I’ve made the decision to leave my day (and night... okay I am on call 24/7 there) job at a Japanese national broadcaster. I’ve been with them for nearly two years and while I work for them out of their LA bureau I have been sent on assignment all over the US as well as travelled to Central and South America too.
It’s been a busy two years.
As I prepare to leave and embark on my next journey (and get a bit closer to entrepreneurship) I am doing my best to make the transition as smooth as possible for those that will follow me.
I’ve taken the unofficially official producer guide I inherited from my predecessor and begun to add to it. What began at 8 pages is now close to 20 and counting!
So far there’s a lot about the day to day inside of the manual but it got me thinking... beyond the practical what is the best advice I could offer someone that is new to broadcast? And perhaps new to international news coverage as well?
In today’s world of Internet news where everything and anything is accessible (and hard to find all at once) it’s often assumed we’ve improved cross cultural understanding. In some ways perhaps we have, as a mixed kid whose split her childhood education and adult working years between the US and Japan I’ve certainly seen a huge change in how much these two nations know about each other. When I was a kid in the US sushi (and rice balls!) wasn’t even a thing and now Japanese cuisine is popular everywhere. For awhile in Japan black face was still acceptable on national TV and at last they seem to have moved beyond it.
For most of both populations (and most of the world) there are very few that have had the opportunities to leave their nations for work or leisure. Most of what the general population knows about the world is still through media and in a population like Japan a lot of that is still through national TV news programs.
Most days I feel like I’m failing at journalism (this seems to be a common feeling in my field) but there are small victories here and there. I carry those with me because it’s certainly not the dismal pay and unhealthy working hours that keep me motivated to stay in this industry. As naive as it sounds I wanted to make the world a better place. I wanted other people to have the opportunity to learn the things that I was lucky enough to be raised experiencing.
I still want that.
I still believe journalism provides that opportunity.
So from my 6 years of breaking news experience as an international correspondent here are my five biggest pieces of advice on how to make the world a better place as a journalist.
I’ve written this massive manual on how to be an efficient news producer. I’ve provided all the passwords, bookmarks, Twitter lists and even a starter list of sources. There’s a manual on how to edit and how to shoot and a quick guide to the best methods for pitching and how to organize a budget.
But what makes a journalist is that journalist’s story. The context and energy they bring. I can’t teach you how to be you in this role. I will organize the tools you’ll likely need but at the end of the day you’ll choose your own stories, find your own sources and build your own platform.
Along the way and especially on tough days it can be hard to stay true to yourself. Below I’ve listed a few of my tips on how to be the best journalist only YOU could be.
Take what helps, leave behind what doesn’t fit.
Here it goes!
1. Remember that it is a privilege to listen. I’ve often envied shrinks, they listen and listen and listen to people share their worst moments or toughest trials and then get to work with that person to move past it. Journalists have to bring those same stories out of someone, share it on a platform to millions and then walk away to begin working on their next story. Anytime someone decides to share a piece of their life with you is a privilege. They could have spoken their truth to anyone and they chose you. Sometimes journalists gets to ask about happy moments but in breaking news it’s often the most tragic parts of an individual or a community’s life. And yet without humanizing these stories it’s hard for a mother in Osaka or a teenager in Okayama to connect with a stranger in rural Texas or uptown Manhattan. Listen like they’re sharing a secret, share like it will change the world.
2. Not all stories have to be shared. Sometimes people will speak with you just to speak, others will need your listening ear. Not every story should be amplified by a news broadcast, some just need to be released by the survivor so that they can move on. You will often be in the right place at the worst time. It’s okay to listen and not publish. It’s okay to be that one time friend and not a journalist. Be a great journalist but be an even greater human.
3. Be a diplomat. Your view of the world is your audience’s view of the world they’ve never been to, the story they’ve never heard and the people they’ve never met. Don’t assume ‘they know’. First of all who is ‘they’ and what do you think they know? Japan doesn’t allow citizens to own guns, what could they possibly know about gun laws and permits? Start from zero and assume you’ll need to explain every term, hashtag and geographic location. Be prepared to examine your story ‘lost in translation’. Ask yourself 5 questions for every 1 answer you come up with. If you learn 1000 facts about the story, assume the audience will absorb only 3. If you’ve done your job well they’ll walk away with the most important three.
4. Take time off. Outside of depression and alcoholism the other biggest problem that journalists face is burn out. The news cycle NEVER stops, especially if you’re an international correspondent. Your home news desk will be in a different time zone than you. They may react to news at 10 pm when you’re winding down for bed or call you at 4am because an earthquake happened three time zones ahead of you. The work is never ending and they will let you go if your quality drops. Never assume you’re indispensable to a company or to a boss. Employees will always be dispensable so take care of yourself first, always. And then take care of your loved ones. Give them your time, your attention and your love. They will love you back. Journalism never will.
5. Pursue long form storytelling. You’re in breaking news, you’re busy everyday. But still find a story you feel passionate about. Marinate on it. Research it like you intend to write a book. Study it. Pursue it and give it years to develop as your grow as a journalist with the story. The deadline will find you. The path to be a great journalist is patience and the greatest exercise of patience is experiencing the process.
You’re going to do great! Whoever you are and wherever you go you’ll be awesome!
I’m already a fan!