Five years ago, I created Miami University’s winter term NYC Media class as a way to get me and students into cool, big-city newsrooms. Very cool, in 2018, to meet an increasing number of Miami grads in those very rooms. Cool, too, to gather with a big handful of them in an alumni event near the end of week in the city. More on that later. First: Reports from the front lines — with plenty of #MeToo/#TimesUp, Trump takes, media consolidation, and digital trends.
Sunday, January 7
Doug Newberry, my partner in life and all-things-NYC-Media, joined me at a morning screening of “The Post” to tee up the week. Hanks and Streep on the same big screen? Bliss. Another Josh Singer script (see: “Spotlight”) with journalists as heroes? Perfect!
When students arrived, we made our annual pilgrimage to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, still as awe-inspiring as when it opened in 2014. No wonder 9,000 people a day find time to visit. This year, the site included an exhibit of New Yorker magazine covers. Before 2001, magazine cover artists used the Twin Towers in whimsical ways. After that, they became dark reminders of the nearly 3,000 lost to terrorism in lower Manhattan, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
That night, we all saw #MeToo give way to #TimesUp at the Golden Globes. Some of us geeked out over actor/director James Franco’s big win — only to be crushed later in the week after he was called on the carpet by Stephen Colbert for #MeToo accusations. (More below.)
Up one day; down the next. Change is constant in 2018, in the media world and everywhere else.
Monday, January 8
Starting the week at the Committee to Protect Journalists proved useful. In 2017, CPJ began tracking threats to U.S. journalists, in addition to those around the globe – recording 34 arrests of journalists, 44 physical attacks and 15 cases where their equipment was searched or seized. “What happens in the U.S. has global ramifications,” said Alexandra Ellerbeck, North American program coordinator. Trump’s anti-press rhetoric – think “fake news” and “enemy of the people” – has a trickle-down effect that infects other countries. New York Times Trump reporter “Maggie Haberman is not fearing for her life when she goes to bed at night,” said Kerry Paterson, director of advocacy and communications. But journalists have faced harassment, especially online, and more threats of surveillance. The silver lining for CPJ: A higher profile. That paid off big just before our visit, with CPJ picking up a $1 million donation from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, organizers of the Golden Globes.
Next up, Miami grad and BestProducts.com photo editor Bridget Clegg (’10) assembled former Knot.com friends to chat about life inside Hearst Communications Inc. headquarters. On the digital side, editors there now work more closely together, separated from the print operations. On their plate: combining the right content with the right social media and sponsorship options. With titles like Cosmo, Elle and Marie Claire, women dominate the Hearst audience, and each title has its own take on #MeToo. At Marie Claire, “we’re on board like 1,000 percent,” said Alice Stevens, associate art director in that masthead. Cosmo is more likely to align itself with content, as in last year’s piece on how to run for office, added Kristin Giametta, deputy photo editor for Hearst’s women’s magazine. BestProducts, meanwhile, is apolitical, but did run a piece on where to buy what stars wore to the Golden Globes, said site director Jamie Miles.
Nearby, at the offices of the Marshall Project, 2017 was a big year for video. Brief and stark videos in the “We Are Witnesses” project tell the stories of about 20 individuals directly effected by the U.S. criminal justice system, the focus of its 3-year-old site. Among them is the daughter of Eric Garner, who died in New York in 2014 after police put him in a chokehold for allegedly selling loose cigarettes on the street. “I was just yelling at the screen, ‘Stop it. Get off him,’ ” Erica Garner told the Marshall filmmakers, explaining her reaction when she first saw footage of her father repeatedly telling officers “I can’t breathe.” Garner, who died earlier this month of a heart attack, also described driving through a giant street demonstration in her father’s honor. “That me feel empowered in a way.” Marshall will expand “We Are Witnesses” this year with public showings and maybe a new production tied to Chicago crime, according to Ruth Baldwin, director of strategy and communications. The site is also working with Netflix on a series tied to its 2015 story, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape,” which won a Pulitzer Prize for Marshall and co-producer ProPublica.org, Baldwin reported.
