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NPR Correspondent Reflects on Career, Challenges to Journalism


NPR Correspondent Reflects on Career,
Challenges to Journalism

NPR correspondent Lynn Neary tells Thomas Moore College alumnae that journalism and opinion have been confused in the mind of the public.

Photo by Chris Taggart

One problem facing journalism, Neary said,

is the amount of hype used

to sell it on cable news channels.

By Patrick Verel

When students ask veteran reporters who is more of a journalist: Glenn Beck, Rachel Maddow or Jon Stewart, you know the media landscape has changed radically.

This was just one of the anecdotes that Lynn Neary, TMC ’71, shared on Oct. 25 with about 60 alumnae of Thomas More College.

The reunion brought together alumnae of Fordham’s “most selective college”—so nicknamed because its students had the highest average SAT scores and GPAs of any school in the University’s history. It was an all-women’s college from 1964 to 1974 before being folded into Fordham College at Rose Hill.

Neary parlayed a job at a small radio station in Rocky Mount, N.C., into a career at National Public Radio. Since arriving at NPR in 1982, she has risen through the ranks and is currently the arts correspondent.

She spent the afternoon at Rose Hill, meeting 15 students at WFUV-FM (90.7), and teaching a telecommunications/media ethics class.

“If you want to be a reporter, go out and report,” Neary told the students. “That’s how I realized how much I loved radio. I loved the idea of walking around with a recorder and asking people to tell me stories.”

Throughout the 75-minute class, Neary mixed personal anecdotes with professional and technical advice. She played audio clips from some of her recent work, including a piece about what it means to own a book in the digital age and a pre-concert, backstage interview with members of the band Black Eyed Peas.

A student asked Neary how she continues to make her pieces unique when other journalists cover the same kinds of stories.

“You take an interesting central question,” Neary said, “and explore it.” She then ticked off five qualities shared by good journalists: curiosity, openness to different points of view, bravery, tenacity and good writing skills.

She underscored the final quality, reminding students that, although radio requires “good tape,” a successful broadcast demands good writing. “You can always save a piece with good writing,” Neary said. “Radio is still a storytelling medium. Your writing still needs to pull people in.”

Much of her talk that evening at the Midtown Manhattan headquarters of Kaplan, Inc. focused on her interactions with the students, on a campus she had not been to in 40 years.

“Journalism is changing so much, and they have to learn how to report across multiple platforms—radio, television, print, the Web, Twitter, Facebook and everything. I still say to them that it’s a good idea, especially if you’re in a big metropolitan area, to get out into the country and go to a place where you can get the kind of experience I got in Rocky Mount.

“I got to do everything, and every time I’d master one skill, they’d say, ‘Hey, now can you do an interview show?’”

In addition to working in a field that’s morphed from radio, TV and newspapers to full-time cable news organizations, myriad websites and social media, Neary noted that her own beat—book publishing—was also changing faster than she’d once thought possible. Kindles, Nooks and iPads, for instance, are very much poised to relegate books to the dustbin.

“A year ago, I was convinced that was never going to happen, and now one year later, I’m about to do a story on it. That’s how fast it’s all moving,” she said.

She did not weigh in on the Oct. 20 firing of her colleague Juan Williams, for comments he made on Fox News about Muslims, noting that it was far from her sphere of influence on the arts desk.

“I’m not going to give my personal opinion. It can get you in trouble,” she said to laughter. “But it has made me think about what’s going on in journalism today, and as I said, I met with some journalism students today, which got me thinking about it even more.”

One problem facing journalism, she said, is the amount of hype used to sell it on cable news channels.

“I’ve gotten phone calls in recent years from relatives and friends, asking me about a story with just this sense of urgency about it, and as if something terrible is happening, and I’ll ask them, ‘Have you been watching CNN?’” she said.

Another problem is the question of what’s the difference between opinion and hype.

“People think, ‘How can you be really, really objective?’ Well, you have to be very open-minded,” she said. “When I was covering religion, I wasmeeting up with people who believed things, whether it was a political belief or their faith, that I did not believe at all.”

“If you’ve really reported the story and you’ve really done the research, and you really know the subject, then you have the right to give some analysis. But there is definitely confusion between opinion and journalism now, and a lot of people in the public are confusing the two.”

FORDHAM magazine Associate Editor Miles Doyle contributed to this report.


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