By Brandon HENSLEY
NBC4’s Conan Nolan was on the campus of St. Francis High School on Monday to give young, aspiring journalists some key advice: don’t wait to get hired, use today’s resources and go make a name for yourself now.
Nolan was this year’s Fine Arts Distinguished Speaker, and before giving his full speech in the auditorium he met with a small group of students in Founders Hall to share his thoughts on the ever-changing landscape of journalism.
“Show the passion by getting involved in doing whatever you can,” he said to the students. “Start your own website, take your own pictures. Learn the technology … you’ll show your future employer that you are fully invested, that this is your passion.”
Nolan, a longtime political reporter who anchors the show “News Conference,” developed his own passion for the news as a kid growing up in San Luis Obispo. Times were different then, to say the least.
“We had two [TV] stations, and when you went outside and turned the antennae you got a third,” he recalled.
His father, a political science professor, was a news junkie, and he and Nolan watched 90 minutes of news a night. Nolan earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from UC Davis. He started his career in radio but worked his way to TV, from Salinas, Calif. and eventually to NBC in L.A.
“Television is the only medium where you can take pictures, sound and narration and you weave it all together. You can tell a mini movie,” said Nolan, whose broadcast resume includes reporting in the Middle East as well as on the local Station Fire four years ago.
Not surprisingly, his talk with the students centered on the way newspapers and TV are trying to keep up with new modes of journalism, including the Internet and social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter).
He said people still read papers and watch TV news, but publications and networks know the younger demographics either have other interests or are getting their news from all kinds of avenues, and not the old fashioned way.
“Now, we like to think once you get older and after college you do get married, you do have a family,” he said, “you become invested in the community because you’re interested in the schools, you’re interested in the infrastructure … then you get invested. Then you started watching. Then you start reading.”
He admitted that TV is struggling, trying to figure how to keep up with social media trends and that there is no definite solution for networks.
“I worry about the attention span,” he said. “You see the edit cuts are shorter … because they don’t think that people have time to watch three seconds [of video], it’s gotta be a second and a half, which makes no sense to me. But this is all new. It’s unplowed territory and we don’t know what the ramifications are.”
Nolan was asked how to make stories more interesting to the public, rather than just what a reporter or editor feels in interesting. His answer was to focus the lead (or lede, in journalism-speak) not on the institution, but rather the person.
“The way you get people interested in stories is to tell it through the eyes of other people,” he said. “Homosapiens like to see other people. They like to hear their stories.”
He continued, “Every person at this school carries around an invisible satchel, and in that satchel is their hopes and fears and dreams, their experiences. As a journalist, you want to get into that satchel. Everybody’s got stories, and most of them are shockers.”
Regardless of how a story is told, Nolan stressed that journalists must realize that there will always be someone more experienced applying for a job, so be sure to let employers know your passion for the job exceeds others’. It also wouldn’t hurt, he added, to follow three rules he learned from someone in the business many years ago.
“Show up on time, say yes when they ask you to do something and keep your ego in check,” he said. “You’ll have a job as long you want.”