Dionne Searcey won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting as part of a team for The New York Times. She is the author of the book "In Pursuit of Disobedient Women" and formerly worked as a U.S. politics reporter and the West Africa bureau chief covering stories in 25 countries in West and Central Africa. She is a 1993 graduate of the UNL College of Journalism & Mass Communications where she majored in News/Editorial Journalism. She spoke with Campus Voices as part of a series on the future of the media and communications industries.
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[00:00:02.280]Welcome to "Campus Voices" I'm Rick Alloway,
[00:00:04.830]and as always, I thank you for your time.
[00:00:06.900]Our guest today on "Campus Voices" as part of the series
[00:00:09.810]we are doing on futures of the mass media industry
[00:00:14.370]is Dionne Searcey, who was a 2020 Pulitzer Prize winner
[00:00:17.880]for international reporting as part of the team
[00:00:21.030]for The New York Times for which she writes.
[00:00:23.790]She's also the author of book called,
[00:00:25.357]"In Pursuit of Disobedient Women"
[00:00:28.320]and formerly worked as the US Politics Reporter
[00:00:30.960]and the West Africa Bureau Chief for The Times
[00:00:33.690]covering among other things, social, political,
[00:00:36.390]economic issues for a number of countries
[00:00:39.360]in West and Central Africa with the focus
[00:00:42.060]on Nigeria's war against Boko Haram.
[00:00:45.030]She joined The Times in 2014 as an economics writer,
[00:00:48.750]writing for a series of stories about
[00:00:50.370]the changing middle class in America.
[00:00:52.890]She also worked for The Wall Street Journal
[00:00:55.500]where she was an investigative reporter
[00:00:57.390]covering national legal affairs and the telecom industry.
[00:01:01.380]Also has worked for Newsday,
[00:01:03.120]the State House and education beats for The Seattle Times,
[00:01:07.080]covered crime and criminal courts for the Chicago Tribune
[00:01:10.470]and the News City Bureau of Chicago.
[00:01:12.870]She is a native of Wymore, Nebraska
[00:01:15.750]and a proud 1993 graduate of the
[00:01:18.450]College of Journalism and Mass Communications here at UNL
[00:01:21.900]where she majored in what we at that time called
[00:01:24.090]News editorial, which has now changed this name officially,
[00:01:27.600]I guess, to journalism.
[00:01:28.830]But you were a proud news ed and we're delighted to have you
[00:01:31.710]join us for this series, Dionne, thank you for your time.
[00:01:34.320]Thanks so much for having me.
[00:01:36.600]Describe if you would just to sort of set up
[00:01:38.880]before we get to the future part of things,
[00:01:40.440]what it was that attracted you to the journalism side
[00:01:44.130]of the educational ledger when you came
[00:01:46.470]to the university around 1990 or so?
[00:01:50.010]Well, I think when I came to the university
[00:01:54.510]I got advice from my brother who's a photojournalist
[00:01:57.330]and he said, whatever you do, work at the campus newspaper.
[00:02:00.090]And I thought it was pretty fun working
[00:02:03.690]at The Daily Nebraskan and I figured if I liked it
[00:02:06.510]I might as well just join the journalism program
[00:02:08.850]and major in journalism.
[00:02:10.020]So it was really based on the advice of my brother
[00:02:13.530]that I got into it.
[00:02:15.720]I think you owe him one for making that excellent
[00:02:19.020]suggestion that's led to a whole career
[00:02:20.850]following that advice.
[00:02:22.440]What do you remember about your time
[00:02:25.468]in the college of journalism?
[00:02:26.670]What still resonates with you about your years here?
[00:02:30.000]Well, I think I remember just how much fun it was
[00:02:33.210]really I mean, that's the best thing about journalism
[00:02:36.030]it's just a ton of fun.
[00:02:37.470]I mean, you can tackle serious issues
[00:02:39.630]and really world changing things,
[00:02:43.440]but it's also really fun to get to meet
[00:02:47.070]all sorts of different kinds of people
[00:02:51.420]and write and learn about new things.
[00:02:53.970]But at the college, the biggest part of fun
[00:02:56.700]were the professors that I had.
[00:02:58.020]I worked with Dick Streckfus and Bud Pegal
[00:03:01.320]who are now both gone.
[00:03:02.520]But they were really influential in I think
[00:03:05.310]showing all of us just how much fun the profession could be
[00:03:08.340]and not taking yourself too seriously
[00:03:11.400]but learning from your mistakes
[00:03:12.990]and taking those very seriously
[00:03:15.150]and showing us how to pick ourselves up
[00:03:16.860]and kind of dust off and move on.
[00:03:19.620]And I really love that, I loved learning from them.
[00:03:23.370]Did you have the class with Dick and Bud
[00:03:25.380]where they talked about the Paul Revere lead?
[00:03:28.349]Do you remember that from your class?
[00:03:29.652]I do remember that.
[00:03:30.803]I mean, they taught me how to write.
[00:03:32.970]Isn't that interesting how those memories stay with you
[00:03:34.860]even though decades later so I think it worked
[00:03:37.400]in your case clearly.
[00:03:38.880]But you added as you mentioned,
[00:03:39.793]a great experience with The Daily Nebraskan,
[00:03:41.550]what was that like?
[00:03:43.110]Well, I worked in all kinds of different positions there.
[00:03:46.560]I was never in the editor in chief
[00:03:48.600]but I was a copy editor,
[00:03:51.360]I edited one of the features sections.
[00:03:54.990]I was a night news editor,
[00:03:57.810]had the stress of like having to get the newspaper
[00:04:01.500]to the printer back in the day
[00:04:03.120]and driving it across over to I think
[00:04:05.460]we went somewhere near East Campus to get it printed
[00:04:07.680]and always we'd have these nightmares that you wake up
[00:04:10.800]the next morning and it's still in the back of your car.
