What was the main idea you wanted students to take away from your speech?
As we look at all these sexual abuse and misconduct cases, certainly something like Harvey Weinstein is accused of doing… we all can look at [them] and say, that is wrong. And if he’s guilty, he should go to prison for it. But we also have to look at the allegations against my former colleague, Matt Lauer, and say that that’s wrong too. You don’t go to prison for that, but we have to look at the effect that inappropriate sexual relationships between bosses and often young women in the workplace has on equality in the workplace. This is fundamentally a conversation about equality in the workplace, and what it does to young women who are put in that situation compared to the young men who don’t have to deal with it.
How did you enter the field of journalism?
I’ll be honest with you, it wasn’t really on my radar as a student. I graduated Georgetown with an economics degree and a minor in English lit. So, I wasn’t sure, I’ll be honest, what I wanted to do with my life. I did know that I wanted to go spend some time overseas, and I looked into the best programs to do that, and I ended up joining the Peace Corps. It was really great. I highly recommend it. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic, and I built latrines, dug latrines. It wasn’t very glamorous. Basically [I] learned how to do a cheap hygienic latrine, and I lived in hut with no running water or electricity for two years. And that was what I did for two years.
While I was there, I sort of counterintuitively became really interested in what was going on back home and consumed news in the form of magazines because my parents sent them to me… [I] consumed it voraciously and listened to a lot of radio. And this is a story I’ve told a couple of times today, but I remember being in my hammock and listening to a report coming out of Srebrenica, where there was a tragic and terrible basically genocidal attack against a community in the former Yugoslavia in Srebrenica. And I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, it’s incredible that someone gets to go and do this and report this story… You can go and cover these stories and witness these events and be in a position to tell the world what happened, especially with something as important as this, this seminal moment in our history.’
What did you take away from attending Andover?
You’re away from home, the large majority of students here, and you are responsible and in control of your life at a young age… That, for me, is really at the foundation of a lot of the things that I’ve done. Above and beyond that, I became a curious person here as a student. I was exposed to so many different things and learned the value of exploring things that I didn’t know about, and that curiosity is something that I carry with me today and is invaluable in my business. You need to be curious about the world but also be curious about peoples’ opinions and positions, whether you agree with them or not. You need to ask questions. You need to think of what the right question is to ask.
I think Andover teaches you humility in a lot of ways because no matter how good you are at something, I guarantee you there’s someone better than you here at Andover. I remember a particular moment [when] I was a Junior and I was struggling. I had gotten a 3 on a paper and then I went to softball practice and didn’t do well, and the English teacher that was there… she wanted to know why I was so upset and I said, “Well, I obviously suck at English and I obviously suck at softball and I obviously suck at all these things.” And it was that moment where she said, ‘Well, you know what? You’ve had a bad day, that’s true, but I also didn’t think your paper was that bad. I think you could’ve done better.’ But she just kind of talked me down in a very honest, gentle way. And it wasn’t mom, and I didn’t actually need mom. But I had a really kind, thoughtful adult there to talk me through it and I found that that was an experience with a lot of different teachers here and faculty at Andover. They have to take on multiple roles, and some of them do it really well.
How do you think the journalism industry has changed throughout your experience?
I think the industry’s gone through a dramatic change as a result of technology. It’s certainly the way that we communicate with each other. Social media has radically changed the way that we report. It’s actually made it easier in a lot of ways, because we can connect with people a lot easier. It’s also clouded the water in a lot of ways, because you have to spend a lot of time shooting down things that have been presented as facts that are not facts, much more so than you had to in the past. Some things out there on Twitter [are] being picked up and reported on, but where’s your responsibility in terms of how you make sure that that’s true or not? And sometimes that distracts you from a larger story or more important story, by it’s still something that you have to do.
I think there are some similarities in that people are still reading a ton. It doesn’t matter whether you read it on an actual paper or online. It has changed the way stories come out. Stories come out now when they’re ready. “The New York Times” drops a story when they have it, not the next day on your doorstep. It means that the whole cycle moves faster. There’s certainly room for all types of ‘print,’ for lack of a better word or a more updated word. And you see all of these various websites. The very difficult thing is that a lot of places go under because they aren’t big enough. The system has not grown in a way to support these ground-level local reporting that generates the stories that then become national stories very often. And that’s troubling, and i think that that’s something that the industry is really struggling with.
How much does NBC rely on local sources?
Hugely. It’s just impossible [without it], especially [in] TV news… You can’t, unlike a newspaper, devote lots of people to specific beats, or even lots of people to specific areas of the country or the world. So you have to rely on the local outlets to provide that groundwork and we do a lot of it. When you talk about the USA gymnastics former doctor [Larry Nassar]… that story came out of an “IndyStar” article. They were the ones who first reported back in August last year. And it was because of their own local reporting that got that story in their paper and resulted in everything that you’ve seen today.
