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  • Writer's pictureMarjorie Anne Foster

Journalist Joie Chen speaks to the changing environment of reporting and how to stay inspired

Joie Chen's experience as a journalist over the past three decades has provided insight into the ways the political and social environment of our country has changed.

From the age of 12.5, she knew she wanted to be a reporter. Two Emmy's and hundreds of broadcasts later, she thanks her failures for her fulfilled dream.

The Elon School of Communications National Advisory Board Member told students about changes in the world of news and the challenging, yet promising field of journalism. Most notably, in the consumers themselves. 

“We used to think that the youth had no interest in the news, now we see them as the largest consumers out there,” Chen said.

Chen sees the youth's desire to become involved with politics steadily increasing. Watching the younger generation spearheading movements such as the #metoo campaign and gun violence rallies has been a source of encouragement for Chen. 

“This is the first time we have seen the younger generation be more active and involved with social issues than the older generations,” Chen said. “That gives me great hope and inspires me about our future.”

Chen has faced the challenges of being a minority both in her gender and ethnicity, beginning with her first job.

“Do you know why I hired you over the other 400 applicants?” the Producer of Chen's first job asked.  “When I was in Vietnam I dated a women that looked just like you.”

At 22, right out of college and buried in debt, Chen had no option but to take the job and learn how to ignore the sexual harassment she would experience.

Throughout her three years working at that company, she was continually faced with inappropriate speech coming from the boss that always left her with feelings of fear and anxiety.

“My boss would tell me his wife was out of town and that I should come stay with him,” Chen said. “One time he said he wished he could just keep me in the closet of his house so his wife would never know.”

She spoke about newsroom harassment and acknowledged the fact that men too can be faced with difficult work environments and that she has no real advice for people who are facing difficult situations like she did at the beginning of her career.

“I don’t know how to teach people what to do in these hard situations,” said Chen. “There is no one size fits all answer.”

Despite the level of change that has taken place over the last 20 years, Chen still thinks people will look at appearance and judge a person based off of what they think their competency level is rather than their true ability.

She said the best thing media professionals can do is acknowledge that there is a problem and support those that speak up.

“Whatever the type of harassment may be, no one can give you the answer at that moment,” Chen said. “If I could do my whole career over again, I would still have taken that job.”

Despite the tense working environment Chen experienced in the beginning of her career, she said she still moved up in her work, regardless of the men that tried to cut her down.

Chen worked as a White House correspondent for 15 years and said she sees the greatest level of distrust between the public, media and politicians than ever before.

During her time in D.C., she reported on the Bush administration that would typically never release news after 5 p.m. Reporters got to go home, work on their stories and maintain balanced lives. With today's administration, news is 24/7, and for those reporting from the White House, exhaust and fatigue are hard to avoid.

A good friend of mine called me the other day from D.C. and all he could say was that he was exhausted and completely drained,” Chen said. “For a reporter working his whole career to get where he is now, that’s a big statement to make.”

Her response to her struggling friend was this: “know that you are good at what you are doing.”

She said often times journalists face burnout or disillusionment about their own power or rule in a society. The greatest tip she can offer to journalists is to remember to have fun.

“To be able to go out, learn about what, how or who did what they did is really fun,” Chen said. “If you get too bogged down with deadlines, you will get lost.

“At the end of the day, I like the business of storytelling. “As a journalist, you can never forget how privileged you are to have access to information, to tell stories and maybe even change history.”

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