[00:04:13.620]But fortunately that never happened but I loved it.
[00:04:16.980]I think my favorite job there was my last job
[00:04:19.050]which was senior reporter and that really showed me
[00:04:24.480]like a career path, I guess, really.
[00:04:26.310]And the journalism school was also very, very good
[00:04:29.220]about placing us in internships,
[00:04:31.290]and that was also really essential for me
[00:04:33.960]is getting to work in a real newsroom and helping us
[00:04:38.730]with that pathway.
[00:04:41.190]Now as you mentioned earlier have worked through
[00:04:43.560]a variety of stellar news organizations in your life,
[00:04:48.450]but I wanna focus a little bit on your time in West Africa.
[00:04:51.090]I too have had a chance to spend some time there teaching
[00:04:53.670]in Eastern Africa in the University of Addis Ababa
[00:04:56.490]several years ago.
[00:04:57.630]Taught our intro class there and I have told anybody
[00:05:00.960]that's ever been willing to listen to me
[00:05:02.520]that being in Africa as a life-changing event.
[00:05:04.980]You spent quite a bit of time in West and Central Africa.
[00:05:07.710]What was it that led to that posting there?
[00:05:10.890]Well, mostly it was just the idea of working overseas.
[00:05:15.090]And again, there was an editor here at The Times
[00:05:18.600]who I heard speak at Pulitzer Award ceremony
[00:05:22.740]who just was so enthusiastic.
[00:05:25.920]I had been at The Times about a year and just heard him
[00:05:28.440]and the way he talked about the coverage
[00:05:30.360]and how he viewed our role, I guess, The New York Times role
[00:05:37.380]in African coverage.
[00:05:39.000]And I was really swayed and I just thought to myself,
[00:05:41.730]I really wanna work for him.
[00:05:42.900]And so that was one thing that I pursued pretty directly
[00:05:47.370]as far as West Africa is concerned.
[00:05:50.520]I also was a double major in French
[00:05:52.620]at the University of Nebraska.
[00:05:54.150]So I had that background to help me out a little bit
[00:05:58.320]with that position because most of the countries
[00:06:01.650]I was covering were francophone.
[00:06:03.660]So there was even a professor in the French department
[00:06:07.170]who ended up being a real help to me on some stories
[00:06:10.650]that I was working on in the Democratic Republic of Congo
[00:06:13.410]of all things so just recently.
[00:06:16.170]So I think that being in the role of a foreign correspondent
[00:06:23.220]was just something I was really intrigued by.
[00:06:25.890]I'd done a lot of beats and really wanted to try it
[00:06:28.710]and it was great, I loved it.
[00:06:31.950]You spent a good amount of that time
[00:06:34.260]covering Nigeria's war against the Boko Haram movement.
[00:06:39.240]For those folks that may seem in the distant past to them,
[00:06:42.480]remind some of our listeners what the genesis was
[00:06:45.870]of that conflict.
[00:06:48.210]Sure, that started out like a lot of conflicts happened,
[00:06:51.480]it's just kind of a war on inequality
[00:06:54.253]and government corruption which we see time and again
[00:06:57.330]all over the world.
[00:06:58.170]And it involved a band of Islamist extremist who started out
[00:07:02.940]just being pretty unhappy about the money that they saw
[00:07:07.740]stolen by corrupt government officials
[00:07:10.650]and escalated into violence.
[00:07:12.810]But you might know a little bit about that conflict
[00:07:16.470]based on these set of school girls called the Chibok girls.
[00:07:21.540]Michelle Obama was pretty influential in I guess,
[00:07:26.640]one of the first big hashtag, kind of online campaigns
[00:07:29.910]bring back our girls.
[00:07:31.140]And so I spent a lot of time writing about other women
[00:07:34.470]and girls who were part of that conflict and victims
[00:07:38.190]and just how they kind of grew to be heroes of that conflict
[00:07:44.550]and had real urgency to change their situations.
[00:07:49.410]While the girls were the focus of a lot of the attention
[00:07:51.990]they were not the only victims of atrocities
[00:07:54.210]particularly against younger people at that time, correct?
[00:07:57.180]That's absolutely right.
[00:07:58.440]I mean, one thing that we forget is before those girls
[00:08:00.780]were kidnapped there was a group of school boys
[00:08:04.020]who were actually burned to death.
[00:08:06.510]So there were many, many atrocities in that war
[00:08:12.420]that's still playing out a little bit.
[00:08:14.520]And just in all kinds of ways, old people, young people,
[00:08:18.210]and a whole region just upended in that conflict.
[00:08:22.680]For people who were in this country
[00:08:24.540]and only heard about Boko Haram
[00:08:26.340]because of the reporting of folks like yourself.
[00:08:29.160]And we tend for those stories
[00:08:31.350]that we have trouble getting our arms around
[00:08:33.000]to sort of rely on bumper sticker kinds of thoughts
[00:08:35.430]about what happened in that case.
[00:08:37.350]But you made a point earlier that I wanted to stress
[00:08:39.150]which is that the genesis of that was sort of a time honored
[00:08:44.010]set of conflicts between haves and have nots
[00:08:47.040]that you say has played out several other places
[00:08:49.200]around the world forever.
[00:08:51.150]But we're seeing that certainly again
[00:08:53.640]in the current geopolitical situations, are we not?
[00:08:56.370]That the seeds of the same sort of conflict
[00:08:59.340]exist currently other places?
[00:09:01.650]Absolutely, it occurs all over and it occurs
[00:09:04.920]in our own country when you look at sort of the war
[00:09:07.890]on billionaires and those who don't have
[00:09:11.130]as much money and opportunities.
[00:09:14.100]I mean, we see that play out in,
[00:09:15.780]I used to think about the debate in Nebraska
[00:09:20.010]we talk a lot about outstate, right?
