Ask an Insider

Every few weeks, The OpEd Project’s Social Media Intern, currently Ravenna Koenig, interviews a Mentor-Editor or unaffiliated media gatekeep on their career and accomplishments, as well as advice they have for getting opinions into the pages of the nation’s news outlets.

NYT’s Jodi Kantor: How to Be an Expert Source

In this month’s Media Gatekeeper call, leaders at the OpEd Project and over 75 Public Voices Fellows from across the nation at institutions like Yale, Northwestern, Dartmouth, and Texas Woman’s University, dialed in to speak with the New York Times’ Jodi Kantor. Kantor began her journalism career by dropping out of Harvard Law School to join Slate.com in 1998. Four years later she became the Arts & Leisure editor of the New York Times, the youngest person in memory to edit a section of the newspaper.

During the call, Kantor had lots of great advice about how to become an expert source. We know from the OpEd Project’s 2012 Byline Report that men are more likely to be cited as experts in almost all age categories.

Kantor had some great tips about how to make your voice be heard. One of her biggest tips? “Don’t be shy.”

“There is nothing journalists love more than getting a note from someone smart,” Kantor said. If there is a journalist you like, whose work you’re familiar with, get their email address and send them a note. Journalists working a beat want to hear from someone new, want someone new in their Rolodex with a different take on an issue. It can be as simple as “Dear X, I enjoy your work. I work in the field of X and something my colleagues and I have been talking about lately is X, something that has been unexplored so far in the media.” These kind of reader responses are helpful to journalists and to fields alike, as it can bring new issues to light, not to mention new expert sources.

Kantor added a note about the tone: don’t email journalists just to tell them they’re wrong. If you have criticisms, frame it in a way that signals “I’m somebody who can help you multiply your field of vision so that you can see multiple angles.” Make sure you make clear that you want to help the field and not just take jabs–starting off with a critique is a bad way to start the relationship.

Kantor also discussed the art of giving a quote. Some academics have great difficulty in giving quotes to journalists. The way may top journalists write stories, Kantor noted, is to interview 80 experts, with usually only 3 expert quotes making it into the final story. Her advice on how to be one of those three? “Be interesting.”

“I think there’s an anxiety on behalf of those sources that their ideas won’t be represented with sufficient complexity in the  newspaper,” she said. “But it’s important to understand our general readership: we want this to be a paper an 8th or 9th grader with good reading comprehension can read. Making things accessible is a real public service. It’s not because we don’t care about the idea.”

At the OpEd Project, we ask who narrates the world? Is your voice being heard? Kantor’s advice shows how to amplify your voice and contribute to the conversation. The larger effects of being cited in a newspaper or on TV shouldn’t be underestimated, as made evident in a widely-cited 2001 Harvard Business Review article, “Harnessing the Science of Persuasion,” by Robert B. Cialdini:

When the news media present an acknowledged expert’s views on a topic, the effect on public opinion is dramatic. A single expert-opinion news story in the New York Times is associated with a 2% shift in public opinion nationwide, according to a 1993 study described in the Public Opinion Quarterly. And researchers writing in the American Political Science Review in 1987 found that when the expert’s view was aired on national television, public opinion shifted as much as 4%.

Now that’s thought leadership with a serious public impact–just what the OpEd Project is all about.

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Media Gatekeeper Tips of the Month: HuffPo Editor Jimmy Soni

Once a month, Op-Ed Project fellows come together for a call with a top media figure. In January, we spoke with Huffington Post managing editor Jimmy Soni. The Huffington Post caters daily to 6.2 million users, who click on and view 18 million pages per day. Below, edited for length and clarity, are a few of the important takeaways for those looking to submit op-ed pieces to the publication. 

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Photo Credit: Duke University

Photo Credit: Duke University

OEP: What makes you take notice of a piece? How would you describe the perfect Huffington Post piece?

JS: Some of it is just the basic principles of good content and storytelling. A lot of that isn’t necessarily rocket science. It’s writing something that moves something that moves people on whatever topic it is you’re writing about. That involves refining and honing your voice, having a strong opinion, and expressing that opinion clearly.