From Marshall, we headed north to the hallowed grounds of Columbia University, where Kyle Pope said Donald Trump upended his life among those of many, many others. Before Trump, Columbia Journalism Review was focused on the wounded business model of American journalism. “Then the election happened and it completely changed the story,” said Pope, CJR editor since September of 2016. “People really do care what we (the news media) say. We have a voice. We have an obligation to use that.” CJR’s coverage of Trump vs. the media is, in part, informed by Pope’s stint at editor The New York Observer, then owned by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law. (The Observer is now owned by a Kushner family trust and web-only.) “Most people own newspapers because they live in the world of ideas,” Pope told students, and reported in his own CJR piece. “Jared was not that kind of owner. He didn’t really care.” CJR is also watching the #MeToo movement closely, especially after some 400 readers submitted their own tales of sexual harassment in news organizations. Pope said CJR will run some, with names stripped out, since it doesn’t have the staff to fact-check the submissions for its own reported piece.
From Columbia, half of us attended a taping of CBS’s Late Show with Stephen Colbert (actor Liam Neeson and author Michael Wolff were guests) with the rest at Comedy Central’s Daily Show with Trevor Noah (with model Ashley Graham on tap). We swapped the next night, catching Colbert’s #MeToo moment with actor James Franco and Noah’s chat with actor Jason Mitchell. (A big shoutout to John Kiesewetter, who has covered the media scene in Cincinnati for more than three decades and who schooled me on how to score tickets to late-night shows!)
Tuesday, January 9
In my dreams, I walk into the grand lobby at 620 Eighth Ave. and someone with the name Sulzberger escorts me to the newsroom to start my new job at The New York Times. In real life, I am thrilled by our annual visit. This year, media columnist Jim Rutenberg and feature writer Dan Barry said Yes to the Guest. Rutenberg credits Trump with making his beat hot again. “Media really matters, more now than before,” he said. Before the president started his attacks on the press, “if you wrote about media, it was naval-gazing.” Covering the landscape, he praised his colleagues for breaking the Harvey Weinstein story and leading the #MeToo coverage; said journalism is compelled to cover Trump’s “kind of silly” tweets; said journalists grilled Hillary Clinton more thoroughly than Trump because they assumed she’d be the next president; and said Facebook “should be covered almost like a government.” Times readership is growing, he asserted, because the staff knows how to cover big stories quickly and well. “This isn’t just a Trump Bump.” Dan Barry, meanwhile, was sure his lyrical “Lost Children of Tuam” would be lost in the drumbeat of “Trump, Trump, Trump and Weinstein” news. “I was really worried that it would be a flop,” the veteran long-form feature writer said. Instead, the October 2017 story went viral – perhaps because, at its base, “Tuam” tells a story of patriarchy involving the Catholic Church, and women and children in Ireland. His best advice for students came from one of his own early editors: Slow it down. His key “Tuam” source, Catherine Corless, opened up when he lingered at her kitchen table near Galway for hours. “No one had sat down and had a cup of tea. And I had lots of tea,” he said.
Rounding out the day:
- At the headquarters of Bloomberg News – another venue that inspires dreams — money is topic No. 1. Kate Smith dives deep into college endowments, compiling rankings that don’t otherwise exist. With so little oversight, colleges “can invest all of their money virtually wherever they want.” Colleague Caleb Melby watches Jared Kushner’s money, most recently looking at the troubled history of the family’s 666 Fifth Ave. building.
- Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, of Monday Morning Quarterback podcast fame, shared progressive views on race and sport. He likes the idea of rapper Sean Combs buying the Carolina Panthers in a sport where some 70 percent of the players are African-American and none of the team owners are black. On #TakeAKnee, he said, “it’s great that Colin Kaepernick used his platform as a football player to dissent.” On a different race issue, he stopped using “Redskins” in his writing more than two years ago and thinks that team should be the Washington Americans. At 60, the one-time Cincinnati Enquirer sportswriter is fully digital, but sometimes finds it frustrating. Case in point: When he dropped a giant project about New England QB Tom Brady last February, other web writers posted the best bits and stole some of his readers. “A lot of times your best work can go for naught,” he said. “I’m mad about it a year later.”
- At Patch.com – which counts an Oxford/Miami page among its 1,300 U.S. hyperlocal sites – the chase is on for news no one else is covering. “You have to give them something different,” National Editor Todd Richissin said. New York Patch sites did just that during a recent NYC blizzard with stories about a snowman on a subway platform and restaurants serving customers at snowy outdoor tables. Once writers have a good scoop, the Patch team in New York jumps into action to push content out through social media and keep close track of who is reading what.
Wednesday, January 10
Wednesday’s lineup included lots of big players in the middle of Midtown.
