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Career Conversations: Discussion between YA Librarian Llyr Heller and Journalists
LLYR HELLER: My name is Llyr. I'm a librarian here at Teen Scape. Thank you all so much for joining us.
Some housekeeping, cell phones on silent, please. Restrooms are straight out the exit, down stairs, or the art department. Also we have a photo disclaimer. It's usually right there. You may be get photographs taken, but mainly of the back of your head cause we like to get photos of the speakers.
So thank you all for joining us. Help me welcome all our guests today on the topic of Journalism. We have Ms. Jane Dobija. She is a senior librarian at one of our LA Public Library branches, but prior she was a freelance reporter for NPR and the Independent. We have Ashley Alvarado, Director Community Engagement For Southern California Public Radio. And Chris Keller, Deputy Director of the Los Angeles Times Data Visualization.
So you are getting recorded for a podcast. So we'll share the mics, and then I'll repeat the questions from the audience as we go through.
So the first general question is welcome and what path have you taken to get to where you are today? And we are always curious about any internship opportunities or any specialized training you've done.
JANE DOBIJA: Okay. As you can see, I'm the oldest person here from my grey hair. And so I was in journalism a while ago when things where perhaps were different than they were than they are today. But, from conversations that I've had with my nephew who is also interested in being a journalist, I realize there are some things that are similar.
So I really began seriously working in journalism in the late 70s early 80s. My path then was first of all through a love of writing. And then I was able to connect with a local paper in Detroit where I started doing book reviews that gradually grew into freelance reporting on the news. And then something called Solidarity happened in Poland. I Had been doing research on the labor movement in Detroit and a labor movement in Poland called Solidarity managed to seize control of well not seize control of the government, but to prompt significant changes in the way Poland was run. It was at that time part of the Soviet Union. And, then in 1981, they were outlawed. Martial law was declared and all the journalists were leaving, and I decided to go.
I didn't know Polish. I did have a Polish background. I knew I loved the labor movement and it seemed to me that this was one of the most inspiring things that was happening in the world. And so I went to Poland. It took several years for me to get established. I had to learn the language and meet everybody in the underground, which was not easy to do cause they were all illegal people. And then it was knocking on doors, trying to find someone who would be willing to take a chance on me because I didn't have any background as a foreign reporter. I wasn't represented by I wasn't representing a news organization.
So it took a while, but finally after a lot of determined knocking on doors, history took over, and there was a second revolution in Poland. And all of the sudden it was a hot spot in the world, and I was able to get on board with The Independent as a freelancer. They were a London based newspaper and they were just starting out. And then on the basis of those clips, I was able to get some interest at the Washington office at the NPR, and I started working with them. So we did that through the revolution.
I also ran a couple newspapers in Poland. And I established, with your taxpayer's money, the first independent School of Journalism in the eastern block since World War II and I ran it for seven years. That's my path.
ASHLEY ALVARADO: Mine is a lot will less interesting. I've known I wanted to be a journalist since I was probably about 12. I work for an online newspaper called the Cyber Beat at Jefferson Middle School in Eugene, Oregon. And so I worked the high school newspaper. We had our own TV news station that we ran at our middle school and then into high school. And so even though I always knew I never wanted to do broadcast reporting, I did every kind of reporting that I could in my community. I actually, this may not mean a lot to many people, but my first ever interview was with Cory Aquino. My second interview was with Ron White. And my third interview was with Dick Cheney. And then I turned like 13 and completely peaked so that was it.
I went to USC and studied journalism at Annenberg. And, while I was there, I started interning and so interning is something that's been a passion of mine ever since. Because the reason I chose USC in the first place, you come. You do the visit. And they just say location, location, location. If you want to do journalism on the West Coast, and I very much did, it was a great opportunity for me because I was interning I was actually one of my classes the professor would offer an internship to her top two students every year. So I took that internship, started working at the LA Times, was hired by the LA Times, and almost every position I've had since then has been because of that initial internship and the relationships I started there.
From the paper, I went to magazines. And I was working at a paper call Ciudad, which was a sister publication to Los Angeles Magazine. And one of the first victims of the recession. But again, I was so so fortunate in the internships I'd had that literally two hours after the magazine folded, the same professor from USC called and offered me a job with LA Magazine.
And then from, there I went to be the Center For Investigative Reporting when I started to focus on engaged journalism, which is still was then and is still an emerging field of practice within journalism.
And now I'm at Southern California Public Radio or KPCC 89.3. And one of the funny things is I'm back working with one of my editors from the LA Times. We've now worked together at three different places: Newspapers, radio, and magazines. So journalism will take you a lot of places and through many platforms.
CHRIS KELLER: Hey, everyone thanks for coming out. When I was thinking back about how I got here and in front of you all, it's kind of funny. I was a shy kid without any clue of what he wanted to do, found it hard to talk to people, and thought I'll go work at the school newspaper that will give me a reason to talk to people. And that's kind of how it happened.