We notice pieces that take off on social media. A big part of the reason for that is the quality of the headline. One of the recommendations that I always give to people who are going to write for us, or write for any other outlet is, ‘think about the fact that your piece on Facebook is now competing with your friends’ wedding photos, and with the announcement of your sister’s new son, with some other article from another outlet.’ You’re competing in the ultimate small-day democracy of content. Your headline should be clear, it should tell the reader why they should care about something. It should convince them to click on the piece itself. In the social web, which we are all in, where content competes against all different kinds of content created by professional organizations and by people, your headline matters a great deal. That is something that is very important.

At the core, it’s ‘have you said something that’s funny, counterintuitive, draws on people’s heartstrings, have you done it in a way that’s clear, that has voice?’ I think one of the most important things to remember about the Huffington Post platform and our bloggers in particular is it’s not the famous names that go viral; it just isn’t. Sometimes, somebody of note will say something that’s a little bit counterintuitive or interesting. But the blogs that really take off for us, typically tend to be are people who don’t have another platform. They come to us and they publish something and we make it possible for millions of people to see it. You don’t need to have a preexisting platform to have it go viral; you really just need to write something that moves people.

OEP: Are you looking for different topics areas of expertise that you find you don’t get a lot of? 

JS: We cover everything under the sun. We publish so many different kinds of content from so many different kinds of people. Two years ago after the Democratic National Convention, a 15-year-old girl published a piece on our site called “Love Letter to Michelle Obama.” After [Michelle Obama’s] speech, she was really inspired. She wrote a piece, we published it on our Teen site, and the White House called us the next day and said, “Can you give us the contact information for this young woman? We want to fly her to Washington to meet the first lady.”

The more personal the better. People tend to shy away from personal stories and I think people do that to their detriment. I think that people will connect with your piece if there’s an element in there to connect with.

There’s a section for whatever you want to say on the Huffington Post. I would recommend that you focus not on what section is it going to live in, but what it is you’re actually trying to communicate. (more…)

Call for Op-Eds from New York Times Editor

Trish Hall, editor of The New York Times Op-Ed and Sunday Review pages, put out a call for op-ed submissions in the paper last week.  In her essay “Op-Ed and You,” she outlines the internal thinking behind op-ed selection, editorial decisions, and diversity of opinion.  For those who  become one of the select few whose op-ed is chosen, she also gives a quick rundown of what to do once your op-ed is selected.

Trish Hall.  Image from Gawker

Trish Hall. Image from Gawker

Most pieces should be 400-1200 words, focus “very specifically on something,” and use conversational English instead of jargon.  Hall also advises: “Don’t write the way you think important people write, or the way you think important pieces should sound.”

The Times has published op-eds on a myriad topics, from military intervention to love stories, by people from professional writers to lawyers trying their hand at writing.  Therefore, it is not so much the topic or author, but the writing and depth behind each piece that determines eligibility.  That’s what we’ve experienced firsthand via our Public Voices fellows who have published in the paper.

You can read the full article here.

 

Michele Weldon: Can’t Cut This? Sure You Can

A guest post by Public Voices Fellowship leader Michele Weldon

micheleweldon2

In my writing workshops, I lie a little. I tell students in my memoir and essay writing classes to “strive to be undeletable.” It’s a goal. I intend it as a mission to inspire them to write so pristinely, concisely and adroitly that an editor will have goosebumps over each word choice and agree that deleting even a single syllable is an unfathomable attack on humanity.

But the truth is we all can be edited. My first paragraph above can be cut by about 15 words.

At The OpEd Project, we work with editors at scores of media outlets who have varying word counts—600 words up to 1,500 words– and the latter is a rarity. These are not random story lengths. Each site, newspaper or magazine has oodles of audience research on how long a reader/clicker/listener/viewer stays with a story and on what platform.

Michele at a public seminar, teaching attendants about voice and expertise

Michele at a public seminar, teaching attendants about voice and expertise

For instance, someone who views the story on mobile may spend less time on it than someone who flips through the ink on paper product on a Sunday. Not always true, and not true for some kinds of stories on some topics; there are always exceptions to every rule.

Audience research is a complicated and fascinating data maze.  All said, the editors know best. So as a writer who wants editors to run your work regularly, do comply. Editors prefer to work with writers they do not have to have fights with on length every time.

