NYC Media 2019

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Clear skies welcomed NYC Media 2019.

There’s just something about New York. Two days in and you feel like you’ve been there forever. Four days in, you’re convinced you’ll stay. I’ve felt that each of the six years of NYC Media. (But, of course, I return to Ohio and Miami University.) This year, I heard it from some of the 17 students in the class, too. I’m pretty sure some of them will go back.

And why not? With every passing year, the community of media makers from Miami (or friendly to Miami) grows – and, to a person, they offer to help current students who aspire to follow in their footsteps.

This year’s NYC Media itinerary included 36 guests – 19 of them Miami alums — at 18 organizations. The trip also included a mixer with a couple dozen media-centric Miami alums, providing more terrific networking (and the opportunity to contribute to future students, with details below).

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A trip to Broadway is always a thrill. “Network” is my newest fave.

And speaking of networking: Let me get on the record from the get-go that, IMHO, the new Broadway production of “Network” lived up to its over-the-top billing. Exhilarating. Electrifying. Raw. Relevant. Don’t know how Bryan Cranston (in the lead role of Howard Beale) pulls it off seven times a week. Wished the whole class could have seen it, but, alas, I’d purchased tickets to “The Band’s Visit” after it pulled in 10 Tonys last summer. A sweet and moving story of friendship and love, but no “Network.”

Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 5 and 6

Holidays over, we raced to Chicago for my sister’s beautiful “convalidation” ceremony (look it up), with a Saturday flight into New York. We were a Party of Four for dinner at the oh-so-French Saju Bistro on West 44th Street (très bon), with Doug Newberry, my permanent CEO of Logistics; his sister Mary Newberry Olson, a Wisconsin metal artist; and our friend Mary Collins, a retired New York teacher and long-time companion of their now-deceased uncle Art Newberry.

On Sunday morning, we carried on a Newberry NYC Media tradition with an early showing of “Vice.” Perfect choice for a week (like all weeks) with plenty of politics in the headlines. Christian Bale made for a convincing Dick Cheney, inspired by Satan, as we learned from that night’s “Golden Globes” awards, when Bale won for best actor.

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NYC Media 2019 added a message to the interactive “Sky” exhibit this year: “No day shall erase you.”

Our annual visit to The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, as always, pushed me right back to 2001. The “9/11 in the News” exhibit proved how dramatically the ISIS attack on America changed and continues to change what is considered news. A video provided proof of the slow and steady growth of ISIS. New this year, “Witness at Ground Zero,” showcased the work of French photographer Stephane Sednaoui, who volunteered in the early rescue efforts as he captured images of the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings.

During dinner at Hell’s Kitchen, Doug and I learned about a few of our students’ fascinations (dogs, cats, goats and cars) over nachos and salsa.

Monday, Jan. 7

For the second year in a row, we started the week’s visits with a stop at the Committee to Protect Journalists. Program Director Carlo Martinez de la Serna said CPJ continues to push for justice in the Oct. 2 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Among its efforts, it is supporting the United Nations’ work toward an independent investigation of the case and calling on members of Congress to likewise demand answers. For a second year, CPJ also tracked threats to journalists in the United States – reporting 11 arrests, 42 attacks, 21 subpoenas and five deaths, the latter at the Annapolis, Maryland, Capital Gazette in June. Among other alarming facts from its 2018 research: The number of journalists jailed for producing so-called “fake news” rose to 28 last year from nine before Donald Trump was elected U.S. president and ramped up his slams on media. “The role of the U.S. is critical,” de la Serna said, commenting on the 211 percent increase.

At The Daily Beast, Editor in Chief Noah Shachtman noted that owner IAC’s other sites (about 30 in total, including Tinder, Match, Vimeo and Angie’s List) allow the newsroom to run in the red. Still, Daily Beast chases a variety of revenue streams to turn that around: traditional advertising, ads with rates tied to views, membership programs, e-commerce, premium content behind paywalls and even “interesting Hollywood deals.” IAC board members in the movie business “appreciate the efforts of the Daily Beast,” he said. “When we stick it to some of their friends, they kind of like it.”  Two years into Trump vs. the Media, “there’s a lot of performance art going around,” Shachtman noted, citing a time when Fox personality Sean Hannity leaked news to his staff – then attacked the report on Fox.

 

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Five years in at CNN, Brian Stelter can deliver on his Sunday show because he’s working stories all week online and on air.  

