Some people choose not to let their past affect their future. Beth Karas’ past shaped hers.
Karas began working as an assistant district attorney (ADA) in New York City, and from that position realized her love for discussing court cases.
After eight years as an ADA, Karas decided to resign from her position, and wanted to do something different. She remembered her late brother’s suggestion to become a reporter because she liked to talk so much.
The date of Karas’ resignation coincided with the anniversary of her brother’s passing. She took this as a sign to pursue a career in courtroom reporting.
Karas reported for “CourtTV” as a commentator on high profile homicide cases with high profile defendants, such as OJ Simpson and Casey Anthony.
She said that in her line of work she has seen things that can send people to dark places. Karas described images that never really leave her.
Karas is often asked the question, “How do you deal with it,” “it” being the constant reminder that humans are capable of doing terrible things to strangers, partners, children and friends, Karas said.
Karas explained that she feels her tumultuous childhood set her up for her career in court case reporting.
She said that with an alcoholic father, mentally-ill mother and two disabled brothers.
“I had a lot of tragedy and chaos [in my life] as a child and a young person,” said Karas.
Karas’ family also lacked in providing her with guidance. Yet, this motivated her to take every opportunity presented to her to speak with and mentor young people. Her past compelled her to impart her insight on students and ‘pay it forward.’
“I think I’m a little bit of a teacher because I enjoy sharing my knowledge with people, I really enjoy it,” said Karas.
Karas has given a few lectures and wants to do more. She said she would not be turning down an offer to teach at the college level if it were offered to her.
Karas is enchanted by learning and said she is always either obtaining new information or boning up on old. When she’s not watching “Ray Donovan” or “Homeland,” she’s got her nose in a non-fiction book that she will likely finish over the weekend.
Currently, Karas is reading “A History of the Modern Supreme Court,” which she said is not her typical light read, but she is planning to finish in the pursuit of becoming more knowledgeable.
Karas gave a few words of her wisdom to young journalists during the 2020 College Media Conference.
- Reputation is everything. Karas said your audience needs to trust you as soon as they see your face on the screen or read your byline.
- Do your homework. In the race to be first or right, Karas recommended being right.
- Stay true to yourself, but learn how to keep your opinions out of your professional work.
- Look for impactful stories, you might end up getting to have lunch with OJ Simpson.
CMA President Kenna Griffin gave tips to students in attendance at the Trauma Journalism track session called “Trauma on College Campuses”.
Griffin gave the following 11 tips:
- Don’t offer a single cause for a complex issue. Traumatic situations aren’t explained by just one issue (i.e. mental illness). There could be innumerable reasons why a person is struggling.
- Understand the power of images to convey a message. Also, not all photos belong on the cover, and some photos don’t need to go inside the paper either.
- Don’t make the killer the her. Traumatic situations should not be sensationalized. Think about your audience takeaway.
- Listen to your audience. Do they think you’ve done something problematic by way of your reporting or investigative process? If you think you have, consider addressing it in your editorial to make a statement.
- Consider that kids do feel safe at school. We are more relaxed in our natural environments, but we still need to be aware while we’re in them.
- Understand the grieving process. There’s never a right way to grieve, and don’t assume someone’s innocence or guilt based off their reaction. You’re there to get a story and learn their perspective while getting the facts of what took place, not to make judgement calls.
- Don’t be part of the trauma. Know your personal boundaries. Are you crossing a line for yourself or for others? Be sensitive to your needs and the needs of those you’re interviewing.
- Understand their desire to not be public. Listen to the boundaries of others. You can push in some cases respectfully but know your limit.
- Understand the potential for past trauma. Rehashing trauma in an interview has the potential to bring up triggers both for you as the journalist and for the subject.
- Have a newsroom where individuals can opt out of assignments if necessary.
- Recognize the tendency to exaggerate. The drive to exaggerate situations needs to be tempered in situations like this. Verify, verify, verify all of your information.
By Donovan Thomas
Remember the “MUSTS”
Try to get at least six hours of sleep and don’t forget to eat.
Know your priorities
Your first priority should be yourself. You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.
Make good use of your time
Observe how you use your time with a time tracking activity. Log each hour of your day with the things that you do (school, work, sleep, leisure)
Be realistic about what you can handle
Try to do what is on your calendar and have up to three to-dos.
Expect change and surprises
This convention is a perfect example. No one could have predicted months ago that COVID-19 would have the impact that it is having.
Take time off
You have to recharge. You need downtime. Self-care is essential.
“No” is a complete sentence. Stop saying yes to things that you hate.
