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First Edition: Lynn Povich

By Samar Khoury

In 1970, 46 women sued Newsweek for sex discrimination, making them the first women in media to sue their employer. That lawsuit was a groundbreaker in bringing attention to the still pervasive issue of discrimination against women in the workplace.

Lynn Povich was one of those women. Her 2012 book, The Good Girls Revolt, details her time at Newsweek and the lawsuit that inspired women to take a stand. Now, that book has evolved into a dramatized series on Amazon.

Povich started out as a secretary at the Paris Bureau of Newsweek magazine in the 1960s and worked as a reporter and writer at Newsweek in New York. During that time, only men were hired as writers, and women were usually hired on the mail desk or as fact checkers. Being promoted to reporter or writer was rare for women. Even if they had the same experience, they usually ended up in lower positions than men.

Povich and her female coworkers at Newsweek realized that they were being discriminated against, and they decided to take action. In secret, they started to organize how they would battle sex discrimination in the workplace.

So, on March 16, 1970, Povich and the 45 other female employees filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying that they had been discriminated against at Newsweek.

They started a trend.

“When we sued, the story was picked up by papers not only around the county but around the world. That was really good,” Povich said. “On the one hand, publicity was excellent and did what we wanted it to do, which was embarrass the editors so they would do something quickly. Because it was in the media, and the media wrote about it, women in other news organizations began to organize.”

Two months after the Newsweek complaint, women at Time, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated sued for sex discrimination, and in the next few years, women from Reader’s Digest, the Washington Post, Newsday, the Detroit News, the New York Times and other publications also sued. “In that sense, [the lawsuit] had a huge impact for women in journalism,” Povich said. “We started the ball rolling.”

The lawsuit raised awareness, but some women faced problems, including Povich. Her boss supported her and suggested she be promoted to a writer, but matters changed when her editor moved to a different department.

“My new editor was very bad, and I almost left,” Povich said. “When he got fired two years later, I did well again, and, ultimately, I was promoted, which was the biggest surprise of all because most women who were in the front line of these lawsuits did not do well.”

Although Povich and the other women received support from a lot of the writers and their immediate superiors, some editors did not approve of what they did.

“There were some men who were resentful and against affirmative action. Some of the top editors thought it was terrible. One of the top editors said, ‘Let’s just fire them all,’” she said.

Following the legal complaint, women who tried out as writers were rejected, despite writing for the New York Times magazine and the Atlantic. “It was very odd that they could be published in other publications and somehow not at Newsweek,” Povich said. “The women really felt that the men, their editors, really wanted them to fail. So that was a tough time for the first women who came forward.”

However, Povich recognized that the lawsuit would not bring immediate results. “As Betsy Wade at the New York Times said about their own suit, ‘We did a brave thing, but we knew it would be for the next generation.’”

Eventually, things looked up for Povich.

In 1975, she became the first female senior editor at Newsweek, and in the next few years, she packaged seven Newsweek cover stories into books—one of which she turned into a CBS Reports Television documentary—and launched Newsweek on Campus and Newsweek on Health.

In 1991, Povich left Newsweek and became Working Woman’s editor-in-chief, then moved on to be East Coast managing editor/senior executive producer of MSNBC.com. Since leaving MSNBC.com in 2001, Povich has freelanced and written books.

Years following the lawsuit, Povich still felt compelled to tell her story.

The Radcliffe Institute at Harvard had requested the legal papers from Povich, and she realized she needed to give them more of the history of the lawsuit before sending the papers. “Once I started interviewing people, I realized that it could be material for a book. It kind of came upon me as more of a surprise,” she said.

In 2007, Povich decided to write The Good Girls Revolt, which PublicAffairs published in 2012.

After the book release, Povich received inquiries about television and film.

“I was reluctant to sell it because it was about me and my friends and I knew television would do something different with it,” she said. Eventually, after getting a call from a contact at Sony, Linda Obst—an editor she had known at New York Times magazine—she allowed the book to be made into a series on one condition: that they fictionalize it. Amazon eventually bought it to make a pilot.

In December, Amazon picked up 10 episodes of the show, for which Povich acts as a consultant. There will be no character playing her.

“I just wanted people to know we were the first and why we did it and how we did it,” she said. “It would be worth be getting out the word to a larger audience—that was always my interest, which was to have people know we were the first.”

Now, looking back, Povich wishes she had written the book sooner.

“I always say I am an affirmative action baby,” Povich wrote in her book, “and proud of it.”