[00:09:22.590]And how Lincoln and Omaha gets all the funding
[00:09:26.040]and that plays out in a lot of states in America too.
[00:09:29.070]But when you just even think of that term outstate,
[00:09:32.490]it's so demeaning to people who don't live
[00:09:36.330]in one of the cities in Nebraska.
[00:09:38.430]And in the Boko Haram conflict I used to also think
[00:09:41.790]of the town that was kind of the hub of that.
[00:09:43.710]It was a university town,
[00:09:45.060]it was kind of the Lincoln of Nigeria.
[00:09:48.420]And it was a lot of similarities oddly in terms of
[00:09:53.130]a farming community and just different things that
[00:09:56.520]people were dealing with there.
[00:09:57.810]I think growing up in the middle of a country
[00:10:01.500]that doesn't often think about the middle of its country
[00:10:04.590]was pretty good training for working in a continent
[00:10:07.830]where not very many Americans think about
[00:10:11.100]things that go on there.
[00:10:12.390]Well, and you found some parallels there
[00:10:14.160]between your home state and the place where you were posted
[00:10:18.030]and looking through some of your articles here recently
[00:10:20.130]I've noticed that you've done some work
[00:10:22.020]on the precious metal stories in Africa
[00:10:24.240]but also on how that affects our home state.
[00:10:27.060]Yeah, for sure.
[00:10:27.893]I was fortunate enough to go to Elk Creek recently,
[00:10:32.040]the end of last year and write a bit about
[00:10:35.040]hunt for precious metals in the renewables industry
[00:10:39.480]that are going to be kind of transforming how we live.
[00:10:42.630]And it was great because everything played out
[00:10:45.630]for that story in a town that was just a few miles away
[00:10:49.620]from where I grew up,
[00:10:50.580]just a handful of miles away from where I got married even
[00:10:54.270]in the southeast part of the state.
[00:10:56.280]And even some distant cousins were milling around.
[00:11:00.750]And so it was pretty fun to go back and see
[00:11:04.710]my home community, my home area I guess,
[00:11:07.800]through a different lens.
[00:11:09.720]Well, you've helped us all learn about the stories
[00:11:13.107]and the situations going on in Africa,
[00:11:15.630]but what did that experience covering that bureau
[00:11:19.830]in the the 25 different countries that you were part of,
[00:11:22.260]what did you learn about yourself in that process?
[00:11:25.560]I think what I learned mostly about, I guess myself
[00:11:29.010]through my career wise really was how to as journalists,
[00:11:34.050]I think sometimes we're taught we have to be
[00:11:36.300]very objective, of course.
[00:11:37.860]And that sometimes plays out in these cold ways
[00:11:43.170]but you don't need to be so cold in your coverage.
[00:11:45.330]You can really learn to channel your empathy,
[00:11:47.850]to help guide your reporting and add nuance
[00:11:51.450]to your reporting and to really dig into the gray areas
[00:11:54.960]of a story so things aren't so black and white.
[00:11:58.410]Even writing about extremists,
[00:12:02.250]here's just this knowledge that they're doing this
[00:12:05.430]because it started out because of a war on inequality
[00:12:09.990]That to me I think was very helpful to keep in mind.
[00:12:12.630]So I really think it helped me dig through the layers
[00:12:15.540]I guess, a little bit more going overseas
[00:12:18.270]and doing that kind of work.
[00:12:19.740]Context is always so important.
[00:12:21.420]We hear about an individual or a situation and think,
[00:12:23.790]well, that's terrible, but there are reasons behind
[00:12:26.100]why those people have taken they are sometimes
[00:12:30.000]You also met and became inspired I know by a lot of
[00:12:33.000]the women that you met during that journey there
[00:12:35.820]and that's what led to the publication of your book in 2020
[00:12:38.580]called "In Pursuit of Disobedient Women."
[00:12:40.950]I love that title.
[00:12:42.720]Tell us about how that came about.
[00:12:45.330]Well, that came about from
[00:12:47.850]a publishing perspective, I guess.
[00:12:49.470]I had written a story about moving my family,
[00:12:51.570]my three young kids and my husband to Dakar
[00:12:54.690]and to take on, that's the capital of Senegal in West Africa
[00:12:59.310]and where we lived about four years.
[00:13:01.710]And I wrote kind of personal story about
[00:13:06.030]what it's like to suddenly become the breadwinner
[00:13:08.670]in your family and to move your kids
[00:13:11.400]and to leave your cushy, I guess, I live in Brooklyn,
[00:13:15.810]and leave your cushy American life
[00:13:17.550]and move somewhere totally new.
[00:13:19.650]And so I had also been covering women in the economy
[00:13:25.680]and how in the American economy,
[00:13:27.780]how a lot of women were dropping out of the workforce
[00:13:31.290]to take care of their kids or their parents.
[00:13:34.530]And so it struck me, when I wrote that story I started
[00:13:37.650]getting a lot of calls from agents like,
[00:13:39.240]you should write a book about these kinds of things.
[00:13:41.280]So I thought that maybe using myself, it's a memoir.
[00:13:45.450]I'm using myself as a vehicle through which to tell
[00:13:48.090]other women's stories in dramatically
[00:13:50.040]different circumstances but how they have also
[00:13:53.760]faced sort of this outside pressure just looking at them
[00:13:58.050]and giving people a more accessible, I guess,
[00:14:01.740]entree to a part of the world that they don't
[00:14:04.350]think about very much.
[00:14:06.360]With that background let's shift gears a little bit
[00:14:09.480]and talk about the future of our respective industries
[00:14:12.240]and yours particularly with an organization like The Times.
[00:14:15.840]How have you seen the journalism field
[00:14:19.500]and the industry change since you've started in it
[00:14:21.990]after graduating from the university in '93?
[00:14:25.080]Well, it's changed pretty dramatically really.
[00:14:27.150]I mean, some of the newspapers and news organizations
[00:14:30.540]where I've worked don't exist anymore.