But some of the signs were there. When I was a kid like the news was on during dinner hopefully this is okay for a teen podcast but I can remember some kids on the bus talking about they were lesbian. And I thought it was someone from Lebanon because the conflict in Beirut was happening at the time, and I had to correct them.
I started a neighborhood newspaper I ended up getting corrected obviously I started a neighborhood newspaper and nobody would write the stories I would assign. I wanted to name my sister before she was born Morton Dean who as newscaster on television. So the signs were kind of always there. I was always a curious kid. I was kind of a loner in a way and very shy. And so when the opportunity came my senior year to write sports stories and such for the hometown paper that I grew up in and then for the school newspaper that gave me a reason to talk to people, I just found a sense of calm. Like I wasn't nervous talking to people or nervous talking to people or having conversations with people. I was getting them to talk about themselves and I felt like I was learning something there and from there just learned how to craft a story.
I started my career started in a weekly newspaper in a town of 1200 people in the middle of Wisconsin. And again to be here in Los Angeles working at the LA Times is kind of silly. Cause I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that I would have progressed to a medium or good this size or a newspaper this size. And I owe it all to just kind of like working. Like I pick up a shovel and I go to work every day. And I never turn down an opportunity to write a story about somebody or do an odd job.
My career has allowed me to deliver papers, sell advertising, run papers out to people who didn't have them. I've taken photos. I've laid out pages. I've written stories. I've done any job that is in front of me just to kind of learn a sense of what it takes in order to deliver stories and news to people.
I came out here, heck it will be what seven years ago. Ashley and I started at KPCC right about the same time, and it really kind of like opened up my eyes to like what's possible in my career.
I've only had one internship and it was at this small paper in Manatee County, Wisconsin. But again, you know, being willing and open to the idea of doing anything that's put in front of you. And that really goes to any job right or any career path being open to the doors that can open, the opportunities that are placed in front of you, you never know where you might end up.
Just to put a final point on it, I started off wanting to be a sports writer and now I work in a graphics department. Those two things kind of aren't further away from each other. I program computers. You just you take the paths that emerge and you explore them. And I it's kind of like up to you to kind of bring the rest.
LLYR HELLER: Thank you so much. So one more question before we open up the questions, but what's your day to day look like? Or freelance versus in house?
And we can share the mic.
JANE DOBIJA: Maybe they should start because they're doing it right now and mine can be a footnote.
LLYR HELLER: Anyone can start. We don't have to go in a row.
ASHLEY ALVARADO: I don't have that much of a traditional day to day. The way I do community engagement and engage journalism really depends on the project and then sort of the overall goals. There are days we're out doing human-centered designed interviews, researching the census, or how we engage with parents zero to five.
I do go through a lot of Post It notes, and I do spend a lot of time off-site facilitating conversations. I produce with a colleague named John Coe we have a story telling series called Unheard LA. And so sometimes we're coaching community members on how to tell their story in front of an audience of 700 people. Other times I'm copying a newsletter.
So it's really hard to get to the day to day. I will say that I do work really long days, but I just love the work we're doing and all the sort of different ways it manifests. And so that allows me to not to not ever get bored, but also to not ever be expected to be in every single meeting because they can't find me. [Laughter].
CHRIS KELLER: Meetings.
I've had a lot of different day to days over the years. The day to day right now is one I feel like there's a lot of skills there's a lot of technological skills that you can bring to a career in journalism right now.
But I think the biggest one is a non technical skill and that's just being able to talk to people, and communicate and collaborate with folks. I think my days are just spent bouncing ideas of or having ideas bounced off of me to try and figure out what is the story.
So I work in the graphics department and a lot of it charts, a lots of it's maps, but a lot of it is trying to figure out a way to tell a story. At our best were working alongside the reporters and the editors trying to figure out a way to condense, you know, a 50 inch 1500 word story into a simple diagram or a chart or something that is going to kind of help complement the story they are trying to tell. So it's asking questions. It's trying to distill complex information down into a few sort of key images.
I think the most valuable one kind of came about over the past month or so there was the plane crash in Ethiopia. And we were trying to figure out how we can kind of convey the design of an airplane and how the design of it contributed to needing a software system to overcome design flaws, right. And taking something that complex, right, there are thousands of pages of written about this into you know a handful of images that will convey it I think is kind of the key. You know, and obviously to do though there's technological skills. There's computer skills, design skills, artistic skills but really just being able to work with people.
I got a little bit away from the day to day, but that's basically the day though like meeting with people either large group small group. And then trying to inspire the folks on the team to find, you know, the news of the day important and really kind of get across the need to maybe drop what they're doing that they've been working on for a while because something trumps something else going on in the world.
I think I've learned a lot in terms of like the difference of doing it yourself, which is I, you know, am apt to do and trying to get others inspired to do it.