Edited by Annie Zak

Update: Good Girls Revolt is now available to stream on Amazon Prime. Watch here. #GoodGirlsRevolt

 

 

 

 

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Mara Leveritt: Making a Reporter

Devil’s Knot author and investigative reporter Mara Leveritt shares her tips on what she thinks is important when considering whether or not to take on an investigation of a criminal case. Mara is one of the 12 journalists featured in In Other News: Reporters on Reporting by Stephanie Forshee & Rosie Downey. The book was successfully funded on Kickstarter in December 2015 and is now available on Amazon and through Barnes & Noble. For more information about Mara, visit her website at http://www.MaraLeveritt.com.

“If it’s a public record that you should be able to get, I say fight like hell.”

– Mara Leveritt

First Edition: Jacqui Banaszynski

First Edition: Jacqui Banaszynski

By Samar Khoury

Journalism might not have been the first career choice for Jacqui Banaszynski, but it turned out to be a wise decision. 

She has a Pulitzer Prize, award-winning projects and more than 30 years of reporting and editing experience under her belt.

Banaszynski worked as a reporter and editor for newspapers in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. During her career, she followed a dogsled expedition across Antarctica and wrote about topics ranging from beauty pageants to the Olympics to refugee camps.

She was also a finalist for the 1986 Pulitzer Prize in international reporting for “Trail of Tears,” detailing the famine in sub-Saharan Africa.

Banaszynski won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in feature writing for her piece, “AIDS in the Heartland,” for which she and photographer Jean Pieri spent 15 months with a gay farm couple until they died of the disease. Both of those pieces won her and her newspaper the St. Paul Pioneer Press considerable acclaim.

Today, Banaszynski lives in Seattle but during the school year teaches at the Missouri School of Journalism, where she serves as the Knight Chair in Editing.

During her years of reporting and editing, Banaszynski learned valuable lessons that she hopes to teach to her students.

Q: What tips do you have for young journalists?

A: If you want to do great writing, you have to do great reporting. It’s more important for a young journalist to learn how the world works, to learn how to report on the world, than it is to have pretty writing.

If you’re going to do immersion journalism and focus on one person or one situation to reveal a bigger social issue, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the right situation, the characters, you’ve got to have access. You have to be completely transparent, both with your story subjects about your method and the consequences of talking to a reporter, and with the readers, the viewers, the public about how you did the story.

You always need other readers. No matter where you are in your career, you need to have other readers look at your work as it’s progressing.  We do this work for other people, not for ourselves.

Q: What was the biggest lesson you learned when writing your Pulitzer Prize-winning piece, “AIDS in the Heartland”?

A:  This is the piece where I really learned that you need to have the right story subject. One big, big, big lesson was negotiating partnership. Before we went into the story and as we were doing the story, we’d constantly go back and negotiate what our partnership was, what the understanding of transparency and conditions were. That was huge because the people we were writing about and their family and extended community had a lot of reservations about being a part of the story. I had to constantly be upfront with them about what we were doing, why we were doing it, why we thought it was so important, why we thought their role in it was so important, and what our obligation was to them in terms of fact-checking, honesty, transparency, but also that our ultimate allegiance was to the public and the truth of the story, which means that sometimes we were going to write things they weren’t comfortable with, but they wouldn’t be surprised by.

Q: What did this story teach you in regards to objectivity and attachment to your subjects that young journalists can keep in mind?

A: We had to be very aware that we needed to write the story for the public and not to please the people we were writing about, and that was difficult because we had spent so much time with Dick [Hanson] and Bert [Henningson] and had come to care about [the couple]. That means we had to have people around us who read the story skeptically.

The words objectivity and detachment are thrown around a lot in journalism, and when you do stories like that, they’re problematic, because you can’t do a story like that without investing your own self, including your emotions. But you’ve got to remain purposeful about your investment and who that investment ultimately is for. The answer to that is the public, your readers. But you’ve really got to be willing to cross boundaries and lines that aren’t typically crossed in traditional civic journalism. Its why it’s so important to have a good partner. Jean Pieri [the photographer] and I were good partners to each other. We held each other up.

Q: What are the biggest misconceptions you tend to hear about journalism in your classroom?

A: Some of the students are not plugged in. A lot of them are still really connected to the legacy masthead such as the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times. The digital world is emerging so fast, and they haven’t been plugged into those possibilities, as they need to be to go where the jobs are. Journalists and the public need to be smart consumers when they open up and see where they want to work and read.

One of the keys to good journalism is to be interested in how the world works. You need to be passionate about and interested in the story you’re writing about, not just the things you’re interested in. I tell my students all the time if they only want to write what they’re interested in, I’ll give them a journal and wish them a very happy life and hope they keep in touch. If they want to be a journalist, they need to get interested in what they have to write about. Every story becomes practice for the next story.  

Q: Can you tell me about your ‘have a beer theory’ and how it would be beneficial for journalists?