Ship minimal product
Sometimes you just have to do enough to keep things going. Do not unnecessarily overexert yourself.
Let it go
No, you cannot control every aspect of your life. Stop attempting to do so.
Don’t forget you
You cannot pour from an empty cup. You have to ultimately do what’s best for you.
Photographers nowadays need to be equipped with more than just a camera, according to Dylan Wilson, a photographer professor at Augusta University.
However, tools for photographers can be expensive and burdensome to carry around to photoshoots. Wilson, armed with a few professional and household objects, explains to the conference attendees how lighting can change the quality of their work.
Wilson started by pulling a student aside to take a portrait of them with and without flash, then with an external flash, then with an external flash, a white umbrella and a reflector.
Although all the portraits came out clear and the audience was able to tell what the contents of the photo were with relative ease, the photo with the external flash, umbrella and reflector showed a greater level of depth with intentional shadowing and softer light on the participants face.
But, Wilson explained that not everyone is going to want to bring an umbrella and reflector to every event they need to cover. He implored students to think about different substitutes that can replace professional equipment.
From his satchel, Wilson procured a bottle of nasal spray, with gaffers tape wrapped around it, and a white piece of paper.
He explained that paper could be taped onto any flash to act in place of an umbrella and soften the flash’s intensity. A plastic white shopping bag will work.
Although Wilson said that he does not recommend taking a plastic bag to a more professional shoot, he prompts students to be creative with the tools available to them and they too will produce, “Fresh Photos with the Bomb Lighting.”
By Donovan Thomas
School, work and balance, or rather the lack thereof, were discussed in an editorial leadership workshop held on Wednesday. The session was a part of a series of “pre-con”, pre-convention, specialty workshops scheduled before the official start of the 2020 Spring National College Media Convention.
The discussion was held by College Media Association president Kenna Griffin. Students and advisers from schools such as Butler University, Georgia Southern University, California State University- Fullerton and the University of Hawaii-Hilo were present.
Griffin started the session by asking those in attendance, “What makes a fabulous newsroom leader?”
Someone responded with a “self -starter”.
“Advisers love students who make student media their own. Are you going to screw it up? Sometimes. Sometimes when you screw up, we’ll get threatened with a lawsuit and sometimes you will misspell a word in 72-point type in a headline and both of those egregious, but we are going to learn from them and move on,” said Griffin.
Another person said passion.
“Who wants to work for someone who doesn’t love this. The worst thing to me is for someone to feel mediocre about you. I want people to love me or hate me, but don’t come at me lukewarm. Isn’t that how you want to feel about your leadership? I want leadership that has passion,” said Griffin.
The importance of leaders knowing the purpose of their organization was also emphasized. Attendees were asked if they knew their organization’s mission statement and few raised their hands.
Griffin suggested creating a mission statement that can be used as a mantra in the newsroom to hold staffers to expectations.
“What do you want your legacy to be?” asked Griffin.
Griffin next emphasized setting clear expectations for staffers. The implementation of job descriptions, deadlines (yes, hard deadlines), handouts and contracts were ways in which newsroom leaders can begin to do so.
“You can’t expect them [staffers] to perform the way you want them to without telling them your expectations,” said Griffin.
Student newsroom leaders were also urged to recruit great staffers. Open houses, organizational fairs and social media were methods Griffin said were highly successful for students and can be used at most schools.
The utilization of face-to-face recruiting was also pushed. Students were told that their staff is their “best recruiting tools” and to “go after people” that they know have skills that are lacking, but crucial to the makeup of their newsrooms.
Griffin pointed out, however, that if possible, student newsroom leaders also want to limit the number of positions available on your staff.
While those who are active in student media are well aware of the benefits, those who are not involved are often unaware. Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, tangible and intangible benefits, are what Griffin said keeps students engaged with student media.
Things such as physical spaces, equipment, office supplies, T-shirts and food were used as extrinsic motivation within her student newsroom. Intrinsic motivation was linked to reputation, education, the feeling of being connected to something and praise, amongst other things.
Students said that found the session helpful overall.
“Human resources is not a struggle for student newsrooms, but the struggle in a sense. The way that she broke down hiring and firing was really good,” said Elijah Kahula, a copy editor at “Ke Kalahea”, the student newspaper at the University of Hawaii-Hilo.
Kahula also pointed out what stood out to him from the workshop.
“Creating a sense of scarcity, prestige and even exclusivity, sort of, is an important point to be reminded about. This is a place that people want to work. It’s kind of exciting to think about. It makes you more motivated because you’re like people want my position, so I can be proud of that and rise to the occasion.”