Young Journalists Get Career Advice

Aug 1, 2005  •  Post A Comment

By Sheree R. Curry

Special to TelevisionWeek

Young journalists just starting out should know that integrity is a major part of the journalism world, said Paula Madison, president and general manager of KNBC-TV, Los Angeles, who is scheduled to serve on a National Association of Black Journalists panel Thursday that will allow veteran journalists to speak with their younger colleagues about the promises and pitfalls of the craft.

“They may one day face that issue, as the courts become more stringent and more demanding to reveal sources,” Ms. Madison said. “If you are not prepared with your integrity to fulfill your promise, then you really don’t want to be a journalist.”

But assuming one is committed on all levels, “A critical skill to have, no matter how digitized and modernized the business becomes, is writing,” she said.

Some young journalists may not realize how important writing is for broadcast journalism, although it is different for those who want to be a photographer or an editor, said Ms. Madison, who will be attending her 29th consecutive NABJ conference since the start of the professional association 30 years ago. “It is less about your ability to look good on-camera and have a good voice. You have to be able to write.”

One might be surprised that writing is truly what attracts managers to television journalists, she said, adding, “An enterprising reporter who can develop his or her own stories when they walk into a market is how a reporter separates themselves from the pack.”

Though an assignment editor or news director will not likely put a person new to the market on a live assignment before the new hire gets up to speed on the market, she recommends that journalists begin their research on a market long before they arrive there.

“With digital technology today, the ability to research the market you are going to is a lot easier than back in the days when you had to get to town early and go to the library or newspaper archives and read as much as you could. Today it is at your fingertips,” said Ms. Madison, whom Black Enterprise named one of the 75 Most Powerful African Americans in Corporate America for 2005. “You spend a week or two [browsing the Internet] in the middle of the night getting up to speed so that you know who the members of the city council are and what the issues are affecting the school district.”

While researching an area, Ms. Madison suggested as an aside, a reporter should also look into what is culturally relevant to his or her personal life. “Go out and find where the barbecue is, where you can go to church, where to get your hair done,” she said, noting that fitting into one’s community is very important, especially for people of color.

But on the professional side, just having writing skills that are superb and knowing a market doesn’t guarantee that up-and-coming reporters and anchors will land jobs at stations in the top 10 or even top 20 markets easily, even though the news covered in Tulsa, Okla., is not that much different from what is covered in Chicago, Birmingham, Ala., or Detroit-it’s all politics, education, crime and various lifestyle topics, Ms. Madison said.

Presentation skills partly make the difference in where one lands. “When I was a news director, I was looking for reporters who could enterprise and I looked in a variety of markets,” said Ms. Madison, who joined NBC owned-and-operated KNBC in 2000 from NBC O&O WNBC-TV in New York, where she had been the station’s VP and news director since March 1996. “Beverly White is probably one of the best live reporters. She can arrive on a scene and assemble the facts in her head and convey them on-air in an excellent manner.”

(Ms. White, who was dubbed a “Live Shot Diva” in the April 2000 issue of Essence magazine, is a 13-year veteran of KNBC who hailed from NBC’s O&O WTVJ-TV in Miami. She co-anchors the weekend editions of “Today in L.A.” and reports for KNBC’s “Channel 4 News.”)

One’s tenure and longevity in the business is probably a good indicator of how good one is at the live shot, said Ms. Madison, who added that it is a given, however, that to be on-air at all, one has to be fairly good at presentation: “You can’t have a reporter stumbling and assembling all of the facts on the air.”

Ms. Madison, who honed her reporting skills from 1982 to 1989 at KHOU-TV in Houston, KOTV-TV in Tulsa and WFAA-TV in Dallas after a career in newspapers, said it is best for a journalist to gain experience in broadcast in a small market. “When you are in a 150-plus market, your news managers are poised and ready to continue to teach you. They will help you with your writing and help you with editing,” she said.

But Ms. Madison, who is the first African American woman to become general manager at a network-owned station in a top five market, also said it is important to find an industry mentor.

“Career mentors in my newsrooms were white males because those were the people who had the jobs. They have been very helpful to my career. But mentors can come from all around you. They will be Hispanics and Asians at your level and some subordinate to you,” she said, adding that NABJ is a good place to find mentors.

“Many of the experiences you may encounter as a news operator or journalist, there are others at NABJ who have also encountered them. Have a network [of mentors], so when you face something, you can turn to folks who can say, ‘Here is what

I did.'”