For Green Journalists Who Don’t Know What’s REALLY Going On In Ukraine

It’s okay if you don’t get it. If it feels overwhelming. It feels a world away. If you’re young or disconnected from international affairs because you work hyper-local news. I’m not here to judge, I’m here to help. You don’t even have to admit you read this if it pertains to you.

What’s Not Okay

Here’s what is NOT okay about being a green or young journalist during this time.

  • Just copy and paste what AP or your network affiliate sends down
  • Assuming your reporter got it all right in their story and signing off on it
  • Staying disconnected to it

When 9/11 happened, I was in a newsroom in Memphis. Covering a national disaster was one thing, hearing about Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, where the hell is Afghanistan and why do they hate us? I was a young producer-just-turned-EP who had a war coming and didn’t know a damn thing about the conflict history on any kind of educational or storytelling level.

Study the History and Countries

Look, if you can spend 30 minutes lost in a TikTok feed, you can spend 30 minutes reading about the history of Ukraine (and is it Ukraine or The Ukraine?) You can study details of the conflict in great articles from many publications that are seeded in facts and not rhetoric.

You can learn some basics about the Ukraine culture and how they meet, greet, and eat. You can even pick up some basic language words.

Dig into Russia’s long storied history of conflict. You can find out why it’s so important to Russia to keep Ukraine from getting into NATO, then you can learn about NATO and how it was formed.

I learned so much about Afghanistan from the weather patterns to the customs of people. I still have the mnemonic device that helps me remember “every country in Afghanistan is bordered by a country that ends in AN. Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran, etc.”

Talk To Experienced People in the Newsroom

You know, those GenX’ers you tolerate and those Boomers you make fun of? They’ve got a world of information for you.

I had an anchor in Tucson, Randy Garsee (may he rest in peace), who wouldn’t just change my scripts on the Iraq War, he’d pull me over to the map. He’d show me specifics of areas. He knew war and had seen too much of it. He made me smarter, and I gobbled up the information that still resides in my head today.

Ask the people around you to help understand what the hell is happening. Ask them about previous wars, invasions, conflicts internationally and how in their experience it was handled locally. They can give a perspective that is more Michael Bay style than AP style.

Go Down Rabbit Holes

“Is is Al KIEDA or AL KAYDA? Why the difference?” That was a huge rabbit hole for me at a time when the Internet wasn’t nearly as powerful as it now. Is it EYE-raq or ir-ROCK?

Learn random, yet useful facts about what a sanction is, how long sanctions take, why they help (or do they?) Suddenly this seemingly “unsexy” topic starts to get a little sizzle to it.

You begin to find things like how Russia holds a good supply of Helium that is in short supply but desperately needed here in the US. You’ll learn that Helium is critical to many of the systems you take for granted, like technology companies. You’ll eventually feel bad all the times you wasted Helium to make your voice sound funny.

“I’m burned out already, now you want me to take time to do homework?”

Yes. Here’s why. I’ve pitched at two television stations a massive OTT project that would require a lot of time and resources under one specific belief I have.

“I’ll put in a lot of extra effort initially for something that has a long life span.”

– Me

You’re studying for all the future scripts you write. You will be become a faster writer and more knowledgeable journalist and better able to call “Bull$hit” when people pitch stories that are more rhetoric than fact.

You are here to provide information to the public, and this is a story that impacts everyone. It just takes some research to see that. The easy way is to copy and paste. The journalistic way is to study and learn what you don’t understand and then make it relatable to your audience.

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