Six days. Sixteen students. Twenty-eight guests. Miles and miles on foot and on train. And gallons of coffee to fuel the fun.
Miami University’s third winter term NYC Media class traveled from Manhattan to Brooklyn to Broadway – with other stops in between – for non-stop learning from Miami grads and other pros in New York-based news organizations.
NYC Media students crisscross the city for Q&As with media professionals.
Saturday, Jan. 9
The Newberrys – me, “assistant director” Doug Newberry and Miami sophomore A.J. Newberry – hit the ground a day early to get our bearings. We returned to the art deco charm of the Belvedere Hotel, with a most-excellent Italian dinner at Patzeria next door –- and then on to Greenwich Village to catch Orson Welles’ “Chimes at Midnight” at the funky Film Forum theater. (Thanks to Miami film prof Kerry Hegarty for recommending one of her favorite old haunts!) Packed house, thanks to advance coverage in New York media.
Sunday, Jan. 10
As “Seinfeld” fans, we’re always on the hunt for a Jerry-worthy Manhattan diner. We found it Sunday morning at the Westway on West 49th Street, with high school pal Michael Pettinger. Good food, great conversation – and new inspiration to visit Italy: hearing about Michael’s dream of opening a B&B villa in an Italian village. Save us a room, Dr. P!
Students arrived all morning with everyone on hand for a 3 p.m. departure to the 9/11 Museum. The MTA wasn’t cooperating, though, and we had to abandon the trip two hours after we started because of construction delays in the Sunday train schedule. (Note for 2017: Buy 9/11 Museum tickets on site next year. No refund policy = lost funds!) Dinner back in Midtown at HB Burgers might have been more lively with a real first-day outing to chat about.
Monday, Jan. 11
We started at the top on the first official day with a double-header at the venerable New York Times. Jenna Pirog told us the Times decided to focus on the refugee crisis for its first virtual reality project in November after learning that half of the world’s current 60 million refugees are children. For “The Displaced,” which Pirog produced, the Times assigned teams to live with each of the three children featured in the story, staying for about two weeks and collecting some 10 hours of video from GoPro cameras. From there, Times editors on Eighth Avenue stitched the stories together, for a raw and real 11-minute, 360-degree portrayal of children ripped from their homes and their lives in Syria, Ukraine and South Sudan. In-country, journalists worked hard to avoid influencing the action. “We were very, very careful about shots that ended up in the film,” Pirog said. “You just absolutely cannot insert yourself.”
Second up, Cincinnati native Gail Collins is working hard to find new things to say about the already-old 2016 presidential campaign. “It’s very hard to find anything to say that hasn’t been said by 5,000 people before,” the veteran Times columnist reported. “You can’t just, everyday, say whether Donald Trump is good or bad.” (She does not, by the way, consider The Donald crazy or stupid. “He’s just a guy who’s figured out a thing,” she said.) She encouraged students to mine stories from local government, an under-covered beat in recent years. Her advice: focus on personality and human drama to find an audience for important policy news. “Make them funny or interesting or thrilling or sexy!”
After The Times, it was off to Rockefeller Plaza to meet 2012 Miami grad Daniela Pierre Bravo, an associate producer for “Morning Joe.” She is immersed in news of the day as she and colleagues book 10 to 15 guests a day for the MSNBC early-morning program. “You can’t dabble in it,” she said. NBC page Jordan Santo – who holds the job that launched Bravo into network TV – provided a behind-the-scenes tour of 30 Rock,
with a walk through the studios for the “Nightly News with Lester Holt” and “Saturday Night Live.” I’ve been watching SNL since it debuted in 1975 and never knew the cast admitted an audience for their 8 p.m. dress rehearsal, then a new crowd for the live performance at 11:30. During our visit, crews were starting construction of sets for the Jan. 16 show, with Adam Drive (“Girls”) as host and Chris Stapleton (“Nobody to Blame”) as musical guest.
Over at Yahoo, Cassie Carothers (Miami ’02) addressed the constant swirl of news about the company head-on – it can be hard to keep staff moving forward when layoffs are rumored, she said – but is focused on making Yahoo Foods “a fun way and fun place to get your news.” (One example: When we visited, Associate Editor Gillie Houston was working up a story about a gold donut – as in a real donut, dusted with real gold.) As managing editor of Yahoo Foods, Carothers is looking for stories that are “cheeky and smart” but not filled with “OMG-LOL” language that turns off her older readers. Like many of her peers, she’s also mindful of the value of business partners who help pay the bills. When her Food Rebels video series rolls out this year, it will have the support (and some native advertising) of Toyota. The underwriting will allow her and her writers to profile people who put their lives on the line for careers in food.
