Business News Comes to Life In CNN tour, NBC tour triggers new career paths
Students expecting not to be interested in business news instead leaned forward in their chairs Friday to hear all they could from on-air reporter CNN Money reporter Cristina Alesci and CNN Money Executive Producer Jason Farkas.
“You are holding brands accountable and if you can understand and speak the language, corporate language, you can demystify it for many people who maybe don’t understand it,” Alesci told the group of 11 Stony Brook Journalism majors who trekked to Manhattan for Professional Friday. Alesci intended to write news, but found the immediate feedback of on-air reporting very satisfying. She is now a leading business reporter for CNN.
At CNN, students also met with Samantha Barry, head of Social News for all of CNN. She’s in charge of the largest non-celebrity social media footprint on the web and several students said time with her opened their eyes to careers they had not thought of, including information forensics (the process of verifying social media posts for use in breaking news reports).
“I never studied for a news quiz and none of you should ever have to study for a new quiz. You guys should always be consuming news where you don’t have to study for it because that’s going to be your job. You’re going to have to be well read before you get in.”
Farkas grilled students about their lack of interest in business reporting and urged them to open their minds. CNN’s goal is to avoid the technical approach taken by Bloomberg (where he and Alesci both worked prior to joining CNN) or the Wall St. Journal. CNN Money’s watchword: “Business Gets Personal.”
The most recent example of that approach, Farkas said, was CNN Money’s follow-up on the shooting of Walter Scott by officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina. CNN Money interviewed the makers of body cameras and did a story about the jump in sales caused by this year’s series of controversial police shootings of suspects.
Alesci and Farkas offered students stern advice for making the most of any opportunity they have to get started in journalism: “I think the bottom line is for journalism you have to love it,” Alesci said. “No one is going to pat you on the back. No one is going to give you a medal. You have to convince yourself that this is what you want to do and you’re doing it for the love of it.”
Farkas, whose television career started in the NBC Page program, said you prove yourself by committing to always do a good job, especially when the task is small: “If you’re supposed to get coffee for (Saturday Night Live Producer) Lorne Michaels prepared this way, at this time, it seems like a really menial task,” he said of his term as a page. “You better do it f-ing perfect (because) if you screw it up they’re going to make that conclusion that you can’t do that simple thing.”
At Stony Brook, that is referred to as “The Marcy Rule,” after former Associate Dean Marcy McGinnis, who rose from secretary to Sr. Vice President at NBC News. She tells students to excel at every job they are given, no matter how small, in order to earn trust and move up the job ladder.
The field trip program gives Stony Brook journalists a first-hand look at Manhattan newsrooms and is intended to give them a clearer vision of their career path.
Student Kunal Kohli said the NBC tour opened his eyes to a completely different job he hadn’t considered before. “The control rooms were crazy,” he said of a tour of NBC production facilities, where directors and producers coordinate to get live and taped elements on the air during broadcast. “The adrenaline and energy in there made me realize that I want
to work in one.”
Students heard another version of the Marcy Rule from Marc Schwartz, ’13, who met with them after the tour of NBC News studios, where he works as a production assistant on MSNBC news programs.
“Don’t say no,” he counselled, even if you aren’t sure how to do what’s being asked. Get help, but “Always take on the task that is asked of you.”
Schwartz said he has had to learn how to be politely forceful. During a show, if you can see a producer or director preparing to use information that hasn’t been fully vetted, you have to speak up. “Find your voice. Sometimes when I first started, I was a little nervous to shout but it’s important to tell them how it is.” Schwartz said the news quizzes that Stony Brook students sometimes complain of are not something students should study for.
“None of you should ever have to study for a new quiz. You guys should always be consuming news where you don’t have to study for it because that’s going to be your job. You’re going to have to be well read before you get in.” He works an early morning shift and said even though he is in the early part of his career with nowhere to go but up, the job excites him. “Every day is different. It never gets boring because the news is different day to day so I honestly say this with hundred percent truth. There’s no day that goes slow.”
Underclassmen Marshall Wayne Cooper and Javiera Arenas said the newsroom tours and QnA with working journalists changed their view of their major.
“(It) helped me gain a visual concept of what a job at a major news organization may be like,” Cooper said.
Arenas, who is more interested in writing, said the tour’s heavy emphasis on broadcast was good for her. “I think today showed me a different side of journalism. It made me think a lot of the future and where it is that I want to go and what it is that I need to do. It was definitely a positive Experience,” said the Sophomore.
Reporting by Professional Friday participants
Rewrite by Prof. Miller