anne herbst

I’m a journalist, and I’m going back to school. Here’s why.

In my career as a journalist, I have gone through numerous job interviews, as both interviewer and interviewee. I have never heard the following question:

How come you only have a Bachelor’s degree?

Most aspiring journalists try to enter the workforce as soon as they graduate, and they are not required to continue their schooling. Most news managers value experience and performance, and they expect their employees to develop in the “real” world, not the academic world.

Yet here I am, more than a decade removed from my last class at college, going back to school.

This week I officially became a student again, beginning a low-residency MFA program at the University of Georgia’s Grady Journalism School. For the next two years, I will attend several weeks of on-campus classes and meet remotely with various mentors and instructors as I earn my postgraduate degree in narrative nonfiction.

I will also continue to work full-time, marching forward as a reporter at WXIA-TV in Atlanta.

Does it sound like a lot of time? Does it sound like a ton of responsibilities to juggle at once? Does it sound like the type of effort that may go unnoticed by potential employers?

It sure does. But I welcome the challenge.

In my first years in the business, I often toyed with the idea of one day returning to school, but I never truly considered it. I faced more immediate career demands, wanting to establish myself as a journalist and advance to a market and station where I could — at least in the short term — settle down. (I also was scratching to afford rent and food, let alone five semesters of grad school.) Even after arriving in Atlanta, I never sought out additional education because I assumed it would require me to sacrifice my full-time job.

But in the past few years, my feelings began to change. I learned about programs at top-rated schools that catered to working journalists, and I watched several of my peers take advantage. I developed a passion for teaching, and I knew I would likely need a postgraduate degree if I ever wanted to join academia full-time. I came upon a program at UGA that hit every other check mark: it focused on in-depth and long-form nonfiction writing, featured a faculty full of journalism success stories, and required students to be on-campus for just two weeks a year. (It also offered a price tag that wouldn’t put me into debt.) I discussed the idea with my wife, and we decided I should apply.

So here I am, back at school … minus the lunchbox and No. 2 pencils.

I do not plan to use much of this space to discuss my UGA exploits, and I do not necessarily encourage other journalists to follow my path. This program enters my life at a near-perfect time both personally and professionally; I did not apply for it until I knew I could handle it.

But I do want to convey a broader lesson to my fellow storytellers: think beyond the usual.

Our business often forces its participants to think small. We face daily deadlines and increasing responsibilities, and we exert so much effort at work that we feel tempted to push aside any outside pursuits. But this can be short-sighted, especially in an media environment that demands versatility and flexibility. We should feel encouraged to stretch ourselves and take ownership of projects that take advantage of our skills and knowledge. Such a mindset, for example, is what led me to start this blog, develop a podcast, and write a full-length book about solo video journalism.

And I’m not alone. Last month I spoke on a panel with MMJ all-stars (and former Telling the Story podcast guests) Anne Herbst and Sarah-Blake Morgan. I realized we had more in common than simply shooting and editing our own reports. We have also built fulfilling projects outside of the newsroom. Morgan is one of the founders of the successful MMJane Facebook group, and Herbst runs an annual Women in Photojournalism conference. They didn’t ask for permission, and they didn’t worry about feeling overwhelmed. They used the same flexibility that helps them succeed as MMJs and applied it to new avenues.

I cannot speak for Herbst or Morgan, or for any of the other journalists who have pushed their limits to follow their passions. But I can tell you how I feel to have followed mine. I have been rewarded by every project I have tackled, from the blog to the podcast to the book. I approached each one methodically, thinking big and then taking the small steps to reach my goals. Beyond that, in each case, my work outside the newsroom has benefited my work inside the newsroom.

I expect those rewards to continue as I begin towards my MFA degree. I cannot say what this next big challenge will bring, but I am excited to see how it colors my perspective and improves my production as a storyteller.

I would encourage any journalist who feels the same to follow a similar path, no matter how you choose to do it.