JANE DOBIJA: So I think probably foreign reporters today face some of the day to day challenges I had back then. Because a lot of foreign reporters foreign reporting is really expensive. And so a lot of news agencies will utilize freelancers because we're cheaper. And then that means that you really may be catering to a number of news organizations at one time because that's how you make a living. That's how you put your budget together.
But, when you work for radio, when I was working for NPR and I was living in Poland, then you have the whole time differential, and you have a news agency or a news outlet that's always blasting the news. So you have two news programs that you have to prepare for. One is in the morning in Washington and then one is in the evening.
The day began for me at 6:00 a.m., you know, checking the news sources locally the domestic news sources because you have to be ready to tell people what the perspective is from the home country. And then usually for the morning story, you'd already have some tape some sound bites you can use. You put together a story, edit it with the foreign desk, and then we would say you would go into the studio. Which meant, back in those days, you don't have to do this anymore, but you would have to take the phone apart. You had to have a special wartime tape recorder and microphone. You use that as your microphone and with something called alligator clips, you would have your microphone going through the phone line. You have to understand that many times in a poor country or in a country that is under conflict, you're dealing with a phone system that works not well at all. For example, there were no cell phones back then, right. There weren't any computers. Talk about getting lost not being able to be found, you could truly do it back then and dig into a story.
Then came the part of the day you would go out usually and find people to interview about whatever the subject of the day was, and then you'd come back in the evening and by 6 o'clock you'd prepare with your editor what the story would be for that evening. And by midnight you would finish. So your day pretty much started at 6:00 a.m. ended at midnight unless the foreign desk decided to call you at 2:00 a.m. to remind you that you were the first story up the next morning, and they just wanted you to be sure.
Now try to go back to sleep for the 2 hours you have that night. Of course, all of that goes out the window if there's a story moving fast. You know, if military police are moving in; if there's a strike going on; if there are demonstrations somewhere; if there are round table negotiations with people meeting at odd times; if somebody from the underground has been killed. You know, there are a lot of things that effect it. And then you just hope you can hang on by your fingernails and respond to all the demands that are coming from the foreign desk.
LLYR HELLER: Wow, thank you.
Opening it up to the audience, any questions so far? Oh, all right. Let me get this one first.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: How important would you say education is like in terms of going to college? Like do you need to major in English, or journalism, or writing or something like that in order to be successful or would you say it's more of a matter of just getting yourself out there and just showing up to a news company and being like hey?
LLYR HELLER: Thank you.
ASHLEY ALVARADO: So there are a lot of different things and conversations we have around this. If you are planning to do under grad and gradate school only one of them would need to have a journalism focus or writing focus. Even with that said, there are several people that I've worked with that have been really successful and didn't study journalism at all, but they went into they had a focus in their undergraduate or graduate studies that was very, very specific and so they were able to come into a newsroom and have an expertise.
We've had I think we had two former colleagues who were lawyers. People who have science backgrounds. It's one of those things where you don't have to go to school to be a really good journalist, but when we talk about earned internships, many of the internships are very competitive. And so it's almost like school can be a really great avenue to get the internship that's going to get you into the building and let you start to have those opportunities.
I just hired, geez, I think it's eleven interns. I just completed the hiring on Saturday Friday, but we had more than 300 candidates that came through. I will say one of the things I'm the proudest of is a couple of those interns we hired because we knew the other candidates would get hired and these were the ones who needed it more. Because maybe they didn't weren't from the most competitive school or, you know, they didn't have a cousin who knew somebody so really thinking how can we do that.
But, you know, there there's so many opportunities now to the kinds of newsrooms that you can contribute to. So there are several that's just a different path to getting there. But I would say look at we have I keep saying we cause I'm just imagining Chris and I work together. It's hopeful. But KPCC acquired LAS last year and we're constantly looking for contributors go to LAS.com so you can look at how you can start contributing and then work with an editor focused exclusively on that. And then there several hyper-local community organizations online and that's another way to just start getting bylines.
CHRIS KELLER: Education is definitely important. Experience is important too, but that doesn't necessarily need to come from a professional news organization. Ashley mentioned some of the local news organizations. I think it's Boyle Heights is it Boyle Heights Beat, right. That's the kind of thing where you can pop in and say: Hey, do you need anything written?
I would say too one of the interns I brought in am bringing in this summer to our team is a cartographer. Never worked in journalism before but worked with a group looking at germ rending and how it can affect future elections. He makes maps; we make maps, right. That's going to be a boon for us and it's going to be a benefit for him.
Computer programming and computer science students I think are very valuable. Anybody who's versed in like data science mathematics, statistics, economics. There's a background there and there's a need there.
And I think, you can learn to write in the style of journalism. You can learn to cover the bases and ask the questions that need to. And if you have a background in astronomy or economics or statistics or biology, like there's subject areas out there that we need to cover that we need to communicate stories to the public about, right. So you're going to have a ready-made knowledge base in there that will allow you to be successful.
