Today, I was the guest speaker at Oskaloosa Rotary’s weekly lunch meeting. This is the transcript of my message to the group. Enjoy!
Good afternoon, Oskaloosa Rotary. Thank you for the opportunity to join you and have a conversation. Again, My name is Jonathon Walter Gregg. I work at the Communication Research Institute, the CRI and I am the Executive Producer of the “CRI Weekly News.” Our news show is a half-your newscast and is similar to the style of a 6 or 10 pm show you’d see on WHO-TV, KCCI and others…the big difference is our show is absolutely local news, as local as it can get. Most affiliates cover dozens of communities and counties where CRI covers Oskaloosa and Mahaska County.
As Executive Producer I take stories ideas from our reporters and I decide which ones will make it in the show and when. Then during the week I assist the reporting staff with research and writing and I also turn my own stories before finally anchoring the show on Friday. And yes, how about the timing? Yesterday was the 2nd year anniversary of my first day at CRI. 2 years in Osky…Is it ok I call it “Osky” is two years residency enough…You know I here you only need live in town 60 days before you can run for state office (pause for laugh)…. I want to reflect on the last two years living and working in Oskaloosa, but first I’ll bring you up to speed on how I became a journalist.
I am a life-long Iowan born a few years ago in Clinton. I am the 3rd of – now 5 children. I graduated from the Northeast Community School District in Goose Lake, Iowa located between Clinton and Maquoketa. In 2004 I entered Wartburg College in Waverly to study Communication Arts-Electronic Media and Theatre. I’ve known for a long-time that I was interested in Journalism, and TV news.
My father Bill Gregg has always paid attention to what’s happening in the news and around him – whether locally, nationally or abroad. Many of my earliest memories include Dad watching newscasts on KWQC-TV6, the NBC affiliate in Davenport and the nightly news with Tom Brokaw. As a young child I would try so hard to stay up to watch the 10 PM news with him but often never made it past 9. So at first my interest in news grew out of affection for my father but as I grew older I was able to independently appreciate the role journalism plays in society, the significance of objective broadcast news, television, radio and print.
You, see my parents never attended college. Neither finished high school. My dad has worked manual labor jobs his whole life. He’s worked for seed corn companies for about 25 years, Never making much money, never enough to buy a home or a new car, certainly not enough to send a son to college…but he’s always made an effort to be informed. He’s understood – whether innate or learned – the more you know and understand about the world around you the better you can live your life and that does not change according the tax bracket you fall in.
“Knowledge is available to everybody regardless of class.” When dad reads the newspaper and watches the evening news he’s reading and watching the same news that wealthy business people and policy-makers take in, there’s no separation. That philosophy is crucial to our democracy, “maintaining an informed public.” And I decided as a young man that I wanted to be a part of that, informing the public… that desire eventually brought me to Wartburg College.
I became the first Gregg, to ever attend a four-year college. In order to pay for it, I worked, applied for scholarships and took out loans. My father did what he could. I graduated Wartburg in 3-and-a-half years. It wasn’t always the plan to finish early but as I became immersed in news I quickly realized I wanted to strike out on my own as soon as possible. I graduated Wartburg with honors in December 2007 at the age of 21 and several weeks later I was working full-time as a video-photographer for KCRG-TV9 in Cedar Rapids. I had interned 3 months with KCRG the previous summer.
And oh boy, what a first job it was.
The beginning months of 2008 brought Record breaking snowfall and record breaking low temperatures, I was working the morning Cedar Rapids dropped to -29 degrees F. That spring saw the Postville, Iowa immigrant raid, at the time it was the largest one-day raid in American History. Come April I was the very first journalist on the scene of the Iowa City Sueppel Murders. In May violent storm ripped through North Central Iowa including an EF-5 tornado that destroyed Parkersburg, Iowa’s south side. I arrived the morning after… walking through homes with family members. Hearing the stories of how they believed they survived. And then in the summer of 08 it started raining…and it kept raining. The Cedar River rose, eventually to historic levels. We drove until we couldn’t and then we rode in boats though Cedar Rapids neighbors. Some neighborhoods the water was so high it reached the second flood of homes.
My last few weeks at KCRG were mostly consumed by the new presidency and the failing economy. And in the early ’09 I parted ways and came to Oskaloosa. I joined two other Wartburg Graduates when came to CRI. I brought along lessons I learned in the previous four years through college coursework, internships and professional experience. I’ve been involved with the Iowa Broadcast News Association for the past 5 years. IBNA is a nonprofit corporation of radio and TV news directors, reporters, producers, college professors and students from Iowa and its adjacent states, working to improve Iowa news.