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The Solo Video Journalist is available for purchase. You can find it on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and the publisher’s web site.

Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at matt@tellingthestoryblog.com. You can also follow Matt on Facebook and Twitter.

Introducing “The Solo Video Journalist”, my how-to book for aspiring MMJs

I am a television news reporter for the NBC affiliate in Atlanta, Ga., the 10th largest TV market in the country. But I am also my own photographer, shooting and editing the video that becomes my pre-produced reports. From the start of my day to the finish, I am almost always on my own.

And I represent a growing reality in TV news.

The term “multimedia journalist” gets thrown around in the news business, but in television it has a clear meaning. It refers to a journalist who produces a report from start to finish, combining the jobs of a traditional reporter (researching, interviewing, writing) with those of a traditional photographer (shooting, editing). We now occupy a substantial part of TV newsrooms; per the latest survey, roughly nine of every ten local network affiliates use them in some capacity. When aspiring television journalists go to college, they are warned they will almost certainly start their careers – and likely spend a good chunk of them – as one-woman and one-man bands.

Yet no book exists that offers a comprehensive overview of what the job entails, with the insights and authorship of journalists working in the business.

So I wrote one.

I am proud and excited to announce the release of The Solo Video Journalist, available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It is a how-to guide for a position in TV news that is long overdue for such analysis: the multimedia journalist, or MMJ.

(… or backpack journalist, or VJ, or any number of titles bestowed upon this position through the years. I went with “solo video journalist” because I think that term most accurately describes the job: producing video stories and journalism on one’s own.)

I have held this title since I entered the business more than a decade ago, and I have remained astounded at the lack of explicit instruction exists for those who do it. So many, both inside and outside the business, continue to envision newsrooms full of traditional reporters and photographers, neglecting the vital role MMJs have come to play.

The reality is far different.

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3 GREAT STORIES: Starring health care, ideas, & hot air

Every week, I shine the spotlight on some of the best storytelling in the business and offer my comments. “3 Great Stories of the Week” will post every Monday at 8 AM.

Newly insured, many now face learning curve (8/2/14, New York Times): Cutting through the political muck can be difficult these days.

As a news consumer, one often needs to search through a variety of opinion pieces and commentaries, knee-jerk and otherwise, before hearing about the “reality on the ground”, so to speak.

Credit to writer Abby Goodnough for offering an example of journalism that informs.

While political foes continue to fight over the Affordable Care Act, newly insured Americans must ignore all that and learn the ins and outs of their new health care. Goodnough presents a thorough, well-researched story about the challenges faced by all involved. She peppers her story with powerful individual anecdotes like this:

Last week, Salwa Shabazz arrived at the office of a public health network here with a bag full of paperwork about her new health insurance — and an unhappy look on her face. She had chosen her plan by phone in March, speaking to a customer service representative at the federal insurance marketplace. Now she had problems and questions, so many questions.

“I’ve had one doctor appointment since I got this insurance, and I had to pay $60,” Ms. Shabazz told Daniel Flynn, a counselor with the health network, the Health Federation of Philadelphia. “I don’t have $60.”

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PODCAST EPISODE #13: “Best Of” Advice Edition, 2013

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This year has been a blast.

Since launching the Telling The Story podcast in April, I have interviewed twelve great journalists and storytellers about their work.

With the year wrapping up, I decided to take a look back.

I compiled some of the best moments from the past year into a “Best Of” advice edition of the Telling The Story podcast. Hear from eight terrific storytellers about their thoughts on what makes a great storyteller, such as:

  • Jon Shirek: my first podcast guest and my co-worker at WXIA-TV in Atlanta
  • Anne Herbst: a versatile news photographer and now assistant chief photographer at KDVR-TV in Denver
  • Matt Detrich: a longtime staff photographer at the Indianapolis Star
  • Andrew Carroll: the author of the fascinating new book, Here Is Where
  • Roman Mars: the esteemed host of 99% Invisible, and my most popular podcast guest to date
  • Erin Brethauer: multimedia editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times, and — for a week this year — the overseer of the New Yorker’s Instagram account
  • Tomas Rios: a self-described paid-lance sportswriter whose work has appeared in Slate and Deadspin
  • Rachel Hamburg: a recent graduate of Stanford and the managing editor of the Stanford Storytelling Project

It’s a solid group of storytellers, and they offer some great advice.