I think a lot of folks go to graduate school now to get their Master's in Journalism. And I can kind of understand that because things are kind of tight in the job market out there.
The last thing I would say is be open to smaller publications. I feel like folks are kind of drawn to the coast with good reason, right. And as somebody who got here later in life, you can pick up a lot along the way. You know, in the little towns and the smaller towns and the bigger towns and the bigger papers, you can pick up stuff along the way. I think its probably rare I don't know if the folks I work with that are younger know how rare it is for somebody to go right from grad school to the LA Times, but that's also me being an older person at that point in life adjusting to new realities.
LLYR HELLER: When you say internships and you have internships is it for high schoolers, college or a mix?
ASHLEY ALVARADO: So most of the interns that I hire are college students or within one year of having graduated. Every once in a while I'll do a high school program.
I didn't mention before I'd also add Pasadena City College has like a certification program when it comes to broadcast. And that's another way that we actually get more community college students into our programs.
But, yeah, it's primarily college and that really has to do with the liability of having somebody in the building under 18 who's not supervised.
Oh and I wanted to, with what Chris said, it is really hard to find journalists who are okay with being anywhere between the coasts. And so there are a lot of opportunities, and there's a real need for more journalists because we're experiencing information vacuums throughout the country and that includes in Southern California. But it's just a very critical time to be a journalist and be willing to going outside of a geography like LA.
LLYR HELLER: What's your question?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: So my question was do you feel like being a journalist kind of harms or do you think it helps your social figure?
ASHLEY ALVARADO: When you say 'social figure' do you mean life? Um, so, I'm really, really fortunate in the kind of journalism that I practice. I have a hyper-awareness to the traditions of doing acts of journalism to people and their communities. There are regions. There are neighborhoods, I mean, that have really been traumatized by acts of journalism in the past.
When it comes to the kinds of work that I'm really blessed to do, we spend a lot of time trying to address communities that have been traditionally underserved or misserved by the media to bring people into the journalism process. To make sure that as much as we talk about news literacy, we're also talking community literacy. How do we better serve a community by better understanding them. And that can mean bringing people the skills so they are equipped to tell their own stories. It can be just being more present and saying: When you share something with me, it's not going to be transactional, it's going to be relational. I'm going to reflect back to you what you've shared.
And also saying that when we're amplifying and elevating these stories, when we ask people to tell their story or to share an experience, we're asking them to reflect on what they individually have experienced. We're not asking one person to speak for an entire people. And because of that, you know, I I get hugged a lot and it's most of the time a really wonderful thing. And so I know that's not that's not the universal experience as a journalist. And I can also say having been a journalist who's worked in Mexico, that I've also seen the very dangerous flip side of that.
But then also just having when you work for NPR, when you work for public media, there's a lot of love. It's a smaller audience, but a very passionate audience.
JANE DOBIJA: I guess my experience I just want to add something about the education because, if you're going to be a foreign journalist, I think that it's absolutely required that you know the language of the country from which you are going to be reporting. It's the only dignified way of interacting with the people, which goes back to this relationship to the people that you're reporting on.
I mean I spent years tracking down people in the underground learning their language, being able to know their every day lives. And, that was so important when the story started to become really heightened because there was trust. Underground movements are built on loyalty. And, if you go from one person to another and say well Rushak sent me, well okay you're in. You're in. If you don't have that calling card, you're probably going have a little bit of a harder time.
And I think that what Ashley said you know about the respect of the story, the respect of the people, the respect of the human tragedy sometimes that you're seeing, it's really important to be humble before your story; to not feel that here I am the American journalist, I'm going to tell the world what's happening here. No, I'm here to listen. I'm here to try to get it right, and to put your voice out there the way you want it to be heard.
LLYR HELLER: Thank you.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: In a general term, what do you think, let's say for example, what do you look for in an intern? What kind of skills you would want to have for an intern did I say that correctly? And let's say for a foreign reporter, the same question as well, what kind of skills or trade would you look for in an intern?
JANE DOBIJA: In terms of foreign reporting, definitely the language. You have to have a good background in the subject that you're covering. Many news rooms, even NPR at the foreign desk, doesn't have specialties in all the different countries. They certainly didn't know anything about Eastern Europe when I was there when I was in Poland reporting from there. It was really significant that I was well educated about the country and the political situation and the history. That's what I would look for from a person who might come to work for me as a foreign reporter.
And a sense of good judgment because there are a lot of situations that you will get into if you're in a country where there is conflict that could put you or the people you are covering in danger. I mean, for you, it might just mean deportation, but for them it might mean prison or even worse. So you really need to know how to judge what's going on around you, to evaluate a situation and decide when it's time to just let it go.
ASHLEY ALVARADO: So I'm really passionate on the subject of intern hiring, and part of it is that this year I read something like 300 applications. I've read more than a thousand. This is sort of controversial when it comes to hiring practices any way, but I care a lot about cover letters.