A: I call it the “Banaszynski Beer Rule” and it means  when you go do a story as a journalist, all you have is your own curiosity and your own mind. When we get a story assignment or are chasing a story, pursuing a story, it’s very natural to then get really focused in on what the story needs by conventional journalistic standards. The beer rule basically says you need to expand your mental TV screen to include people who aren’t journalists, people you’re writing for, the public, and you need to plug in to their curiosity and their interests. So you find a person or a few people who have no interest in the story you’re doing, and ask what they would want to know or what they’re interested in or what they want to learn. That helps you plug in to the public you’re writing for.

The gig came from when I was going out to do this interview and I didn’t know what to ask this person. I stopped somebody in the newsroom who had no interest in the subject I was writing about, and I said ‘what would you like to know?’ And he said ‘not a goddamn thing.’ So I finally said, ‘if you could sit down with this person and have a beer and ask her any question in the world, what would you want to ask?’ And it shifted the conversation and allowed him to say, ‘well if I could just really ask her anything, here’s what I’d want to know.’ And it wasn’t a journalistic question; it was a human question. And it taught me so much when I did that.  

12 Journalists Signed on for In Other News

It is with great enthusiasm Rosie and I announce that the following people will be participating in interviews with us for In Other News: Reporters on Reporting.

The book will profile 12 journalists from various beats and backgrounds. Each chapter will focus on a different journalist and share his or her experiences in the field. The book is intended to educate and motivate aspiring and/or working reporters and editors.

Here’s the lineup:

Gilbert Bailon, editor-in-chief, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Christina Bellantoni, editor-in-chief, Roll Call

Michael J. Berens, Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter, Chicago Tribune

Geoff Edgers, national arts reporter, The Washington Post

Sonari Glinton, business desk reporter, NPR West bureau

Mitra Kalita, managing editor, Los Angeles Times

Andrew LaVallee, New York deputy bureau chief, The Wall Street Journal

Mara Leveritt, author and investigative crime reporter, Arkansas Times

Carrie Lozano, documentary filmmaker

Terry McCarthy, Emmy-winning reporter, formerly of TIME, ABC, CBS

Joan Ryan, New York Times best-selling author, former sports reporter

Kendall Taggart, investigative data reporter, BuzzFeed News

Stay tuned for more details on the book.

Questions? Contact stephanie@insideothernews.com.

First Edition: Sonora Jha

Sonora Jha First Edition: Sonora Jha

By Samar Khoury

Sonora Jha started writing when she was a child. She used to write short stories by hand, turn them into books and hand them out to her friends. Jha hasn’t stopped writing since.

Now, 46-year-old Jha is a journalism professor at Seattle University, where she has spearheaded efforts to educate students about entrepreneurial journalism and social media, and serves as the faculty adviser for the campus newspaper, The Spectator.

Jha has been a working journalist for years but prides herself most in her transition to teaching. “The move to teaching has been very exciting,” she said.

On a typical day, she starts by reading the newspaper, then heads off to the university and prepares for her classes. She tweaks her syllabi, completes the day’s lectures and grades her students’ work. “As a professor, you don’t stop working,” she said. “There are no fixed hours except for the hours I’m writing.”

In addition to being a full-time professor, Jha writes guest op-eds regularly for outlets like The New York Times, The Seattle Times and Seattle Weekly.

To get her out of the office, Jha often sets up dates with other writers at coffee shops. She spends a lot of time there, especially when she is working on an assignment such as an op-ed for The New York Times. Currently, she’s working on a book, as well as a research paper, on the resurgence of feminism in India.

Like many accomplished journalists, Jha managed to land a book deal, but her approach was on the non-traditional side. She took a real-life issue that she has followed closely and put a fictional spin on it. Random House India published the work in 2013. Her book, Foreign, is a novel based on farmer suicides in India, a topic that she has written about for The New York Times. Even though Jha’s book is a fictional account, it at least brings light to an issue that many Americans might not be aware of.

“It pulls together everything that I am about as a writer, and it tells a story I really care passionately about,” she said. The path to fiction, though, had its bumps. “It’s tough because as a journalist, you don’t make stuff up from thin air,” she said.

Although Jha has had a variety of journalistic experiences, she is constantly learning. To keep up with the evolving journalism field, she keeps in touch with journalist peers and makes sure to actively read up on recent news. She also invites guest speakers to her classes and learns from them just as much as her students do, sometimes. “I’m not afraid of change; I’m actually excited about it. I’m more excited about the things I don’t know than the things I do know,” she said.

When there’s time left over in Jha’s schedule, she’ll do things like yoga to clear her head from the constant news cycle and even contribute to activist causes she cares about. She also spends a lot of time with her 19-year-old son, who is the inspiration for her memoir in progress, which focuses on raising a son outside patriarchy in India.