Brian Stelter, chief media correspondent and “Reliable Sources” host at CNN, has a little secret. He schedules Tweets at odd hours to “create the sense that I’m always available.” That paid off just before we visited, when a source tipped him off that CBS was about to name Susan Zirinsky as its new president of news. He posted the scoop to Twitter first – although, he admits, The Los Angeles Times beat him to the web. The tip was key – along with an old email with Zirinsky’s number. On the topic of Trump v. CNN, Stelter called the Trump presidency “the story of a lifetime.” “By lying so much, he’s made us more adversarial,” he said, adding that he supported CNN’s lawsuit to restore political reporter Jim Acosta’s press access to the White House. “That showed the Fourth Estate acting independently,” he said.

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First in the VIP line, first seats in the studio, for Trevor Noah’s show. 

In another NYC Media tradition, students and their keepers took up seats in Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah studios Monday evening. “The Late Show” group were on hand for actors Ethan Hawke and Jon Glaser, along with hiphop artist Taylor Bennett. At “The Daily Show,” activist Malala Yousafzai plugged her new book, “We Are Displaced.” We switched venues the next night, with actors Keegan Michael Key and Josh Hutcherson and chef Jamie Oliver on Colbert and author Marc Mauer (who writes on U.S. incarceration issues) with Noah. Personal note: Love Colbert, love his guests. But I’d be happy with cardboard cutouts on stage as long as I get to hear Jon Batiste and his Stay Human band in the CBS Ed Sullivan Theater every year.

Tuesday, Jan. 8

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Courtney Reagan prepares for air.

Last year, we stood in the wings at CNBC as Courtney Reagan (Miami class of 2005) reported a Walmart story. This year, she was chasing news about Sears’ pending liquidation. By 9 a.m., she’d already been reporting live from outside a Sears’ New Jersey store. Back in the studio, she returned on air, as we watched, for an update. “Something is always happening on retail,” said Reagan, the only full-time retail reporter on national TV. Blessed with a good memory and a bulging Google drive, Reagan can react to breaking news in real time. “Over time, you get a knowledge bank where you can vamp for 60 seconds.” Still, sources are essential to flushing out the news of the day. “You have to talk to people all the time.”

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Miami grad Mariel Padilla, front row left, took a break from her fellowship at Columbia University to join our chat with Alex Neason, center front.

Columbia Journalism Review decided not to trot out an annual round-up of the media’s failings on covering and hiring people of color. Instead, CJR devoted its entire 128-page fall 2018 issue, titled “Unfinished,” to those topics. In one piece, a writer reveals that NPR killed a story she produced because of her Brazilian accent. In another, a writer argues that food coverage tells important cultural stories. Another profiles 10 newsrooms where mostly white staffs cover mostly non-white communities. And another – by writer Alexandra Neason – lays out the struggles of the black press in America. “The numbers are always bad and have been bad for years and years and years,” Neason said of non-white representation across the country. With “Unfinished,” CJR “devotes an entire issue to exploring the nuances on this.”

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David Joachim, Molly Smith and Andy Martin, seated, work the numbers at Bloomberg.

At Bloomberg News, guests were ready for the Big Question: How would a Bloomberg run for president affect the financial news giant? Legal team editor/reporter Andy Martin (Miami ’86) noted that head boss Michael Bloomberg put the company in someone else’s hands during his 11 years as mayor of New York. If he runs, Martin said, “I assume he’s going to sell the company or he’s going to put it in some type of receivership.” For now, Martin and his colleagues have their hands full reacting to news playing off the current president. “No president has ever moved markets as much as he has,” said David Joachim, financial crime editor.

Wednesday, Jan. 9 

Lauren Schweitzer (Miami ’10) had two options for the “Morning Joe” lineup at MSNBC when she arrived for her 1 to 10 a.m. shift as a producer: Donald Trump’s address, the night before, calling for a wall between the United States and Mexico or the latest bombshell in the Paul Manafort case. “When your show comes on in the morning,” she said, “you don’t want to be behind.” Once her bosses settled on Manafort for the lead, she worked down to the wire – 5 a.m. when MSNBC starts its day with “Morning Joe First Look” – on scripts. On the day shift, Daniela Pierre-Bravo (Miami ’12) works to anticipate tomorrow’s big stories. She books 10 to 15 guests for each show, seeking voices from the left and right and reminding all that “Morning Joe” is not a scripted show. As she recruits highly informed guests to join (newly married!) Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski in conversation, she must be equally informed. “You have to consume news all the time,” she said.

