New York never disappoints. With few exceptions, my NYC Media course has been met with gracious guests, easy commutes, significant learning and fair weather – including, this year, a 65-degree visit to Central Park! And, lucky me, the 16 students on the NYC Media 2020 roster were uniformly bright, prepared and engaged from start to finish. With no insult to earlier participants, Year 7 of NYC Media was my most favorite!
My life and trip wingman, Doug Newberry, and I started the week with what’s become one of many trip traditions: Saturday night dinner with a friend (and this year, a nephew) at the oh-so-chic Saju Bistro in Midtown. Crowded, noisy and a pricey; just right for a Saturday night in the big city! On Sunday morning, we once again scored a media-centric movie — the aptly named “Bombshell,” perfect for a week that would include a stop at Fox News and several other TV newsrooms.
Yet-another visit to the 9/11 Museum yielded yet-more takeaways about the horrific day that four planes and 19 terrorists rewrote American history. I added my voice to the new “Reflecting on 9/11” exhibit, offering a three-minute commentary about how journalists framed that day for me – an Ohio resident with no direct connection to the tragedy. Most fascinating: Another new exhibit, called “Revealed: The Hunt for bin Laden,” offered a detailed review of the al-Qaeda leader’s earlier crimes against America (the bombing of U.S. embassies in Yemen and Tanzania in 1998, and of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000) and how U.S. Navy Seals tracked and finally killed him in a remote Pakistani outpost in 2011.
Happy to welcome Miami alums Elana Ross, Kala Andrews and Lee Vish to dinner with students on Sunday night – and hope, too, to chat more with them about connecting current students and grads in NYC.
Monday, Jan. 6
Greta Morris (MU ’17) welcomed us to ABC News on Monday morning to learn about her work on “20/20.” Now in its 42nd year, the news magazine program expanded to two hours in early 2019, with a focus on crime (past and present) and celebrities. In her role as a production associate, Morris works up meaty memos for higher-ups, with “tons and tons of footage to organize.” Sometimes, she and colleagues get five months to produce an episode; sometimes, they get just a month. That’s a challenge when a show requires fresh interviews – which can last for hours. “For many of these people, you’re talking to them about the worst day of their life,” she said. “You really have to ease into them.”
Our ABC stop also included an NYC Media first: Tickets for “The View.” Whoopi Goldberg and friends took up the headlines of the day (think: Washington and Hollywood, with news about the U.S. killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and the night-before Golden Globes). They also allowed guest Judy Sheindlin (a.k.a., Judge Judy) several minutes of airtime to endorse New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg for the Democratic nomination for president. Fun stop — and we all left with a packet of bath salt, the day’s audience gift.
At CNN, Communications Director Emily Kuhn (MU ’09) walked us through the high-tech, high-end new Hudson Yards studios before delivering us to leading media analyst Brian Stelter. Stelter, host of CNN’s weekly “Reliable Sources,” remains uber-productive, with 340 individual stories in 2019. He also remains excited about his work and his employer. Despite the fracturing of the cable industry, CNN, at nearly 40 years old, is the go-to channel for crises or celebrations, he said. When news breaks, “viewers know to go to CNN,” Stelter said. “Our ratings will double in an hour.” He warned students to be careful with anonymous sourcing, always testing their information against other sources. (He’s doing that now, he disclosed, for a book he’s writing about Fox News.) And – yay!! – he shared the secret to journalistic success: report, write and repeat. “You’ve got to do it a thousand times to get good at it.”
Monday ended with another NYC Media tradition: Seats at “Late Night with Stephen Colbert” and “Daily Show with Trevor Noah.” Colbert welcomed actress Jane Fonda and TV personality Tan Frances, while Noah had U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, who heads the Congressional Black Caucus. (We swapped the next night, with actor couple Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale and chef Jamie Oliver on the Colbert stage and New Yorker journalist Ronan Farrow joining Noah.) Always a thrill to see how that particular sausage is made.