Fellows I have worked with at the Public Voices Fellowships (Stanford, Princeton and Northwestern universities) can sometimes turn in a draft that is 2,000 words and claim they cannot imagine deleting as much as a comma. I understand.  This is what I call falling in love with your words.  You have researched thoroughly, painstakingly articulated your argument, and organized it thoughtfully.

Stanford Public Voices Fellows from 2011

Stanford Public Voices Fellows from 2011

But it is time to give your love a little space.  And let some of your love go.

I can work with the faculty member on it, cut the piece to under 1,000 words and still maintain the integrity of the argument. Then I pitch to an editor, imagining it is a lean, mean opinion machine. And guess what? The editor cuts another 400 words. But it runs, people comment and the editor wants to work with the writer again.

I have had literally thousands of stories I loved cut. Some to smithereens, some gently or barely at all.  Three decades into a journalism career working for newspapers, magazines and digital outlets, I still get cut. A few months ago, I pitched an essay to an editor, who responded within minutes that she “loved it.” I was thrilled; it was 1,100 words. She asked me to cut it down to 800-900 words. I did. She then cut it to 600 before publishing it.

Several weeks ago I pitched the New York Times an essay. An editor responded immediately that it was “great.” The editor cut it from 1,200 words to 500 words and ran it in the Room for Debate section. I then told the editor my plan to use the unused parts and published the out-takes in my column on Huffington Post. All of my words were published—just in two separate places. I was inordinately pleased.

I have been having the word count “discussion”—OK, fight—with journalism students at The Medill School at Northwestern University for 17 years. I ask for 500 words, they turn in 800. I ask for 1,500, they turn in 3,000. And I always say, give the editor what he or she asks for. Why? Because you want to be low-maintenance. And you can repurpose the outtakes perhaps for another op-ed. You want to be the writer who does not need her work edited with a machete. You want the editor to be able to use most all the words you submit and edit your piece with a tweezers, not a chainsaw.

It is true that I lied about being undeletable. But if you submit the word count required, chances are no one will have to cut your words—or at least a lot of your words. That is because you will have cut them down to size yourself.

 

From the Chicago Newsletter: Amy Guth from Chicago Tribune and Linda Logan’s Success in NYT Magazine

The following interviews are from the May issue of The OpEd Project’s Chicago newsletter.  If you’d like to receive the stories directly, email Chicago Regional Manager Yoonj Kim at yoonj@theopedproject.org to be placed on the email list.

Amy Guth on Chicago Tribune Social Media Work and Her Story

amy-guthAs the social media and search engine optimization manager at The Chicago Tribune, Amy Guth works at the heart of modern communications and real-time news.  She’s also a splendid mentor-editor for The OpEd Project–one of her mentees placed a piece in The Atlantic.  Read more about her story and what brought her to OEP.

Tell us about your background.  You’re now at The Chicago Tribune as the social media manager–what was your journey before this?

“I manage social media and search engine optimization for the Chicago Tribune newsroom. In a given month, I’m heavily involved minute-by-minute in breaking news, in long-term planning of how and why we use social media and SEO (called ‘strategy’ by buzzwords fans… yuck), and in training my colleagues how to make best use of these digital tools to extend the reach of our journalism, both as a promotional vehicle and as a reporting tool.

“Prior to this role at the Tribune, I worked in our books section. It was around the time we saw the Kindle, then the iPad and all this new stuff happening in digital publishing. To me, my current job was a logical leap from there.

“Prior to that, I founded Pilcrow Lit Fest, a small-press literary festival while freelancing and promoting my first novel, Three Fallen Women. During this time I was heavily experimenting with social media and digital media in different forms because I remember clearly thinking that, as writers, we would be well-served to learn from our colleagues in the music industry when they were hit with the disruptions caused by digital. Change really flips some people out, I realize.  I feel lucky to be one of those people who gets excited by change and how creative it forces people to be. I decided to say ‘yes’ to new platforms and formats, learn everything I could about digital media and how it could be applied to literature and journalism and keep moving forward.

“So now, I joke that I learned it all the hard way so folks in our newsroom didn’t have to.”

What brought you to The OpEd Project initially?  What made you come back for the Level II seminar?

“I originally attended an Op-Ed seminar at the insistence of a colleague, Maura Wall-Hernandez, who is an alum herself. Originally, I thought, ‘A writing class? I know how to write! What’s she talking about?” But, she persuaded me that Op-Ed was really about asserting expertise and helping/supporting other women to do the same, which was super interesting to me. And, sure enough, she was right: the Op-Ed workshop was wonderful… life-changing, even. I signed up for Level II right away after completing Level I.”