Jha grew up in India, and since she was a child, has held a passion for feminism and human interest stories. She had polio as a child, and she said that her painful experiences gave her a special kind of empathy for humanity and suffering throughout the world. “That gave me a connection with other people’s stories and what humans face behind social and political issues,” she said.

Jha’s interest in these stories is what led her to pursue her postgraduate degree in social communications media in Mumbai, where she got an internship and then a job as a reporter for The Afternoon Despatch & Courier in 1989. She got her feet wet by reporting on crime, social justice and politics.

She soon moved to Bangalore and joined The Times of India. She worked her way up to serve as the chief of the metro bureau for The Times of India from 1995 to 1997 and contributed to tripling the circulation of the paper within one year. “I was getting the newspaper to do civic journalism without knowing it was called civic journalism,” she said.

In 2000, Jha decided she wanted to take a risk by moving to a different country. That’s when she moved to Louisiana to pursue her Ph.D. in Political Communication before eventually moving to Seattle in 2003. “I think that was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she said.

Jha feels like she has a good relationship with her students and does everything she can to provide them with exceptional knowledge in the journalism field. She even set up a study abroad program in which students can study journalism in India. “Students end up becoming friends, and it’s exciting to see them go out and do good journalism,” she said.

Whether Jha’s writing or teaching, she thinks she’s maintained success in the journalism field by never being complacent. “I knew there were other pieces I didn’t know enough about,” she said. “Even though I grew really quickly in the profession, I wasn’t complacent. I think that really worked because it’s not about achieving, it’s about ‘Are you feeling that you’ve had enough?’”

First Edition: Bidding for a Living

First Edition: Rob Livingstone

By Rosie Downey

Rob-Livingstone-Olympics

For many, the Olympics are really a thought that crosses the mind just about every four years – or every two for those who are fans of both the winter and summer Olympics. But for Rob Livingstone, it’s the basis for his reporting, almost on a daily basis.

The 47-year-old journalist devotes most of his time to the Olympic bids website, GamesBids.com, which he launched in 1998.

Games Bids is a website devoted to the Olympic bid process. It boasts a collection of news and discussions on past, current and future bids for the summer and winter Olympic Games.

He came up with the idea when he was an economics student at York University in Toronto. His interest in the subject matter started when he wrote a school paper on Toronto’s bid for the 1996 Summer Olympics. (That bid was later won by Atlanta).

Livingstone continued to collect bid information after completing his assignment and when the Internet came to be in the mid-1990s, he published those findings online with the encouragement of others.

Today, Livingstone counts many high-ranking officials within the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and individual National Olympic Committees as sources. He has built relationships with these people by going to events, annual meetings known as IOC sessions and the Olympic Games themselves. “It’s a very face-to-face kind of industry,” he said of the process of building trust with his sources.

One unique aspect of Livingstone’s job as a journalist is that he has to introduce himself and build relationships with an entirely different group of people each time a new bid cycle begins.

These new people can come from a lot of places including the committee that is running a bid for a specific country or the consulting firm hired by a potential host city.

In most cases these groups are new to the bid process and “often they’ll have more questions for you than you’ll have for them,” Livingstone said. He explained that it isn’t unusual that “they wont have the answers right away because they weren’t anticipating the questions.”

Bid participants aren’t the only ones contacting Livingstone for information regarding this complicated process. Passionate fans often debate on the site’s message boards, and in many cases, they are sending him tips.

When Livingstone created the discussion forums, on or around the year 2000, he was surprised by the level of engagement from his audience. “That really made it a two-way process, where I was learning from these people, getting story ideas and more information, writing about it and feeding it back,” he said.

That process has proved tricky in the past though with numerous rumors being floated to him via the message boards and through email. “I have to be careful to validate those and I get lots of those,” he added.

Livingstone also spends a decent amount of time doling out advice to fellow reporters who might have experience, but not necessarily with Olympics coverage.

“They are suddenly getting involved with the bid from their city and they’ve never really thought about Olympic bids before,” said Livingstone. “It’s definitely a challenge for new reporters,” he added.

U.S.-based reporters have already begun contacting him about the country’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Boston was recently announced as the U.S. Olympic Committee’s candidate city, and Games Bids will track additional cities across the globe as they announce their candidacy.

That’s when Games Bids will really be put to the test.

“Who’s winning the bid?” is the most common question Livingstone hears in his work as reporter and editor for Games Bids. The repetition of that question is what prompted him to create the Bid Index, a statistical tool that was initially calculated with the help of a few experts. The Index went live to cover the 2008 bid, which was won by the city of Beijing in a 2001 vote.

The Bid Index correctly predicted the outcome for the last three Olympic bids (2016, 2018 and 2020). “It sort of made our website the go-to place to find out what’s going on for the bids,” he said.

