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Odd Man Out: Imposter Syndrome and Professional Success

By Features

I will freely admit I sometimes feel like a fraud. “Imposter syndrome” it’s called. I know I shouldn’t; I’ve fairly prospered in my civilian career since leaving my last active duty tour. But it’s hard not looking at some of the talented people working in the news media industry and wondering if I measure up. 

Journalists from Military Veterans in Journalism join instructors Al Tompkins, Brendan Keefe and Ramón Escobar at the Poynter Institute in Saint Petersburg, Florida for the TV Power Reporting Academy, April 2022. During this course, students sponsored by MVJ studied ethical concerns, reporting techniques, proper use of sources and building relationships, and networked with civilian journalists from around the country.
Photo by CS Muncy

Last month I met some especially talented journalists when MVJ helped send me to the Poynter Institute to attend the “TV Power Reporting Academy,” and at the end of it I came to a few important realizations. Before going too far into that, I should probably give some context.

From 2016 to 2019, I was a photographer and videographer at the White House Communications Agency on an ADOS tour. It was a fantastic, if incredibly stressful job spanning two wildly different administrations. The experience was an honor and it was exciting, but it meant putting my civilian photojournalism career on hold. When the tour ended, I had a good friend who found me a job, ironically enough, as a civilian photojournalist and field editor working out of the White House briefing room. 

This was where that sense of being a fraud started seeping in: the weight of all that talent and experience working in that small, dingy-yet-illustrious briefing room bore down on me. I constantly felt like I didn’t belong there, and worried that if I wasn’t careful someone would catch on and see me for what I really was. But I plugged away, kept my head down, and kept shooting. 

When COVID hit, all but a few journalists were removed from the briefing room and I went back to New York City to cover the outbreak. Returning to being a full-time photojournalist in the city after so many years in another city was tough; many of my contacts and editors had moved on to other positions or left the business altogether. I was still an Air Force reservist with 4th Combat Camera Squadron, but on the civilian side it took me a while to get back into the groove. The Village Voice, who had been one of my main employers before I left for D.C. had completely gone out of business. It was like starting all over again, but with fewer publications and more competition. Still, it felt good to be back home making frames.

I also took this opportunity to return to school, majoring in Human Rights at Columbia University. I started paying more attention to the mil-vet community in the field of journalism. It was here that I connected with MVJ, and began making a concerted effort to take advantage of every opportunity they offered. This included portfolio reviews, meeting with mentors and connecting with other veterans within the news community. In February they put out a call for folks to apply to attend the TV Power Reporting Academy at the Poynter Institute. I threw my hat in the ring and became one of eight MVJ members to attend this intensive program focused on broadcast journalism storytelling.

The first day at the institute brought back that old nervous feeling of being the imposter in the room. Everyone there carried themselves with an air of experience and confidence, and the work they shared was wildly impressive. Of about 30 students, only eight came from a military background. The rest had been in the business for years, and it showed. But as everyone – military and non-military alike – began warming to each other and the walls started coming down, it slowly dawned on me: everyone in the room felt as undeserving as I did. Each had their own private doubts about whether they were good enough. 

Brendan Keefe, an investigative journalist and instructor at the Poynter Institute later described his own take with overcoming self doubt. 

“I also get imposter syndrome a lot when I’m teaching. I’m not that much older than my kid students, but … I’ve been doing it for a while now and feel more confident in teaching them the things that worked for me. But when I first started teaching I felt terrified. Did I have enough experience? Was I good enough to teach another generation?”

Kaitlin Newman, a Baltimore-based photojournalist, described her own struggles. 

“When it comes to imposter syndrome I don’t know a single one of us that doesn’t experience it one way or the other,” she said. “It’s a super saturated industry. Yesterday’s news was yesterday. I always feel like my work could be better, but then I see other people’s work and I feel like it’s not that good. I think it just comes with the industry [and] is part of the territory.”

Civilian and military veteran journalists attending the TV Power Reporting Academy at the Poynter Institute gather for a sunset group photo in Saint Petersburg, Florida, April 2022.
Photo by CS Muncy

My time at Poynter reinforced Newman’s position. The conference took place at Saint Petersburg, Florida, which was a nice change of pace from the lingering winter weather back in New York. Being able to bounce ideas and past work off colleagues and instructors with decades of experience and diverse points of view required a thick skin, but highlighting our flaws as well as our successes gave us clearer paths towards improvement. At one point in our small-group breakout sessions we were able to review past clips, and almost to a person these would begin with something along the lines of “so this may not be my best work.” Everyone had as much self doubt as I did, but even the harshest reviews gave us space for self-improvement. 

Understanding that everyone at the Institute had the same doubts but still pushed forward was one of the better lessons I took away from my time there. Sure, we went over technical and ethical concerns; we discussed the necessity for privacy in some stories and the requirements for breaking that privacy in others – but it was that doubt, and the way it fed into our competitiveness and our desire to be better than we are that really stayed with me. Doubt can cripple you if you let it, but it can also be one of the most important tools in your kit. More than a good lens or expensive camera, coming to grips with the doubt that we all have will make you a better journalist.