What inspired you to become a Mentor-Editor for us?

“I wanted to continue to support the program and women’s voices and knew that my skillset was a good fit there. I love to edit anyway, and have loved every minute of working with different people from different professions to help them bring their tremendous ideas into forms that demand to be widely read.”

Any words of wisdom on op-ed writing or journalism in general?

“Facts are powerful, so lob them out there to support your position. A strong, well, stated opinion piece is only strengthened and made more credible by citing facts over anecdotal information.

Also, when pitching, never forget that the editor isn’t against you, but instead is deeply rooting for greatness. The better your piece, the easier you’ve just made the editor’s workload that day. Trust me on that one.”

 

Visit Amy’s website here and follow her on Twitter here.

Linda Logan on Her Success in New York Times Magazine
lindaloganAn alum of the April 2013 public seminar in Chicago, Linda Logan published a piece on her experience with bipolar disorder in The New York Times Magazine.  The article garnered over 400 comments on the New York Times website, as well as many more personal emails and responses.  Read about Linda’s story, pitching successfully to The New York Times, and more.
Your op-ed in The New York Times Magazine about bipolar disorder was very open and heartfelt.  What inspired you to write it?
“I have been continuously troubled by the concept of self in mental illness–the illness changes us, the drugs change us, and the way those around us  act toward us changes.  I wanted to know what qualities I still had, what had departed and what was new.  Whenever I would bring up the crisis of self to any of my doctors, my ontological curiosity was treated as if it were another symptom–something to be quickly medicated and made to go away.  To say that no one took me seriously would be an understatement.  So I decided, if I wanted to present my case in the strongest, most cohesive manner possible, I’d have to write, since writing is the area where I am strongest.
The piece is longer than most Op-Eds.  Did you have a technique for organizing all your thoughts?
“I don’t think the Times would consider it an Op-Ed piece.  Several drafts before the published one, it contained interviews with neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, phenomenologists and others who are currently examing the self in different respects.  The editor kept trying to delete or minimize the advocacy part if it, and it is very truncated, but I’ve heard from several mental health practitioners who say they ‘got the message’ and will now incorporate the self in the therapeutic dialogue.
“As for as organizing my thoughts:  I just disgorge all my thoughts onto paper, however they came out.  It doesn’t matter if they’re for a 2 page piece or a 25 page piece. Then I task an index card and write the topic sentence of each thought on it.  Next, I go into my living room and lay all the sentences out and stand over them, tryong to see which  cards wouldl make the most sense together.  Then I put them in little piles annd fashion an outline by that.  Circuitous, but it works for me.”
Can you tell us a bit about how you pitched The New York Times Magazine?
“What happened was, I sent it in unsolicited last April 2012.  By August I hadn’t heard anything and thought it was rude not to at least notify me of my rejection.  I wrote an email telling them they had my manuscript for four months and I’d like an answer so I can start sending it around to other places.  I also told them it was an important piece  and explained why.  I told them I had delivered a paper similar to the one I was sending The New York Times and the reaction was astonishing.  That this piece really hits a nerve.  Finally, since the April mailing had been query only, I decided to send them the first page (a lot different from the published version), that was extremely powerful.  I hit send and immediately put it out  of my mind.  Within five minutes the assistant to the editor-in-chief at the NYT Magazine emailed me, asking for the complete manuscript.  And it just took off from there.”
There are over 400 comments in response to your piece online.  What has the response overall been like?  Do you feel that you’ve shared what you wanted to say?
“I have an additional 400 comments in the rocketmail account the NYT set up for the article.  Reading the responses makes me think that pieces like mine were a long time coming.  I got letters from people with bipolar disorder thanking me for articulating what they could not; that they were going to show it to their relatives to let them know what bipolar disorder feels like.  I got letters from friends and family members of people with bipolar disorder saying how the article has permitted them to see “inside” their loved ones.  Finally, all manner of mental health practitioners, from social worker, rehab  couselors, to MD psychiatrists and psychopharmacologists told me they were going to put the article in their curriculum, bring up the subject of self as a major theme in the therapeutic process. etc.   I could not have asked for a better outcome; I am just delighted.”
Any words of advice or inspiration to your fellow OpEd Project alums?