By late afternoon, we headed to Hell’s Kitchen for a few laughs. Half the group got seats for “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” (with comic Colin Quinn as the main guest) and half with “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” (with fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson on tap). Looks like Comedy Central is doing OK with its newish late-night lineup, with a full house for both shows.
Tuesday, Jan. 12
At Bloomberg News, Andy Martin (Miami ’86) turned the table on students, asking them what they knew about “third-party certification.” A bit, as it turns out, as some reported looking for foods that are organic, GMO-free, gluten-free, etc. Martin, an investigative/projects reporter, said he’s always looking for a new way into old topics. In recent months, he applied that mindset for stories about the Pizza Lobby (who knew?), pig breeding, FIFA corruption and the president of Paraguay. “At the end of the day, you just want people to read what you’re writing,” he said. Colleagues Keri Geiger and Laura Keller, meanwhile, said specialized skills won them jobs and earn them bylines. Keller racks up scoops about the distressed bond market by understanding the numbers and protecting her largely anonymous source list. Geiger, who spent a few years in banking between journalism jobs, likewise protects sources to break news about corporate misdeeds. All three adhere to a “full disclosure” policy with sources, especially if the news is bad. “There should be no surprises for the people you are writing about,” Geiger said.
Over at WABC, the city’s network affiliate station, News Director Camille Edwards has to pay attention to the journalism – and a lot more – in her newsroom of 170. “I’m managing a multi-million dollar budget,” she said, and it gets blown apart when big stories require travel or other unanticipated spending. “We don’t budget for breaking news,” she said. “I have to figure out where I’m going to get that in other parts of my budget.”
At the network level, Jane Frye (Miami ’08) is focused on audience engagement as a new staffer for ABC’s “The View.” During the mid-morning talk show, she’s curating real-time posts to social media, sending some to “The View” hosts and some to the show’s web site. After that, she’s updating the site and reacting to audience comments – looking for anything “that keeps them coming back everyday.” (Veteran “View” host Whoopi Goldberg, BTW, walks her dog before shows, Frye reports. “She’s very down to earth. People love her.”)
At the newish Marshall Project, meanwhile, editor Bill Keller says he’s back “on the ground floor of journalism” after 30 years at The New York Times. With a staff of 25 – vs. about 1,250 during his reign as executive editor of The Times – he’s chasing stories about crime and punishment. “The criminal justice system is supposed to keep us safe, but it doesn’t do that,” he said. “Our method of addressing that problem is journalism.” The site is growing its audiences with deeply reported narratives, often published with partners. In 2015, its first full year, projects about New York’s infamous Attica prison (published with The Times) and sexual assault (published with ProPublica) did especially well, as did “Life Inside” essays written by inmates and others inside the system.
After a day of serious discussion, we were laughing again by late afternoon. Swapping rosters, half got Fox News personality Greg Gutfeld with Trevor Noah; the other half got comic Kathleen Madigan and Flint, Mich., water with Larry Wilmore. (Newberrys got a moment in the spotlight too: Wilmore called on A.J. for an El Chapo question and me for one about Obama. Neither of us was on air, of course. But still.)
Wednesday, Jan. 13
Jessica Flint (Miami ’04) continues to pull out all the stops for her super-exclusive Departures readers. As travel editor for the “closed circulation” title – it’s owned by Time Inc. but only goes to American Express Platinum cardholders – she oversees up to 40 pages and a couple of features in seven issues a year, plus edits sister publication Centurion’s two annual issues. In recent months, she’s traveled to New Zealand, Patagonia, Cambodia and London for Departures, sometimes with just a few days notice. “It’s an extreme privilege,” she says, “but I just wish I could schedule tennis lessons on Sunday night.”
At Fox News, Bill Hemmer (Miami ’87) is likewise at the top of his game. We arrived as he finished co-anchoring the 9-11 a.m. “America’s Newsroom.” Quick editing and good ad-libbing are essentials, he said, on a day where the show was pulling in just-released photos of 10 U.S. sailors who’d been held by Iranian authorities for a day. He can react to such breaking news stories by editing his script and sending it to the teleprompter in just 1 ½ seconds. “I never read anything on television I haven’t seen,” he said. “If it goes out there and it’s wrong, I’m the one who has to take it back.”
Fellow grad Gerri Willis (Miami ’81) has, likewise, developed high-level delivery skills over the years. As the former host of “The Willis Report” and now a Fox Business News personal-finance reporter, she’s often on air without a script. Research is key – as is clarity. “I’m obsessed with just telling it – subject, verb,” she said. She hopes to leverage her depth in per-fi news with a 2016 Fox program focused on student debt. A pilot is in the works.