Tuesday, Jan. 7
Seven years in, I still geek out when we hit 620 Eighth Ave. and The New York Times. First up, media writer Michael Grynbaum acknowledged that the Trump Era has changed journalism. Entrances to The Times offices, for example, now include large cement barriers, with an in-house chief of security assessing threats. Given anti-press rhetoric in the country, “The fact that a journalist has not been attacked at a rally or a political event is a bit of a surprise,” he said. (Here’s more on that topic, soon to be published in Quill magazine). But The Times has changed in less scary ways, too, during Grynbaum’s 11 years on staff. Digital work has exploded; the staff skews younger; lifestyle coverage has grown. The place is still a pressure-cooker, though, especially when Grynbaum is covering his colleagues and competitors and working multiple stories “like food on four burners.” Speaking of younger, three of The Times Fellows and their boss Theodore “Ted” Kim thanked The Times gods for their commitment to the new, yearlong Fellows program. “The longer duration has allowed all of the Fellows to flourish,” said Kim, director of Fellowships and Internships. Jazmin Aguilera, a Fellow for “The Daily” podcast team, is enjoying the marquee value of her employer. While reporting, she can say, “ ‘Hi, I’m with The New York Times,’ and people will get back to me immediately.” That doesn’t mean Fellows, like permanent staffers, don’t break a sweat. Mariel Padilla (MU ’17), a breaking news Fellow, has had to turn around some stories in as little as 15 minutes. When she began last June, “At first it was just panic,” she said. “Then panic turns into adrenaline. Then adrenaline turns into journalism.”
At Columbia Journalism Review, Editor Kyle Pope has Trump’s number. The president distrusts media because he distrusts all institutions, Pope said. And he knows what rankles journalists because he’s been rankling them for decades. “He was pre-baked to know how journalists work,” Pope said. Among his tips: Watch out for deep-fake videos, as their quality improves; watch out for sources with little real knowledge; be aware that your journalism can be weaponized, that is, twisted into an argument for or against however a particular consumer wants to frame it. One of CPJ’s goals, he said, is to buoy up good journalism. “We try to draw attention to each other. We’re all under siege.”
At the Marshall Project, new(ish) Editor Susan Chira is bringing 40 years of experience at The New York Times to the site’s criminal justice focus. In the year ahead, her staff will roll out more data-driven projects, look at the intersection of politics and criminal justice, and count on its entry into multiple Southern states for stories. Now five years old, the Marshall Project still highlights flaws in the U.S. criminal justice system without advocating for particular fixes. At a time when political leaders slam journalists as producers of fake news, the Marshall Project is responding with deeply reported and carefully fact-checked stories that don’t seek to make heroes or villains out of persons who commit crime or are affected by crime. “Complexity makes a better story,” Chira said.
Tuesday ended as Monday ended, with seats at Colbert and Noah. (See above!) Whew! Some of us (wink, wink) ended the day with pizza in their hotel rooms. Don’t know how real New Yorkers keep up with the pace!
Wednesday, Jan. 8
MSNBC’s“Morning Joe” is staying true to its heritage: “We’re the place for politics,” according to Lauren Schweitzer (MU ’10), a supervising producer on the show. That was certainly the case as we visited, with hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski (from remote studios) and Willie Geist and Claire McCaskill (at 30 Rock) bringing presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and U.S. representatives Tim Kaine and Tim Gallagher on to discuss topics of the day. (We only got quick hello with Geist, though, arriving as the show wrapped up.) As 2019 faded to 2020, power couple (on and off the air) Joe and Mika have been clear with their staff: “With a new year, it’s our aim to bring more conservatives to the table,” said producer Daniela Pierre-Bravo (MU ’12). That requires constant attention, she said, including face-to-face meetings with press secretaries on the R side of the aisle.
Elizabeth Jensen is ending her five-year stint as public editor of National Public Radio contemplating “assassination.” The newsroom decided to use that term to describe the U. S. military’s killing of Soleimani, leaving her to explain the decision to listeners. (For the record, she was OK with the choice, but said “targeted killing” would have been just as accurate.) She had also recently written about NPR’s record on diversity, concluding that progress has been tough both in hiring and on air. Over the years, Jensen and her small team have read thousands of listener complaints (10,000-12,000 just last year) and responded to the majority. But she leaves at the end of February (for what, still unknown) happy to avoid the rancor of the coming elections and happier still that NPR will fill her job. “I think it’s important to have fresh eyes,” she said.
Speaking of happy: Very glad for a final visit to the Fox News “America’s Newsroom” set for a chat with co-anchor Bill Hemmer (MU ’87), just before he launches “Bill Hemmer Reports” at 3 p.m. Fresh from a trip to Kenya, Hemmer gave Miami’s Luxembourg program a big shoutout and told students he largely landed a 10-year stay at CNN because of his international travels. His new hour-long Fox show will focus on breaking news, much of it political. The long view wins the day, he told students. “These stories are complex,” he said. “They take days to understand – or weeks or sometimes months or even longer.” Audiences will stay with you, he added, if you are accurate over time. As for “Bombshell,” the new film focused his one-time on-air partner Megyn Kelly, Hemmer was succinct: “I haven’t seen it. I won’t see it. I am not interested in it and I can say it has zero impact on my colleagues who work here.”