New York-based photojournalist and Army / Coast Guard veteran B.A. van Sise gave his own take, suggesting that self-doubt can be a tool for improvement. 

“Self confidence is deleterious to good work; if you don’t hate your own work, you will never improve. For me, it’s been this thing where I’ve published this first book I did, and asked myself ‘when am I ever going to make it.’ It’s common and natural, and the only way you grow as an artist and professional is by wondering where it can be better.”

The author of this article is CS Muncy, a Manhattan-based photojournalist, Poynter TV Power Reporting Academy graduate and Air Force veteran. His photos have appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Newsday, the Village Voice, and New York Daily News.

Three years? Wow, time flies.

By Features, News

Dear MVJ Members,

May 1st marks the third anniversary of Military Veterans in Journalism. Since Russell Midori and I founded the org back in 2019, we have been working to help our fellow vets chase their dreams in the journalism field.

We believe journalism is a service to the nation and we see a career in media as a way for our nation’s veterans to continue their service. We also know that veterans are vastly under-represented in the media and we’re working to change that, step by step.

In these three years, we have brought together an amazing community of more than 500 veterans, created many dozens of mentorships, partnered with prominent national organizations like Poynter and the Knight Foundation, hosted career fairs and a national convention, and run more than two dozen webinars to inform our members and connect them with resources. Importantly, we’ve also put more than 10 vets to work in paid internship and fellowship opportunities that we created and funded specifically for our veteran community.

We couldn’t have done it without all of you and your support. Thank you for being members of our community and thank you for your work in journalism. You are what makes MVJ great and it’s an honor for all of us on the MVJ team to advocate for you.

As Russell says, “Journalism needs veterans more than veterans need journalism.” That is to say, you are bringing diversity and trust to the media at a time when American trust in journalism reaches all time lows. We believe now more than ever, your work is critical for democracy.

We urge you to continue taking advantage of the resources MVJ offers. Apply to our internship and fellowship opportunities, get a journalism mentor, and participate in skill development events. We’ve also recently revamped our MyMVJ member portal – join us on the new MyMVJ!

As always, please feel free to email me or Russ to share ideas and thoughts on how we can better serve the community. We are always looking for ways to improve.

All the best,

Zack

You’ve Got This!

By Features

Over the years, I’ve been a professor of organizational behavior, HR, and leadership and have worked for (and led) various organizations. I hope I serve with integrity and leave things a little better than I found them, as I am sure you do.

In each of the many roles I’ve played, I have had the great delight of having members of the military walk the path alongside me. They’ve come in all shapes and sizes and have been my colleagues, fellow students, students in my classrooms, and friends. I currently live in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, which houses many active and retired military personnel. The conversations experienced during walks or overheard in even the limited social settings we enjoy today are humbling and comforting.

Two threads connect these marvelous and committed individuals: integrity and critical thinking, which are two skills I see as essential to strong leaders and the extraordinary journalist. I do not suggest that you pass up the opportunities presented by MVJ to hone your writing, interviewing, and other more technical trade skills. However, I want to emphasize that you have trained, lived with, and honed these two essential skills in military service.

When I was a business school faculty member, I found that students did not engage with critical issues facing our country, such as the 2019 impeachment hearings. In response, I developed a classroom-related exercise that required students to keep a six-week journal of news related to current events. The Harvey Weinstein case and the mentioned hearings were only two of many events that provided a breadth of content for them to use. What would you guess the overarching frustration with the project was? It was not the “excessive” amount of time or writing involved; instead, it was summed up succinctly by one student who asked, “How do we tell who is lying and who is not?”

Kelly Kennedy, The War Horse’s managing editor and an Army veteran, embedded with the 26th Infantry Regiment in 2007.

We need the integrity and factuality of former military journalists – never has the phrase “now more than ever” been more applicable. In the few months since I began to ponder a future blog posting, the world has changed. It is ever-changing, of course, as we wait to see how the future plays out. We depend on fact-based and thoughtful reporting to guide us.

The wisdom and experience gained in military service becomes more poignant and apparent during times of war. We hang onto every word of advice that Retired General Barry McCaffery can offer because we know he has lived through this. Yet these skills are also palpable in reporting on other issues from former military journalists, such as Kelly Ramos and Kelly Kennedy. While military experience is not a necessary prerequisite for the profession, it brings to anyone who has engaged with veterans a sense of trust and comfort.

The tendrils of power have reached deep and caused divisions among us. These divisions led to explosive breakdowns in communication that most of us have never witnessed before. One faction tends to believe that the other does not want to listen or is propagating misinformation. It is interesting, however, that disinformation research has found people are indeed looking for the truth. Researcher William Dance says, “People engaging with false news stories are not disinterested in truth, but are hyper-concerned with it — especially the idea that it’s being hidden.”  The Canadian-British journalist Cory Doctorow states, “[We are] living through a crisis about how we know whether something is true.”

