Surmounting J202

Before J202 the idea of interviewing a stranger and asking them to take time out of their schedule to meet with me was daunting. I didn’t think I would be able to research and finish a quality story in an hour. Don’t even ask me what I knew about press releases.

While this is a picture of me on assignment for a J202 it is also a great representation of how I felt about interviewing before J202.

While this is a picture of me on assignment for J202 it is also a great representation of how I felt about interviewing before the course.

Now, after nearly completing the nightmare inducing J202, I feel ready to take on journalism. All of it.

Journalism has greatly changed in the last decade and I think J202 did a great job of exposing me to many facets of modern journalism including strategic communication, social media use, blogging, video editing, audio editing as well as print journalism.

I think experience with programs like InDesign, Audacity and WordPress are a valuable set of skills and will make me competitive when applying for internships.

Interviews which gave me mild anxiety before, are nearly hobbies now. I love talking with new people and helping them to share their story. J202 gave me the skills I needed to become confident and competent in interviewing.

The greatest thing I’ll take away from J202 though is confidence in my ability as a journalist – and a great portfolio.

A story and a suicide: a conversation about journalism and mental health

A journalist from Tampa Bay, Florida was the subject of a conversation about ethics in journalism this past year. The journalist, Lenora La Peter Anton wrote an article for the Tampa Bay Times about a woman suffering from persistent genital arousal disorder. The day the article was published the subject, Gretchen Molannen, committed suicide.

Woman’s Sexual Arousal Disorder

While interviewing Molannen, Anton said she learned of Molannen’s hospitalization in a mental health facility and multiple attempted suicide attempts.

After Molannen’s suicide many asked if Anton had pushed to far or had outed a person who needed help. Molannen agreed to the interview to raise awareness of the stigmatized and misunderstood disease. She was also in the process of fighting for disability benefits because she would be in so much pain she could not work and Molannen hoped that educating others would help that aim.. Still, she says she endured a lot of trauma answering some very personal questions.

“If I had known how painful and drawn out this process would have been, I might not have gotten involved. I know it’s your job to get the facts and verify them but I’m not getting paid for this like you are. This isn’t fun or profitable for me — it’s a daily hell and constant mental and physical struggle. I’m sorry but this process is really hurting me. I want to get the word out and also stand up for myself to my mom’s friends but not be examined under a microscope. I’m exhausted. I hope you can understand and I appreciate your work,” Molannen said.

Anton reflected in a long form piece published at the end of November. She met with a psychologist after Molannen’s death and has dealt with criticism and self-blame. Though Anton says both her editor and her psychologist told her she was not to blame, and that Anton had already planned to kill herself before meeting Molannen, she still felt responsible.

In the stories that followed, Anton says she didn’t change her style of interviewing but her follow ups did. She stayed connected to subjects much longer, checking on their well-being.

From her experiences and advice she receive, Molannen offered tips for journalists dealing with subjects dealing with mental illness. She warns against romanticizing suicide and the family’s emotions in the aftermath. Specific details of a suicide can be encouraging to those contemplating it or those who are depressed. Failing to acknowledge the complexity and multiple factors that cause suicide is dangerous and doesn’t present the entire scope of the issue.

From my own experiences I believe that when discussing mental illness journalists should strive to avoid words that  stigmatize mental illness and words that can be triggering for people who have suffered trauma or are contemplating suicide.

An important topic not fully discussed in Anton’s follow-up piece was how journalists should care of themselves. In her reflection it is clear that Anton has been affected and it is likely that the guilt of Molannen’s death will remain with her for the rest of her career.

Suicide is a very complex issue and according to Poynter, researchers have warned journalists that it is dangerous to try to connect their story with suicide because there are generally many underlying factors.

Mental illness and journalistic ethics are both complex topics and I’m not going to pretend to have the answer for how to tackle either. However I do think it is important for journalist’s surround themselves with support systems to fall back on. Luckily for Anton, she was able to speak to a psychologist and had the support of her editor.