It’s annual convention and awards banquet was this past Saturday in Johnston, Iowa and most of the CRI team was there. On Saturday evening I was elected to the IBNA executive board team joining a long list of experienced journalists from across Iowa and bordering states. Paul Yeager, from IPTV’s “Iowa Journal,” Brian Allen of KSFY-Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Dave Vickers of KROS-RADIO in Clinton, Iowa, Jim Mertens of WQAD Channel 8 in the quad cities and others.
So now you know a little bit about me and for the last two years I’ve been getting to know more about you, the residents of Oskaloosa and Mahaska County. And it’s definitely been an educational experience. I’d like to elaborate a little bit if I could. CRI has a very simple goal when it comes to its programming. Everything we produce is meant to provide useful and accurate information to the public. And that’s the same goal shared by any journalist. We want to inform the public.
I want to focus on just, “CRI Weekly News.” Again, I serve as the Executive Producer. The core of journalism is informing the public because they have a right in this country to know what’s happening. They have a right to know and to ask questions. You’ve heard the philosophy, “A better informed public makes better decisions.” A well-informed community is the base of a healthy democracy. And good journalists insure the people are being informed.
Which brings me to what makes Oskaloosa a little different than the affiliate stations I’ve worked with. One of the biggest Challenges CRI has faced in the four years of its existence is getting people familiar with CRI and what we are doing.
When people don’t know you its hard sometimes to get them to talk to you, understandable. It can take years for communities to warm up to a new organization. When CRI reporters make phone calls, knock on doors meet new people sometimes it’s a struggle to get reports filed. When I reported for KCRG, I’ll be honest it was a breeze to get people to talk, compared to folks in Oskaloosa… whether it was government officials, police and fire officials, store owners and everyday people, they were talking. Two years ago, when I started it was tough at times. Some people and departments knew what we were trying to do and were very good with making time for us and but others were not on board yet. Why is that? Well for one, KCRG and television stations in Iowa have been around since the 1950’s and most of them had radio station predecessors. News affiliates have what CRI doesn’t, decades of community engagement. But I can tell you the situation has gotten better but there are still some holdouts in this town and it’s unfortunate when that list includes elected officials.
Journalists have the same rights as an individual. Journalists don’t have special privileges. But Journalist have studied and spent time learning how to become skilled interviewers, skilled at asking appropriate and non-leading questions and skilled at synthesizing information. Sometimes that’s the only difference between journalists and the general public but because we call ourselves journalists and are paid to do so some people clam-up. Unfortunately some people group journalist and commentators in the same group and they that shouldn’t happen.
Bob Franken was the keynote speaker this past weekend at the Iowa Broadcast News Association’s Convention. He’s a life-long journalist. His career began many years ago in Madison Wisconsin. He later reported in Cleveland, Ohio and for 20+ years he reported for CNN covering the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court. He was a wartime correspondent during both Iraq Wars.
Franken spoke to a number of ideas regarding newsgathering, how it’s evolving, and its challenges. But he talked about one constant, something that should never change. “Journalists are skeptics.” “Journalists are skeptics.” Please don’t confuse that with cynicism. Journalists are not “jaded” people. And you don’t have to react to ‘Skeptics” in a negative way. I don’t believe you should.
Truth and objectivity are so important. They are vital to the role of a journalist. Truth has been described as “the reality we live in.” And so many times in our nation’s history, the reality we live in is not always the reality that others say is so. For instance: The 1950’s were trying times for Americans. African Americans were fighting for civil rights in the country. Also Americans were in the midst of “The Red Scare.” Citizens were deeply concerned with the threat of nuclear war and whether their neighbors or local officials were Communist sympathizers.
And what was revealed during that time? Edward R. Murrow reveled in his CBS documentary series, “See it Now,” that Senator Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin, was quite obsessed with Communism, with spies and conspiracies…ultimately to the detriment of the US State Department, other government agencies and the American Society. That moment of objective and honest journalism was an eye-opening experience for the American people; it in many ways changed the course of American Government and also the governments’ view of journalists.
So, when it comes to gathering news, researching, interviewing and finally writing a story you have to be absolutely certain that what you are telling people is the truth, the reality we live and not the fiction that some people write. And how did Murrow and his staff get to that “truth?”
He was a skeptic. In the case of Murrow and McCarthy, Paulette Kilmer, in the 2002 book “American Journalism” wrote, “With time the McCarthy episode helped to increase journalists’ skepticism about the government. Journalists became less willing to accept views simply because they came from officials…” end quote.Now, the problem that can happen is when journalists expect the lie. That is a problem, when anyone approaches cynicism. Journalists must keep an open mind when conducting interviews and not ever become cynics.
An interview with a reporter is the easiest thing you’ll do all day. That’s what I tell people when I’m trying to set up an interview. And it is. An interview is the easiest thing you’ll do all day, if you don’t have anything to hide.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am a journalist and producer for the Communication Research Institute and in my pursuit to be a good honest man and an honest journalist I in return ask the same out of everyone, I in return seek out the truth because everyone can live a better life when we have it.