I want in the cover letter to know that you've done the research so you know who we are. Again our organization does have a few names, but when I get applications with "Dear I Heart Media," I'm like no. That is not us. I want you to spend the first few sentences of your cover letter asserting your passion not your privilege.
So we will have a number of people who send in their thing and they're basically telling me how wonderful their life is, which is great. Good for them. But I want to know why they care about this thing they want to do.
I will also say that I sort of go about the intern hiring process differently. I don't hire for specific positions. I don't have a check list I have to work my way through. I instead look for the candidates that most excite me, and figure out what is the intersection between their skill set and their passion, and then also do we have the capacity to have interns in those areas in our organization.
So this summer we have interns focused on data who will be focused on census 2020. Interns who will be supporting engage journalism. Interns who will be running the boards so they will be helping get the audio on air for the show. Reporting interns and an intern with our live events team and then another one with I forgot with one of our news magazine shows.
You know, so it really is going I don't have this list I have to work through. Instead I'm going to see how can this be an opportunity for us to practice what we preach and to invest in developing a diverse and local pipeline of talent.
CHRIS KELLER: Real quick, I think you'll find as more folks our age get in you know, late 30s and 40s get into an area where we can evaluate, we're taking the opportunity to really kind of practice what we always that should be a good practice. And you'll see some applications with some really explicit instructions on what folks are looking for. Those are there for a reason. It's to target a certain area or to target a certain kind of person who can kind of convey their story or convey what they can bring to a role.
I think I feel, to use the word privilege, about being a position to look for that and to kind of practice what I always thought was a good thing. I will say it's a lot more difficult than I ever imagined.
But to kind of echo Ashley, cover letters matter and the story you kind of convey and the passion you convey matter to the person reading it. And, if you don't kind of hit some of that right away, it I don't know what it is I'm trying to say it doesn't end up in the junk but it also others rise above it, you know what I mean.
LLYR HELLER: Thank you. I just have a follow up to all of that. Is there any sort of technology people should be engaged in when they want to work as a journalist?
CHRIS KELLER: Yeah, I mean, it depends on your role, right, but knowing your way around the computer. And I think just because internet is the internet and there's so much information out there, knowing where to find information, credible information, accurate information, information from government resources, whether that's federal, state or local, I think that's important. And knowing what the knowing the questions you ask of that information is, I think, are important. So basic computer research skills.
ASHLEY ALVARADO: You know we have as an organization primarily known as a radio station, we end up having journalist coming from all different kinds of background. And we've really become we really don't care about what kind of ability you have to produce the sound or that, we care about what you have the core journalism skills and a mindset to go after the information and to not come in with bias.
JANE DOBIJA: I think you probably have to be ready for none of that technology be available to you if you're going to do foreign reporting and you're going to end up in a country that's in strife. So think about how what would have happened back to 1980 and how you would have gotten the story out back then because that is a situation you can end up in.
LLYR HELLER: Thank you. Any questions from the audience? Okay. None so far. All right. Thank you for the other questions. Let's see, we'll come back to mine.
How do you keep your relationships strong because I can tell it's a collaborative career. How do you keep your relationships strong? And also can you talk a little bit about introverts and extroverts and if it's a job for either?
ASHLEY ALVARADO: I'm an introvert, but I professionally work as an extrovert, which is one of those things do people know what introvert and extrovert are? So essentially, an extrovert is somebody who gets energy from being around people, that give you all the feels. An introvert feels that's draining. For me, I recharge by being alone. I recharge by having quiet time.
But then I work in an aspect of journalism that's all about relationships. So I just try to figure out how I can balance that. And, while I will say I do get energy from knowing how this kind of work can affect others and that it's just really fulfilling for me.
When it comes to managing relationships, you know, it's something that I should say I also run a non profit that's called Journalism Matters that is focused on catalyzing conversation and connection. And so what I've learned through that process is all of these things that I try to do outside of our organization when it comes to community relationships, I've learned to do inside of the organization too. And so it can be the way we facilitate conversations. It could be the way how we run meetings. I have essentially have a Pla-Doh lending library in my office where people can come and get it and they are just thinking and brainstorming and collaborating differently. And so it's all of those things.
Again knowing that we're not an advocacy organization, but we are an activation organization. And how can we create news that's going to get people excited, get people invited into the conversation, and be you know, I'm thinking about what Chris says whether we're talking about engagement work or graphics and visualization, we're talking about how do we invite more people into this information and let them do something with it. So I think it's just built into everything that I try to practice.
CHRIS KELLER: I'd add real quick that just keeping in mind that we're all trying to do we're all kind of rowing in the same direction. We're all on the same team. And that the stresses that pop up, because they do in the course of a day, a month, or a year in terms of the news that you're covering and the stories that you're trying to convey and tell, that we're all doing the best that we can because it can get stressful.
