenly realize, "Hey, I get this stuff." Even when you think nothing is sinking in, one or two ideas are, and one or two ideas one day become a hundred.
3. Be afraid - or at least realistic. The news business is changing in big ways. Most important, its economic models are crumbling and reforming - in plain language that means the bosses are paying less in salaries and spending less on even important news stories and finding cheaper ways to cover the news while they try to bolster their profits or keep from going under. It may well get better soon, but it's not a business you go into to get rich. In my personal view, the big salaries and fame may or may not come to many really capable journalists. If your sole goal is fame, a lot of journalists would prefer you stick to entertainment and not make news any more entertainment-oriented than it already is.
4. Despite what I just said in item 3, don't take yourself TOO seriously: Reporters try their best and rarely get it perfectly. The important thing is to keep trying to understand people you disagree with and remember you are just trying to help regular people know a thing or two about what's going on around the world.
5. Be reliable: You always work on a team and the team is always on deadline. The team always appreciates somebody who is reliable & shows up ON TIME --news teams especially hate having to wait for a team member when everyone agreed to meet and leave for their destination.
6. It's a favor-based business: Most people appreciate and remember when you help them and will be big helps to you too. (There are workplaces populated primarily by jerks, but even there, good-will is infectious.)
7. Admit what you don't know. It's the hardest thing to do, and even very experienced and successful journalists often try to fake it. But if you don't ask people to back up and explain when you don't know what they're talking about, you'll fall behind and you'll be frazzled. And if you do do it, people usually explain to you pretty well, which makes you a better journalist. (A lot of times interviewers are rambling because you are silent and they are trying to figure out what exactly you need them to tell you. Honest questions are often a relief for them too. Plus, not every reporter really wants to hear what the interviewee has to say - they are often just hunting for quotes that they can use to fill holes in their story. And people don't bother to tell those folks some important things. Sometimes, they'll tell you something they never told the New York Times or Fox because those guys never gave them a chance to do so.
Additional Thoughts: People of my generation are worried about the next news job, or whether the next job will even BE a news job, and how much they'll have tucked away for retirement. But it's still really important work, and you should do it. But be honorable. Everybody bends certain rules, but don't break them. This isn't about your fame. It's about the truth as best as you can figure it out. Sorry to be 'ponderous' but it is kind of a sacred job.
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