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Bill Hemmer says his viewers want a live experience.

Over more than 30 years in the world of broadcast news, Bill Hemmer (Miami ’87) has learned a thing or two. Be on top of the news. Get out of the studio. Stay calm on air. Take the criticism. Develop a thick skin. Now in his 14th year with Fox News, he’s also learned he’s more comfortable in the AM world of news than the PM world of commentary. “I like to stay in my news lane,” the co-anchor of America’s Newsroom said. “I don’t walk in everyday with 100 different ideas on how to change the country, so I’m happy there still is a news lane in the business.”

Two years into the Trump administration, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik remains fascinated by the close ties between Trump and Fox News. Consider: The president calls Fox News staffers to push his talking points. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson boosted his national profile during a year as a Fox commentator. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who spent seven years on Fox News. Both Deputy Communications Director Bill Shine and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Heather Nauert spent about two decades on Fox. Trump allies and Fox personalities Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro endorsed Trump at a campaign event in November. “There’s a lot of Foxification going on,” Folkenflik said. While he could chase that story every day, he prefers to put energy into harder to get stories. He spent months chasing one, a profile of a former Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist who went bankrupt fending off a libel lawsuit from his newspaper’s new owner. Last month, he released another meaty update on the dramas inside Tribune Publishing, with a focus on its 2000-18 ownership of the Los Angeles Times. “Stories beget stories,” he said, noting that he looks for the under-covered angles on the media beat.

Dow Jones now boasts (at least) four staffers with time in Oxford. Lisa Bannon (Miami ’92) is the Life & Arts coverage chief for the Wall Street Journal. David Marino-Nachison (Miami ’96) is a writer/editor with Barron’s. Bowdeya Tweh (Miami MBA ’15) is spot news editor for the Journal. And Gretchen Morgenson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who came to the Journal in November 2017 after 19 years at the New York Times, grew up in Oxford, the daughter of a Miami librarian. Asked about Dow Jones’ relationship with News Corp., its owner since 2007, Morgenson had a ready answer: “I would not have come if there was even a modicum of doubt that I could do the kind of tough-guy reporting that is my cup of tea.” Bannon noted that Matt Murray, the Journal’s top editor since June, is “giving the (New York) Times and (Washington) Post a run for their money.” Our panel discussion participants also had this to say:

  • Marino-Nachison disclosed how he stays current on market trends: “I read the Wall Street Journal everyday.”
  • Morgenson said the reputation of the Journal, with readers who trust its coverage, inspired her move. “It’s a target-rich environment. You could work 24/7,” she said about the endless possibilities of stories.
  • Tweh said his team is looking at the financial angles of every breaking headline. News of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’s divorce – announced that day – had strong business angles, he noted.
  • Bannon said reporters on her team are also on the hunt for the financial take. A Journal story would not likely report “here’s the newest hip hop album” but rather what music labels are paying hip hip artists today. “Business informs the coverage of arts and culture,” she said.

We enjoyed another NYC Media tradition on Wednesday night – a group dinner and trip to the theater. Year two at Maria Pia in Midtown was delightful as was “The Band’s Visit” at The Barrymore.

Thursday, Jan. 10

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Sharon Attia and Francesca Donner (center front) are proud of  “This is 18.” 

The record is clear: The New York Times launched the #MeToo movement with its fall 2017 coverage of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. What is, perhaps, less known is the many other #MeToo efforts inside the Times. Francesca Donner, director of the Times’ Gender Initiative team, and Sharon Attia, the team’s social media editor, outlined some key projects:

  • MeToo Moment newsletter. The Times rolled out 17 issues after breaking the Weinstein story, on a range of sexual harassment topics.
  • Overlooked. In March 2018, the Times released a special section with web support, publishing obituaries of prominent women, long deceased. In the months since, it has expanded that effort, with obits of other overlooked subjects.
  • 45 Stories of Sex and Consent on Campus. This May 2018 project explored how college students are navigating sexual relationships.
  • This is 18. This October 2018 project tells the stories of 18-year-old girls across the globe through text and digital images captured by 18-year-old photographers.
  • Eight Stories of Men’s Regret. Reacting to the Kavanaugh hearings, the Times’ opinion section in December published eight essays from men recounting sexual encounters they regretted from their high school days.

