#AdviceForYoungJournalists: Williams, Stewart and a Katharine Hepburn Movie

Thanks to the two biggest news stories from yesterday, the rug of life has been tugged just a little bit harder under my feet. I’m still standing, but a bit dizzy.

The first was that Brian Williams, stalwart anchor (or so we thought) is on six month suspension without pay for embellishing on some of his reporting, a situation that has brought to light not only the dangers of coupling wit with reporting but also has alerted me to some hero worship issues I may or may not have had (cough) toward the NBC Nightly News anchor. Thanks for dashing my dreams, Bri-Guy. I’m sorry you’re being treated worse than half the skewed media personalities who continue to fly under the exaggeration radar — but you were supposed to be better than them.

Of course, Jon Stewart is the source of that little quip, which brings me to the second earth-shattering moment of Tuesday, February 10, 2015. Stewart announced he will be saying goodbye to The Daily Show by the end of the year. Like Williams’ situation, the news made me disappointed in my own naivety that Stewart would always be the anchor of my nightly ritual. As one friend said: “I never even considered him leaving. In my head, my children and I were watching his show over our dinner in the living room.”

But yesterday also came accompanied with a Twitter trend that grabbed my attention — in a good way. #AdviceForYoungJournalists prompted people both in the industry and outside of it to share what they thought newbies to the media should know, do and promote through their work. Interestingly, it all began because of published journalist Felix Simon’s open letter that pretty much quashed any budding journalist’s dreams by telling them it’s a bad job that’s about to get worse.

It isn’t hard to see where Simon comes from, as paid media jobs disappear by the hour and we’re under constant scrutiny from readers and critics. Pew Research Center released survey results last week showing 64 percent of investigative journalists believe the U.S. government has collected information on them, while 80 percent say that their occupation puts them at risk for being under government surveillance. Insert hashtag #PartyLikeaJournalist.

Now maybe I’m just Pollyanna-ing all over the place here, but being a journalist is still an amazing opportunity, responsibility and honor. In the haze of bad and sad news hitting the industry yesterday, a small but warm beacon poked through via tweets responding to #AdviceForYoungJournalists.

Simple, but totally true:


A little optimistic in these times, but a good procedure to consider:

Something every journalist should keep in mind:

And from one of the MU professors I always wanted to work with:

Although he didn’t tweet it, Stewart added another one that I think is equally important. During his Monday night show, he recognized that perhaps part of Williams’ problem stemmed from his hybrid celebrity and newsman identity. Stewart never had that issue, as he’s never been a bona fide journalist. And yet someone commented on the radio at 5:15 a.m. today: “Stewart, a comedian, became a journalist. Williams, a journalist, became a comedian.” So, J-School students, don’t confuse reporting the news with entertaining at a cocktail party.

I didn’t add my own tweet to the fray. I was worried it might get lost among the many more brilliant and experienced minds. Part of me also acknowledged that I’m technically the young journalist looking for advice in this situation, not the one who should be giving it.

But here’s some advice I’ve learned since getting out on my own: respect human frailty. In The Philadelphia Story, Tracy (Katharine Hepburn) says that “the time to make up your mind about people is never.” To become a great journalist, don’t be absolutely skeptical of everything. Instead, be curious of everything and open to anything.


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