Upstairs in the News Corp. offices, Wall Street Journal Life & Arts Coverage Chief Lisa Bannon (MU ’82 and also a big fan of Miami’s Lux program) is laser-focused on reader engagement. Her team is all about finding readers where they live and bringing them into the conversation. One 2019 project focused on middle-aged women forging new paths. The original story got so much response, it required a follow-up, Bannon said. “Women were telling these very personal stories. They were feeding off each other on Facebook.” The same thing happened when a colleague posted a farewell “Work & Family” column early this month. Life & Arts stories always reach for the pocketbook angle – but with a distinction: “We humanize issues with ordinary peoples’ lives,” Bannon said.
In his new role as a Journal senior publishing editor, David Marino-Nachison (MU ’96) edits three to five WSJ stories a day – tightening up language, fact-checking, writing headlines, cutlines, social media posts and more. Subscribers pay a lot for the Journal, he noted, and they expect high-quality, “hey-I-didn’t-know-that” journalism. “We put a lot of time into making sure we are the least ‘fake news’ we can be,” he said. On the reporting side, that means a “no surprises policy,” he said. If you are the subject of a tough story, he explained, “You’re not going to see something in the Wall Street Journal that you didn’t get a chance to defend.”
At NewsGuard, co-Chief Executive Steve Brill, staff analyst Joe Danielewicz (MU ’05) and their colleagues are helping rebuild trust in journalism by rating the credibility and transparency of news sites. “Green” sites – ones that disclose their financial structure, correct errors, reveal conflicts of interest, etc. – can then share their rating to win the confidence of readers and advertisers. NewsGuard employs humans – not technology – to vet the content of sites, aiming to highlight false news, misinformation or disinformation. Executives invited us to download the free NewsGuard browser extension – before a $1.95 a month fee kicks in next month.
I’m not sure I’d ever read “To Kill A Mockingbird” in full. I’m certain I’d never seen a stage production of the famous Harper Lee 1960 title. Now, I’ve done both. Ed Harris played Atticus Finch with searing intensity in a story as relevant now as it was when published. Cincinnati has great theater. But there’s just nothing like Broadway.
Thursday, Jan. 9
“Silence is the enemy of a free press.” At the Committee to Protect Journalists, staffers combat that by making plenty of noise whenever and wherever journalists face harm, according to Associate Executive Director Robert Mahoney. But “naming and shaming is only so effective,” he said. Sometimes, the remedy calls for CPJ to meet with governments who abuse journalists. Sometimes, the effort includes letters, phone calls, social media and back-room negotiation. Among CPJ’s highest goals, Mahoney said, is accurate reporting on how and where journalists are threatened or harmed. The good news for 2019: Fewer journalists were killed for their work around the globe, at 25 for the year vs. 56 a year earlier. Less-good: Continued jailings of journalists, at about 250 for each of the last three years. About 70 percent of them face “anti-state” charges, such as belonging to an alleged terrorist organization; the number imprisoned on charges of “false news” rose to 28 globally, compared with nine just two years ago.
Giant Hearst continues to welcome Miami alums, with four on tap to explain their jobs:
- Bridget Clegg (MU ’10) posts up to 20 stories a day on Best Products, making sure digital images draw in readers.
- Lauren Doyle (MU ’08) spends her day promoting any number of Hearst’s 30 magazines.
- Andrea Cuttler (MU ’07), as entertainment director of Harper’s Bazaar, is the go-between for talent (think: big names on the magazine’s cover) and editors.
- Mariah Schlossmann (MU ’17) handles a range of business tasks at Cosmopolitan magazine (invoices, internships, budgets) and supports its current “Candidates Come to Cosmo” initiative.
All four love the opportunities inside Hearst. In-house mobility is a perk for staffers who master networking, they noted. “This industry is 100% about people you know,” Cuttler said, explaining that personal contacts helped her land her first NYC gig, as an assistant to actor Robert DeNiro.
At Bloomberg News, Andy Martin (MU ’86) was ready for the question we all had: What’s it like when your boss runs for president? “It’s awkward,” he said. “For the political reporters here, it’s a bummer.” For Martin’s new seven-reporter cybersecurity team, meanwhile, it’s full steam ahead. They are drilling into stories about hacking, ransomware, the dark web, AI, cyber warfare, surveillance and other head-spinning topics – learning as they go. Martin beat the drum for business reporting, noting that Bloomberg, with 2,700 journalists working 120 countries, is now among the largest news organizations in the world. “Good business journalism is fun to read plus it’s super important,” he said. “The old ‘follow the money thing’ is real.”