“I’m not sure I’m in any position to offer advice.  If you were going to write a personal narrative, as I did, I’d say: Keep it true.  Make sure you feel it.  Make it real.  And be a little pushy with editors.  My editor later told me if I hadn’t written the follow-up email, my manuscript would have been tossed, unopened.”Read Linda’s piece in The New York Times Magazine here.

“Your body is your most powerful AV tool!”

Indira Etwaroo (right) giving Wendy Suzuki some performance advice.

The OpEd Studio on Thursday, June 9 welcomed Indira Etwaroo, executive producer of WNYC’s “The Greene Space.” As a dancer, musician and scholar, Indira brought her performance expertise to the women at the OpEd Studio. Students bravely gave professional and genuinely fascinating presentations in their areas of expertise (everything from neuroscience to corporate responsibility!) Indira and the class gave helpful critiques and cheerful encouragement. An expert on performance techniques, Indira offered her insights and advice over the course of the evening. Some highlights included:

• Powerpoint presentations are rarely the best or most effective way to get your point across to an audience, especially if you want them to stay awake.

• Your body is your most powerful AV tool.

• We all have our “security blankets”, even when it comes to public speaking. They may be reading glasses or a coffee mug. As long as they work with your message, feel free to keep them.

• Get comfortable with your body. This may sound easy, but it becomes a bit more complicated when you’re addressing an audience.

• Practice your presentation at home as often as possible. The more you repeat it to your bathroom mirror, the easier speaking to a live audience will be.

• Have command of yourself, the material and the space. Really own the space you’re in. If that means arriving a few minutes earlier to get acquainted with the stage or lecture hall, try to arrange that.

• Be funny! Don’t be afraid to have a personality. Avoid professional or academic jargon, especially when addressing a general audience.

-Katherine Milsop

Pitching to Magazines

Katie Orenstein talks with Ilena Silverman.

The OpEd Studio welcomed Ilena Silverman, an editor at the New York Times Magazine, on Thursday, June 2. She offered her advice and experience about pitching and writing for magazines, in addition to individual critiques of pitches written by women in the class. Here are some of the highlights and key points from Thursday evening’s studio:

• Be aware of the magazine you’re pitching to and writing for. Be wary of anything too “message-y.” Depending on the publication, you may want to get your point across without over messaging, and in some cases, without coming off as an advocate for a cause.

• Figure out who’s writing in your area of expertise and interest. Review their work and email those writers directly before sending your pitches to editors.

• Spend a lot of time talking through your pitch. “The best pitches read like stories in terms of voice and presentation,” Silverman said.

• Get to the fundamental tension of the story. Memoirs, for example, are effective when they show a larger picture, as well as the insider’s view.

• The tension is the most interesting part of the piece. If the problem is too easily resolved, people won’t want to read about it.

• If you’re new to magazine writing, it may be better to pitch to other areas of the magazine (the New York Times Magazine’s “You Are Here” section, for example), instead of a full-length feature story.

• If you’re pitching to a literary journal, channel your writing style into the query. Be specific and demonstrate how well versed you are.

• It’s often better to narrow the focus of your story. Don’t write a pitch as if it were a school report. Be conversat

Studio leaders Julie Burnstein and Jolie Solomon with the class.

ional.

• Pitch to magazines your genuinely enjoy reading!

Ilena Silverman speaks to the class.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Katherine Milsop

 

Expert Tips for a Successful Book Proposal

Barbara Jones

The OpEd studio welcomed Barbara Jones on May 26, a former executive at Hyperion Publishing who has extensive experience in editing fiction for magazines and book publishers. Jones offered insights into the book industry, as well as her editorial expertise when she reviewed the diverse array of book proposals submitted by the class. Additionally, she outlined several key points to aim for in a book proposal:

• Proposals must be well written. They should have their own voice and “embody what the book is going to be.”

• You need a good story. “Is this a story you can tell better than anyone?”

• Strong narratives are key. “A sweeping narrative still sells.” The arc of your story should be authentic. In the case of a memoir, it should be passionate, acknowledge the problem and embrace the struggle.