His proprietary tool works not by calculating the regular odds, as one would see in standard sports betting, but by calculating the ongoing success of a bid based on the elements it shares with past successful bids.

According to Livingstone, these elements can be as varied as whether popular opinion played into the success of a winning bid and if the IOC has adhered to any kind of geographic rotation in its voting history.

Livingstone finds that his work is very cyclical, with his two busiest periods naturally coming in the ramp up to an IOC vote or an Olympic Games.

The next Olympics will take place in Rio de Janeiro in August of next year, and the IOC vote to pick the host city for the 2022 Winter Olympics will take place July 31 of this year in Kuala Lumpur.

Only two cities remain: Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing. Regardless of the outcome, Livingstone will be covering the race in great detail for the readers of Games Bids.

Though he has a lot of practice gathering the details for each bidding city, that information wasn’t as accessible in the early days of his reporting. “It was quite a challenge to get the right people to speak to, to get the right information out of them,” Livingstone said.

A huge turning point was the Salt Lake City bid scandal of the late 1990s when Olympic officials allegedly received money to ensure that the Utah city won the bid for the 2002 Olympics. “Everything changed after that,” he said referring not only to the IOC’s more open voting procedures but also to the public’s attention to and understanding of the whole process.

Over time, Livingstone has learned not to be surprised by these races and has continued his coverage without getting personally invested in the fates of the winning and losing cities. He said his motto is ‘always expect the unexpected.’

Reporting by Rosie Downey. Edited by Stephanie Forshee.

Want more sports journalism stories? Read about USA TODAY’s Scott Gleeson and FOX-5 in Atlanta’s Merissa Lynn.

PolitiFact to live fact-check Obama, GOP

PolitiFact tops Kickstarter goal

By Taylor Newman

PolitiFact team at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
Angie Drobnic Holan (second to left, front) and the PolitiFact team at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

Sometimes trying something new pays off. It did for PolitiFact.

The fact-checking website, which rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics, topped its fundraising goal with its very first Kickstarter campaign this week.

The initial goal was to reach $15,000 in order to fund a team of journalists to provide a live fact-checking during the Jan. 20 State of the Union address, but PolitiFact surpassed the target amount Wednesday – six days before the deadline.

“We know that readers like our State of the Union coverage; it’s one of our most popular nights,” said Angie Drobnic Holan, editor of PolitiFact. “We did a Kickstarter so we could add staff and use some new technology tools to try and do something new and different.”

Kickstarter dedicated its own category to journalism projects last June, and PolitiFact’s idea makes the second successful journalism campaign on Kickstarter of 2015 so far (a new Knoxville newspaper was funded Jan. 10).

Hundreds of journalism projects have been funded since the crowdfunding website launched in 2009, and they vary from efforts to start brand new publications to independent journalists reporting on specific events to established publications like PolitiFact looking for funding on special projects.

Established in 2007, PolitiFact is a project of the Tampa Bay Times and the Poynter Institute. It is organized as a network with three national reporters and partners in seven different states. Holan was part of the team that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2009 for the journalists’ fact-checking research during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Each day, PolitiFact reporters follow the news, looking for statements that can be checked. The staff explores social media, TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, speeches and press releases to verify and ultimately rate facts on a true-false scale. Reporters publish original statements with their evaluations online and assign each a “Truth-O-Meter” rating. The claims are assessed on a scale ranging from “True” for accurate claims, “Half True” for the partially true statements and “Pants on Fire” for those that are verified to be completely bogus.

Findings can also be found on the political site’s two mobile apps, PolitiFact and Settleit!

“We try and fact-check issues that are in the news and we try and fact-check across the political spectrum,” Holan said. “We are independent and we don’t take positions on political issues. Our sole mission is to give people accurate information about politics.”

PolitiFact chose to test out Kickstarter for the State of the Union address, since it is one of its bigger annual events. The funds from Kickstarter will be directed to support a staff of 10 journalists who will provide quick, objective analysis of President Barack Obama’s speech through a live blog that will include video and text. It will also back the compilation of an annotated version of the speech ready for readers the next morning.

Holan explained how issuing annotations will give a more robust version of the online publication’s usual fact-checking process.

“I think we have a core readership that really appreciates us and likes what we do,” Holan said. “They are interested in politics and government, but they’re always unsure if they’re getting the real information from the politicians and the parties.”

PolitiFact’s reporters spend a great deal of time looking at research reports, consulting subject experts, and going back to archives to find factual evidence in support of or against a claim. They then assemble a detailed report laying out evidence and how they arrived at their conclusion.

“Our audience [consists of] everyday voters who are just looking for information to help them make decisions when it comes to politics,” Holan said.