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“Telling The Story” podcast guests on: advice for young journalists

I am on vacation — and out of commission — for the next two weeks, so I figured I would use my usual Wednesday space to put together some of the stronger exchanges and sound bites from the first six episodes of the “Telling The Story” podcast.

Last week, I posted the highlights on the topic of the changing landscape of journalism. This week, I present three segments in which some of the finest storytellers around offer their advice for up-and-comers:

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“Don’t write to be published”: Andrew Carroll is a great writer, which is somewhat amusing, in that he never really intended to be one. But maybe that’s part of what makes him so good; he writes with a unique style (witness his book, Here Is Where), and he talks with that style as well. He uses lively language and crackling words, and here he offers his keys to becoming a stronger writer — namely, to follow your passion and be a great reader.

CLICK HERE for the full podcast.

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“Find that mentor that scares you”: Anne Herbst can do it all — she has worked as a photographer and a one-woman band for TV stations and the major newspaper in Denver. As such, she gets asked for advice — a lot. Naturally, she was prepared when I posited the question to her here. She talks in this exchange, among other things, about finding a mentor who doesn’t pat you on the back.

CLICK HERE for the full podcast.

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PODCAST EPISODE #3: Anne Herbst, assistant chief photographer, KDVR-TV

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Try to follow the career path on this one.

Anne Herbst studied journalism in college with the intentions of being a newspaper reporter.

Her professor said she was better at shooting video, so she became a staff photographer at a TV station.

She got hired as a staff photographer at KUSA-TV in Denver — one of the top shops in the country for video journalism — but gradually began writing her own stories … to which reporters would then put their voices.

She left KUSA to become a solo video journalist at the Denver Post. If you’re scoring at home, Herbst went from a TV station to a newspaper and went from being a traditional photographer to doing everything herself.

This past year, she returned to TV as the assistant chief photographer at KDVR-TV, Denver’s FOX affiliate.

Herbst is a hallmark of developing numerous skills and leveraging one’s talent to find high-quality positions in the field of journalism. She has charted her own course in many ways, always finding ways to progress and improve.

Oh, and it helps that Herbst is really, really good at her job.

She has twice been named NPPA Photographer of the Year for the West region — always the most competitive in the country. She has won numerous NPPA awards as a solo video journalist, as well. Watch some of her work, and you will see why.

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PODCAST PREVIEW: Anne Herbst: “every TV station should have a backpack journalist”

Every year I enter the NPPA Solo Video Journalist competitions, and every year I see more and more names appearing on the winners’ list.

Around late 2011 I began seeing a new name pop up: Anne Herbst.

What struck me first was her place of employment: the Denver Post. Herbst was a video journalist … for a newspaper.

What struck me next was her work: it was rock-solid. Herbst impressed me then — and continues to impress me today — with her ability to make slick, well-crafted stories that were grounded in three-dimensional characters, a natural voice, and a more down-to-earth sensibility.

Oh, and she did it all herself: as a backpack journalist, she shot, reported, wrote, and edited her stories as a one-woman band.

This week, she becomes the third esteemed storyteller to join me on the Telling The Story podcast.

Herbst no longer works as a backpack journalist, or for a newspaper: she is now the assistant chief photographer at KDVR-TV, the Fox affiliate in Denver. But, at one point during our conversation, she offered her advice to local news stations in regards to backpack journalists:

Hire them.

Or, at least, hire one.

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