I think of the time in November when there was an election followed by a shooting followed by massive wildfires, and our shop our paper was operating at a stress level that, you know, hadn't been reached in quite sometime. And it's easy to lose sight of the fact that we're all helping each other to get through it, and that goes double for what you experienced over seas.
ASHLEY ALVARADO: Can I just add something real quick. On that I'm not going to tell you to go hug your local journalist but I will say to what Chris just said, journalist are often at the front line of really traumatic events. In more and more recent years, we've had more conversations around self care or when do you know if your experiencing post-traumatic stress? Because whether you're in, you know, you're watching people who have just lost their homes or they've just lost a relative or you're covering a man hunt or I have friends who are in Texas, where they just had a good year, where just every couple of months there was a massive tragedy. You would talk with journalist and they were just shaking. They were just so affected by it. So I think that it's also sort of just sort of checking in yourself when that's what you've signed up to do you that you just know sort of what to expect and how to cope.
JANE DOBIJA: I think that there's a lot of emphasis in journalism on competition. When you're part of a foreign press corps, that can be part of it. We were very fortunate in Poland that there was such a small foreign press corps that we needed each other in order to tell the story. I had better language skills than many people. So there were times when somebody was holding the microphone in front of the general's mouth, but nobody really knew what he was saying and they didn't have a translator with them, and they had to go back to the office to file. So I would sit down with them and we would play the tape, and we would get the facts out get the quotes out that they needed so we really worked together.
The other thing is that, and I don't want to emphasize the danger too much, but the fact is if you're working in an area where something is deemed illegal and there is military force or a secret service there to try to ensure that what is illegal stays out, you have to be careful that someone knows where you are. You have to have somebody that you can count on to, you know, help you out if you get stuck. And so building those relationships with your colleagues is really is really important. And sometimes it might even be building a relationship with the people you're covering because they may be the only ones who will really be able to help you in a time of need.
LLYR HELLER: Thank you. Any questions popping up with the audience? Okay. So my next actually I'd like to circle back. Do you have any preferred self care and how do you self care when you're in a foreign land all by yourself perhaps.
JANE DOBIJA: That's hard especially when, you know, when you're operating in this at this stress level all the time, the revolution in Poland the last one took a year. It happened you all know about the Berlin Wall where there was a year of active political activity in Poland that preceded the fall of the Berlin Wall, and actually the government there changed before Germany's did. And, during that time, you were out there all the time rain, snow, whatever. And I think that one thing that was hardest for me was that the foreign desk back in Washington didn't seem to have a clue.
I mean, I had one editor who really got it and understood when, you know, I was tired and would at least recognize it, that was going on. Everybody else just seemed to think it's so hard here in Washington running the office why can't you get that story in quicker.
So I don't think I was very successful in finding ways to deal with that stress except, you know, now and then there was a break, and you'd either get together with your colleagues from the press corps so you can debrief. Sometimes that's how the day ended. You know, it would be after midnight and you'd all finally sit around a table and have dinner and get called away one by one because they wanted you to correct the story. But at least we knew what each other was going through. And then, if there were also people that were your friends in the country, they would certainly understand what you were going through.
ASHLEY ALVARADO: I think, if you ask the leadership of our organization, it's often we order pizzas. When there's a man hunt or an election, we just order really large pizzas. But also I think, you know, organizations are getting better at recognizing this both as the news rooms but also the organizations that are out there to support. So there's DART which is a resource. There's also, out of the University of Oregon, a program that's looking what journalist are experiencing with this. So there's emerging research that will continue to guide us as we go forward.
But just as far as the day to day goes, I think it's taking advantage like make the HR office, when you are a practicing journalist and provided that you are somewhere near the HR office, a place that you visit so you know what resources your organization offers.
At KPCC they have psychologies basically on the line that you can call if you need. I know it's an under utilized option that we have. Finding people in the news room that you can go to and that you can share with.
You know, a conversation that I had in journalism we still so KPCC is majority women and about 42 percent of our content is people of color. We still, you know, our listenership the listenership for KPCC is pretty close to the demographics of the region we serve. Our staffing isn't quite there yet. But the reason I bring it up is we've also had conversations just about what it means to have people of color in leadership roles because then it changes the dynamics of when we have safe and welcoming spaces for people to have conversations depending on what they're dealing with.
You know, when you think about when we think about shootings or relationship with community policing, just know that when we report on the news we're also experiencing and processing the news and that's different depending on where you grew up, how you grew up, and often just how you present in the world.
LLYR HELLER: Thank you. Would you like to add anything?
CHRIS KELLER: I'm not a good practicer of self care. I'm getting better. But I kind of am a work alcoholic and over performer. And I think it's important to have those relationships where people can recognize when you're kind of hitting the red line and to help you realize you need to dial back. And those are either personal or professional.