At NBC, the trip to the famed studio of Saturday Night Live takes you through a photo gallery that starts with Chevy Chase, John Belushi and friends, and ends with Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. After a stop at the new studio for NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, the network’s main newscast of each weekday, we watched the action on the set of Morning Joe. Joe Scarborough joined the show from a remote studio, but co-anchor Mika Brzezinski offered the class a welcome. Brzezinski is a terrific boss, according to booking producer and Miami alum Daniela Pierre-Bravo (’12). “I literally just started getting her coffee right,” Pierre-Bravo said. Two years later, she began traveling with the Morning Joe co-host and is now working on a book with her about millennials and careers. In a Trump world, anything can and does happen on Morning Joe, a show with famous dust-ups with the White House. “We are deciding what’s next in the heat of the moment,” said Lauren Schweitzer, a line producer on the show and 2010 Miami grad. Plenty of #MeToo drama, too, with the ouster of Today Show host Matt Lauer in November. “That opened the floodgates for discussion,” Pierre-Bravo said, adding that NBC News Chair Andy Lack set the tone by inviting staff to share their concerns.
At Fox, news staffers are waiting for details about News Corp.’s plan to sell many of its assets to the Walt Disney Co. Miami grad Bill Hemmer (’87), co-host of America’s Newsroom, asks “what strategic decision will they make and how will it affect … our little two-hour program here?” Hemmer and fellow Fox folks watch Donald Trump closely too – whether they are delivering the news early in the day or commenting on it at night. “He’s really changed so many things, “Hemmer said of Trump. “The pace of our job is so different now than it was two years ago.” Hemmer knew change was coming Aug. 5, 2016, when he co-hosted one of two debates with 17 GOP contenders for president. Trump, he recalled, was the only one who took a pass on a walk-through at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. “He had no qualms about walking into that arena. It’s just in his nature.”
Hemmer’s colleague and fellow RedHawk Gerri Willis finds herself back in rotation at Fox Business News, after bouncing back from breast cancer. With a new look (a short pixie cut) and new energy, she was covering a bond market story when we visited, and a weather-related story the week before. “TV is about flexibility,” she reminded students. “It’s a team sport.” And catching the newest new thing, she’s working on a podcast called “Rich Is Not A Four Letter Word,” based on her 2016 book. Also new for Willis: Better work-life balance. After cancer, she said, “you start making time for other stuff.”
Miami alum Lisa Bannon has plenty of new in her life too. Named one of five “cover chiefs” for the Wall Street Journal last year, she’s now running the Life and Arts coverage with 20 reporters and four editors. With the Journal’s newish dedication to a “digital first” mindset, she said, daily news meetings now include a discussion of overnight “subscription conversions.” Translation: editors want to know how many readers came to wsj.com, hit a pay wall and then subscribed for access. Bannon, a 25-year veteran of the Journal, is doing her part by assigning more interactive features. A recent win: 80,000 readers took a quiz at the end of a story titled “A Checklist Before I Quit.” Still, content is king at the Journal, Bannon said. “One thing that hasn’t changed is ‘What is a good story?’ ” she said. “The job is still to find the most important story of the day and the best way to tell it.”
David Marino-Nachison (MU ‘96) has a new job inside Dow Jones, too. After time as an editor for the MarketWatch brand, he’s now writing for Barron’s Next, a free web-only sibling of the fabled Barron’s magazine/site zeroing in on “the economies of tomorrow.” With a focus on Apple, Pandora, Tesla, Amazon, etc., Barron’s Next hopes to capture those coveted younger readers. Despite his deep tech chops, Marino-Nachison noted that new journalists can develop those as they go. In journalism today, he said, “there is no plan. The plan is ‘Be adaptable. Be curious.’ When you need specialized skills, go out and get them.”
Wednesday ended with a lovely group dinner with students in a Miami fashion marketing class, then tickets to the red-hot Broadway show Come From Away. Great ties to New York and Sept. 11 — and to the essential need, especially at this moment in our national discourse, for human kindness.
Thursday, January 11
Global Citizen is having a #MeToo moment. Under the direction of Cassie Carothers (MU ’01), the poverty-fighting group’s web site has seen a pop of interest in its coverage of issues related to women and girls. When actress Connie Britton hit the Golden Globes stage wearing a sweater reading “Poverty is Sexist” that provided a “really nice hook for us,” Carothers said. Global Citizen writers frequently address poverty and gender, she explained, since countries that deny girls and women equal access to education essentially rob them of economic power.