Trust and integrity lead to public confidence in information. Gallup polls have shown that confidence in the press has plummeted over the last fifty years since Watergate. It’s challenging, but not insurmountable. It takes time to develop trustworthiness, but being trustworthy is easy.  Tell the truth. Integrity breeds the desire for it.  Finding the truth is the challenge, and it takes no small amount of critical thinking to do this.

Retired USAF Col. Nicole Malachowski is a motivational speaker dedicated to mentoring the next generation of Americans.

As Retired Army Sgt. Major Glen Morrell says: “Soldiers must possess integrity in order to build trust and confidence in themselves, our leadership, and the American public. Among the things I’ve learned during my career is that you must be honest with everyone about everything.” But what does that integrity look like? In my experience, it shines through when military veterans work in teams. Teamwork development, the deliberation and conceptualization that goes with focusing on the mission, and knowing the importance of ‘having each other’s back’ – these skills are learned and honed in service. At the end of the day, humans are social animals. We’d like to think we look out for each other. We’ve seen veterans do all these things and trust that “having our back” translates into truthful journalism.

Col. Nicole Malachowski, USAF (Ret.) is a combat veteran, the first female Thunderbird pilot, and a personal source of inspiration for me. She is a gifted inspirational speaker and reminds audiences that, “The power of your words to make or break somebody else’s dream [is] infinitely powerful.” Integrity and critical thought support that power. No multiple-choice tests or essays will measure the value these elements have brought to your character, nor how crucial they are for accurate and fact-based reporting.

You’ve got this! And you’ve got Military Veterans in Journalism supporting your work and giving you unique opportunities to thrive.

Dr. Melinda Weisberg is a (semi)-retired Professor of Management at Marist College in Poughkeepsie NY and well…a lot of other stuff over the past 35+ years. She currently resides in Williamsburg, VA with the love of her life and their three active Labrador Retrievers. She can be reached at [email protected]

Knight Media Forum 2022 Talks Diversity, Truth, Disinformation in News

By Features

Diversity and disinformation were central to the conversation at the 2022 Knight Media Forum, an annual gathering on news trends and their impact that took place virtually Feb. 22-24.

Nikole Hannah-Jones (left) and Ta-Nehisi Coates (right) spoke on truth and trust in journalism at KMF 2022.

The convention began with a panel on clarity and truth in reporting with award-winning journalists Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

The duo discussed the balance between power and news coverage. They believe too many newsrooms lack a skepticism of institutions, leading to what Hannah-Jones considers “lazy reporting.” Many reporters, she says, tend to report what they’re told by authorities instead of investigating all sides. This over-reliance on official sources leaves important stories untold.

Both Hannah-Jones and Coates agreed newsrooms should increase their skepticism to inform their communities better and that having more diverse voices is key.

Journalists from majority groups, Coates believes, are often ill-prepared to question the state’s relationship with the people. They lack the experiences of marginalized communities, who have faced systemic persecution in the past. Diversity in media isn’t performative – it’s important for gaining trust from these communities.

Attendees also heard from news executives on diversity initiatives and leadership in the industry. Versha Sharma, editor-in-chief of TeenVogue, said news executives should do some reporting of their own to keep in touch with what it’s like for reporters working under them.

Kevin Merida (upper right), Versha Sharma (lower left), and Rashida Jones (lower right) came together to discuss leadership’s role in raising diverse talent.

“I think that idea of rolling your sleeves up and doing the work when you can carve out that time…is so important to being a more effective and efficient leader,” Sharma said. Working in the field is necessary to keep up with evolving trends in modern news, she added.

Kevin Merida, editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Times, discussed the way he fosters diverse talent. He believes everyone has something to contribute to the newsroom and encourages approaching each hire to find and nurture their unique skills.

To build a stronger newsroom, Merida said, leaders have to stimulate a want to belong among their staff. Journalists should want to represent their newsrooms because they feel good about the work they do.

Rashida Jones, president of MSNBC, explained how each journalist’s unique experiences help in the newsroom.

Jones introduced NBCUniversal’s Fifty Percent Challenge Initiative, which sets a goal for the company to have 50 percent diverse staff and 50 percent women. Instead of forcing their newsrooms to diversify via a plan they had no say in, MSNBC’s leadership sought ideas from employees and enabled them to make a difference. “I think the fruit of [this initiative] is better coverage on all of our platforms because it’s better representative of the whole country,” Jones said.

Merida, Jones, and Sharma also covered the importance of mentorships. They encouraged attendees to seek mentors, regardless of where they were in their careers, and advised going to mentors with a career plan. The trio closed their panel by saying the news industry as a whole has to keep improving and pushing forward so the current progress doesn’t disappear.

