Hundreds of professional journalists and media professionals were hard at work in the New York Daily News newsroom this past Friday. They were writing stories, contacting sources, and anxiously awaiting their respective editors to get back to them on their stories.
All of which was familiar to the journalism students visiting from Stony Brook University for ‘Professional Friday.’ Many of the students who visited on Friday are practicing journalists for the university’s student run paper and/or other publications as they aspire to practice journalism professionally. But this visit was the real deal, a real newsroom, a real professional atmosphere, and students received advice from those journalists and editors who have made it in the industry.
“Keep every contact’s number that you ever get,” Ginger Adams, a NYDN journalist, she advised to the visiting students. “The only way to promote and build your craft is to network.”
The Daily News holds a daily editors meeting at noon, where the visitors were able to observe and ask questions following the meeting. The editors at the meaning discussed what content is being worked on in their respective departments and what had already been published that day. Students picked the brains of the high ranking staff members who also were sitting at the meeting table. Arthur Browne, the publications editorial page editor, gave students tips on how to prepare for interviews in the news industry.
“You must distinguish yourself with something extra,” Browne told his visitors. “Thinking like an editor is something few reporters do.”
Browne stated that he had ended interviews prematurely in the past due to interviewees being ill-prepared. He insists that background of a publication must be researched prior to the interview, which will let the interviewer know they came prepared. Robert Moore, the paper’s managing editor, claimed to have dismissed a current employee from an interview prematurely because they were not dressed professionally, but hired him in a second interview. The message is that first impressions carries exceptional weight in job interviews.
Stony Brook journalism students followed their visit to the Daily News by visiting the offices of CBS’s 60 Minutes to round out their Professional Friday trip.
At the entrance to 60 Minutes is a welcome desk with a large CBS ‘eye’ insignia mounted above. Walking through the office space, there was a row of pictures hanging on the far left wall. These pictures, taken from across the world, were from past stories covered by the team.
Within a few minutes, Kevin Tedesco, Director of Communications at CBS News/60 Minutes, walked into the lobby and welcomed the students. He led them through a corridor where busy journalists and editors were working on new stories in side offices. At the end of the corridor was a room with a conference table and two rows of chairs that faced a large television. This was the space where management reviewed the interviews for approval.
As the students found seats, Mr. Tedesco began to explain the rigorous vetting process that goes on behind the scenes. Potential stories are proposed to the managers on “blue sheets.” Mr. Tedesco said that “for every ten blue sheets, one story.”
CBS 60 Minutes, which airs on television each Sunday, has an average audience of about thirteen million viewers, according to Mr. Tedesco. To maintain such a large audience in a time where more and more consumers are turning to the web for news suggests that CBS must be doing something right.
The secret is in their formula. Mr. Tedesco stressed the focus on having people tell the story. “We cover the people that are affected,” said Mr. Tedesco. Viewers can empathize with these people, who may have suffered from some tragic experience, thus forming a human connection that enhances the story.
After explaining the process, Mr. Tedesco invited two producers to speak with the students and answer questions. Michael Ray and Oriana Zill have been working at 60 Minutes for several years, covering a range of stories from Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal, insurance companies denying coverage for mental illness, and FEMA fraud that prevented homeowners from collecting flood insurance in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
The producers explained the art of storytelling. “Focus on a person and his situation, then build out,” said Ms. Zill. They then gave advice to the young students about pursuing careers in journalism: ‘network’; ‘find a mentor’; ‘learn by watching.’
The students asked intelligent questions. Andrea Keckley, 18, asked, “How is it that [investigative journalism] managed to keep the public trust so well despite the general atmosphere of distrust around this industry?”
The evening closed with a debriefing over coffee and a quick visit to Trump Tower. The students returned to Stony Brook with new knowledge, pictures, and contacts at the New York Daily News and CBS 60 Minutes.
Reported by Lucas Vasadi and Timothy Oakes
Photos by Jawad Hossain