How would you describe your life as a journalist?
Unpredictable. I can be sent out the door at a moment’s notice. The news cycle is incredibly fast. It’s often very difficult for me to juggle my personal life – I have two daughters who are very young… but we have to react faster now in our newsrooms… When I first started… the decisions were made [at 9am] about what was going to go on the show… We now have to pivot and be ready to tell stories that break in the afternoon… You used to get the 2:30 phone call, and think, “Ooh this is going to be tough to turn.” Then I started to get the 3:30 phone call, then the 4:30, and then I’ve got the executive producer at 5 o’clock saying “What can you turn for me by 6:30?” Turning a television story for 6:30 when it’s 5:00 is a difficult tall order, but the cycle is moving too quickly to ignore stories at 5 o’clock for a 6:30 news broadcast. You’ve got to be on it all the time. I’ll be honest with you guys, I’ve been doing this for a long time, it is still super stressful. When I get those calls, it definitely makes me sweat for sure… The adrenaline helps.
What do you find rewarding about your work?
There are lots of great parts of it. I’ll tick off a couple of them. One, when a story has impact. And the first time I saw that was when I was covering floods in Pakistan. And I saw in real time the stories we were doing. We [NBC] were the only TV news outlet from the US that were actually covering the floods, and they were dramatic and terrible. And tons of people had lost their lives, and because of the stories we were doing, they were raising money, and they were raising a lot of money for the people we were surrounded by, who were suffering. To see the impact of what you do in real time, to help people who are in terrible places and in terrible circumstances, to see it move institutions and government to do things, is one of the best parts of the job.
The adventure. I love the adventure of my job. It has taken me to every corner of the world, every corner of the country. I’ve met so many fascinating people. Not famous people. Just people, people I’ve just met and talked to. And [I’ve] seen places, traveled places that I’ve been paid to travel to, which is a really incredible position to be. I’m incredibly fortunate. I pinch myself all the time.
And then perspective, it gives you perspective on life. Unfortunately, a large part of what I do is cover death and destruction and the terrible things that people do to each other. And I bring home that perspectives to the world that I live in, which is very often much, much better than the people I am reporting on.
What are some countries that you’ve visited that first come to mind when you think about these experiences?
Iraq for sure. Libya definitely, during the Arab spring. Being in Tripoli, [Libya], when [Muammar] Gaddafi, [former Prime Minister of Libya] was removed from power. Being in that city during that moment was incredibly dramatic because it was sheer chaos.Suddenly there was no government, and you were looking at anarchy. There was no police force, no military, there was no one really to turn to. There was no one that was going to help us outside out group if we got into trouble… But I also have to say, and this is one of the reasons that I love the job and continue to do it, it’s an incredibly exciting moment to see what happens when a government just disappears, and when people are left to their own devices. It helps you understand the importance of the systems we have in place, the role that they play, and how terrible it can be if those things fall apart. Again, it’s that question of perspective and values. You come back valuing the democracy and how it keeps our worlds grounded and happy when it’s working right, and [how] it can be a disaster when its not.
How do you approach interviewing people from other countries that you may not be familiar with?
It’s tough. It depends on the story, obviously, we have a lot of systems in place to help that process. If you’re going to a foreign country, we work very closely with local people to help tell stories. If you’re in a war zone, you have to think about security… and sometimes, the differences in culture are tough to breach. You do the best you can given the story and you are, in the end, telling it as accurately as possible… Sometimes it’s just figuring out where you’re going to sleep and what you’re going to eat… especially in these far flung dangerous places.
Why did you decide to focus your ASM talk on your work on sexual abuse and misconduct?
[John Palfrey, head of school,] asked me to talk about that. I probably would have talked about it anyway. I’m often in the moment, and my head is where the story of the day is. It’s the story that I’m working on, it’s first and foremost in my mind. And one of the really great things as well about this job is that you get to cover so many different things, and to land on this one at such an important time has been really rewarding for me.
What advice do you have for students who want to pursue a career in journalism?
Definitely the most important, this will sound silly, but it’s still important to reiterate: read and write. Read and write. Find what you’re passionate about, read history, read novels, increase your vocabulary, get better at writing, make sure that you are clear, that you are more concise… And I wouldn’t have said this a while ago, but I would say it today: Study journalism, you need to. This world is too complicated as a journalist, things have changed, the landscape has changed so dramatically that you need to study it. I used to think you didn’t; I didn’t… I was able to learn on the job. Unfortunately, you don’t get time to learn on the job anymore, not with the journalism landscape, the way it is right now.
I wouldn’t major in [journalism] and not major in something else… you can minor in it and decide you like it. I would expose yourself to it and to learn the core values of it in school – certainly when it comes to the various forms of media, all the things that we juggle now, and how to present the news that you want to present. Whether it’s on the radio, or online, or social media, or on TV… How do you do it while still being true to those journalistic principles?