Dr. Daniel Fagbuyi (top center), Dr. Katrine Wallace (upper right), Jennifer Paganelli (lower left), and Dr. Rajiv Shah (lower center) give solutions to the spread of disinformation.

One of the final panels of the event brought experts in health literature together to discuss disinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Rajiv Shav of the Rockefeller Foundation, Obama Administration Biodefense Appointee Dr. Daniel Fagbuyi, Dr. Katrine Wallace of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Jennifer Paganelli of Real Chemistry talked about solutions for countering the spread of “fake news.”

Dr. Shav said disinformation reduces public willingness to act by using specific, often threatening messaging targeted at vulnerable groups. As a counter to this, the group recommended for journalists to identify and connect with messengers within communities – a priest, for instance – and give them the information they need to spread.

“You cannot communicate if you do not know your community inside and out,” Paganelli said.

The panel also suggested efficient use of social media and influencers as a possible solution, but with caveats. Each social media platform has a different demographic, so journalists and organizations must consider that when posting. And while bringing influencers on board is a good idea, they have to believe in what they’re pushing.

Dr. Wallace gives her advice for fighting disinformation on social media: “As long as you keep a standard, very simple conceptual method, you can spread that message across platforms and across age groups.”

Black journalists and veterans today stand on the shoulders of Bernard Shaw

By Features

I met Bernard Shaw at the Washington Bureau of CNN in the 1990s while he worked as the network’s lead news anchor. I was changing jobs, moving from infantry to public affairs and visiting that newsroom was a key part of the Defense Information School curriculum. Knowing Bernard Shaw was a Marine veteran, I yelled  “Ooh Rah” as our gaggle of students strolled by his office. To my pleasant surprise, “Hey Marine,” echoed through the hallway. 

Bernard Shaw’s work helped to establish CNN as a leader in national news programming.

With an immediate about-face I peeked into Shaw’s office. We discussed his service in the Marine Corps from 1959-1963, his tours aboard Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. He told me his work in the military had sparked an “ah-ha” moment. Part of his job as a message center specialist was to clip news articles for delivery, and it occurred to him through this experience that he wanted to work in journalism. 

He left the service as a corporal and climbed the ranks of journalism from there; working as a reporter in Chicago, then a White House correspondent, then a national and senior correspondent for CBS and ABC News, all during an era when Black journalists hardly ever appeared on television.

Bernard Shaw served in the Marine Corps from 1959 to 1963.

Shaw encouraged me to “be a great Marine and dedicate just as much energy to being a good journalist,” as I transitioned to my new public affairs role.

Back at Fort Meade I learned more about Shaw from Col. Keith Oliver, the senior Marine at the schoolhouse who coordinated the DC Bureau visits and regularly spoke with Shaw. Oliver told me Shaw had been so determined to meet Walter Cronkite while he was a young enlisted Marine that he called Cronkite’s hotel 34 times in the hope of connecting with him. This yielded a meeting with Cronkite where Shaw boldly declared his mission to join Cronkite at CBS one day. Years later, Cronkite personally welcomed Shaw to CBS News as a correspondent.  

Just as Cronkite welcomed Shaw, Shaw would later welcome Sandy Kenyon, his CNN Washington Bureau producer, into his process of news writing. Kenyon, who hadn’t gone to journalism school, said he was blessed to receive the best training he possibly could have from Shaw in a “college of one.” 

Sandy Kenyon (left) was Bernard Shaw’s (right) writer / producer in the earliest days of CNN. Kenyon says Shaw was a great mentor to him.

“Bernard Shaw took me in as a student, and over the course of 15 broadcasts per day that we wrote and produced together during the first two years of CNN’s existence, he taught me how to be a journalist,” Kenyon said. “Bernie kept faith in me even though I had no formal training and had even flunked typing in high school! Only an extraordinary mentor and teacher could have managed to get on the air so often with such an inexperienced person; and today, I marvel at his patience.”

Kenyon, who now works as an entertainment reporter for WABC-TV’s Eyewitness News in New York, said “Forty years after I met Bernie, I still recall the lessons he taught me. At least once a week, I will think of his advice while writing a line of copy and then try anew to come up to his high standard.”

After the assassination attempt on President Reagan, Shaw was on the air for 20 consecutive hours without a break, Kenyon told MVJ.

Bernard Shaw interviews President Ronald Reagan for CNN.

“He was the only network anchor not to declare White House Press Secretary Jim Brady dead,” Kenyon said. “A U.S. senator had phoned us first with the ‘news,’ and yet Bernie never put it on the air despite intense pressure to do so. Why not? As he explained to me many hours later, the famous senator was merely reporting second-hand information, and that information later proved false. This was just one lesson on one day. There were many more I carry with me always,” Kenyon said. “By leading through example, by taking the time to explain the details of the craft, and by showing faith in me when others would not, Bernard Shaw was the ideal mentor to me.”

