Once in a lifetime
The first day of my NYC Maymester was one I’ll never forget. I woke up at 5 am, and to this day that is the earliest I have ever woken up to watch Good Morning America. I grew up watching GMA from my parent’s bed. I was interested in the news, the human interest stories, but most of all I was fascinated by how much my parents valued and respected the opinions of the GMA anchors over the years. Waking up and watching GMA was a morning tradition that I loved. Waking up this morning, I had just as much energy as my 10-year-old self had when I would run to my parents bedroom for GMA.
My Maymester cohort and I lined up to enter the GMA set just as the sun was starting to add light to the sky. It was a breezy morning with clouds overhead and Times Square was just starting to buzz. After shuffling through security checks and long hallways, we were on set. 15 feet in front of me Robin Roberts and Michael Strahan sat at their news desk looking over the morning news and cracking jokes with the camera crew around them. One of the producers of the show handed us that morning’s rundown, minute by minute, so we could follow along as they recorded segments and cut to commercials. We were moved from one corner of the set to another, narrowly dodging cameras, cords, and tele-prompters to make way for the crew who made the show I watched every morning as a kid, come to life.
There was a crowd gathering outside the large window of the set and onlookers peered in at us. In that moment I realized just how close I was to some of the world’s most influential journalists, and to the people who have brought morning news to the homes of millions. When something interests me, I always want to get a closer look. For once, I did not feel like I could get any closer to the action. I was listening to the sounds around me, from Robin talking into the camera, to the crew and producers shouting out to one another. I was memorized by the lights and the pristine set around me. I was learning the ebb and flow of this on set action and was fascinated by every working detail that I knew would look effortless when it came across the TV screen and into my home.
When I watched Robin Roberts or George Stephanopoulos on GMA, it felt like they were in my parents’ bedroom talking directly to me. They made their way into my home during my childhood. Now, I was sitting before them and they talked to me just as they had for all those years. I learned a lot about live TV and about journalism that day, and as George Stephanopoulos said, “live TV isn’t as much about talking, as it is about listening.” And, that is exactly what I did during those early morning hours, listen to Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos, Michael Strahan, and Laura Spencer, and soak in this moment because I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Every day when I wake up, the first thing I do is grab my phone. The second thing I do is open Instagram. I always wonder how Facebook created a platform so engaging that it changed the habits of an entire generation. Instead of grabbing for the remote every morning as my parents do, I grab my phone and scroll through pictures and videos on my News Feed. I have always been fascinated by Facebook and its ability to bring people together, and that’s why walking into Facebook’s NYC office was a dream for me.
I was led across Facebook’s open floor plan by Annenberg alum Jessica Yang, and immediately Facebook’s culture came to life. A few things stood out to me in particular, the first was the idea of the hacker culture. Employees are encouraged to break things, even when they aren’t broken, and find new ways put them back together. Jessica talked about hackathons where interns and employees alike dream up new products and set out to build them in a matter of hours. The Safety Check feature, where users can let friends and family know they are safe during a crisis, was created by a team of interns during a hackathon. This small story showed me how big of an impact any employee, even interns, could make at Facebook.
The second thing I noticed was that breaking things and putting them back together involves fearless creativity, and I could see that creativity breed throughout the office. I saw this creativity at the print stations where anyone could create and print their own inspirational posters. Some said things like “nothing at Facebook is somebody else’s problem” while others encouraged being humble and empathic. If employees want to build a new skill, they could head to the music room where they can learn how to play an instrument and flex new muscles. I saw that each individual voice mattered and employees were given the tools to learn new things and share their way of thinking.
Above all else, visiting Facebook allowed me to see their dedication to teamwork. Entire teams could rent out a room in order to work closer and more efficiently as they approached a deadline. Teams learn the best way to communicate with one another and keep emails and Facebook messages, short and sweet. I noticed that all conference rooms were made of clear glass, mirroring their values of transparency and openness.
Every corner of the office space from the desks and conference rooms to the micro kitchens and music center reflected their culture and mission to make the world a more open and connected place. Seeing the Facebook NYC teams at work inspired me to think in new ways, make my voice heard, and continue to be the best team player I can be.
A new perspective
Naturally visiting the New York Times was a dream come true for a group of 18 budding journalists, communicators and public relations professionals. I was eager to learn from world-renowned journalists and to take a better look at an industry undergoing unprecedented turmoil and scrutiny. Visiting the New York Times as well as other news organizations such as ABC News gave me a new appreciation for the timing of this Maymester, in the midst of the Trump administration. Over the course of this program, I gained a new perspective on the state of journalism and media today.
At the New York Times we started our morning in the Page One meeting, a meeting which decides what stories are seen on the homepage and front page the following morning. That morning’s news contained stories of the Manchester attack, President Trump’s international tour, and the continuing clash between Uber and its drivers. Editors from each section took turns sharing new developments and advocating for their story to make the homepage. It was surreal to sit in the room where editors and writers decided what news was most deserving of reaching the American people.
After sitting in on both the NYT Page One meeting and ABC News’ daily editorial meeting a week before, I noticed they both began with news from their respective Washington bureaus. Both news organizations talked about how this new focus on Washington was something they had adapted to since the election. Reporters at both news organizations gained thicker skin after being criticized or even personally victimized by President Trump and became accustomed to scraping their stories when President Trump tweeted unexpectedly. Reporters found new challenges as well as new opportunities in covering the 24-hour news cycle. Above all, journalists agreed that there is more news content being produced, and that people care more about news, than ever before.