• The more you can write before you go out, the better off you are. While it’s important to be ready for input and changes from your editor, it’s helpful to have as much of your book written as possible beforehand. Most publishers will give you a year to complete the book.

• Do your own PR though social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook. Make videos and post them online.

• Beware of modern scenarios and topics that have become cliché subjects for books, i.e. women in Afghanistan (Although, women in Afghanistan have recently been an invaluable part of one OpEd Project staff member’s work. See our previous post!).

• Be able to “tag” your book with terms that someone can Google, such as “psychology”, “celebrity”, “drugs”, etc…

• Know specifically what group of people the book is intended for. Include details such as the kind of cover, placement in stores, length and even price.

Jones also explained that publishers look for books that can easily get television publicity and can potentially be turned into movies. The “platform” of the author, or her popularity, career and notoriety, will often be the key to a successful book deal.

-Katherine Milsop

“Harnessing Twitter” – OpEd Studio, May 19

Sarah Milstein at the OpEd studio.

How do you get your point across in 140 character or less? Thursday night’s studio on Twitter began with Jolie Solomon challenging one woman’s use of “nothing words” in class. (What does “laying the groundwork” mean, anyway?) The goals of each woman at the seminar ranged from getting more followers on their personal Twitter accounts, to using Twitter as a tool for “Ted Talks” (Technology, Entertainment and Design conferences) and media exposure.

In her discussion, guest speaker Sarah Milstein successfully demystified Twitter the seminar attendees. Milstein, co-author of “The Twitter Book”, gave a presentation on harnessing the power of Twitter. She became the 21st Twitter user after the site was created in 2006. Milstein is also the co-founder of Two Tomatoes Records.

According to Milstein, women tend to be more active in social media. But about 70 to 90 percent of individuals who use social media are “lurking” – meaning that they are not actively posting, networking or tweeting through the sites. She described Twitter as a “low risk” way to network and build relationships with people in your field. The standard for use is simply to read. Read the posts of other people, organizations or news outlets that you are following.

If you’re interested in becoming a Twitter “thought-leader”, it’s important to create a Twitter persona. It could be your own, but feel free to experiment with multiple personalities in the same account.

Milstein emphasized the importance of sharing “valuable stuff.” This could be as simple as linking to a fascinating news article or opinion column you read recently. You can also link to photos and videos on other sites. When sharing links, it’s often a plus to include your own opinion before the link. If the author or host you are citing is a Twitter user, it’s all right to “call them out” and include their user name with the “@” symbol in your tweet. (For example: “The seminar tonight was great! @oped_studio.”) Sites like bit.ly offer a free url shortening service to help keep you under the 140 character limit.

Sharing tips via Twitter is another way of mixing the practical with the personal. Point to credible sources and give people information they can use. Milstein discussed Twitter’s ability to provide a vivid personal connection and make a window into your own life. You can share funny anecdotes about your dog, or mention helpful tips about finding a hotel in Barcelona. Milstein suggested following the “80/20 rule”: Keep 20 percent of your posts about you, and 80 percent about everything else.

The value of Twitter doesn’t necessarily rely on how many friends you have. According to Milstein, following is extremely overblown. It’s not necessary to have thousands of followers. If someone follows you, no Twitter etiquette compels you to follow her in return.

The class also discussed Twitter’s ability to spread news and big events faster than most news media outlets. The site’s ability to cultivate organic trends and memes via hashtags (searchable phrases or words with the “#” preceding them) makes it an indispensable tool for thought leadership.

But sometimes the most compelling tweets are the simplest ones. Don’t feel you have to be clever each time. While the tweet is essentially out there forever, it has a shelf life of about five minutes, so don’t stress each tweet.

One attendee noted that it’s very easy to get lost in the “vortex” of tweets. Milstein said that it’s important to play around on Twitter but, “While you’re playing, be interesting.”

Check out the OEP on twitter @theopedproject. Follow our studios @oped_studio.

-Katherine Milsop

The OpEd Project Speaks With The Takeway’s Femi Oke

Femi Oke is a British television reporter and journalist. She works as a daily newscaster and contributor with the Public Radio International/WNYC’s morning radio new program The Takeway. Femi was kind enough to sit down with Chris Fanikos, the social media intern here at The OpEd Project, for a quick yet informative interview.

Femi Oke

So, tell us a bit about yourself. What inspired you to follow this path?