It's funny to be sitting up here because I'm at a point now where I finally became an advocate for myself knowing I needed to take some time and kind of dial some things back. It's freeing. I can only imagine though how many others maybe don't know they have that in these newsrooms as we're going through just incredible times or maybe even self imposed in some perspective, right. So everything is breaking news anymore, but there's a lot of important news. I just looked at yesterday's headlines and the ridiculousness is the only word that comes to mind, but it's tragic. I'm outside of it. You're outside of it, and there's people's lives affected by it every moment. And it's hard not to accumulate that second hand and to know it's not the same stresses their dealing with, but the need to tell their stories and that you can just not possibly do enough. It's really hard to not let it spiral sometimes.
So recognizing yourself and knowing yourself, I think, is a key to self care. As to the forms that takes, that's up to the person. I like to go bash around on the basketball court. Others will meditate. Others have unhealthy habits right. So it's really finding a way to manage that and have relationships or have the relationships.
ASHLEY ALVARADO: There's very journalist that got into for the money. And so I think like this is work that we do because we're passionate about it and because we believe in the mission and the possibility of it and that makes reeling it in hard sometimes.
JANE DOBIJA: Yeah and I think sometimes depending on the story, what I go back to is the strikes at the Gdansk Ship Yard where you would walk into this place where people had walked off their job. The factory was surrounded by military police and you walked into that facility and you felt something. They were there for each other 100 percent, and they had made this decision that they were going to break this down. And so you forget about all that. You forget about self care. You forget about going to the gym even if there is one, you know. And that's the that's the privilege of journalism that you become a part of these things that change the world; and it gives such meaning to your life that in the end you decide it's, you know, if you get stressed out for a while, well it's certainly was worth it because your life is that much richer because you participated in their achievements and struggles.
I think that what I always looked for when I did foreign reporting was to know more than anybody, to have more depth because my relationships with the people were years long and it wasn't like they were like I was just walking into their lives and telling them to tell me their story. So I really looked for the human part of it that maybe wasn't as fabulous as what you would see in the Washington Post, but which gave you a sense of what those people were feeling and those hearts.
CHRIS KELLER: There's some things that are just kind of the basic. What's a good way to put it? It's like the lowest common denominator sort of facts that come out there. News breaks, something happens, you're going to kind of have this nugget of a story. And a lot of it's going be the same. From there, if it's a story that has legs that is kind of day after day, it comes down to the relationships that you have, and how deep you can kind of go. The framing or the angle that you have of it. We look at this poster on the wall there right, someone is going to talk about the book she's standing on, someone is going to talk about the color of the spaceship flying around in the background, someone is going to talk about the color of the light saber. Finding different assets or angles to take of a story. Then it's also who the audience is. So our audiences are similar by very different, right. I think KPCC is very much Southern California so they're going to ignore something like Ethiopian plane crash. Not ignore, but they're not going to cover it as much. Whereas the LA Times will cover a little bit more of it, and they're going to cover from a business angle or a transportation angle not necessarily from a policy angle. I think the last thing is also just understanding what it is that a particular audience needs to know about something, right. The New York Times audience maybe needs to know something a little different than our audience needs to know. So there's sort of a Calculus that takes place, and you start to do it without really recognizing it after a while as you kind of build up those muscles.
ASHLEY ALVARADO: I didn't have an answer for this initially, but I think that one thing I would say that KPCC we we're looking for what the invitation is in the story. And so one thing we started doing a couple years ago with the wildfires is that as they're burning, we're inviting people's questions. So we're not only going to incorporate those questions into the public-facing reporting, but we're going to cover them privately.
So I actually have a very clear memory of flying in, December before last, into Burbank airport seeing the fires burning everywhere, and at the same time I'm typing answers into emails to individuals because when we launched this option for people to ask whatever questions they had about the burning, you know, the areas burning, we expected questions about, which we did get, about we're right by the ocean, why aren't they using salt water? Who named the fire? What direction is the fire going? But we also started getting questions like here's my address is it still there. Or what do you know about Malibu paradise camp was going on there? And often times these were questions that we could answer without any additional reporting. That people are so scared or they're having such hard time processing all of the information that you're talking about, that we were able to take a step back, find the answers within our own reporting, and then just give them back directly to community members. And so yes we have a weekly cue of 800 or a thousand people, but we got to super serve 300 people and that will forever change the relationship that we have with those folks.
LLYR HELLER: They will remember that forever. So we're almost out of time we have about five more minutes. My last question is how do you see the field change in the next five years.
JANE DOBIJA: I haven't a clue. [Laughter].
ASHLEY ALVARADO: It's changing a lot. I think even when you just say the field we have such different approaches to journalism whether we're talking primarily whether they are talking about platforms or who gets to tell a story; who owns that; the relationships we have with community versus the relationships with we have with audiences versus monolithic audiences versus several audiences. We're both part of newsroom that participate in a program called Table Stakes. That's really focused on saying what you think of as a audience is actually several audience.
