Journalism

No Arms, No Legs, No Problem

The Executive Producer walked towards me almost apologetically. My story was going to change, he said. I was going to a middle school football game where one of the players didn’t have arms or legs. My first question was, how does he play? He didn’t really know.

I tried to hide my relief after being assigned a feature story, a rarity in this newsroom. I had been at the station for less than two months and needed a reprieve from all of the death and destruction that had become the usual subject of my days.

A bake sale and cacophony of squealing pre-teens were in full swing by the time we arrived at Stetson Middle School. It was the last seventh grade football game of the season. The late change to my story meant no one knew we were coming. Once they learned we were there to tell Gaven Toney’s story their eyes lit up.

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The Making Of A Jawn: My First Year in Philly

aundrea_cline_thomas-0213-copySeptember 28th marks one year since I joined NBC 10. I’ve met Sylvester Stallone, my boo Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson as they promoted their movie Creed at the top of the steps of the Art Museum. I watched Bill Cosby walk into the police department to get booked on sexual assault charges. When someone asks me where I was the night the first woman accepted the Presidential nomination from a major political party, I can say I was in the Wells Fargo Center watching it live! I now honk liberally when I drive, but thanks to the Parking Authority I prefer to walk. Legit snow pants are a part of my wardrobe as I was quickly reminded that the winter winds and snow can be downright disrespectful. I’ve racked up 2,428 Amtrak points taking practically monthly trips home. For the first time in YEARS I spent Thanksgiving with my family.

 

So many people have asked what’s different about this experience when compared to others. My answer…EVERYTHING!

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“Dorothy… You’re Not In Kansas Anymore”

My first alarm sounds at 5:57 am. Bleary eyed I press snooze before another one goes off at 6, then 6:05. I always set multiple alarms on two phones because I kind of have a problem getting up. I mean the early wake up call is jarring to anyone who didn’t come home from work until after midnight. And the anticipated sleep deprivation subconsciously jacked up my dreams.

It’s Tuesday and it’s the start of my unexpected three day “weekend.” So I’m headed home to Maryland. I made the decision and bought my train ticket less than twenty-four hours before, text a few friends and family and spent about twenty minutes total between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning packing a duffle bag. THIS is my new reality.

I didn’t just get a new job in Philadelphia, I got a new life!

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New Beginnings

After four years I’m leaving NewsChannel 5.

WTVF had been on my radar since I started my career. I boldly told the former News Director that I wanted him to hire me back in 2007. Then I began my “campaign” of sorts to prove why I should get the job. I knew if I just could just get into the newsroom, I had no choice but to improve. I sent numerous resume tapes, so many that the current News Director, Sandy Boonstra recognized me at a journalism conference in 2008. We stayed in touch, until the time was right in June 2011 and I came on board.

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Gut-Wrenching Intrusion: The Worst Part Of The Job

The bell has been ringing so much you consider just leaving the door unlocked so people, who seem like they’re coming in droves, can just let themselves in. You open the door and initially it may be hard to find the right words. Saying “hi” is expected and signifies a sense of normalcy, except this day is anything but that. Their eyes mirror the puffiness in yours. The pause and subsequent embrace is a language all its own. What exactly do you say? Where do you begin? Does it even matter? Words may give temporary solace to that one particular moment, but it’s an inevitable delay to the all consuming grief you have only begun to process.

Cakes, pies and casseroles fill the refrigerator. Flowers begin to mount on your dining room table. From opening your home to guests to making the necessary arrangements, there’s just so much to do…to process…to take in.

Your doorbell rings again. This time it’s not a relative, neighbor, pastor or friend,

“Hello, my name is Aundrea Cline-Thomas. I’m a reporter with NewsChannel 5.”

It’s me…

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She Said, She Said: A Rolling Stone Reflection

This is a difficult blog to write. I personally know women who were raped, some while in college. I witnessed the shame that kept some of them quiet. I’ve done stories about rape and sexual assault. Authorities will tell you it’s still one of the most under-reported crimes. Counselors will tell you the impact of the victim shaming can linger for a lifetime and how triggers can undo years of progress. And even if the perpetrator is adjudicated it doesn’t erase the pain and sometimes internalized shame of the encounter. It goes without saying that rape is a sensitive issue.

By its very nature rape doesn’t need to be overdramatized to remain absolutely horrific.

That’s why I don’t know why Rolling Stone, as an organization, made so many concessions for THIS particular story. The Columbia School of Journalism (CSJ) provided a thorough analysis of the story “A Rape on Campus” calling it a “journalistic failure that was avoidable.” The primary issue was the over-reliance of Jackie’s (the alleged victim’s) narrative of a gang-rape as part of a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity initiation that University of Virginia officials and Charlottesville Police later found couldn’t be supported with concrete evidence.