[00:14:32.220]I mean, I think that is the biggest change that we've seen
[00:14:35.220]is this dramatic shrinkage in just newspapers,
[00:14:39.540]American newspapers in general.
[00:14:41.610]And for me when I was in West Africa in particular
[00:14:47.160]but even in New York,
[00:14:47.993]like younger journalists will come through
[00:14:49.620]and wanna get coffee and talk to me about,
[00:14:52.560]how can I get to The New York Times
[00:14:55.200]or what was your pathway?
[00:14:57.300]What was your career roadmap for me?
[00:14:59.820]And really, I don't know what to tell them sometimes
[00:15:02.670]because there are so few opportunities that they have.
[00:15:07.620]I worked my way up through a raft of local newspapers
[00:15:12.240]from bigger and bigger and bigger
[00:15:13.830]and those and did internships.
[00:15:15.930]And local newspapers don't exist as much anymore
[00:15:20.010]and if they do they might be on a shoestring budget.
[00:15:23.010]I'm not sure even how many internship opportunities
[00:15:25.650]there are anymore, let alone paid internships.
[00:15:28.740]I was lucky enough to always have a paid internship.
[00:15:31.980]So I think there's a huge shrinkage just in opportunities
[00:15:36.330]generally but I am heartened by new publications like
[00:15:42.030]the Flatwater Free Press and the Nebraska Examiner
[00:15:45.300]and other places in Nebraska in particular.
[00:15:49.110]But ProPublica which is a online investigative news site,
[00:15:54.450]they're opening up regional bureaus.
[00:15:56.100]So I mean, opportunities are coming but in general
[00:15:58.980]I think the biggest change that I've seen
[00:16:01.260]is just this torpedoing of journalism really
[00:16:07.020]that's come from a reduction in advertising
[00:16:09.720]and all the other financial forces.
[00:16:13.380]So how do you see these two different groups
[00:16:16.110]melding together a little bit,
[00:16:17.430]the kind of traditional mainstream story place
[00:16:21.750]like the one you work for with The New York Times
[00:16:23.577]and these sort of upstart publicly, or not publicly but-
[00:16:30.303]Nonprofit, thank you, that was the word I was looking for,
[00:16:32.100]like Flatwater and the Examiner.
[00:16:34.290]How do these two coexist in co-mingle in the future
[00:16:37.650]as you see it?
[00:16:39.000]Well, I'm not quite sure how it's gonna play out
[00:16:41.220]but I know that one thing The New York Times
[00:16:43.170]has really invested in is our former editor, Dean Baquet,
[00:16:46.740]has started a local news operation,
[00:16:49.500]an investigative operation where he is going
[00:16:51.090]to be partnering with more local newspapers
[00:16:53.610]to give them resources, editing resources,
[00:16:57.330]and otherwise for producing big investigations
[00:17:00.720]that can be really meaningful
[00:17:02.190]and have huge impact in the community.
[00:17:04.530]And as far as, I think there's room for,
[00:17:08.250]I mean, The New York Times is in a really good place
[00:17:11.130]financially in the American journalism landscape right now,
[00:17:14.820]but there's definitely room for other newspapers.
[00:17:18.090]And the fact is we can have a huge national staff
[00:17:21.840]of reporters but we just don't have someone
[00:17:25.590]in every community.
[00:17:26.820]Obviously, there's still such a huge and important role
[00:17:29.910]for local journalism.
[00:17:32.190]And so my hope is that more sites like these pop up
[00:17:36.720]and that they get enough traction and funding
[00:17:40.590]in smaller communities and across the country
[00:17:45.030]so that people can be held accountable
[00:17:47.550]because that's a huge part of journalism.
[00:17:49.740]Of course, and I think one mistake that we make
[00:17:51.660]sometimes is in saying, well, there are fewer
[00:17:54.420]daily newspapers than there used to be.
[00:17:56.190]There are smaller radio and television news staffs
[00:17:58.770]than there used to be.
[00:17:59.850]That must mean nobody's interested in news.
[00:18:02.040]And that's a fallacy, that's not true at all.
[00:18:05.040]People are spending so much time researching or looking,
[00:18:08.400]I don't say they're researching,
[00:18:09.300]but they're looking at news but just from perhaps
[00:18:11.580]in different ways and on different platforms.
[00:18:13.680]So there's clearly still an interest in it.
[00:18:16.020]So I think the challenge is how do we
[00:18:18.030]reach these people where they are?
[00:18:20.610]That's exactly right.
[00:18:21.450]And I think it's something that if you've seen
[00:18:23.520]the Washington Post has a TikTok feed now,
[00:18:26.100]I think we do or we're about to, I'm not on TikTok
[00:18:29.700]because I spent most of my days telling my kids
[00:18:31.590]to get off TikTok.
[00:18:32.760]But I think that we are trying to figure that out
[00:18:37.530]at the big newspapers too of how to better integrate
[00:18:41.963]We have a Instagram stories, we have our Twitter freed,
[00:18:46.410]we have all kinds of, our news operation in general
[00:18:50.460]has been transformed to be, think about online first.
[00:18:54.900]And my guess is we won't have a print newspaper
[00:18:57.630]in 10, 15 years.
[00:18:59.790]I mean, I don't know but I wouldn't be surprised.
[00:19:02.370]I mean, you think about the cost it takes to operate
[00:19:06.030]one of those giant facilities where the newspaper
[00:19:08.910]gets spit out.
[00:19:10.410]Just what a savings once the advertising revenue
[00:19:15.810]dries up from that and subscribership goes down enough
[00:19:18.930]I think that will be gone too.
[00:19:22.020]Well, and you have an absolutely world-class podcast,
[00:19:24.690]one of the best in the world.
[00:19:25.860]Whenever we talk about podcasts,
[00:19:27.847]"The Daily" always is one of the first ones
[00:19:30.240]out of our mouth.