And, when you think of the term audience, we're really not it's not about saying people who like this thing or that, but it's saying what is their shared information habit or need and how can we better understand that? So something I'm really excited about is we we've done a lot of research about how can we best serve parents of children 0 to 5 in LA County and, before we start to answer that question, we went out and did a lot of research. And one of the questions we would ask is, you know you two will like this answer I think but where do you go when you're trying to figure something out for your child where do you go to figure out information. So we weren't using words that were going to trigger responses.
Like because if I say like who do you follow on Facebook or where do you go on Facebook for news, you're going to tell me somebody on Facebook even if that's not what you do. So if we take a step back and say like where do you go for that information, person after person said I go to the library. I look for the fliers that are there. Several people said I go to Instagram and I see what other moms are doing. Or there's an 18 year old mom who said I call my grandma in Mexico. No matter what's going on her resource is calling her grandma in Mexico.
So I'm really fortunate in that I have leadership who said okay let's lean into that. So we started delivering news by postcard. We're launching a text messaging service. We're doing this super tailored information because we're able to go very, very deep in serving particular audiences as opposed to going towards that breath.
CHRIS KELLER: I like the audience of the micro audience and recognizing who needs what especially in a town this size. Can it be an aspirational future? [Chuckling].
News brands are reasserted as fact finding organizations and cut through the noise of everything else that's flying around in the world.
It's a, I don't know what the future of an individual publication is. I think the future of news, at least in the United States, is the recognition that all of these organizations together are stronger than the kind of the fractured media environment that we have. Media being everything from social media to alternative media to movies, music, television. And recognizing that competing on stories isn't as important as making sure that those stories resonate and continue to resonate until there's I don't want to say resolution because things aren't usually resolved. But is acceptance the word I'm looking for? That either things can change or they can't.
I just think of the political climate of the situation along the southern border first and foremost it can't be over shadowed by the next thing. And it takes all the news organizations to realize that they can't give it away from shining a spotlight on it for the next thing. That it has to be reported and it has to be at the forefront of what they do every day. That's just one example of however many issues that are kind of going on right now.
It's almost like, you're like NFL owners or like major league baseball owners colluding to keep salaries down. It's like, and I'm going to put this out there, but like media organizations to say we're going to keep colluding to say we're going to keep hammering at these stories and keep highlighting these instances in order for it to for those stories to be heard.
And if that's bias in some respects, I guess, I hope it's bias in favor of story telling, right, and bias in favor of the truth as opposed to one particular facet of that.
JANE DOBIJA: Yeah, I didn't have an answer for it, but now after listening to you folks that maybe there's something from my experience that can be aspirational. I think that's a great way of looking at it.
One thing I mourn really as a news consumer right now is the room in the profession for the journalist to get lost and rather for the journalist to be used to fill the gaps that are in the program model. So that there is sometimes not a great enough opportunity for a journalist for to just stay with the story. They'll be called away from the story because oh, we need this. You know, the New York how many times did I hear from national public radio's foreign desk: Well the New York Times is reporting. Well sometimes the New York Times was wrong because they just didn't know enough. And that journalist who is going to challenge that needs to have the opportunity and the time to go and do the research that it takes to show a side of the story that somebody else isn't getting. That's one thing that I would like to see come back.
We don't have a gatekeeper anymore. Okay, that's great, there's all these different ways of getting information. But we do need to have some way of organizing the way the news is reported that gets us a leeway to go in depth.
The other thing is that you mentioned libraries. We did a program at my library I'm at the Memorial Branch Library on Wilshire right now and we did a program sometime ago about the it's called Migrant Stories After the Caravan. I had some photographers from my neighborhood came to me and said they'd been traveling to Tijuana and they wanted to know if they could show their pictures at our branch. We had standing room only at that program. And it was, for me, like a meeting of the underground in Poland. Everybody was so focused it was hot in that room. And people really cared and they were really seeing something that they weren't seeing anywhere else or at least maybe not in the caring and human way that these photographers told the stories of the people that they were seeing and photographing and talking to.
I mean, I left journalism and I went into a field that allowed me at a saner pace to deal with information needs. And, when programs like that happen, I just feel really happy that somehow it's come together and the library is doing that informational role in as good of way as any journalism outlet that I know of today.
LLYR HELLER: Thank you so such. I'm sorry, I got caught up in it. Thank you, that was wonderful. Thank you all for being here today. It's good work. [Applause].
DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a certified or verbatim transcript, but rather represents only the context of the class or meeting, subject to the inherent limitations of real-time captioning. The primary focus of real-time captioning is general communication access and as such this document is not suitable, acceptable, nor is it intended for use in any type of legal proceeding.
CAREER CONVERSATIONS PODCAST, February 2019, CAPTIONED BY TOTAL RECALL, www.yourcaptioner.com