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MELANIE HICKEN / The Working Press
Joie Chen told it like it is in the world of journalism.
“This business is great until you get fired,” Chen, a CBS News Washington correspondent, said Friday at the Mark of Excellence awards luncheon where she was the keynote speaker.
The broadcast journalist delivered an honest portrayal of the industry to the many aspiring young journalists in the room. She touched on such realities as newsroom discrimination, article bias and working with difficult people.
Chen was dismissed as an Atlanta-based anchor for CNN in 2001, according to an article on the Asian American Journalists Association Web site.
The Capitol Hill reporter spoke in an informal, frank tone, often drawing laughter from the crowd as well as nods of agreement from the professional journalists in the room. She interspersed personal stories from her career with advice to student journalists. For example, she said she once worked with a broadcast editor who didn’t know which way to insert a tape deck.
Discrimination— ageism, sexism and racism— is still a reality in newsrooms, Chen said. She shared several of her experiences as an Asian American in the industry, such as how her first story as a college newspaper intern was all about rice and having to cover Pearl Harbor day while at a South Carolina television station.
Chen commended the efforts of journalism schools in teaching the fundamentals, but warned those students who think they would acquire all the skills they need from class alone.
“You can’t learn what you need to know to succeed in this business in J-school,” she said.
Rather, she cited two skills that must be learned on the job: working with people who can be aggravating and building relationships with colleagues and sources.
She also emphasized digging beyond the surface when reporting, and not settling for easy answers. “The obvious truth is sometimes not particularly obvious,” she said.
Chen complimented the award winners on helping to revolutionize the industry.
“In a way, it’s kind of intimidating for somebody like me to be talking to you,” she said. “After all, a lot of you are already engaged in learning to tell stories in a way that some of us old luddites haven’t even contemplated yet.”