Not everyone acknowledges the seriousness of good mental health. Many journalists have suffered mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder. The mental health risks that journalists face is often overlooked. So, as journalists we are sworn to protect or sources but we also need to protect ourselves.

To seek help with a mental illness contact the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

Why I talk too much about Anderson Cooper

Is it because of his silver hair? His charming smile? His dedication to journalistic ethics? When describing my aspirations in journalism I bring up, possibly too often, Anderson Cooper as the journalist I would like to become.

I respect Anderson Cooper for his sensitivity when dealing with victims of a tragedy and when working with children. What sets Cooper apart from others in my opinion is his determination. Cooper graduated early from high school and traveled around Africa for seven months trying to become a freelance journalist before going to college at Yale. After graduating from Yale, Cooper travelled to Myanmar and created a fake press badge for himself until he was hired by Channel One. He convinced Channel One to pay for him to report from Vietnam where he stayed for a year learning Vietnamese. He started his career with no training, only the motivation to become a journalist. I want to follow in the steps of Cooper and gain more real world experience after college, volunteering abroad, teaching English as a second language or traveling in developing countries, telling others’ stories and learning new languages.

Cooper has also written a non-fiction #1 New York Times best selling book and has created a talk show for himself that I thoroughly enjoy despite not being chosen as the winner of Anderson Live’s Ugliest Christmas Sweater Contest of 2012.

Below, Anderson showcases his more playful side interviewing the internet sensation (and my favorite feline) Grumpy Cat.

Another journalist I greatly admire is New York Times Op-Ed columnist, author and two time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof. Last semester I read a beautiful, inspiring book called Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide that told stories of women living on several continents in unimaginable situations from the view of student safely blogging from her futon.

The book exposed readers to sex trafficking, female genital mutilation, rape and widespread poverty.  Although it was difficult being exposed to some of the worst parts of humanity, the book also beautifully described the strength of women in the face of severe oppression.  Kristof’s writing was compelling but more importantly used the women’s stories to analyze past failures that caused or sustained global problems and offered ways to solve them. Months later I started reading an Op-Ed column in the New York Times by a very insightful journalist named Nicholas Kristof who I then realized was in fact the author of Half the Sky. I want to impact people through journalism the way Kristof has impacted me.

Half the Sky is also a documentary:

Christiane Amanpour is my final inspiration for the purposes of this blog. The first time I ever met my step-mom I was in middle school and I told her that I wanted to grow up to be like Amanpour. She was surprised I even knew who that was nevertheless could correctly pronounce her name. Amanpour’s grace and toughness are qualities I aspire to have.

Her interview (below) with Malala Yousafzei who was nearly assassinated for advocating for girls’ education was simply inspiring.

What’s wrong with the news?

I often have to defend the news industry to those who try to dissuade me from a career in journalism. Some are unwilling to believe that while newspapers are shutting down the news industry is still relevant. Journalism is my passion but I cannot fully reject all criticisms of the news. The news industry has habits that make me squirm. A pet peeve of mine includes an extreme love of clichés by local news broadcasters but I believe what’s really wrong with news is extreme political polarization by news giants and the lost art of unbiased interviewing. 

Over the summer I watched the following interview by Fox News. The interview depicted the worst side of American news corporations. I warn you, if you value professionalism in the media, this video may be hard to watch.

Fox News Anchor Laura Green had already decided the trajectory of her story before the start of the interview. Scholar Reza Aslan is unable to say much other than a quick defense of his qualifications to write a book about Christianity. The audience is able to sense a political agenda by Fox News even without previous knowledge of Fox News’ reputation for biased news. Fox News has also been the target of criticism for blurring the lines between shows that are based on opinions and factual news segments.  Fox News isn’t the only network to accused of being biased. MSNBC has been criticized for being biased towards a more politically liberal agenda.

As frustrating as it must have been for Aslan to sit through the trial that masqueraded as an interview, he will most likely sleep well tonight knowing that Fox News unintentionally catapulted his book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth up 25 spots on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list.