Aaron Brown has two jobs. By day he’s a mild mannered journalism professor at ASU‘s Walter Cronkite School in downtown Phoenix. By night (or at least, by summer) he jets all over the world from Mozambique to Jordan for his PBS series “Wide Angle.”
OK, so maybe a slightly exaggerated version of the truth. Regardless, this evening he combined the two and spoke to a mostly student group about journalism, interviews, and broadcasting from abroad. He emphasized the importance of finding compelling characters to tell the story, and gave tip like to use silence for drawing out “the most honest thing” from your interview. “if you’ve spent time with me, you’ll know I think television enters through your stomach and works its way to your brain,” said Brown, adding that for his stories he needs “a visceral reaction.”
This can be tricky when working overseas, because along with the expenses and tight scheduling, it’s difficult to do all the same pre-reporting that’s possible on your home turf, Brown said. The pressure is higher, too, because “you know you may not get a second chance at something” whether it’s filming or recording. In response to student questions about the changing media world, Brown said “the best way you can make yourself valuable is to learn something.” Reporters should “go find good stories, go find good characters – if you want to worry, worry about that – the rest can take care of itself – but you all need to be better at that, finding good material.”
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not unbiased when it comes to Brown. One of the odd ways in which my parents influenced me is by mentioning, frequently, the people they appreciate. I heard very often how they’d watch Brown in their Seattle days. It’s been some time and changes since then. I never expected that someone I grew up hearing about this way would be someone I’d actually seen in person let alone pass in the hallway on a regular basis, and it leaves me a little more tongue tied than it’s cool to admit. Yet one of the things I’m growing to appreciate about journalism and reporters is that so far, all the ones I’ve met are more than willing to sit down and talk about what they do. Brown is no exception to that precedent, and once again, I felt I learned a lot.