Before another comedy break — this time, “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” -– we found Bridgett Clegg (Miami ’10) in the brand-new offices of the brand-new BestProducts.com offices at Hearst Corp. A journalism and Western Program major at Miami, Clegg came to New York with a strong foundation of writing and grew photo and other tech skills along the way. As photo editor at BestProducts.com, she finds art for the site, gets permission to use it, then edits and posts images to support dozens of reviews a day. The goal for all content: “Explain things as you would to your friend,” BestProducts Parenting Reviews Editor Margaret Hargrove noted.
As for Colbert, hilarity reigned Wednesday with actor Paul Giamatti and again on Friday with comedian Maria Bamford and soccer star Abby Wambach. Love the spruced-up Ed Sullivan Theater! Looked great for NYC Media 15’s visit for one of David Letterman’s last shows. Looks even better now for Colbert. A to-die-for addition: The Stay Human house band, led by musical marvel Jon Batiste. Swingin’ New Orleans-style jazz, right in Midtown!
Speaking of hilarity, we shared a little with Miami-at-large as the featured posters for our “Take Over Snapchat” day. Jordan Nuckolls did a great job of capturing Wednesday highlights! Thanks to Miami’s Kelly Bennett for making it happen and capturing it on YouTube.
Thursday, Jan. 14
I always warn students that news is journalists’ No. 1 priority – and that guests on deadline might fall off our schedule. Our only cancellation this year, however, was John Terrett of Al Jazeera America. Just 45 minutes after AJAM tweeted that it would be shuttered April 30 – because of low ratings and ad sales, according to several news accounts – Terrett texted: “Bad news… visit can’t go ahead, alas.” The ever-gracious Brit, recruited by friend and 2015 NYC Media student Sarah Rogers (Miami ’15), called that night to apologize. Sad but real proof that turmoil in the world of media can have direct human costs.
And so we were off to Thomson Reuters as the first visit of a packed day. There, senior medical journalist Andrew Seaman keeps in mind that more than 20 percent of the federal budget goes to government health insurance programs. He’s always on the prowl for reports and studies with buried news nuggets. While he does not have a science or medical background, he landed the Reuters job four years ago after covering the Affordable Care Act as a USA Today intern and correspondent, then focusing on nursing home policy at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. When he’s not chasing leads for Reuters, Seaman is calling out bad journalistic practices for The Society of Professional Journalists. As chair of the SPJ Ethics Committee, he most recently took Rolling Stone magazine to task for allowing actor Sean Penn to grant “pre-publication review” to Joaquin Guzman, the Mexico drug lord better known as El Chapo. “You never want to give your source power over your content,” Seaman reminded students.
Thursday afternoon was the most mind-bending of the week, with visits to BuzzFeed in Chelsea on the West Side, then Gimlet Media and VICE Media, both in Brooklyn. All are chasing stories in very different ways.
At BuzzFeed – with Miami grads Elaina Wahl (’14) working as junior animals writers, Shannon Rosenberg (’13) as assistant health editor and Sarah Karlan (’12) as deputy LGBT editor – staffers are master aggregators even as the site ramps up its commitment to original reporting. (Check out this masterful piece about inmates killed in a bus crash, just highlighted by Keller’s Marshall Project.) While posts that go viral and lists that get clicks are still the bread and butter, the young and hip BuzzFeed staffers pour their passion and energy into their jobs. “I feel like I work with mad geniuses,” Rosenberg said.
Gimlet, meanwhile, is riding the podcast wave. Armed with $2 million in ad revenue and $7.5 million in investor funds, Gimlet now has four brands (“Start Up,” “Mystery Show,” “Surprisingly Awesome” and “Reply All”) after just 1 ½ years in operation. “This American Life” veteran Alex Blumberg, who grew up in Cincinnati, is even considering some fiction programming. No matter the show, creators must evoke honesty and emotion when telling stories, Gimlet’s co-founder and CEO said. “We want people who have that emotional presence.” Blumberg, by the way, couldn’t be happier that “Serial” was a monster podcast hit. The “Serial spillover,” he said, “brought an untold number of people into podcasts” and made it easier to raise money.
VICE, like BuzzFeed, was wall-to-wall people, with dozens and dozens of staffers working elbow-to-elbow on sprawling, wall-less floors. But while BuzzFeed had a zany vibe – highlighted by mail couriers on hoverboards – VICE felt like the programming floor in a top-secret tech firm. Serious journalists are doing serious journalism on Second Street in Williamsburg. Researcher/reporter Taylor Dolven (Miami ’12) found her way to VICE on HBO in mid-2014 after two years with a newspaper in Argentina and other media jobs. Now, she’s working on TV shows about criminal justice, Haiti, and other “under-reported and unexplored international news,” per the VICE mission. More of the same is on the horizon: VICE launches its fourth season on HBO Jan. 31, with an episode on ISIS, and 17 more shows to follow. HBO wants 30 more next year and 35 after that, executive producer B.J. Levin told us.
