Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee
Israel: Peaceful shores, Historical wonders, Unresolved Conflicts

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lessons I Didn't Learn In J-School

This is an abbreviated version of a speech that I delivered at the University of Mississippi to an audience of future shot callers (journo-preneurs).
LESSON 1 – Be adventurous.
LESSON 2 –  Don’t let your enthusiasm cloud your judgment. Slow down or you could become the next day’s front-page news.
A former NABJ president always says people who fail to plan – plan to fail.
LESSON 3 – Set short term and long-term goals. Make contact with people who can get you where you want to be. I resisted the temptation of taking a producer position because I wanted to be on the air.
LESSON 4 - Never settle.
LESSON 5 – Have fun on your way to the top. And if you meet a nice guy or girl and they don’t mind moving around the country with you, get married. Many women my age who are in the business don’t have children.
Know the difference between a big baller and a shot caller.
A shot caller can hire you or pick up the phone and get you a job.
A big baller makes great money. For example, he can say honey pack your bags, I just bought us round-trip first-class tickets to Paris for a few days.
A shot caller picks up the phone, calls the pilot and says get the jet ready. We’re flying to Paris, and let’s stop in Barcelona. I’d like to spend some quiet time on my yacht and a week at the castle in Malta.
LESSON 6 – Don’t be lazy. Any reporter can cover the news. The best reporters break news.
I had fun doing all kinds of wild stories in Birmingham, including one story that remains an unsolved mystery.
A few years ago, someone sent an email to the newsroom in Birmingham. It was an email from the school superintendent’s office. It said one of his students did not return from a senior trip. I called the superintendent’s office and the school principal. A few hours went by and neither returned my call. So, I went to the school and went to the principal’s office. His assistant told me had just left for the day but a counselor may have details about the senior trip. I went to the counselor and asked her about the email and reports of a missing student.
She turned white as snow and told me the school did not sanction the senior trip. I pressed her for more information and she gave me the number of the travel agent who booked the trip.
I called the travel agent and she told me her business partner was still in Aruba. There was another clue. Most of the students were already back home.  I called an Alabama congressman and his office told me he heard there was a student missing, but he did not have a formal request from her family to get involved.
Throughout the day, I followed up with the congressman’s office. Just before the 5 o’clock show started, the congressman himself called me back and confirmed a high school grad by the name of Natalee Holloway was indeed missing. My station was the first to get the story on the air. My persistence paid off.
LESSON 7 - Strive to be first on every story. The early bird really does get the worm. The second may get his leftovers. And if you keep coming in third, you or your boss eventually gets fired.
LESSON 8 - Change sucks, but it doesn’t have to drain you.
LESSON 9 - All shot callers don’t have planes or corner offices. They do have crystal balls.
LESSON 10 - Whenever you think about giving up on something or someone, work harder than you’ve ever worked and sleep on it for 30 days if you can. Then make your move.  
Before I made my move, this old dog learned new tricks.
I also knew things and people that no one else in the newsroom knew.
LESSON 11 – Cover a beat that no one understands or wants.  Have a niche.
Know how to network and cultivate sources.
Spend some time in the sales department or going to lunch with sales people. They’ll tell you how the company is really doing.
Instead of always talking to public information officers, get to know the crime scene workers or the coroner. They know where the bodies are buried.
Some of the best flirts in the world go far in this business.
Find out where politicians and shot callers drink.
LESSON 12 – The more they drink, the more they leak. But protect your sources and maintain strong ethics. You’ll earn a good reputation that could someday pay off especially if you suddenly find yourself out of a job.
As an entrepreneur, I still work hard, but I play hard. I can finally take vacation during Sweeps. Remember, successful entrepreneurs solve problems.
LESSON 13 - Decide now.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
What’s your dream job?
Are you driven by money?
Are you driven by power?
I was driven by power. The media can change people’s lives.  
Will you be happy driving a Toyota and owning a 3-bedroom home?
Do you want to live in a tony neighborhood, travel abroad, and give your kids a great education? Do you want your name on a building?
Do you want to anchor in a top 20 market? Own your own business? Be editor of the New York Times? Rupert Murdoch’s apprentice? Reality tv star? Sales executive? Pundit?
LESSON 14 - You find many big ballers and shot callers in journalism
at conventions and awards dinners. If you’re not a member of NABJ - SPJ – RTDNA – PRAM – you’re missing an opportunity for a one-on-one meeting with a shot caller.
Every year I would go to conventions and show news directors my work. I’d take their advice. A news director told me to get braces. I did.  
Remember, tv is a visual medium. 
Care about the quality of your work.
Care about the community that you’re covering.
Don’t put things on Facebook that will make your mother or minister blush.
LESSON 15 - Unless you have a trust fund, your credibility is all that you have in this world and you can’t afford to blow it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Part One of Israel: State of Contradictions

While Palestinians seek United Nations’ recognition as a state, I am in Israel getting a first-hand look at this complex State of Contradictions.

