NBC reporter stresses need for good journalism
Mar 25, 2021
Claflin University is collaborating with NBCU News in NBCU Academy, a multiyear partnership involving 17 academic partners including historically Black colleges and universities,
The partnership caters to journalism majors specifically and was created to give aspiring journalists hands-on learning experience from top individuals within the field.
Rehema Ellis, an NBC reporter, visited Claflin’s Mass Communications Department virtually via Zoom on March 17 to discuss her personal experience as a news reporter for NBC News and to give advice to ambitious journalists.
Ellis said the pandemic has changed the way the world operates and continues to change the way journalists conduct and perform their jobs.
“I work in New York and up until this time last year, I was actually going into the office at 30 Rockefeller Plaza every day. I haven’t been in my office for a year now and I’m actually in my home in New York,” Ellis said.
Ellis has been in the industry for over 22 years and has acquired a strong knowledge on what it takes to be a journalist. In doing so, she has also had tons of experience.
“One of the things is that it’s very demanding (being a journalist), so if you’re looking for a job that doesn’t require you to do something in a moment’s notice or if you’re looking for a job that says your weekends are all yours, holidays and birthdays and get-togethers will never be interrupted, then my job is not for you,” Ellis said. “But if you are interested in what is going on in your world and sharing that with other people and exploring your community and all that there is around you, then the job that I do is definitely the job for you.”
Ellis explained that a typical day in the office can change in the blink of an eye and that a reporter always needs to be ready to move and leave the office.
“A typical day is sometimes not typical at all,” Ellis said.
She cited a shooting that was still actively happening, an environment that was not the safest. “This is literally the definition of breaking news. You could hear the gunfire, it wasn’t just me telling you that shots were fired, you could hear it.”
Ellis gave advice to students on what to do when arriving on a similar scene.
“The first thing you want to do when you get on to a scene like that as a reporter is to find out as much as you can about what happened. There are five W’s in reporting – the who, what, when, where, how and why. You want to answer all of those questions.”
The main goal when arriving on a scene is to try and get the information out fast while being as reliable as possible.
“You don’t want to make up details of what you think might be happening because that’s not your job. Your job is not to speculate. Your job is to report the events as you see them or as they are told to you and to do it in a manner that is as clear as possible and in a way that you answer all those questions (five W’s),” Ellis said.
It is basic knowledge for students wanting to pursue the journalism profession to know the difference between a commentator and a journalist, she said. They are not to be confused.
“There’s a difference between what I do and what commentators do. Commentators make comments. They comment on the news of the day as opposed to reporting on it. I think as you consider going into this as a profession, it’s important to know the difference, to know the distinction. If you know the distinction, that will help your viewers, your readers, your writers and your listeners be better informed about what is going on. They know that you just told them the facts as opposed to you just telling them your opinion. This creates a great amount of media literacy,” Ellis said.
Despite Ellis being the face of the news when she is reporting, she said she has a team to help her behind the scenes to make her job easier and to ensure that she reports quality news.
“I have a lot of help working for the network. We have a producer traveling with me. I am working with a cameraman and a sound man. I am also talking to one, two, possibly three producers who are back at 30 Rockefeller because they are gathering information on different sites that at the point where I am, I do not have access to. There’s a whole lot of collaboration that goes on in putting a story together,” Ellis said.
Ellis explained how in South Carolina or in local/rural areas, local reporters will not have as much of a backup team as a network. “There is a big difference in terms of the kind of support you get.”
Living in the 21st century also means living in a digital age. Social media is a huge concept, and some people look to social media for their news. She had a warning.
“Social media can be a place of information. It is a place to start, but from there, you can find out about something that might be going on, but it is your responsibility to then to back that up, to make certain that what you saw on social media is in fact true,” Ellis said.
To make sure that information is credible, NBC News takes precautions on how many sources should be included in a story before airing it to the public.
“At NBC, we have to have a minimum of two sources. Most times we have three when we are dealing with information that is controversial and very sensitive. We do not put it on the air without that because we’re not gossip news. It’s factual news. We want to make certain that if we are questioned or challenged in terms of our story, we have three sources to say we know that what we’ve told you is true because we can back it up,” Ellis said.
She said social media is not all bad, but she advised students to fact check what they read before speaking or reporting on it.
“There is value in social media. You all know that. However, you cannot throw away the basic tenets of what it means to be a reporter just because you see something on social media. You still have to follow those very hard and fast, true guidelines,” Ellis said.
It is important to follow those guidelines because people look to journalists to tell them the facts. They look to journalists to tell them the story and nothing but the story. They want the information, not opinion, she said.
“We are the conduit, if you will. We are the funnel through which information flows,” Ellis said. It is essential that when a reporter tells a story, all the reporter does is tell that story. “You don’t want your opinion to filter into your story.”