In 2014, for instance, PolitiFact plowed through selected exaggerations about Ebola. The team also fact-checked the mid-term elections, as well as close senate and gubernatorial races. It even checks memes that go viral on Facebook.

However, Holan explained that nothing compares to the excitement of the State of the Union address.

“[It] is something the White House spends a lot of time preparing and is edited carefully by a staff of researchers, so it’s very rare you’d find a glaring error,” Holan said. “They’re usually more careful than that, but all politicians will spin the facts to support their points and leave out context, which is where our reporters come in and set the record straight.”

Throughout the Kickstarter process, PolitiFact utilized every avenue to spread the word. Social media, email lists, stories in affiliate newspapers and published information on their personal webpage all assisted in campaign efforts.

“We’re going to see how this one pans out,” Holan said. “We hope to learn from the use of the technology and hope to bring some of these techniques to our debates later on.”

As a follow-up to reaching its goal Wednesday, PolitiFact updated its website to encourage further donations while the Kickstarter campaign remains open. It announced two ideas: if the project exceeds $18,000 in funding, the news site will send a fact-checker to Iowa for a week to follow presidential news, and for $20,000, one of the national fact-checkers will go to New Hampshire for a week, too.

Holan said it’s likely PolitiFact could launch an additional Kickstarter campaign for next year’s coverage of the 2016 presidential race.

Reporting by Taylor Newman. Edited by Stephanie Forshee.

First Edition: Merissa Lynn

First Edition: Merissa Lynn

By Taylor Newman

Merissa Lynn’s heart was set on covering hard news. That is, until she was assigned to help shoot a soccer game during her senior year of college.

Quickly acclimating from her rookie status, she became the face to deliver short mid-day sports reports for her college T.V. station and lent her voice for sports updates on radio.

Covering traditional news took a back seat.

“I was always nervous about having to make that decision between news and sports,” Lynn said. “Fortunately, it was kind of made for me, so it was a big sigh of relief.”

Now, she’s the sole female sports anchor/reporter at WAGA (FOX 5) in Atlanta, Ga. She reports on the Falcons, Braves, Hawks, Georgia, Georgia Tech and the local high school teams. Her role also extends to producing, editing and taking photos.

“TV isn’t just about being a reporter or a producer or a photographer, so I’m pretty much a one-man band. I do everything,” she said. “On any given day it’s a different role I’m playing.”

Lynn grew up in Tampa, Fla., surrounded by sports. She was a figure skater for almost 10 years and also competed in track, doing discus throw and shot-put. Her three brothers all played sports too.

On weekends, she’d attend live football, baseball or basketball games.

She got her first exposure to reporting when, in high school, she anchored on the morning announcements. Her passion for being in front of the camera carried with her to college at the University of Florida where she earned a degree in Telecommunications, with a minor in Spanish.

Early in her sophomore year, Lynn got involved with the school’s radio station, WRUF-AM850. Her junior year she started working as part of the student-run team that produced full-fledged thirty minute news shows as part of the PBS-affiliated TV station WUFT-TV on campus. She did it all: weather forecasting, sports anchoring and news reporting.

“It was a good experience,” she said. “It was a good learning tool for us all. It helped us start our careers a little bit.”

During those summers, Lynn sandwiched in internships with NBC Channel 8 WFLA-TV and ABC WFTS-TV in Tampa. She worked at the assignment desk, went out with reporters and shot stand-ups.

After college, she freelanced in Gainesville on game days before landing her first permanent job in Augusta, Ga. as a weekday news digital journalist and a weekend sports anchor in 2010. She produced countless stories on topics ranging from high school football to the Masters.

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It was in Augusta she put together the story she’s most proud of.

Lynn investigated a girls’ high school basketball team in Swainsboro, Ga. that earned a state championship back in 1958 but never received recognition for it. Lynn produced a story that showcased the women’s stories, and after her story ran, their title was put down in the record books of the Georgia High School Association.

“These women are 60 to 70 years old now, and still to this day, what happened with their team is something they want to be remembered for,” Lynn said. “I wanted to tell their story and make sure that those women were honored.”

Two years in Georgia prepared Lynn for her next stop as a full-time sports anchor/reporter at WOLO in Columbia, S.C. In her short eight-month span there, she provided coverage on SEC and ACC college football.

“College football is my favorite sport, so I was in heaven. It was fun and fast-paced, but so tiring and exhausting,” she said.

For almost two years now Lynn has been the face of sports in Atlanta. She considers it the turning point of her career. She’s liked being in a bigger market, filled with professionals who have been in the field for many years.

She’s expected to know and do most everything. No two days are alike.

