Journalism’s Trial by Fire Has Rewards

Jun 13, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Mirna Pineda

Special to TelevisionWeek

It sounded like a maraca, but it was only my heartbeat-accompanied by a cold sweat all over my body-while a faraway voice whispered in my ear.

That first-time excitement was many years ago, but the adrenaline still flows each time I hear that voice counting down: “In five, four, three, two … “

Being “on the air” on television is an enviable position that carries enormous responsibility. As a news anchor and television reporter for more than 20 years, I learned long ago that the enjoyment of journalism is not a given but is developed over the years. It is built on learning, on a vocation of service and on a commitment to share what you have learned.

Now, thanks to the invitation of Verónica Villafañe, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, I will have the opportunity to share some trade secrets with participants at the NAHJ national convention in Forth Worth, Texas, this week.

When I first registered for mass communications/journalism in college, my father asked me: “Where do you plan to work?” It was a new field of study at the time and I had to describe the syllabus to many people so that they could understand what it was all about.

But it turned out that I found my best teachers in actual practice. A technical operator taught me how to smile and speak at the same time while recording a radio commercial. When I acted in live theater in front of the “seven-headed dragon” (as the audience is sometimes called), the director explained to me that stage presence goes beyond a pretty face or a nice body. In secret, he told me that it often is quite difficult for beautiful people to convey good stage presence because their vanity overtakes them.

A brilliant television producer taught me that creativity has no time nor limits-and that one has to “marry” the business.

From gurus of print journalism I obtained a thirst for knowledge, a love of reading and a passion for writing. I also experienced the joy of being a teacher, a mentor and a counselor for more than 14 years in Mexican universities.

It cost me time and many falls, but only by committing errors did I come to understand body language, the influence of colors, empathy with the public and even the best way to hold the microphone.

Nowadays, thousands of students graduate from journalism and communication schools with the same doubts and weaknesses I had more than two decades ago. The rapid pace of the media world does not allow time for adequate supervision, evaluation and correction of our work, especially in front of cameras. You are simply liked or disliked; this is told to you by the public, your boss, your mother or the ratings. But if you fail, no one gives you the reasons for failing.

Philosophy of the Bullring

Georgetown University personal image studies claim that in 30 percent of cases, what women saw first in men was the clothes they were wearing. In 42 percent of the cases, men first focused on clothes that other men were wearing and 43 percent of women focused first on what other women were wearing. However, 43 percent of men focused first on a woman’s body and afterward focused on what they were wearing.

Fortunately, television journalism is not only about looking pretty, but about projecting security and, above all, credibility. This is achieved only with honesty, knowledge and dynamics.

The most experienced bullfighters get nervous before confronting a bull, but they do it with the skill and ability that comes through experience. The image of the bullfighter comes to mind each time I go live on the air, where the unthinkable can occur: One has to triumph by circling the bullring with two ears and a tail, not with a tail between one’s legs. While writers are focused on content, message, public perception and response, the motto in television is “Seeing is believing.”

To teach other television talent how to avoid the same bad experiences that I had, I have made a list of recommendations I will present during my NAHJ seminar in Spanish, titled “Workshop for the Improvement of Television Presentations.” It is a double privilege for me because not only will I be able to present it in my native tongue but, as they say, “He or she who teaches learns twice.”

My father died more than 10 years ago, but on his deathbed he told me: “I thought that your wanting to appear on TV was only a caprice, but since you now also teach people how to improve their skills on television, I know that it’s your true vocation.”

And it really is that way.

Mirna Pineda is news anchor for Telemundo’s KDRX-TV in Phoenix.