Since as long as I can remember, I always knew I wanted to be a journalist. When I was seven years old I would gather “news” from my family and report it all in a weekly news bulletin.  I did my first professional radio broadcast in London at 14 years old.  By the time I left home to go to University I’d already been working as a cub radio reporter for five years.  I free-lanced at the BBC radio station close to my University when I wasn’t studying my English course.  The day after I graduated I joined the BBC as a researcher.    I was very focused.  I knew exactly where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do from a very young age.

What does your average day entail? What does it look like?

My day begins at 2AM when my alarm goes off.  The shock of getting up at “crazy 0’clock” never quite wears off, but I’ve been waking up this early for the last three years.  As I run around my apartment getting ready for work I catch up on all the latest news.  I have BBC World on my tv, BBC World Service Radio on my laptop and I download NPR and CNN pod newscasts and listen to them on my way to work.  I have to be up to date with all the latest news so when listeners wake up, they don’t miss anything that happened overnight.  The Takeaway news team starts preparing newscasts at 3.30am and by 6am the first of sixteen original newscasts are ready to go live.  By 10am the show’s over and then I have a little more flexibility to research potential guests, plan meetings and prepare for the next day.  I’m always sleep deprived, but I love knowing the news before most people are awake.

How many people tune in daily to The Takeaway?

We have about a million listeners a week.

What are the major differences between broadcast radio and broadcast television reporting? Which do you prefer?

The major difference is complexity and how many people are involved. . With television even the smallest shoot requires a team of people; the reporter, shooter, maybe a producer, editor and a control room full of crew to get the story on the air.  With radio you can create a beautiful piece with very few people.  I can go out on location and record a story without dragging a crew around with me.  Getting back to the studio I can even edit my own story and this makes the entire process much more intimate and personal.  Television of course has an instant impact.  I remember being on my first primetime television show back in the UK.  The next morning after it aired, I walked down the street and I was shocked that people recognized me.  The impact of radio is much more subtle, a great radio story gets into peoples heads and their hearts.  I do love both mediums, so trying to pick a favorite is like asking a mother which child she prefers.  She may well have an answer but will never tell you.

How has the rise of internet journalism both professional and private (blogging) impacted radio news?

Journalism on the internet and private blogging has expanded the possibilities for covering news. Just think how less informed we would have been without people in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria posting their stories, images and video online for the international news community to see.  In a much less dramatic way domestic stories are also given more depth and breadth thanks to the internet as it’s so easy for the radio and television audience to comment and share their experiences online.

Internet journalism has lifted the barrier between the audience and program makers.  On The Takeaway  for instance listeners post comments about a segment and within a few minutes they too are part of the program.  It’s not unusual for us to book a particularly insightful listener from a comment that has been left online.   Our reporting becomes more interesting and diverse because the Internet allows the listeners to get their stories to us so easily.

The one reservation I have is that it’s smart never to trust anything your read on the Internet until you’ve checked the source multiple times.  Just because a story comes up when you search for it, doesn’t make it true.

Do you have any advice for those interested in pursuing radio journalism?

Decide what style of radio journalism you’d like to produce.  Once you know what you want to do, find a local radio station that makes that kind or radio.  If you turn up willing and eager to learn most stations will be happy to help you. Radio people on the whole are very warm and welcoming.  Walking into a radio station is exactly how I got started.  It may take you a while to convince the boss to pay you, but the experience you gain along the way is worth it.

If you can, who was your favorite interview and why?

People always expect me to name somebody famous.  I have interviewed iconic leaders, movie stars and tons of celebrities. I’ve had a laughing fit with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, sat on actor’s Kurt Russell’s lap ( don’t ask) and seen Cher behave like a bad tempered school girl.  I have hundreds of fun celebrity interview stories.  Honesty though, my favorite interviews are with people who aren’t celebrities, but still allow me into their lives so I can share their deeply personal experiences with the world.  While living in Johannesburg and reporting for CNN I interviewed a family who lived in a shack made out of corrugated iron.  They lived in two tiny rooms with no real heating or cooling and three children piled onto one tiny mattress at night.  They had no wash facilities and the toilet was a crude hole in the ground.  The family was so frank, funny and kind to me that I will never forget them and it’s been years since I broadcast that report.  It’s easily one of my favorite interviews.