Donner said her team was just getting rolling when colleagues Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey dropped their first Weinstein story. “Probably to the outside world, we looked like we were so on top of it,” Donner said. In reality, the Times was exploring gender issues in reaction to the political climate. Among other things, editors were considering sourcing (quote more women!),  writing (publish more narrative!) and staffing (get more millennials!) as women were taking to the streets across the country at the start of the Trump administration. The Gender Initiative projects play off that zeitgeist. Said Donner: “Our relationships are right at the center of our political landscape.” Attia – who joined the Gender Initiatives team a year ago at 23 — invited Miami students to join the conversation on Instagram (@nytgender). By the time we left 620 Eighth Ave., the account had several new followers from Oxford.

As he moves toward a 2019 retirement date, Bill Keller has a long list of favorite projects from The Marshall Project, where the New York Times veteran signed on as founding editor-in-chief in 2014.

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Bill Keller, center front, will move to the Marshall Project board of directors when he retires this year. 
  • The Todd Willingham story, the first big MP hit, explores the flawed conviction of a man executed for setting a fire that killed his three daughters. Keller said he doesn’t know whether Willingham was guilty, but maintains that MP coverage showed he should not have been convicted.
  • An Unbelievable Story of Rape, which won the site and its reporting partner ProPublica its first Pulitzer Prize, exposed poor police practices in rape investigations. The story is now used in some police training, Keller said.
  • Marshall Project reporting revealed a pay-to-stay jail system in Los Angeles and Orange counties in Southern California, where inmates with money can pay to stay in better (i.e., less dangerous and more comfortable) jails.
  • In another ongoing project, the site explored the dangerous practice of for-profit prisoner transport.
  • Its We are Witnesses and Life Inside projects brought readers the voices of subjects and sources serving time or otherwise directly affected by the criminal justice system.
  • Its coverage of inmate abuse at Attica, meanwhile, inspired the upstate New York prison to add lights and cameras to limit guard misconduct.

In addition to hiring 35 staffers, recruiting 130 reporting partners and helping build a budget of $7.2 million, Keller is proud that Marshall Project stories have inspired local news organizations to follow up on its stories. While outcomes are hard to measure, he said, “I think we’ve had a substantial impact.”

Over at Disney’s ABC, Greta Morris (Miami ’17) is helping long-running newsmagazine “20/20” pivot to more “old crime” episodes. (Think Lorena Bobbitt, Monica Lewinsky, JFK Jr., Robert Blake, etc. – all subjects of recent “20/20s.”) A production associate on the show – a job she won after four earlier ABC internships – Morris began working on a segment about the 1999 Yosemite Park murders last summer. On the PR side of ABC, publicity assistant Molly Barreca (Miami ’17), like Morris, is watching the network’s moves to streaming, given Disney’s 2018 creation of ESPN+ and its planned late-2019 launch of Disney+. The soon-to-close Disney-Fox deal will also increase Disney’s stake in Hulu from 30 to 60 percent. Seems the channel’s catchphrase – once called ABC Family, what is now ABC Freeform calls itself “A Little Forward” – has new resonance every day.

How big is Hearst Communications? Nine divisions. Three dozen local TV stations. Twenty-four daily U.S. newspapers and 64 weeklies. Twenty-five U.S. magazine titles, 10 more in the UK. That makes for lots of employees (20,000, give or take) in lots of different jobs. Our three Miami guests offered proof: Bridget Clegg (Miami ’10), entering her fourth year as art production manager at BestProducts.com, oversees images on the shopping site. Beth Stebner (Miami ’08) has two years as editorial recruiter for Hearst Digital. And Lauren Doyle (Miami ’08) came to Hearst a year ago as an associate director of communications for magazines after stints in the Meredith and Rodale magazine worlds. Happy to meet them – and that they got to meet each other, too.

We ended the day at PR powerhouse FleishmanHillard, where Senior Vice President Tim Race (Miami ’78) migrated in 2017 after nearly 25 years as a New York Times editor. With news organizations stretched so thin, Race told students, agencies like his can help fill the gaps with meaningful stories. His boss, New York General Manager Ephraim Cohen, said he likes to hire experts like Race because they know how to craft “the right messages for the right moment.” “You really do have a seat at the table,” Cohen said, noting that FH staffers work directly with client’s CEOs and other higher-ups on messaging. (Giant thanks to both, by the way, for hosting a Miami alum gathering in their shop at the end of our visit.)