We raced back to midtown for a Midtown Italian feast at Pietrasanta and the 7 p.m. “Book of Mormon.” Outrageously offensive – and hysterically funny. My BuzzFeed review: “OMG! More than LOL, it was ALOL-LMAO funny! But, really, 4AO!!”
Friday, Jan. 15
Two of Miami’s best and brightest – Amanda Wolfe (’05) and Melissa Knific (’03) – are now veterans at Meredith Corp. Wolfe runs the show at Shape.com and Fitness.com, after helping define Meredith’s corporate online strategy at other titles there. New in her world: more sponsorship deals, where she’s the manager at the table speaking up for editorial independence; more videos (100 a month is the goal); and more competition from new fitness sites. Knific, meanwhile, continues cooking at Family Circle. Literally. She and her colleagues work up about 30 recipes a month (for web and print) – from concept through finished and thrice-tested recipes. She spends half her day in the swanky FC test kitchen and half on writing and posting tasks. That doesn’t give her much time to hit daily food events in the food-centric city. But she did make time for NBC’s “Today Show” in October, when she had 3:24 minutes to chat up her Halloween Frankenstein cake with weather celeb Al Roker.
Elizabeth Jensen proved a perfect last guest of the week, with her encyclopedia knowledge of media. A media reporter for Advertising Age, New York Daily News, Variety, The New York Times and other publications, Jensen signed on as the sixth-ever ombudsman of National Public Radio a year ago. She plows through 50 to 500 emails a week from listeners with complaints or comments about what they hear on NPR. About 30 percent of the time, she responds: “I’ve passed your concern to the newsroom.” Other issues require corrections or public comment. “If you do your job right, people (on staff) are going to kind of be mad at you,” she said. That’s why she’ll likely move on at the end of her three-year contract.
As students packed up for late-day flights home, the Newberrys-plus-one took in Colbert’s Friday afternoon taping, then scored a table at the best little hidey-hole of a burger shack called – you guessed it – the Burger Shack. Wish we could take credit for the find – but it was the recommendation of Miami student Will Fagan. A New Jersey resident, Fagan led us through the lobby of the plush Le Parker Meridien Hotel to a passageway with a small neon burger — and one of our best (and least costly) meals of the trip! Get the burger medium-rare and don’t skip the fries.
Saturday, Jan. 16
Homeward bound, with new learning to bring to the classroom and renewed appreciation of the important and hard work of journalism.
In this third iteration of NYC Media, guests were uniformly warm, welcome and eager to share their learning. (See if students agreed in their own NYCMedia16 posts.) Media jobs in New York are abundant, they reported, but getting the job you want is work. Their advice:
- Write, write, write. If you can’t find someone to pay you, start a blog, research and report, and find a voice. Gail Collins learned that while writing 20-30 stories a day for a news service she created. “I can write a basic story as fast as I can talk a basic story,” she said.
- Learn social media. Up your game on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and whatever comes next. “You don’t have to be a Ninja at any of it,” said Amanda Wolfe, but you do have to be game about trying the next new thing to push out content.
- Build relationships. Use media job listings to find openings. Stay in touch with your first boss, second boss, third boss. Become a go-to person in your office. Play nice with others.
- Remember your first job is not your last job. Early on, you have to “be OK with your stuff sucking,” as Alex Blumberg said. Your skills will grow with experience. Other tips: It’s OK to job hop. It’s OK to join one part of a media giant when you are really angling for a position with another. It’s OK to draft an exit strategy that has you running a bagel restaurant in upstate New York (I’m talking about you, former Bagel & Deli-er!) when you get burned out by the pace of New York City journalism.
I am, as always, hugely grateful to have parlayed 15 years as a journalist into (nearly) 19 years as journalism educator. Mother Miami has been a most-excellent employer. My thanks to Richard Campbell, chair of the Department of Media, Journalism & Film, for his steadfast support and wise counsel; Doug Newberry, who handled logistics with his usual aplomb and good cheer; A.J. Newberry, who likewise navigated the city (and the all-female class roster) with the wit and ease he brings to all endeavors; the 16 shining stars of the roster, who earned kudos from guests for their informed questions and overall engagement; and, of course, the exceptionally generous guests who gave us an hour or more of their lives.
NYC Media 17: Jan. 2-20.