Much of Shaw’s strength came from within – he had a personal self-confidence that compelled him to chase his lofty goals without reservation. 

“There was nothing that made me think that I could not or would not,” Shaw said of his journalism aspirations in a feature about his work on NPR. “My attitude was, this is what I do. I can make a contribution to this craft.” 

His achievements in journalism paved the road for other Black and veteran journalists, according to Amy Sullivan, the news director for KATV in Little Rock.  

Bernard Shaw paved the way for Black television journalists.

“Bernard Shaw is an example to the world of Black excellence,” said Sullivan, an Air Force veteran and NABJ member. “To go from serving his country as a Marine to continuing to serve as a journalist is extremely motivating and another example as to why more newsrooms should hire veterans – they don’t back down from a challenge.”

Shaw’s coverage helped to establish the reputation of a then-upstart network called CNN as a reliable and credible national news source. Shaw embraced risk, reminded the establishment of the importance of diversity, and focused his life’s work on selflessly serving others. 

“Bernard Shaw’s presence then should be acknowledged now for the presence of so many of us Black men on television today,” said Venton Blandin, a reporter at ABC15 Phoenix and Marine veteran. “He was us heading into the future. We are him now looking back to our past,” Blandin said. 

Bernard Shaw (left) stands for the National Anthem alongside with Col. Terry M. Lockard and Brig. Gen. Richard T. Tryon at the Arlington Sunset Parade in 2007.

What does Bernard Shaw’s legacy mean for journalism today? In a world where we experience constant change across all industries, what cannot change is our commitment to informing the public accurately and mastering our storytelling craft. Shaw encouraged future generations of journalists to strive to “be the very best, work very very hard and be confident in yourself.”

From our first meeting, more than 25 years ago, Shaw’s words remain a great guide to me as I begin to turn the page to a new chapter in my own career – one focused on feature film making and creating documentaries in a style the public has never seen before. Shaw’s extraordinary career reminds us that journalists have a critical role in society; working tirelessly for the truth, and representing the people by their presence in the public arena.

Riccoh Player, the author of this article, is a member of MVJ. He is a transitioning executive leader, Emmy Award-winner, and documentary filmmaker with a demonstrated history of working with Congress, the DoD, NATO, national news agencies and entertainment industries.

A Freelancer’s Glossary

By Features, Resources

by Abby Hood, Guest Contributor

A

Anonymous source – Anonymous sources are only unknown to the public. Usually the writer and editor know who the source is and is able to check their identification and expertise or qualifications. In rare cases I have heard of sources only being known to the writer for security purposes. Regardless, this just means the publication doesn’t print their name.

Asset – This usually refers to a piece of graphic element for a story or post, like a logo, photo, illustration, etc. You will hear this in both marketing and in newsrooms.

B

Byline – This just means a story you’ve written and published. “I have bylines in….” This is because your name is printed alongside the story, sort of like a dateline. Sometimes your legal name and byline will be different, i.e. my name is Abigail Lee Hood but my byline is Abby Lee Hood because that’s what I go by. Make sure you communicate this to editors.

Beat – A beat is your niche or expertise. Maybe you work the police beat, or the environmental beat. This is your speciality. But it’s also okay not to have one!

Breaking news story – This is a class, hard news story with no opinion or editorializing. Usually published very quickly after an event to get the news out.

C

Copy – The most vague term; this is literally just words. Could be words in a blog post, for a Facebook ad, or for a story. “Turn that copy in by Friday,” is a good example. They want the assignment, whatever it is, before the weekend.

Content – Another vague term; content is usually a marketing or social media term. Content is anything you post online, whether it’s video, email, blog post, etc. Usually you will create content for a client or company. It’s not as common in the journo industry.

Cold email –  A cold email is usually written to ask for business or try to get work. It’s different from a story pitch, which is usually only for the news industry. Cold emails are usually sent to try and get social media work or copywriting work and should introduce yourself and your qualifications to the potential client.

Cutline – The caption to a photograph or other illustration. Used interchangeably with “photo credit.”

Content creator – Someone who makes content online! This could be an Instagram influencer, YouTuber, etc.

Creative – This is usually a marketing or copywriting term and can be used interchangeably with “asset.” This is simply an illustration or piece of graphic design to accompany your copy. You might hear, “What creative are we getting with this?” or “When can we talk about creative for that post?”

D

Dateline – The bit of text at the beginning of a story that gives you the location, and sometimes the date, of where and when a story was written or reported.

Dek – This is a marketing term and usually refers to a dek of slides, aka a fancy name for a Powerpoint. Usually a dek pitches an idea, product, timeline, etc.

E

Edits –  Edits are changes and requested improvements, or feedback, on your piece. Your editor may say, “I’ll have those edits to you tomorrow.” You need to make the edits yourself; your editor will not do them for you.

Editorializing – This is inserting your opinion, voice or ideas into a story instead of doing straight, hard news. This is acceptable in some features and opinion pieces; make sure you know the publication you’re writing for so you understand what’s allowed and what’s not.