The American Jewish Committee invited me and other African-American leaders, including elected officials from Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., to the Holy Land.

We are meeting with scholars, educators, health and medical experts, and military and political leaders to get a better understanding of the conflict that literally divides Jews, Christians, and Muslims in a state that is controlled by the majority – Israeli Jews. About 7.5 million people live in Israel. Three-fourths are Jews and 21 percent are Arab-Muslim according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

We visited Shaul Goldstein, the mayor of a West Bank Jewish settlement that just celebrated 44 years of occupation in the rural outskirts of Jerusalem. The West Bank is home to mostly Arab families (Palestinians) and Jews. Palestinians control two of three areas identified as A, B, and C. 

During our meeting Friday, Goldstein paused to check his pager for updates on protests related to the historic United Nations meeting. He received a report of protestors throwing rocks at cars with Israeli license plates. It happened just hours before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke before the UN Assembly as he submitted a letter asking for formal recognition as a state.

Goldstein explained why he says - as a direct descendant of Abraham - he has a right to the Holy Land and the town of Gush Etzion. The anniversary of Gush Etzion’s survival is no small feat. Goldstein recalled how his predecessors were forced out of the West Bank twice early in the 1900s. 

We also met with Ibrahim Abu Shindi who is proud of his Palestinian heritage and says his family has lived in Jaffa, Tel Aviv since 1673. Yet, the Arab Muslim has been detained and questioned for hours at Israel’s airport, although he travels to teach tolerance. Peace is a part of Abu Shindi’s daily existence. He is the Director of the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Jaffa. While there, we ran into Peter Yarrow, a member of the famed Peter, Paul and Mary folk music trio of the 1960s.

The “profiling” of Arab Muslims is a way of life. To keep suicide bombers at bay, guards check purses and bags before people enter open-air markets and malls.  Soldiers carrying high-powered rifles are also interspersed on the street and at the Old City of Jerusalem, home to ornate churches, mosque, and temples. They preserve a walled stretch of holy ground that includes Via Dolorosa, the path that Jesus took while carrying his cross to his crucifixion.  

From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel is trying to build a reputation that doesn’t center around national security. Keep in mind, there is a mandatory draft for both male and female Israeli Jewish students once they turn 18 and finish high school.   

On the coast in Tel Aviv, tourists enjoy a robust nightlife, upscale hotels, and beautiful Mediterranean beaches. Travel southeast to Jerusalem, and you can’t miss an impressive new light rail, which just opened in Jerusalem earlier this month.

Thanks in part to a mini-Silicon Valley, Israel is third behind U.S. and China for its companies listed on the NASDAQ. Tech stars like venture capitalist, Jonathan Medved live in Jerusalem. His company launched the world’s first paid video ringtone serviceWhile Israel’s unemployment rate is 5 percent, it also has some of the highest taxes in the world.

In the Palestinian-controlled Ramallah, West Bank, an eco-friendly olive oil industry thrives there. We planned a trip to Ramallah, but organizers of the trip canceled it. They say permits were not being issued to allow visitors inside the city as residents hit the streets to rally support for a Palestinian state.

Permits, tunnels, walls, fences and checkpoints control the comings and goings of people traveling in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and the many towns, known as settlements, that make up this region.

Still, I had the opportunity to speak with Palestinians. Some expressed their disappointment with President Obama and Middle East leaders. Professor Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi told me he “felt very sad that both (President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu) lost opportunities to go before the world to be peacemakers. I was disappointed with Obama. He missed another opportunity to lead because he is worried about his reelection. I think that this is sad because he contradicts the values that have been raised by Americans.”

One thing is clear, both Palestinians and Jews agree President Abbas’ bid for a peaceful Palestinian state won’t be successful without broad support from other countries and religious leaders.

Next Blog, “We Are Not A Religious State” – Part Two of A State of Contradictions.