[00:19:31.073]So the organization is to be lauded
[00:19:35.910]for having seen the value in that early
[00:19:38.220]and in investing the number of folks and resources
[00:19:41.970]that are being used to put it together.
[00:19:43.980]It's really an outstanding audio example
[00:19:46.590]of how to move into that sphere.
[00:19:50.700]And I think it's such a treat, I guess,
[00:19:54.503]to work at a newspaper that has so many options
[00:19:58.860]for your work, so many platforms for your work.
[00:20:02.220]I've been on "The Daily" a few times,
[00:20:04.050]I have created Instagram stories.
[00:20:08.419]I mean, there are stories of mine that have
[00:20:11.400]just had massive, massive resources.
[00:20:13.230]We still are one of the only newspapers left
[00:20:15.450]to really invest in photojournalism
[00:20:17.430]which I think has also historically been a huge important
[00:20:20.880]part of the School of Journalism at UNL.
[00:20:25.470]And I think that the resources that we can devote
[00:20:28.560]to a single topic sliced and diced
[00:20:32.040]in a million different ways and put out to the public
[00:20:34.491]is just incredible and that helps us reach our audience.
[00:20:37.650]And I hope that sometimes other news organizations
[00:20:41.520]learn from us and sometimes we fail with these new efforts
[00:20:45.030]but I think that management has typically been here like
[00:20:48.330]let's kind of throw it all out there and see what works
[00:20:50.610]and really willing to experiment and fail
[00:20:52.650]and that's important.
[00:20:53.940]At least you're trying to meet the audience
[00:20:57.060]where they are.
[00:20:57.893]And you'll be happy to hear that the photojournalism program
[00:21:00.510]is very much alive and well, thank you very much.
[00:21:02.940]We're just getting ready at the end of this week
[00:21:04.410]to send a group of students with two of our best
[00:21:07.080]journalism faculty members to Vietnam
[00:21:09.570]as part of the Global Eyewitness program that we've done
[00:21:12.060]for over a couple of decades here now at the program.
[00:21:14.970]So yeah, it's up and running.
[00:21:17.160]What do you think are some of the biggest forces driving
[00:21:19.290]all this change in your field,
[00:21:20.577]and and how do you think the field is prepared
[00:21:23.280]to deal with them?
[00:21:25.830]Well, I think maybe attention span of young people
[00:21:29.633]I think is one issue that we're gonna have to grapple with.
[00:21:33.840]When I worked at the Wall Street Journal
[00:21:35.490]and probably is even true for The Times,
[00:21:38.700]the readership average age of readers was something like,
[00:21:43.620]60, not really, but it's a pretty pretty old age
[00:21:47.683]for a lot of readers of mainstream newspapers
[00:21:51.240]and news organizations.
[00:21:52.800]And I think we are really gonna have to adapt
[00:21:55.740]to how young people consume news as you said earlier,
[00:22:00.600]I mean, stories here we're focusing on getting
[00:22:04.380]our story links down on a lot of different parts
[00:22:08.850]of the paper because people just don't have
[00:22:11.670]that kind of attention span.
[00:22:13.800]There's all kinds of pressure from Facebook
[00:22:17.400]and other kinds of sites like that where we've tried
[00:22:20.550]partnerships with but maybe we're competing with.
[00:22:23.850]And everyone's really trying to figure it all out.
[00:22:27.839]And for TV news I think there are huge issues there too
[00:22:32.700]that I'm less familiar with but I know everyone
[00:22:35.910]is just trying to figure things out
[00:22:38.430]and radio on every format, even photojournalists,
[00:22:42.810]the pressures are different now
[00:22:44.610]in how they produce and how they have to be ready
[00:22:48.450]to send their stories and find a connection
[00:22:50.670]when you're out in the boonies to send your photos
[00:22:54.180]right away so they can appear on the homepage
[00:22:57.030]of a newspaper.
[00:22:57.863]So everybody is sorting it out and there are pressures
[00:23:00.540]from all over, especially when you look at fake news
[00:23:04.380]and disinformation and trying to remain credible.
[00:23:07.140]I mean, that's a huge, huge threat
[00:23:08.790]and a huge challenge and a huge opportunity too.
[00:23:12.090]Now with AI and ChatGPT who knows if what you're seeing
[00:23:16.380]was really generated by a human or by a bot.
[00:23:19.560]Yeah, terrifying, right?
[00:23:21.600]Well, it's interesting as you mentioned where the news is
[00:23:25.560]has forced us to change how we do things too.
[00:23:27.660]I mean, and we've gotten to the point where from the time
[00:23:29.400]we moved into this building in 2001 and we had a newsroom
[00:23:33.120]that was filled with people every day
[00:23:34.800]until we realize the news doesn't happen in the newsroom,
[00:23:37.440]the news happens out in the field,
[00:23:39.240]and now we have the tools and the technologies
[00:23:41.280]to be able to go where the news is
[00:23:43.290]and send it back from there.
[00:23:44.490]And suddenly the newsroom itself became a lot quieter.
[00:23:47.190]I don't know if that's your experience with The Times.
[00:23:49.799]Yeah, for sure.
[00:23:51.690]I think that's true and also COVID has something to do
[00:23:55.080]with that too I think.
[00:23:56.207]And so people are really comfortable with working
[00:23:59.700]from home too.
[00:24:00.533]I was just walking around the newsroom today
[00:24:02.430]and today is a big day where a lot of people come in
[00:24:06.900]and it's still pretty empty.
[00:24:08.160]So I think that will change a little bit too,
[00:24:11.370]but the whole dynamic has changed really.
[00:24:16.470]Because I'm one of the faculty members in our college
[00:24:18.480]that teaches our required ethics course
[00:24:20.610]which you also would have taken when you were here.