Rolling Stone Article

Rolling Stone Article

The CSJ revealed clear red flags that were ignored during the editorial process possibly because of the potential draw of the especially vile nature of the account. Meantime, the publishing of the now retracted article has negatively impacted the University of Virginia and the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, some questioning if it caused irreparable harm. Not to mention, the negative light shed on sexual assault victims and the environment created that could hamper the probability for future reporting.

The editorial breakdown has been adequately documented. I wonder how journalists who are conditioned to be cynics could’ve fallen so hard for a story that was so difficult to corroborate.

In newsrooms it’s not uncommon to hear accusations about a systematic failures. The complainant details a harmful experience and hopes the media can shed light on the injustice of an institution. You want to protect the “whistleblower” but the first question is, is this true? The next question is, how is this being handled? You ask the person what documentation they have to back up their claims. You let them know that you have to contact the institution to get their side. Often times you just have to walk away, not necessarily because you don’t believe the claims, but because there isn’t sufficient supporting evidence.

Sometimes those making the accusations come to you, as was the case for this woman who showed up at the station one day. She told the receptionist that she wanted a copy of surveillance video that we aired of an armed robbery in a Walmart. She claimed that she was in the Walmart at the time of the robbery. The receptionist relayed the details to the newsroom and I was asked to go upstairs with a photographer to she if she would be willing to talk on camera.

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PR Pearls: Journo Jewels from the PR Perspective

The relationship between public relations professionals and journalists can be everything from symbiotic to downright contentious.

PR Pearls was born out of frequent newsroom bemoaning and my participation in PR panels at every step along my career.

My last post PR Pearls: Keeping It 100 sparked a response from a friend who has transitioned into PR after spending years in the newsroom. They wanted to provide another perspective from their unique position. So I agreed to post their remarks and have chosen not to edit it. I thought I was “Keeping It 100” in my last post but they’re keeping it all the way really with brutal honesty! I appreciate this perspective and I hope you do too!

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As a recent traitor to the newsroom,

I have to admit that I have learned so much since crossing over to the PR world.

I remember sitting on “Getting to Know the Media” panels sharing knowledge on how to get a story covered, but never attended a “Getting to Know the PR Professionals” panel. In hindsight, it was quite one sided. So in an effort to share what I have learned, Aundrea is allowing me to write the flipside of “PR Pearls.”

So I present “Journo Jewels”

Four (maybe five) beliefs that I held as a journalist that were wrong.

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PR Pearls: Pitch Perfect

7 Reasons Why Your Pitch Isn’t Getting Noticed

PR Pearls will be a regular feature on this blog that focuses on the sometimes symbiotic and sometimes contentious relationship between public relations professionals and journalists.

My best and most memorable stories have come from people giving me a call to tell me about what’s “going on.” But to get one good pitch I have to go through dozens of bad ones and each time I struggle to gingerly explain why “that’s just not news.”

Here’s how stories are considered:

#1 Who Cares?

Pitches often don’t answer this key question. You’ve heard about stories having to answer the who, what, where, when, why and how…well add who cares to that rule. The Nashville market covers southern Kentucky and stretches almost to the Alabama border. We’re speaking to a wide audience. How can your pitch impact people’s lives outside of your street, neighborhood and community? Why would they want to know about whatever your idea is?

If you want us to come to an event, our focus isn’t on the effort it took to organize it but the outcome it produces. If the community won’t show up to support your cause, we won’t either. There’s nothing worse than showing up to something that’s supposed to be “big” where only 15 people are in attendance and 5 of them put it together. At that point credibility is lost and chances are we won’t be coming back again.

Our biggest competition isn’t necessarily another station, but the busyness of people’s lives.

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#FirstWorldProblems

I almost had a fan girl moment when I was assigned to cover Ndelika Mandela’s visit to a high school in Smyrna, Tennessee. Obviously being a Mandela alone carries a lot of weight and having an opportunity to speak with someone with such poignant life experiences is really a gift.

I was VERY excited. She was so nice!

I was VERY excited. She was so nice!

 

Ndelika, the eldest granddaughter of Nelson Mandela, is a force within her own right.

“I’m Ndelika first before I am Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter,” she said when asked if it was difficult to establish her own identity.

“I try to carve my own identity but emulate [Nelson Mandela]. I can never be like him. I can always emulate him.”

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A Day In The Life: Why I’m Not Going To Coffee/Lunch And Won’t Answer Most Calls Between 3-6 pm

My account is based on the commonalities between all of the reporting jobs that I’ve had. I recognize that it could vary slightly from station to station. The daily grind is also different from what our friends in print journalism or radio often have to endure.

You turn on the TV during the early evening newscasts and my story “magically” appears. Here’s what it really takes to bring those stories into your homes every night.

The one question I’m most asked is, “take me through a typical day,” or some variation of that.  Well first, no day is really typical.

As soon as I open the door to the station, the countdown has begun.

Before my morning meeting I’ve read papers and called contacts to generate a list of story ideas. (If you work in the afternoon, there’s also an afternoon meeting)

Our Morning Meeting

Our Morning Meeting

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