F

Feature story – A feature story is usually in the ballpark of 1,500 words and has an angle and a takeaway. It’s a deeper look at a trend, problem, new idea or sometimes, a person or company. This is usually not breaking news and will be published days or weeks after an event. It doesn’t always have to be connected to breaking news, though, and can be original reporting on something you’ve discovered to be newsworthy on your own.

Freelancer – A general term for someone who does any kind of work without a company or boss. Social media managers, journalists, copywriters, designers and other creatives can all fall under this category.

G

Graf – Short for paragraph.

I

Intro – There are many kinds of intros but I’m talking specifically here about a kind of email, one that usually introduces two people to each other. “Can I get an intro to Beth?” is a way to request a digital introduction to the person.

L

Lede – Journalist lingo for the opening graf of your story. Not spelled “lead” although you may see that from time.

N

Nut graf – The takeaway or thesis of your story. Usually comes one or two grafs after the lede. Tells the reader what you’ll be talking about for the rest of the story.

News peg – Used interchangeably with “news hook.” This is a news item or story the rest of your article hooks on to make it timely and relevant. You must have a news hook in most feature stories, although not always.

News hook – See above.

Newsworthiness – This is the qualification for being reported, best answered by asking, “Why is this worth writing and publishing?” This is the justification for telling readers a story. Something has newsworthiness if it’s important or timely.

O

Opinion story – An article that expresses opinion. These will often feature data, sources and interviews just like a news story—at least, the good ones do.

Op-ed – Used interchangeably with “opinion story.” See above. Short for “opinion editorial.”

P

Portfolio – A collection of your published work, normally used to show employers or editors you pitch. These can be digital or physical, and are important for designers, writers, marketers, etc.

Pitch – A news term. Send pitches to editors to get stories, usually via email.

Photo credit – Used interchangeably with “cutline.” See above.

Peg – Used interchangeably with “news hook.” You may hear an editor ask, “what’s the news peg?” Aka, what makes this timely and newsworthy?

S

Section – A part of the paper or publication, like the business section or the lifestyle section.

Source – Someone you interview for a story, or sometimes, a paper or other document you’re using to support your article.

T

Timeliness – The quality of a news story depends on timeliness; if you publish a story long after an event happens it’s no longer timely.

V

Vertical – Used interchangeably with “section.” Editors will be in charge of certain verticals, like the science or politics vertical.

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From AFN to the Anchor Desk: Reflecting on a Life of Service

By Features

By Bob Young
I was going through some photos the other day and found one from fifty years ago. A young Airman was seated behind a desk on a television studio set in the Republic of Vietnam announcing that two Americans were walking on the moon. We didn’t have live pictures available at the time, so some creative visuals were used to cover the live radio network broadcast. Our ingenuity made it work!

My twenty-six months with the American Forces Vietnam Network was my early education in television broadcasting. I started at the bottom, where the real learning begins, especially that lesson in understanding the human dynamics – the culture – of an organization. My introduction to military broadcasting had begun as a junior Airman working for a hard-core Marine Non-Commissioned Officer who reported to an Army Colonel; lots of cultural dynamics at work there!

It was at AFVN that I picked up the skills that enabled me to enjoy a civilian broadcast career that spanned twenty-six years. The detachment where I was first assigned was a small collection of men of varying backgrounds, who operated a television station out of a trailer – a TV station in a box! The beauty was that we all learned how to do each other’s jobs, both behind and in front of the camera.

The time you spend as a military journalist is an investment that easily translates into the civilian world. The knowledge you acquire, the practical skills you hone, the leadership you demonstrate are collectively invaluable assets in an industry crying out for talented and disciplined people who are personally and professionally prepared and eager to get to work.

No employer would pass on someone like a military journalist who has demonstrated time and again the initiative to creatively meet any challenge. I’m reminded of that spirit by a business friend of mine who would tell his customers: “The answer is ‘yes.’ Now, what is the question?”

There came a time in my civilian career when I actually was tasked with hiring people. From my own experience, I knew that veterans were my best recruits. They came prepared in attitude, desire, dependability and experience.

Even this late in my life I fondly recall my time as a military broadcaster, and for those years I remain grateful to the American taxpayer.

How a Special Ops legend made me a better reporter

By Features

By Alex Quade, Reporter / Military Veterans in Journalism Board Member

As young journalists bootstrapping our way up the news ranks, our mentors are usually editors or executive producers. If you’re a journalist, what you’re about to read may come as a bit of a shock. My mentor was not in the news business. Far from it, though he made some news in his day. I’ve come to learn, it’s a good thing in our profession, to try to understand people — or groups of people — who despise you. And on the flip side, this may come as a shock to anyone reading this who happens to serve in the secretive world of Special Operations; a community with no great love for reporters, especially after the “Tailwind” story on CNN in the 1990s which eventually was rescinded. But I hope they will read the following; even though it’s from a purported “tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing, liberal-media-puke.”