Friday, Jan. 11

Amanda Wolfe (Miami ’05) credits her career growth to 75 percent hard work and 25 percent luck. I’m guessing her bosses might give her more credit – considering her steady rise in the ranks at magazine maker Meredith Corp. and her ability to adapt to constant change. Consider: She started as an intern at Parents magazine in the summer of 2005, then moved through Ladies Home Journal (RIP), the websites of Shape and Fitness (also RIP), and assumed her newest title – senior director of content strategy for health and parenting titles – in early 2018. All that while Meredith was buying Time Inc., moving to Time’s posh offices in Lower Manhattan and divesting several Time titles. Her job now: “The really boring stuff that has to be figured out when two companies merge.” But also: Keeping the titles under her direction moving forward so her staff “can write and edit all day long.”

At Global Citizen, Miami grads Cassie Carothers (’02) and Ryan Kincaid (’13) focus on the non-profit’s aim to end extreme poverty by 2030.  The next 11 years will be focused on that deadline with a mix of concerts and other initiatives. Last year, GC hosted giant music festivals in New York and Johannesburg, with smaller events in London and Vancouver.  Since its creation in 2011, Global Citizen supporters have taken more than 14 million “actions” (tweets, emails, petition signatures, phone calls, etc.) to battle extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $2 a day.  “To date, the actions by our global community along with our high level advocacy efforts and with our partners, have resulted commitments and policy announcements from leaders, valued at over $37 billion that is set to affect the lives of more than 2.25 billion people by 2030,” the GC site says. “A total of 650 million people’s lives have already been impacted.”

A final stop before NYC Media exited NYC: Group Nine Media. Miami’s Nicole Theodore (’14) landed there a little more than a year ago after nearly three years at Playboy.com in Los Angeles. As a staff writer, she produces content for all of the shop’s sites – NowThis (breaking news), The Dodo (animal focused), Thrilllist (a lifestyle site) and Seeker (for tech/innovation news). Like her 400-plus colleagues – four of whom joined our conversation – much of her work is for clients with stories to tell. The definition of story, meanwhile, morphs constantly at Group Nine, team members said. Just a couple of years ago, short-and-shorter video was all the rage. Now, some Group Nine sites are moving to mini-documentary-length videos. In video, “the next arms race is good storytelling,” said Ralph Arend, a video editor. “It’s really keeping a finger on the pulse of what people are watching.”

And that’s – 30 —

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So what’s it take to make it in Gotham City? Writing and reporting skill. Video chops. Editing know-how. Storytelling sense. Social media saavy. And hustle.

  • Daily Beast’s Shachtman noted that he once hired a known hacker who’s since helped break stories. He also recruited a reporter from New Miami News after she tracked down XXXtentacion from a parking ticket, and published a profile of him just two weeks before the rapper was shot and killed in South Florida last June.
  • CNN’s Stelter told students to create something they can own – a topic, a beat, a platform, a tool. “If you think Sherrod Brown is running, try to get in early on it,” he said of the Ohio senator considering a presidential bid.
  • Guests in the world of business reporting, meanwhile, encouraged students to give it a try. News sites need reporters and editors with business smarts, they said – and they are hiring. Jobs at Bloomberg News, as one example, are largely protected since the business side of Bloomberg (hardware and software for Wall Street) supports the news side. “It’s all, at the end of the day, about money,” Martin said.
  • And all of the guests — whether we sat around the table with them or met them at the Miami alum mixer (see them in the slide show above!) — modeled what success looks like: Showing up, working smart, and doing it all again the next day.
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Doug Newberry leads the way.

As I turn my attention to Miami’s spring semester, I’ll end with yet-another NYC Media tradition: A round of applause. Thanks to a fantastic roster of guests. Thanks to a fabulous roster of students — who created their own blog reports. Thanks to Mother Miami (and colleagues) who support this ongoing venture. Thanks to Caroleigh McCloy, Jess Allman and the development office for establishing an NYC Media Fund! And thanks, most especially, to my partner in all things, CEO of Logistics Doug Newberry.

NYC Media 2020: Dec. 31, 2019 through Jan. 17, 2020.

(All photos by Patricia Gallagher Newberry or Doug Newberry, with Willie Geist photo by Katherine Horsford.)