[00:24:22.230]It was called Mass Media and Society when you were here,
[00:24:24.510]we now call it Media Ethics and Society.
[00:24:27.390]I'm always curious to get the take on what kinds of
[00:24:29.790]ethical challenges you see facing the folks
[00:24:33.090]in your industries moving forward?
[00:24:35.220]I think the ethical challenges are still kind of the same.
[00:24:39.960]I don't know, I mean, I see,
[00:24:48.510]I guess, this is a hard question, I'm trying to think.
[00:24:51.390]I mean, it's the same old stuff, right?
[00:24:53.160]You don't take gifts from people.
[00:24:58.500]I don't really see that changing.
[00:24:59.880]What do you see?
[00:25:00.713]What do you teach?
[00:25:01.546]I'm curious now.
[00:25:02.379]Well, I think you're right that things like
[00:25:04.107]the SPJ code of ethics which we teach in the class.
[00:25:06.990]I think I've got either nine or 10 different codes of ethics
[00:25:09.870]on my online site for the class.
[00:25:14.070]But yes, and we just had a session in the class
[00:25:16.710]earlier this week, a student produce session about
[00:25:20.880]the kind of separation that you have to have as a journalist
[00:25:23.970]from your sources or if you're working in the advertising PR
[00:25:28.650]side with your client,
[00:25:29.970]that there's a certain amount of rapport you have to build
[00:25:33.150]in order to get good leads and get good contacts
[00:25:36.780]and inside information.
[00:25:37.920]But you can't get too cozy with these folks otherwise
[00:25:41.250]that affects your reporting as well,
[00:25:42.840]or it affects the relationship with your client
[00:25:44.610]when you're no longer comfortable speaking truth to power
[00:25:47.340]to a client, that sort of thing.
[00:25:49.020]So, yeah, I don't think that-
[00:25:53.020]Yeah, I will say that one thing I think that
[00:25:56.100]a lot of newspapers right now including us
[00:25:57.990]are grappling with is a younger generation
[00:26:00.330]that sees themselves as activists,
[00:26:02.820]activist journalists sort of.
[00:26:07.427]And a lot of European newspapers are kind of that way
[00:26:11.280]and that's not really how American journalism has been.
[00:26:14.100]And so that's become probably one of the trickier things
[00:26:21.240]to sort out for older journalists like myself
[00:26:26.070]and a lot of the managers seeing this new class
[00:26:29.340]of kind of Gen Z I guess and millennial journalists
[00:26:33.330]who really think of themselves more than journalists,
[00:26:38.490]a little more, they bend a little more toward activism.
[00:26:41.280]And that's been hard to deal with.
[00:26:46.020]I'm very old school in my thinking about it.
[00:26:51.767]Well, as you say, a lot of the European countries
[00:26:53.310]have been very happy historically having left-leaning
[00:26:56.610]news organizations and right-leaning news organizations.
[00:26:59.400]We've come to that more recently with cable news channels
[00:27:02.160]in particular but social media and websites
[00:27:05.280]have certainly ratcheted that opportunity
[00:27:07.800]to live in that bubble or that echo chamber
[00:27:10.800]and never get any information from opposing forces.
[00:27:14.400]I know folks who this week have been saying, wait a minute,
[00:27:17.580]there's some charges against the Biden family.
[00:27:19.500]And some people earlier this week who were saying,
[00:27:21.120]wait a minute, Trump has been on trial.
[00:27:22.740]It's because the sources that they're reading
[00:27:25.440]and listening to aren't talking about the things
[00:27:27.630]that perhaps are less flattering toward
[00:27:31.230]the candidates or the sources or the causes
[00:27:34.200]that they find value in.
[00:27:35.640]That's exactly right.
[00:27:36.570]I mean, how polarization will shape journalism is I guess,
[00:27:41.850]yet to be seen but hopefully not too much.
[00:27:44.550]Hopefully we can still kind of stay the course.
[00:27:47.940]Well, so based on that since we've been kind of
[00:27:49.650]on some of the negatives here,
[00:27:50.700]where do you think are the growth areas in your field
[00:27:53.670]when people talk to you about the future?
[00:27:55.560]Where do you think the positive side
[00:27:58.100]or the ledger sides are?
[00:28:00.750]Well, I just still think that people wanna read
[00:28:03.240]long stories, maybe not all the time but some of the time.
[00:28:08.250]And I think that there's so much opportunity
[00:28:11.580]to do great investigative work.
[00:28:13.890]I mean, there's so many changes going on around us
[00:28:17.550]in politics and I right now write a lot about climate change
[00:28:22.440]and those environmental issues.
[00:28:24.300]I think our world is really changing
[00:28:26.820]and there's so, so much journalism to be done
[00:28:31.050]and good work to explore.
[00:28:33.630]And I think that investigative journalism is still going to
[00:28:40.530]be valued by Americans in whatever form it comes in.
[00:28:44.910]And I think we just have to figure out how to present it
[00:28:48.570]and that's important and we'll get it at some point,
[00:28:53.040]we'll get it right.
[00:28:54.450]I think we tend to say in our classes that not only
[00:28:56.820]is journalism still important in what seems to be
[00:29:00.810]a time of diminishing mainstream sources,
[00:29:03.840]but that perhaps it is the most important it's ever been
[00:29:06.360]in preserving our democracy and in preserving
[00:29:09.810]the things that we all hold dear.
[00:29:12.330]So given that, what kinds of skills do you think
[00:29:16.410]the potential employees of the future need
[00:29:18.990]in both the students in our college,
[00:29:20.610]but just folks that are thinking about
[00:29:22.050]getting into the business?
[00:29:24.480]Man, I still think the basics.
[00:29:27.240]I think everything I ever needed to know about
[00:29:30.900]covering a story I learned by covering the regents,
[00:29:34.770]the Board of Regents, that that was my beat for a while
[00:29:37.290]with the Daily Nebraskan.
