Denise James testified before city council when she was a teenager growing up in Detroit. The area newscasts covered the event and she wound up on air.
"They didn't get me," she remembered as she spoke to class on Tuesday.
She felt the newscast misrepresented her sentiment. And that sparked an idea in her mind.
"I could do that and I could be a more clear megaphone for people," she said. "I could assist people and get their voices out there more accurately."
She went to Michigan State University and then landed a job at WGPR, the first wholly African American-owned television station in the United States. It was a small station but a huge television market, so Denise reported alongside seasoned veterans, and she learned from them.
She spent a few years as a broadcast journalist at stations in North Carolina and then came to 6ABC, where she was a reporter for more than 23 years. She has since left the station and now she runs her own media company.
Here are a few things she said that stuck out to me:
• In broadcast journalism, a pen and notepad are almost as important as the camera, she said. "It's still about the writing," Denise said. "Content is king."
• Broadcast journalists write to sound and video. "It's my job to not get in the way of the marvelous images," she said. "I'm just a boat to deliver the messages. The words provide context to what you see."
• The reporter's job is to make the audience relate to the story, to help create that universal experience.
• It's important to be curious. You need to go beyond your personal interests.
• When you are writing, you need to pay critical attention to your presentation. Use active verbs. Vary the sentence length. And be aware of tense - most TV news is in the present or future tense.
• Journalists must remain ethical. Always. "The perception of impropriety can be worse than the impropriety itself," she said.
• Be careful what you put online. "If you don't brand yourself, someone else will," Denise warned.
• Talent is absolutely necessary but you also need something that will make you stand out when applying for jobs. Get involved with student groups, the school newspaper and TV station, and do internships.
• Start networking now, Denise implored. Even your classmates might help you get your foot in the door in the future. "Who you know might let you know if a door is opening," she said.
6 months ago