One week in November, for instance, had her wearing just about every hat there is: She produced for the main anchor on Monday. Tuesday, she shot a presser before the University of Georgia football game against Auburn and then she shot a high school football game. Friday she shot one of the high school football games for her show and then edited and produced. Over the weekend she anchored.

“I know for sure for the most part I’m going to be on air on Saturday and Sunday, but during the week it’s always something new,” she said about her schedule. “I don’t know until the day before, the week before what’s going on. It’s stressful, but it’s nothing I can’t handle. You kind of just have to go with the flow.”

Lynn’s work week mirrors the changing role of journalists. Being just a reporter or just an anchor isn’t the nature of the business anymore.

“I see a lot of younger talent going after the networks because they want to stray away from that multi-talented role,” Lynn observed, but added, “You’re better off getting a job in the business now knowing how to tweet, shoot, report, shoot your own standup, write a script and produce.”

Lynn knows this firsthand, because she was recently tasked with posting her own material to the Web. The station’s YouTube channel and social media sites have, of course, become additional outlets for viewers to get their FOX news.

Some days Lynn looks back at her job and can’t think of any other word to describe it but ‘crazy.’

“I’ve had days where my boss would call me and I’d still be sleeping at 10 a.m. and he’ll be like, ‘Breaking news, get down to Turner Field in an hour.’ And I’m like ‘Are you serious?’” she said. “You throw on a dress, put your hair up, throw whatever you can on your face and just run out the door.”

She understands this is what she signed up for.

No longer can she go to a game as a spectator. She is constantly faced with the stress of deadlines and making sure audio and video material sends through.

“I definitely miss going to games, but when you look back at what you’re doing, people think what you do is so cool. They wish they could go to a game and make money writing a story,” she said.

Sports journalism goes beyond reporting stats from a game, though. One story that Lynn considers to be one of her more interesting ones came in April. It was a feature on Ervin Santana, one of the Atlanta Braves’ starting pitchers last season.

She noticed a peculiar hashtag he had tweeted pretty frequently: #smellbaseball. It seemed unusual, so Lynn searched for the reason behind it. She interviewed Santana and his teammates, and found that Santana’s tweet was a way of expressing his passion for baseball; in other words: if you don’t smell it, you don’t love it.

Lynn’s fun discovery wound up being picked up by a couple of Major League Baseball sites and was shared with FOX’s affiliate stations.

“It was a weird sports story, but it was fun because we weren’t talking about wins or losses,” she said.

As a female covering male sports, Lynn said she hasn’t run into any difficulties. She can access every locker room and clubhouse just as easily as her male colleagues.

Although she feels as if in some ways she has more to prove, she’s never been disrespected or told she couldn’t do something because she’s a woman.

Throughout her career, the biggest hardship she’s actually faced is staying confident.

“I think confidence is something that you really have to build up in the business,” she said. “It can be easy for someone to knock you down.”

Luckily, she has a supportive staff that has reminded her of her talent.

“We have a great working environment and it makes sports fun,” Lynn said. “Obviously there are terrible things to talk about. The Falcons aren’t doing too great and the Braves have their issues right now. For the most part, though, these teams are fun to cover.”

First Edition: Scott Gleeson

First Edition: Scott Gleeson

By Alex Vejar

Gleeson interviewing future NBA superstar Joel Embiid before the 2014 NBA draft.
Gleeson interviewing future NBA superstar Joel Embiid before the 2014 NBA draft.

When Scott Gleeson was a sophomore in high school, he saw a young Derrick Rose, his same age at the time, go up for a windmill dunk during a high school game in Pontiac, Ill. That’s when it sunk in for Gleeson that he wasn’t going to be able to compete with players like Rose, who would turn out to be the star point guard for the Chicago Bulls.

“Everyone sort of has that moment where they realize they’re not going to be a professional athlete, and I think mine came really late,” said Gleeson, now 25. “I didn’t want to give up that dream.”

But when that moment finally came, Gleeson already had an alternate career in his back pocket. Still in high school, he created, self-published and hand-delivered “Baller Magazine,” a publication that featured his writing on all topics dealing with the sport of basketball.

Gleeson's
Gleeson’s “Baller” magazine

The first issue of “Baller” focused on Gleeson’s favorite NBA player, the late “Pistol Pete” Maravich, along with various articles about high school and college basketball.

The magazine was Gleeson’s jumping-off point into the career of sports journalism, a profession he said he knew he’d pursue from a very young age, and would work hard to excel in.

“I was determined to be damn good at it,” Gleeson said.

Now, Gleeson is the colleges digital editor at USA TODAY Sports and primarily covers college basketball. He’s based on the West Coast and writes the national web columns Bracket Briefing, Starting Five and Basketball Brunch, while projecting the 68 teams to make the NCAA tournament. Throughout his career, he has been fortunate to cover such events as the NBA Draft and the NCAA Final Four — things he could only dream about covering when he was a kid.