As a lone, woman war reporter covering U.S. Special Operations forces on combat missions downrange, an unexpected mentor came into my life. This unlikeliest of sources hated reporters. Despite that, he “chose” me, treated me as an adopted SON, and taught me everything I need to know that matters.

Love him or hate him, everyone respected Medal of Honor recipient Col. Robert L. Howard (or “Mean ol’ Ranger Bob” as I liked to call him) for his bravery during five tours in Vietnam, mainly with the Studies and Observations Group.  He was one of the most decorated soldiers in U.S. history; nominated for the Medal of Honor three times.

Bob said many people in that community deserve medals for all the unheralded things they’ve done, which, due to their classified nature, lack of witnesses, nor write-ups, few Americans will ever know about.  He said he wore his Medal of Honor for each of them.

When I was with him, and his family, during his last weeks in hospital in Texas in 2009, he asked me to share a last “tasker” for each man or woman serving in Special Operations: “Continue the Mission.”

And he tasked me, too: “You must be tough as woodpecker lips,” Bob told me.  “You must do the thing you cannot do.  Whatever your fate may be… you make it happen along the way.”

He emailed advice almost every day, especially when I was downrange, as an embedded war reporter, covering “his” Green Berets on combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He was excited I was to spend time with “his” Rangers, too.  He encouraged me to make a difference through the war stories I do and said he admired my perseverance.

“Bob, I’m not a cheerleader for the military,” I said.

“Alex, truth in reporting is a virtue; without unnecessary exploitation of facts.  It’s about trust and honest sincerity. Military dependents resent the absence of their loved one and will turn to you for the rest of the story,” Bob replied.  Which is why he hassled me every day I was back stateside.

“Lady, are you up exercising your talents?” He’d email early in the morning. If I didn’t hit “send” to reply quick enough, it was, “Get your butt out and ruck-march!” You see, Bob expected me to follow his strict regimen:  Adding weight in a rucksack while picking up speed and increasing distance.  As a septuagenarian, he still got up at 4:30 every morning to do physical training. He could still walk 25 miles and carry a ruck, and he was not shy about saying, he had “No patience for fat people, women, or hurt feelings.”

“You must carry your own load at squad or fire team level,” he said. “But I’m scaring the socialites and their little dogs in Central Park,” I countered.  Bob didn’t care. His orders were clear:  “Don’t hold back the men downrange!”

He said he felt like he was “sending me off to face evil” every time I deployed. He told me to carry a copy of the Koran, adding, “Learn some basic Farsi and practice it on the locals.” And, since I have no patience, he admonished:  “Never be quick to take the next step without knowing where it leads you.”

“Seek out the good sergeants; you’ll know who they are. They’ll set you straight,” Bob advised.  “Keep your eyes up and your butt down,” he said. “Stay in the shadows.  Blonde hair makes a good target. If I can see you, I can kill you!”

He reiterated that fact one night in Landstuhl, Germany, before I headed back to Iraq and Afghanistan. One moment he was casually smoking a cigar, the next, he literally had my life in his hands. I’ll call it the “two-fingered, Vulcan death-grip” on the back of my neck, which brought me to my knees in an instant and made Medal of Honor recipients Staff Sergeant Drew Dix (5th Special Forces Group) and Command Sergeant Major Gary Littrell (Ranger Battalion) smile.

“That’s what you need to know how to do,” he said, during his impromptu combative lesson.  But what I got out of that lesson was:  Damn!  He may look old, but never underestimate Bob Howard!


Bob must have known for a long time that he was fighting his last battle with the Grim Reaper.  And like all soldiers, did not want to die alone. “This’ll keep ya motivated!”  He said, shoving a Ziploc baggie at my chest. Inside was a bloody, nasty-looking piece of shrapnel freshly removed from near his frontal lobe just two weeks before. Just what every girl wants, right?

“It’s a real piece of North Vietnamese Army shrapnel fired from a 75-mm recoil-less rifle, that hit to the left front of me while I was firing at the enemy position, from a prone position, about 300 meters away,” Bob explained.  “They rushed to clamp the arteries and veins to keep me from bleeding to death and left the shrapnel in.  Had a headache for 42 years. First few days after removal recently, messed up my equilibrium.”

But the former member of Delta, the Green Berets and Ranger Battalion, who’d braved all the world’s hostile environments, was starting to feel the cold.  So I gave him my “Woobie,” the blanket I’d carried in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Sitting in his hospital room, in the wee hours, he told me, I was the one who looked cold; so he made me wear his beanie, that old, black, Ranger patrol-cap had never been washed in 25 years.  He said, just looking at it on my head, made him feel warm.

Looking for things to appreciate in tough situations is what helped Bob through. “Look for Orion’s Belt.  It is one of the most beautiful sights.  I’ve lain in place, concealed, looking up at it many times while in Vietnam through sporadic jungle canopy,” he quietly mused.