At Showtime, a first-time visit for NYC Media, Vice President Ken Todd (MU ’91) wowed us with a “sizzle reel” of recent Showtime releases. Among them were journalism-centric shows like“The Circus,” a documentary series about U.S. politics that drops Season 5 later this month. Watch for 25 half-hour episodes between now and Election Day that take you inside the campaigns, real time. Also joining my must-watch list: “Vice” newsmagazine, which moved from HBO to Showtime last year; “The Loudest Voice,” last year’s seven-episode hit about Fox News; and “The Trade,” a five-part 2018 look at the opioid crisis, with new focus on human trafficking now in development.
Can’t thank David Koschik (MU ’79) enough for hosting the third annual NYC Media Mixer at the swanky White & Case offices, where he is a partner. This year’s students were natural networkers.
Friday, Jan. 10
How did we not know Nick Mafi (MU ’09) before this year? Features editor at Architectural Digest since last spring and a nine-year veteran of the high-end Conde Nast title, he’s the epitome of hustle. Mafi, an English lit major at Miami, told students he came to New York in 2010 aiming to break into the magazine world with zero experience. A sales job at Wired led to AD, with lots of side work for Esquire, Conde Nast Traveler, Vanity Fair and GQ. “I basically muscled my way in,” he said, explaining his career path. Along the way, he connected with a publisher interested in an idea for a novel. He’s approached that with the same diligence, turning 8,000 or so words over to his publisher every six weeks. (He’s keeping the title and topic on the QT, not wanting to engage with skeptics. But he did say it’s a work of fiction for 2021 release.)
At Meredith Corp., Amanda Wolfe (MU ’05) is deep in spreadsheets and meetings as senior director of content strategy for the Health, Parents and Shape titles. But while her climb up the Meredith org chart has taken her away from day-to-day content creation, she still gets to put her fingerprints on what readers see. A stalwart supporter of the body positivity movement, Wolfe is happy to be part of the coming “Healthy At Every Size” project – URL still TBA. “We’ve been part of the problem for so many years,” she said, referencing women’s magazines that glorify thin bodies. “Now we’re part of the solution.”
Global Citizen is aiming for the sky in 2020, with concurrent, 10-hour concerts with big-name entertainers on five continents set for Sept. 26. The non-profit exists to bring an end to global poverty by 2030 – and needs $350 billion a year in governmental, corporate and individual funding for each of the next 10 years to get there. Yes, Senior Communications Director Cassie Carothers (MU ’01) gets to hobnob with the big names they book. In December, she manned the inaugural Global Citizen Prize event in London, featuring John Legend, Sting and Jennifer Hudson, among others. None are paid for performing at GC events, she noted, instead using their star power to keep the pressure on funders to make good on promises to fight poverty. “They’re all here for the right reasons,” Carothers said.
At Group Nine Media, staff on the Brand Shop side continue to apply journalistic approaches for paying clients. The best clients, they say, are the ones who realize a strong story can sell what they make, even with modest mention of the brand. Meaning, a video story about the lure of the open road can make viewers yearn for a car trip, no matter the car company footing the bill. “The stories we tell seem authentic to us … and so feel authentic to our audiences,” said Editorial Director Paul Ulane, who counts first-NYC Media student Nicole Theodore (MU ’14) among his editors.
Doug Newberry checked an item off his Lifetime Bucket List on Friday night, with tickets to a live Jerry Seinfeld show. Lucky me, I was his date. It was fabulous. Now 65, Seinfeld remains the king of observational humor.
No. 7 done; No. 8 to come
Real-time Facebook and Twitter posts (OK, brags) about NYC Media inevitably generate comments like: “How fun!” “Cool.” “And I want your job.” To which I reply: “It is!” “Thanks.” And, “No way.” Putting together this annual trip is one of the best parts of my Miami year.
But of course I owe many thanks to folks who make it possible. So thanks to …
- the 16 students on this year’s roster. Really a solid crew, and fun to be around too. Thanks to all of you for signing on. I’ll be calling on you to help recruit for next year.
- the 40-some guests on the itinerary. Whether Miami alums or not, they did us the great favor of saying yes and the even greater favor of answering our questions fully and fairly.
- the additional Miamians who helped make the week possible: My boss, Bruce Drushel, chair of the Department of Media, Journalism & Film; College of Arts & Science Dean Chris Makaroff, who joined us for several visits; and Jess Allman, Caroleigh Haw and J.J. Slager, members of Miami’s development staff who assisted on various fronts.
As always, I save my biggest thanks for the “assistant to the director,” my husband of nearly 30 years, Doug Newberry. While I focus on students and guests, he plots the subway stops, checks the weather, takes the group photos, troubleshoots the glitches and brings the breakfast. I really could not do the trip without him – and wouldn’t want to if I could.
Want more? Read NYC Media 2020 reports on students’ web sites. And be in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org) with questions about the 2021 class, set for Jan. 4-22.