[00:29:38.610]There was corruption and officials who had no idea
[00:29:42.150]what they were talking about,
[00:29:43.440]and officials who were brilliant and long meetings
[00:29:46.560]and activists who would come and protestors,
[00:29:51.240]that kind of thing.
[00:29:52.073]And just covering those, having a real as far as newspaper
[00:29:56.370]or news reporting goes,
[00:29:57.510]just having a beat covering an institution
[00:30:01.140]and everything around it, writing profiles about that
[00:30:04.020]institution and features and breaking news.
[00:30:07.620]And you really get whether it's city hall
[00:30:10.560]that you're covering or the Board of Regents
[00:30:13.050]or university as a whole or the state legislature.
[00:30:17.280]I mean, that to me I just think is so crucial
[00:30:19.800]to get those kind of real building blocks before you move on
[00:30:23.730]to bigger and better things.
[00:30:27.450]Aside from just those basic repertorial skills,
[00:30:30.360]are there traits that you feel are beneficial to anybody
[00:30:34.890]in the new economy and in the future that just everybody
[00:30:37.500]regardless of whether it's journalism or not,
[00:30:39.120]that they should try to improve?
[00:30:41.003]I mean, I think like growing up in Nebraska
[00:30:44.340]I wasn't really taught to be very curious
[00:30:46.650]I think in my small town.
[00:30:47.630]And I think that that's one thing that reporters
[00:30:50.490]just have to really tap their curiosity about the world.
[00:30:54.600]No matter what format you're reporting in
[00:30:57.780]or what the future holds, you just have to ask the questions
[00:31:02.679]and be curious about the world around you
[00:31:06.000]and how things work and what is your role in the world.
[00:31:11.460]I really like being from Nebraska
[00:31:14.160]and you're almost a curiosity once you get on the coast
[00:31:18.360]if you're from here.
[00:31:19.860]And I like sort of really using my experience growing up
[00:31:25.470]in a small town as a translator between those worlds.
[00:31:29.250]And I think that that's still a really valuable skill
[00:31:32.370]for everybody who is coming through the university
[00:31:36.300]to whether you leave or stay in Nebraska,
[00:31:41.100]that's just being curious and really understanding
[00:31:44.880]where you're from and where you're at
[00:31:46.523]I think is really valuable.
[00:31:48.690]Just expressed curiosity in an individual conference
[00:31:51.540]I had with a student about two hours ago.
[00:31:53.460]So yes, I absolutely concur with you on that one.
[00:31:56.940]Since you mentioned the pandemic a little bit earlier
[00:31:59.700]and that sort of collision with the Gen Z population
[00:32:02.760]that's coming through the universities now
[00:32:04.410]who are more purpose driven, you used the term activist,
[00:32:08.610]I would agree with that as well.
[00:32:10.110]One of the things that they seem to be more concerned about
[00:32:12.210]and the pandemic ratcheted that up was the work life balance
[00:32:16.470]and not necessarily as we saw in the great resignation
[00:32:20.250]that followed the pandemic,
[00:32:21.450]maybe not being automatically willing to work forever
[00:32:25.230]and ever and ever for something that doesn't
[00:32:27.090]resonate with them.
[00:32:28.500]How are you seeing that play out with the people
[00:32:30.480]that you're seeing come into your newsroom
[00:32:32.280]and into your interest areas at this point?
[00:32:34.980]Well, I don't have direct experience really with that
[00:32:39.620]in the newsroom but I do know just generally,
[00:32:43.470]the expectations are very different I think for a reporter
[00:32:47.190]starting out versus me who I was willing to work at any hour
[00:32:51.240]and do anything and have bully bosses and be yelled at.
[00:32:56.250]And I thought that was great training
[00:32:57.720]and I think the younger generation isn't willing
[00:33:01.050]to put up with that.
[00:33:02.100]And I think it really helped make me
[00:33:05.130]into the reporter that I was,
[00:33:06.570]but I have a lot of respect for not putting up with that
[00:33:10.410]because we didn't need to put up with that.
[00:33:12.690]And especially, just how that plays out with gender roles
[00:33:18.810]and with other things that happen right now too I think
[00:33:22.080]it's just a whole different set of expectations
[00:33:25.140]that when you stop and think about it,
[00:33:27.390]it's pretty reasonable.
[00:33:28.410]But I do think also as a journalist, if you're a reporter,
[00:33:32.400]you're kinda on the clock 24/7 if something arises,
[00:33:36.750]especially at a news organization like The New York Times
[00:33:39.750]where we cover the world.
[00:33:41.940]So every time zone, it's always morning somewhere.
[00:33:45.750]But we have dealt with that by having operations in place
[00:33:49.920]in London and in Hong Kong.
[00:33:51.600]So we kind of have all the big sections of the day covered
[00:33:56.490]so that people are not expected to work 24/7.
[00:34:01.920]And I think just a part of that is an outcropping
[00:34:06.240]of covering the world but it's also just a generation
[00:34:10.350]of people who work isn't everything.
[00:34:13.710]I honestly can't imagine thinking that
[00:34:16.170]because work is everything to me.
[00:34:18.280]But I think that it's a really healthy outlook
[00:34:21.990]and the pandemic has changed how we all think about work.
[00:34:26.100]And I for one I'm happy to work at home more than I used to.
[00:34:30.420]It's pretty fun to be there when my teenagers
[00:34:33.270]come home at night and that sort of thing.
[00:34:35.460]It's also not fun sometimes if they're in a bad mood,
[00:34:38.280]but I think that overall it's been a good thing
[00:34:43.590]not just in journalism,
[00:34:44.760]but for everywhere really kind of taken a breather
[00:34:49.140]with how we are just so demanding on ourselves work-wise.
