"Everybody that you come into contact with, regardless of their background, where they're from, their cultural identity, they have a story. And we don't know what that story is until we take the time to sit down with them and ask questions. And that's how we learn about people in our community. That's how we learn about people in power. And that's really how honestly, we learn about ourselves as well."
This is the 1st Floor Conversations Podcast, where the view at the top is only as good as the foundation which preserves it. On Episode 44, we were joined by Emmy Award-Winning Journalist Christina Lopez. Christina has worked for ABC News and ABC 20/20, where she splits her time between writing, reporting, and producing. During her career, Christina has contributed to landmark stories, including the Boston Marathon bomber, Hurricane Sandy, and the Amanda Knox Story.
The Back Story
The news has such a negative connotation. But it didn't use to be that way. The news was used to inform the general public of the good, bad, and ugly in the world around them. It allowed society to celebrate the wins of today and prepare for tomorrow. While that may still be true at the heart of it, the state of journalism has changed.
We live in a world where news and the media are under unbelievable scrutiny, and most of us face daily challenges deciphering what is and what is not true. While most of the country is complaining, I am excited to share some time with a true practitioner of the academic world of journalism, as well as, the front lines, to unpack journalism in a positive light. Let's dive in.
Christina speaks from a position of credibility both from an academic sense and that of somebody working on the front lines reporting, producing, and writing for major local and national news networks. She has contributed to a wide variety of stories ranging from everyday local news to those few headlines that make history. Below is a clip of her unpacking her experience from the newsroom reporting during the Boston Marathon bomber.
The punchline is, the big stories come and go in a flash, bringing the stress and pressure of performing with them. Pressure comes with the territory. So, great journalists embrace the challenge of meeting a deadline and delivering a brilliant story. Clearly Christina did!
The Process of Creating Stories
Regardless of whether the story is a landmark story or an everyday update, there are fundamentals of reporting that have stood the test of time. Christina went on to explain;
"Everybody that you come into contact with, regardless of their background, where they're from their cultural identity, they have a story. And we don't know what that story is until we take the time to sit down with them and ask questions. And that's how we learn about people in our community. That's how we learn about people in power. And that's really how honestly, we learn about ourselves as well."
Christina breaks down good storytelling into two categories:
Broadcasters must be able to portray a story visually, verbally, and with the written word: "if someone were to ask you to explain what that story was, you'd have to verbalize it. And you'd have to be articulate, you have to be descriptive with your words, you also have to be factual. And that doesn't change."
Defining factors of good journalism lie in the very foundation of the profession. Research your story, validate your facts, and maintain authenticity, all while answering who, what, where, when, why, and how.
The second fundamental of good storytelling is provoking curiosity. As consumers of media, we crave entertainment and relevancy. A story that hits both is going to be a home run because it means the author understood the audience.
When choosing which story to cover, determine whether or not it checks one of these boxes. Is it going to…?
Change the community perspective
Shed light on an injustice
Be long-lasting or heartwarming
It comes down to deciphering what deserves airtime and attention in a loud and crowded marketplace.
Is journalism as cutthroat as it appears in pop culture shows like House of Cards?
Journalism has become a form of marketing vying for your attention by releasing sensational headlines that have to compete with a slurry of memes, advertisements, and entertainment. The necessity to produce content quickly and accurately cultivates the perfect environment for competition.
It truly is a contact sport. Journalists guard their sources to both protect and verify their stories. You have to make connections, reach out, and connect with the community around you. Of course, Hollywood is going to dramatize the stories, but there may be some truth behind the scenes of investigative journalism.
So, how can we, as consumers, stay better informed?
It's a professional law of inertia. If I'm regularly reading, consuming, and critically thinking, I get better at auditing and synthesizing information. We get lazy when we only absorb information in 140 characters, or as a hot take video with a little banner at the top. Instead of doing those mental crunches, we allow ourselves to relax our critical thinking muscles.
Practicing a healthy media diet can help you stay informed without feeling oversaturated or overwhelmed. Christina recommends limiting consumption to the morning and evening while simultaneously varying your sources and the medium.
Tip: Follow a variety of respected professionals who tell stories in different formats i.e., documentary filmmakers, journalists, podcasters.
Wherever you get your information, verify the source, "it is a part of your due diligence, as a consumer of media."
The Wrap Up
Staying informed is too damn important not to acknowledge that there are challenges associated with it. Understanding how to gather, fact check and process information are all components of being a well-informed member of society. And, a group of well-informed individuals becomes a powerful machine.
This is 1st Floor Conversations, where the view at the top is only as good as the foundation that preserves it. In the world we live in, being informed through journalists, and especially Emmy Award-winning journalists like Christina Lopez is absolutely required.