Pre-Conference Cyber-Chat: Anne Anderson and Leslie Fishburn-Clark

Conversationalists: Anne Anderson and Leslie Fishburn-Clark

Of necessity, we had a virtual conversation and are looking forward to hearing the sounds of each other’s voices for real!

What is the story of your work and how did it lead to saying “yes” to this gathering?

ANNE: At a time when many journalists are making mid-life career decisions — voluntarily or not — out of the field, I serendipitously have been led to make a mid-life career change into the field of news journalism. My alter ego was a full-charge bookkeeper/financial manager/executive secretary. Along the way, I wrote children’s stories, wrote/edited a weekly school newsletter for seven years, wrote/directed various skits and plays for our church, and wrote procedural manuals, PR stuff, and other equally memorable works. Beginning in 2003, I became a regular correspondent and columnist for the six weekly newspapers published by Tampa Bay Newspapers, Inc., and also did some freelance work for the St. Petersburg Times. In 2005, I returned to school and earned a B.A. in Creative Writing. I applied for and was awarded a Knight Foundation Fellowship in Community Journalism to earn a master’s degree in journalism through the University of Alabama. The classes were held at The Anniston Star, a two-hour drive from Tuscaloosa, and it was a wonderful, wonderful experience.

As to why I said “yes” to this gathering, I feel a great responsibility to share the things I’ve learned. My perspective is very different from most journalists’ perspectives. My financial management background makes me question the internal structure of most news organizations that, to me, is self-defeating and is tearing them apart. My work with children helps me see the ways most news organizations ignore this potential market (to put it in fiscally attractive terms) and cut their own credibility in the process. My years as a news consumer rather than a news conveyor helps me see both sides of many journalism issues.

LESLIE: My journalism career began in corporate media years ago at a combination AM/FM station in Florida.  A few years later I returned home to New Mexico, began working with an all news/talk AM radio station, then went to work in television.  The realization that I could not continue to work in commercial radio and TV came with two events.  First, a couple of  “hard” news stories were bumped from an evening newscast because one of the anchor’s wives had a baby and news management opted instead to devote the time to a visit to the hospital with the anchor to display the baby and talk with the poor woman who had very recently given birth.  A short time later I heard the phrase “infotainment.”  I knew then my career as commercial broadcast journalist was over.  I returned to school intending to refocus my career but what I learned was that I am a journalist at heart and I soon returned to broadcast news.  However, I made the change to public radio and fell in love with news reporting once again. I’m now in school once more and working part-part-time as a freelancer, reporting for news organizations such as Latino USA, National Native News, and Free Speech Radio News with an occasional story for NPR.
I attended JTM’s “New Pamphleteers” conference a couple of years ago and came away with a plethora of ideas for and information about venues, technology, and financial resources among other concerns for alternative news reporting.   But probably more importantly, I came away with a renewed commitment to “journalism that matters.” I’m anticipating more of the same from this conference.

Telling of an experience with the new realities of journalism in which the emerging news ecology actually made a difference in telling a story that mattered and what that experience taught me about the gifts of both new ways of working and the traditional roots of journalism.

LESLIE: I’m very fortunate to live in Albuquerque.  Activists and committed citizens here are working with a fledgling newspaper intended to fill the void left when the city’s evening paper folded, they have garnered two full power radio licenses and are in line for two more, and have started a media arts charter school.  Both the newspaper and radio stations are committed to providing alternative content.  I’m fortunate enough to play a bit part in the newspaper and radio licenses efforts.

ANNE: At first I had a hard time answering this question. Other than my experience in Anniston, I’ve never worked in a newsroom. Then I realized that in itself may be part of the new journalism. I know that some newspapers are exploring the idea of cutting costs by eliminating a physical newsroom. Instead they’re putting their news people out in the communities, either working from home or from storefront mini-offices. I’m way ahead of the game, in that respect.

As a result, my eyes and ears sometimes are open to stories and sources that are missed by others. One example comes from a class assignment to write about a beat we thought was overlooked. I wrote about children and included examples of several articles that could be written about local children I had met. One professor commented that these were stories of national interest. No. There are similar news-worthy articles about the children of every community – children just tend to fall outside the field of vision of most journalists.

Without being humble, what do you value most about yourself? What do you see yourself bringing to this meeting?

ANNE: As a news journalist, I value most my ability – learned as a debater – to see deeply into multiple sides of issues. I will bring this skill, my varied professional experiences, my background as an expert news consumer, and my recent in-depth studies of the business- and newsroom sides of journalism to this meeting.

LESLIE: My interviewing skills are often complimented.  I believe I’m a good listener.  I bring a commitment to the future of news to this meeting.

What is it about journalism without which it would cease to be journalism; what is its essential core? What are you ready to let go of?

ANNE: I am concerned that – to the average reader and to many of today’s quasi-journalists — the word “journalism” connotes writing a personal diary of life as seen through one person’s eyes and also providing a running commentary on that perspective. News journalism’s core is that it provides concise information drawn from as many perspectives (sources) as possible and trusts the reader to draw his or her own conclusions, to form his or her own commentary. I am also concerned that news journalism is in the midst of an identity crisis occasioned by its recent forays into fiction-writing territory. This mixing of the genres – evidenced by news journalists calling what they write “stories” and their resultant reducing of complex issues into an Everyman sort of mystery-play complete with plot, characters, and theme – has eroded our credibility. People want information, not fables, from the news journalists. I am more than ready to see news journalism let go of this obsession with story and return to its purpose of providing society with information.

The year is 2014 and the new news ecology is a vibrant media landscape. What is journalism bringing to communities and democracy that matters most? What steps did we take back in 2009 to begin to bring this about?

ANNE: News journalism in 2014 is bringing a spirit of cohesiveness rather than one of divisiveness to communities that results in citizens making decisions about their communities based on information about the long-term effects of those decisions rather than on short-term emotion. We took at least three steps in 2009:

  • We stopped waiting for investors and philanthropists to bail us out and formed cooperatives to purchase failing news organizations ourselves.
  • We stopped relying on antiquated and artificial internal divisions that pitted too many “us’s” against too many “them’s” and restructured news organizations innards to work together instead of at odds with each other.
  • We took a good look at the entire community we purported to serve and purposed to proportionally and objectively become an organic information conduit connecting all the various parts of that community with each other.

About Peggy Holman

Peggy Holman supports organizations and communities to uncover creative responses to complex challenges using innovative engagement processes. The Change Handbook, co-authored with Tom Devane and Steven Cady, documents many such processes. The book is the considered the definitive resource for leaders and consultants working to increase resilience, agility, and collaboration in organizations and other social systems. Peggy co-founded Journalism that Matters in 2001 with three journalists to support the pioneers who are shaping the emerging news and information ecology. Peggy’s latest book, Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity, supports people facing disruptions to invite others to join them in realizing new possibilities.
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