[00:34:53.970]From that standpoint do you see a shift at all
[00:34:56.700]either because of the pandemic
[00:34:58.440]or one that might have started before the pandemic
[00:35:00.330]in relying more on freelancers and the gig economy
[00:35:03.360]kind of folks as opposed to newsroom full of full-timers?
[00:35:07.980]I mean, I think that's tough for us
[00:35:09.600]because just in terms of our standards really
[00:35:14.040]and making sure, I mean, it's really for one thing,
[00:35:16.860]I mean, a lot of newsrooms like us have grappled
[00:35:19.800]with social media standards.
[00:35:22.350]Is a reporter allowed to tweet their opinion
[00:35:29.430]about the president or something like that?
[00:35:31.800]I mean, as a reporter, no, absolutely not.
[00:35:34.170]As a freelancer, we tell our freelancers
[00:35:37.170]they're not supposed to do that
[00:35:38.670]but it's very hard to reign in somebody
[00:35:41.580]who is not on the payroll.
[00:35:43.080]So for us that's not a problem because we have the revenue,
[00:35:48.540]we have the financial strength where we can employ
[00:35:52.590]a lot of people.
[00:35:53.520]We do use some freelancers,
[00:35:55.470]but most of our copy is written by staff.
[00:35:59.070]For other newspapers, yeah, I mean,
[00:36:02.010]I would think that would definitely start to happen
[00:36:04.410]more and more, and maybe is a very reasonable
[00:36:08.100]financial way to proceed.
[00:36:11.280]So when you were at a cocktail party
[00:36:13.770]in just matter of at a family gathering and somebody says,
[00:36:17.557]"Oh, you're a reporter, wow, I've always wanted to do that."
[00:36:20.498]What's your response when somebody says,
[00:36:22.770]I'd like to do what you do?
[00:36:23.790]What do you tell them and what possible misconceptions
[00:36:28.740]might people have about what you do or why?
[00:36:31.800]Well, I think a lot of people think when you say reporter
[00:36:34.500]that you're like knocking on people's doors relentlessly
[00:36:39.030]or hounding people and that kind of thing.
[00:36:44.580]That's not really how it works.
[00:36:46.290]I just was calling, I was texting some people,
[00:36:51.060]a guy in Minnesota yesterday about a story and I said,
[00:36:55.080]would you talk to me about this and that?
[00:36:57.360]And he just texted back, nope.
[00:36:58.860]And I'm like, okay, thanks for your time.
[00:37:01.005]That's all it takes.
[00:37:02.460]So if that's hounding I don't think so,
[00:37:05.760]but I think that what I tell young people
[00:37:08.490]is you get out there and do it, start freelancing,
[00:37:13.350]work at your campus newspaper,
[00:37:17.070]go to someplace like the University of Nebraska
[00:37:19.350]where you can get amazing training from amazing professors
[00:37:22.560]and learn from your peers.
[00:37:25.230]Just really get out there and do it
[00:37:26.700]I think is the biggest advice that I have from anybody
[00:37:30.000]because you only learn by doing.
[00:37:32.010]I mean, you can sit in a classroom all day
[00:37:33.990]but that means nothing until you get out there
[00:37:36.150]and you pick up the phone to make your first phone call
[00:37:39.780]which I still have to kind of steal myself 20 years on
[00:37:43.410]to make a phone call or to walk up to somebody I don't know
[00:37:46.740]and introduce myself and start talking with them.
[00:37:49.410]I mean, I learned a lot from my grandpa who was a farmer
[00:37:52.020]who would sit in the mall and talk to everybody
[00:37:53.910]who went past him at the Indian Creek Mall in Nebraska
[00:37:56.700]or in Beatrice.
[00:37:57.690]But that's still tough for me.
[00:38:01.530]So I think that's a skill that you only
[00:38:04.470]get more comfortable with by doing it.
[00:38:06.780]Your grandfather had a great skill.
[00:38:09.720]I really admire him for being willing to do that.
[00:38:13.293]So to tie all this together, what's in your future?
[00:38:15.420]You've had an amazing career.
[00:38:16.770]You've gotten to work in a variety of different settings
[00:38:19.980]for a variety of different world-class news organizations.
[00:38:23.430]Are you comfortable or what's the future you think
[00:38:25.650]in your case?
[00:38:27.763]I love working at The New York Times.
[00:38:29.790]I think there's still, The New York Times is the kind of
[00:38:32.340]place where you can do so many different beats.
[00:38:36.360]I would love, anything would be really fun here.
[00:38:39.780]Writing for the art section, writing for cooking,
[00:38:42.210]writing for anybody.
[00:38:44.190]I'd love to go back overseas.
[00:38:45.840]I don't think I'm done here at all.
[00:38:47.310]I think there are a lot of opportunities
[00:38:50.190]even in different, coming in editor or working
[00:38:53.430]at any number of our podcasts, there's just so many.
[00:38:57.690]You can have a whole lifetime, several different lifetimes
[00:39:00.960]worth of careers at this place.
[00:39:02.820]So I think that's one thing I feel very,
[00:39:05.370]very fortunate about.
[00:39:07.590]Well, we look forward to the future
[00:39:09.060]for what you have left to write about
[00:39:11.226]'cause I know there's a lot of great stories left
[00:39:12.840]to be told and then we look forward to seeing which ones
[00:39:14.790]you get assigned to.
[00:39:15.660]So thanks for taking your time today to talk about
[00:39:18.630]the media business, past, present and future,
[00:39:21.210]and we look forward to following you down the trail.
[00:39:24.570]Thank you so much for having me.
[00:39:26.280]Our guest on "Campus Voices" today,
[00:39:28.140]the 2020 Pulitzer Prize winner for international reporting
[00:39:31.380]from The New York Times and a proud University of Nebraska
[00:39:34.650]Journalism College graduate, Dionne Searcey.
[00:39:37.350]I'm Rick Alloway, and as always,
[00:39:39.060]I thank you for your time on "Campus Voices."
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