Thank you and I’ll take any questions you may have…
I work at CRI, long form, Communication Research Institute. It’s a non-profit television station producing 5 different programs. I am the executive producer of “CRI Weekly News,” a half-hour news program that is similar to an affiliate 6 or 10pm newscast. Anyhow, CRI and its staff have lived in a downtown Osky building. A two-story building built some time in the latter half of the 19th-century. CRI has existed for 4 years. Its life has played out inside 105 High Avenue West. I understand a tanning salon was the last business to operated at out address. There is a lobby of sorts as you enter. A nice flat screen television is to the right and two davenports and a Lazyboy recliner is on the left, joined by a water cooler and a pencil sharpener that I’ve maybe seen used once. The walls are maroon, painted so last summer. Walking in more, there are offices on the left, you pass through a doorway to find two more offices and eventually a replacement, wood staircase.
The second floor is in disrepair yet several work spaces are on the second floor. My office has been on the second-floor sine my arrival in 2009. The Macs on our desks clash interestingly enough with the building and its aesthetics. I’ve been sharing a large office with two coworkers, Jon and Molly. Our office has these great big Post-Victorian windows that presents a view of the intersection of High Avenue and Highway 63, Brown’s shoe store and the downtown square and bandshell. A great view but it’s all over! On Friday we moved, up the road, less than a mile on the north end of town.
The powers-that-be have taken some undeveloped space on William Penn University’s campus and turned it into a bullpen-style newsroom. It’s all new. New desks, carpet, drop-tile ceiling. We moved our computers and desk phones to the new space on Friday. My phone cord is a miserable mess, always tangled. Often when my phone rings I grab the receiver and pull it towards my ear but the cord is entwined so that its 5-foot length is more like 6 inches. The phone is pulled right off my desk and it crashes to the floor. I wonder what it sounds like on the other end of the line. I’m tired of that cord. So when I brought the phone to my new desk on Friday for the techs to hook up on Monday I threw the phone cord in a box. Heres to hoping a new one magically appears in my absence.
The building is called “Musco Technology Center.” It’s home to the up-and-coming “Digital Broadcasting” program, maybe 4 years in existence. There also trades classes, drafting and like courses in the building’s south end. The idea is that CRI plays a part in the education of “DB” students enrolled at Penn. We have always existed with this relationship. Our company’s underwriter played a pivotal in the inception of the “DB” program. Our relationship with the college will certainly become more intimate. Interns will likely be introduced. This should be interesting. It wasn’t that long ago that I was a 19-year-old intern in Davenport, Iowa eventually in the same role in Cedar Rapids in ’06. I’ll probably be asked to put them into work assigning news stories, overseeing their work and helping them grow hoping into compelling journalists. We’ll see how this goes.
The move has happened. Adjusting will take place with everyone in the same room and all. Cubicles will hide us from seeing one another as we work. The ceiling is rather low likely to discourage tossing a Nurf football around but we’ll find out for sure, I imagine. Perhaps the environment may be more suitable for Nurf darts…again more research is needed to know anything for sure.
The move will be a good thing, I hope. We’ve made the best out of our downtown space but our new space emits a new level of professionalism that our previous home did not. (Ignore previous paragraph)
I’m training for this race, the “One-The-Roads-Half-Marathon.” To be honest I’m not really a runner but since I started about three years ago I’ve found out something very interesting. When you go on a run, you get to know your surroundings! I think this may appeal to reporters especially. In 2009 I moved to Hiawatha/Cedar Rapids after I graduated Wartburg. I was working for KCRG, livinmg on the north end of town on Blairs Ferry Road. It was then that I first got into running for my health. I joined the YMCA so I could hop on a treadmill after hours but I also started running outside. It was then that I really started to appreciate my neighborhood because before, I didn’t know it well. I didn’t feel like I was a part of it until I started running around it, throughout it.
I’d run by the Hiawatha Fire Department, the new City Hall/PD, parks, schools etc. One weekend I stumbled upon the Hiawatha Farmers’ Market. I’ve enjoyed Farmer’s Markets ever since. Also, almost every time I’d hit the pavement I’d alter the course. Instead of taking a left on 15th I’d turn on 12th. I knew that town in no time. Two years in Osky, I’ve run all over the place. I’ve gotten to know the town and I think that’s good considering my job. Through running I’ve learned where the schools are. I’m seeing where new housing is going up and I know where problems streets which gives me a good start the next time I do a road repair update. I don’t get a news story out of every run but its a certainly a healthy resource in the mean time
So for all you newsies who are “new in town,” get out and run. Run after work, maybe before and on the weekends. You can’t help but get to know the town you’re working in and you’ll be surprised while running how often you run into a great story idea.