“This is no bullshit!”  Bob turned serious. “I challenge you to stay alert, stay safe, watch your back, and return home to share your stories and experiences with the public that need to be reminded,” he pointed his finger at me.

He asked me to tell all “his men”:  Always “Lead from the front,” because that’s what he did.  And:  “Charlie Mike,” or, “Continue the Mission”.  The last thing Bob said to me was, I “can kiss him in his coffin.”

Despite my belief that Mean ol’ Ranger Bob would take out the Grim Reaper with the pistol strapped to his calf, cancer took what the enemy never could.  Col. Robert L. Howard passed away the day before Christmas Eve, 2009. Every morning since then, I look at my email… half expecting a butt-kicking message from him from the grave. His lessons still sound off like a cadence to my footfalls when I go running:  “Charlie Mike… Continue the Mission… Charlie Mike…”

No, my fellow journalists… I did not drink the Kool-Aid.

Ranger Bob’s intestinal fortitude, which he was intent on passing along to me, before he passed away… his lessons have kept me alive in tough locations.  The lesson I’d like to pass along to YOU is:  Be open to learning from people you’d never expect, especially people who “hate reporters.”

Now, whenever meetings bring me to the “five-sided wind tunnel” on the Potomac (the Pentagon) I go visit Bob.  The birds at Arlington National Cemetery seem to target his headstone.  Bet that pisses him off, I think, touching his shrapnel hanging on a chain around my neck. But then I know, just like Clint Eastwood, he would have squinted-up his eyes, like he always did, laughed and grinned widely.

ALEX QUADE is a war reporter and documentary filmmaker, who’s covered U.S. Special Operations Forces on combat missions since 2007.  She’s the only reporter, male or female, ever embedded long-term with these elite, secretive units downrange on her own, with no crew or support.  The recipient of two national Edward R. Murrow Awards, Quade has produced videos and online reports for The New York Times, a front page story for The Washington Times, and has two documentaries in film festivals:  Horse Soldiers of 9/11, narrated by actor Gary Sinise, and Chinook Down, an investigation into the surface-to-air missile shoot-down of a U.S. helicopter in Afghanistan killing all on board. Quade was supposed to be on that helicopter. She survived to report firsthand on the fierce firefight and recovery efforts. Quade started her career as a White House intern during the Persian Gulf War. She’s worked in television covering global conflicts and hostile environments for CNN, Fox News, HLN, and CNN International out of Frankfurt, Germany and New York. Quade’s reporting from the Asian Tsunami was individually cited in CNN’s Columbia du-Pont Award and her war reports were part of group Peabody and Emmy awards. She attended Georgetown University’s Institute for Political & Ethical Journalism, and holds three degrees from the University of Washington. Quade serves on the Board of Military Reporters and Editors.

 

A LESSON IN HUMILITY: GOING FROM SERGEANT TO INTERN

By Features

My first civilian job was an internship with a New York production company where I had hoped to become a professional videographer. My first assignment: sweeping up cigarette butts in front of the building. Sure, I was an old pro at field day duties, but hadn’t I paid my dues already? Hadn’t I been a sergeant of Marines just two months prior?

While 22-year-old workers in corporate America are scarcely trusted to work a copy machine, military service members of that age may make decisions that carry the weight of life and death. It can be quite a shock to start working for an organization that doesn’t seem to place any special trust and confidence in your abilities.

The values required for military service, like integrity and accountability, easily translate to journalism. Experience operating in a hierarchy and just plain getting things done can help you quickly ascend to a position with greater influence. But, in journalism, none of that will likely help you start anywhere but at the bottom. I had to learn to suck it up and pay my dues.

But then I ran into a financial problem. I hadn’t considered the numbers very thoughtfully, and I soon realized I simply couldn’t pay my New York rent with a $7 per hour internship. I had to quit that job and lose that opportunity to grow.

If you’re committed to working in journalism despite knowing you may need to take a low-wage, low-influence position, you should spend some time figuring out the finances. This may mean taking advantage of your Post-9/11 GI Bill. The housing allowance that accompanies the Post-9/11 GI Bill is a fantastic way to keep you on your feet while you make your mark in an entry-level job.

If you can only find an unpaid internship, you can also get six months of unemployment benefits when you first get out (which some states extend to a year). This may give you the time to build your credibility at an organization and in the industry so you can move up to a position more suited to your abilities.

None of this means you should stick with a company where you just plain won’t like working. Look around the room. Are there more senior people doing jobs you could see yourself enjoying? Do you have access to them to talk about how to carve your own path? Those questions should help you determine if an internship is right for you.

You might look at an entry-level job as a way to get a glimpse of the opportunities ahead of you. You’re evaluating the company and the industry as much as they are evaluating you. If you find journalism is for you and you land an internship at a place where you want to grow, then suck it up, pay your dues, find some mentors, and climb that ladder.