While covering the NBA draft, Gleeson has had the chance to profile several blossoming stars and deliver exclusive news. He tabbed 2013’s post-draft interview with Nerlens Noel as “the money quote,” when Noel vowed to him after being picked sixth overall, instead of first, “I’m gonna make them pay.”

Gleeson also penned a profile of WNBA player Britney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury who came out as a lesbian during their interview.

Athletes aren’t always the most accessible, so Gleeson feels the key is to connect in a positive way so the person will more easily open up.

“I always believe with a source, you really have to have a relationship first,” Gleeson said. “The relationship side of it is so incredibly vital. I think it’s all about tone; it’s all about having the right demeanor. To me, that’s something that is undervalued.”

Gleeson’s most defining career moment came in December 2012 when Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher committed suicide after killing his girlfriend. Gleeson was the lead programmer on the website when the editor-in-chief of USA TODAY, David Callaway, wanted to cite the Associated Press. Mary Byrne, the managing editor of USA TODAY Sports, however, wanted to report the news in their own story.

Gleeson kept his composure and followed Byrne’s wisdom. As it turned out, their version of the story garnered high levels of traffic for the publication’s website.

“That really was a defining moment for me in my career because it gave me confidence to know that in the biggest pressure situation that I can thrive,” Gleeson said.

As a die-hard basketball fan, Gleeson admits there is often a need to separate work from pleasure. He said going to a sports game as a reporter is vastly different than attending one as a fan. Fans go with their friends, drink beer and have a great time, he said.

“For me, I’m losing my hair. I’m stressed just trying to get a story in on deadline,” Gleeson said. “It’s a different dynamic than people realize.”

Gleeson studied journalism at Illinois State University, where he was the sports editor and writer for the Daily Vidette from 2007 to 2011.

In his classes, Gleeson recalls his editors telling him to write a story in his head so he could type it faster when he finally sat down to write it on deadline. While that’s one approach, he doesn’t necessarily believe in that philosophy.

When Gleeson sits down to type, he wants the story to come out “organically and fluently.”

“I think in order to do that, you really kind of have to not have a plan,” Gleeson said.

When writing a recap on an NBA game, Gleeson said one trick writers can try is to construct several openings to a story based on what the outcome could be.

“It’s really a lot of planning ahead and gauging and guessing,” Gleeson said. “You really get comfortable with it the more that you do it, definitely.”

With interviewing, Gleeson said it’s important to pay attention and attempt to connect with a source rather than taking notes, fiddling with a recorder or thinking about follow-up questions.

“For me, I always felt like it’s more important to relate to someone than to have my recorder on,” Gleeson said.

For example, Gleeson said he was able to get Noel to give him that juicy, memorable quote after getting snubbed in the 2013 draft because he spent an entire day prior getting to know him. So when it came time for Gleeson to ask Noel how he felt about being picked sixth, his familiarity with Gleeson helped him communicate what he really felt.

“It wasn’t like I did anything fantastic,” Gleeson said. “I just sort of dug a little bit deeper, and I did it based on something that I had built on the day before.”

Gleeson said it’s important for sources to trust and like journalists.

“The biggest thing in terms of breaking news is that people like you,” Gleeson said. “If people don’t like you, they’re not going to give you information.”

Gleeson also advises journalists to do things differently and to be as innovative and multidimensional as possible.

“Don’t come into the business thinking you want to be a certain type of writer or type of journalist,” Gleeson said.

Even Gleeson couldn’t have foreseen the places his career would take him.

“I still remember getting the call from USA TODAY that eventually led to a chance-of-a-lifetime internship in the sports department,” he writes on his website. “It gives me chills down my spine. And just as easily, I remember my first big byline – typing my name, followed by “USA TODAY.”

Scott and his dad Tom running the Anthem Richmond Marathon
Scott and his dad Tom running the Anthem Richmond Marathon.

Gleeson’s love of basketball came from his father Tom, who tragically died of cancer. Gleeson’s loss inspired him to start working on a book called “Cancer’s My Blessing,” which will tie sports with fighting adversity.

The book is to have 26.2 chapters (the same number as the length in miles of a marathon, another pastime of Gleeson’s), and will include interviews with athletes who have dealt with mental illness, persecution, loss and sadness.

The “.2” chapter of the book will feature an interview with his dad before he lost his battle with cancer.

Although Gleeson has been covering sports since the early days of his career, that is not what defines him as a journalist.

“The reason why I love this career is not because I’m a sports fan,” Gleeson said. “It’s because I love journalism.”

Reported by Alex Vejar. Edited by Stephanie Forshee

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