I haven’t seen the movie Cedar Rapids, yet but I want to. It’s the film starring comedian Ed Helms, from NBC’s The Office. Helms plays a small-town Minnesota guy going to the “big-time” insurance conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He goes filled with excitement, not knowing what to expect. You can bet by the end of his journey he finds out more about the world and himself than he ever imagined…Well, I thought about this movie last weekend. Here’s why.
The Setup: I’m a small-time Iowa guy working for the small-town news station and I’m heading to the big-time news conference in Minnesota. I’m talking about the Midwest Journalism Conference. Two jam-packed days of work sessions geared towards making us better reporters and helping us reach a bigger audience. But I’m not new to the conference. I’ve been once before and I’ve been to others like it. Like Mr. Ed Helms’ character in the movie, the inspiration is there though for me it doesn’t take a bizarre and sometimes crude sequence of events to get me to that point. Inspiration is what professionals come to expect when taking their time and money to attend conferences. We go there hoping to become inspired. And I was. Hands down, a great weekend. I’ve got to tell you though, if you’re a journalist, especially one working at an affiliate it can be tough to stay focussed. There’s definitely the “Who’s Next” complex, a fear of being fired during a time of huge newsroom layoffs. And that was talked about. It’s talked about every year but it’s not dwelled on because you can’t.
The weekend goes fast because there are sessions happening from 8 AM lasting till 5 with short fifteen minutes breaks between. Conversations among co-workers and new friends start in the morning and run all day…you quiet down during the sessions but you try and cram as much analysis in as you can when you can…I found myself wanting to apply everything I was learning immediately. I didn’t want to wait…I wanted to get back out there and start reporting. I wanted to do past stories over again just to make them better…
Plot Points: Traditional news journalism has fallen behind in a changing landscape. Kevin Benz, pioneer of Austin’s News 8 spoke about trying to catch up to a wave (social media) that’s passed over us. It would have been nice to ride the wave all the way the beach to be greeted by the people but some of us didn’t. Alright, there’s the bad news. “How are we catching up?”
The Rising Action: We’ve got the tools. We’ve got to learn how to use them and adapt them when necessary. “My decade of journalist, I hope you feel fortunate because I do.” Facebook launched my freshmen year of college. I’m 25. And it’s still about the same thing: talking, sharing, informing. Of course the kinds of things we shared and talked about on Facebook my Freshman year is different then what’s on this platform now but the point is, I’ve been there since it started and I’m better for it. It did however take a while to catch on to the Twitter Train. My first job out of college in 2008 didn’t give me much time to tweet. When I was in the newsroom, I was editing. I was a photog running around during Iowa’s worst winter in decades, the country’s largest immigrant raid, the first EF-5 tornado in 30+ years and by the way historic flooding…not much time to breathe, let alone tweet. But we have to learn how to do everything in the same breath, that’s what I’ve learned. So, in 2008, I bought an iphone so I can take “my voice” with me and be able to speak whenever I have a useful word.
Then in 2011 I show up to the Midwest Journalism Conference and I sit through a session called “60 websites in 60 minutes.” And oh boy, here we go…more and more resources I didn’t know were out there. It’s tough. It is. To know exactly whats going on in a fast changing world. It takes work to know whats out there. The next great thing isn’t going to fall in your lap with a large-print instruction manual attached to it!. And let me take a step back, “Who cares if its hard work!” Do it. Do the work if you think you’re worth anything to journalism, free press, the fourth estate. I don’t want to read a news article that wasn’t hard to research, to gather and right. If it wasn’t, is it worth knowing? The same goes for myself. I better be working hard to get the story write. Journalist have a huge responsibility, you better embrace that.
The Resolution: We have the story, it’s written and in the can…and…AND the people are waiting for it…wanting it, needing it to live a better life. And if the story doesn’t do that then we’ve failed. Then there is no sequel, no franchise, no “trusted news station.” That better not happen. What I’ve been reminded of is that conferences, like the Midwest Journalism Conference reinforces the strength of the press and its duty it has to the people, whether you’re a long-time news man or women in the big-city market or the small-time newsie in the small-town Iowa. The news must be worth something otherwise its just words falling on deaf ears.
The Falling Action: We’ve made a difference.
I’ve never been very good at learning on my own. It happens. But I wouldn’t have learned how speak so-so (asi asi) spanish without the aid of my high school instructors.
So, as I begin to navigate WordPress.com I am trying not to become overwhelmed. I have yet to ask any one person for help but I do have another tab opened close by of my good friend and mentor Paul Yearger’s WordPress site.
Here’s the link to his great site. Public Paul & Media
As I build my site I refer to his. I haven’t told him yet so thanks again Paul for the help!
Oh, and I have thought of at least one example of something I learned on my own. Playing guitar, which is what I’ll be doing…on the streets for money…if this news thing doesn’t work out.
For now, hope remains. We’ll talk again soon. Take care.