NPR is having a #MeToo moment, too, still dealing with the firing of two top news executives accused of sexual harassment. The network covered the firings aggressively, public editor Elizabeth Jensen said, with regular reports by media reporter David Folkinflik and a tough interview of NPR CEO Jarl Mohn by Mary Louise Kelly, newly named host of NPR’s All Things Considered program. “It’s uncomfortable to report on yourselves,” Jensen said, noting that that is really her everyday job. In 2017, she pushed NPR to examine its approach to correcting misinformation that airs during live interviews. She also corrected viewers who think NPR is starting to lean right. “Journalists like to talk to people who are in power,” she said. With Trump in the White House, “yes, we are talking to more conservatives now.”
Just after Amanda Wolfe left Miami in 2005 for a position at Parents magazine, Meredith Inc. was buying the title from a German publisher. She survived the deal, she said, because “I was way too young and cheap to fire.” She’s remained at Meredith ever since, as “kind of a hand-raiser,” always volunteering to learn and earn the next job. Now running the digital efforts of both FitnessMagazine.com and Shape.com, Wolfe has no idea what to expect when Meredith completes its in-progress deal to buy Time and sister titles. “I know nothing about the Time Inc. stuff,” she said, “but I can’t imagine that it won’t affect my life.” Day-to-day, she’s focusing on the considerable work at hand and “hoping I still have a job.” Current strategy in her group: “Top of funnel” online acquisition. With that, Fitness and Shape offer shorter, punchy content they hope will attract readers, and then offer deeper dives – 2,000 to 4,000 words – to keep them on site.
After 27 years in top editing jobs, Tim Race (MU ’78) took a buyout from The New York Times in 2016 when there was “no longer a very good job for me there.” Now a senior vice president at the public relations firm FleishmanHillard, he’s got two large corporate clients and serves as something of in-house counsel “helping companies decide what their best stories are.” But newsroom contacts and expertise don’t ensure PR success he said. “The fact that I know them doesn’t necessarily help,” he said.
Across the Hudson River, Courtney Reagan deals with large corporations everyday, too – ones in the retail business. Here’s how her Thursday went: Up at 2 a.m.; to the CNBC studios in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., by 3; anchor a newscast for a colleague on maternity leave from 4-5 a.m.; 7 a.m. interview with WalMart execs for news about raises for employees; on the air at 8 with the WalMart story; back on the horn with WalMart at 3:30 when NYC Media pulled up – and back on the air at 4 for news about WalMart closing 63 Sam’s stores. She was looking at a repeat of that schedule for Friday, with hopes to leave by noon. “Work-life balance is super, super hard in this job,” she told students.
We ended the day with a most-excellent alum mixer at the law offices of White & Case, hosted by partner and Miami Foundation Board Member David Koschik (MU ’79). Twelve NYC Media 2018 students + two dozen recent grads = Lotsa Love & Honor connections. Special thanks to Jess Allman, an associate director of development for the University Advancement office, for putting it together.
Friday, January 12
Fan fav BuzzFeed delivered with free food – and a lively chat with assistant health editor Shannon Rosenberg (MU ’13) – on Friday morning. Topic of day: Circle Jerking. (Stay with me here.) Rosenberg cited it as an example of the relationship between the entertainment and news sides of BF: The entertainment side ran their post about that particular practice by the health news team for accuracy – but health news had no other involvement in it. “If we have an idea we can run with it,” Rosenberg said. In fact, staffers often discuss what they’ve been Googling and dealing with personally to settle on story ideas. The upside: “It’s almost like I get a doctor’s visit” every time she writes about personal medical issues.
Our final visit, to the home of 1stDibs.com, proved the axiom that journalistic skills are highly transferrable. Colleen Egan (MU ’02) signed on as senior editor of the site in 2016, employing her considerable magazine writing and editing skills in service to 1stDibs’ “curated online marketplace of rare and desirable goods.” The upside of moving from the traditional magazine world to a “content marketing” one is more time to create well-designed packages, she said. Another plus is the upscale office environment, with amenities like yoga classes and an after-hours in-house bar.
Saturday, January 13
This guy. Thirty years as a couple. Five years as NYC Media partners. I could not do the trip without Doug Newberry. Chief navigator through the streets and subways of the city, he takes most of the group photos and handles most of the social media work. And he knows how I like my morning coffee.
Continued thanks, too, to Richard Campbell, chair of the Department of Media, Journalism & Film, for his support of the class; to the very smart and well-prepared class of 2018; to the parents who underwrote their participation; and, most especially, to the guests who gave us an hour or more of their time in service to the journalists (or maybe “content providers”) of the future.