Christian Schaffer is a reporter for WMAR-TV, which is the Baltimore affiliate for ABC. I meet Christian about 2 ½ years ago when I interned for Channel 2.
He always gave me good insight into the world of journalism, so I thought it would be nice to interview him and allow him to share is knowledge with all of you.
Have you had to move around a lot to be able to find a job in journalism?
Yes. I’ve worked in Richmond, VA, Greensboro, NC, Boston, MA, Harrisburg, PA and now Baltimore.
How long have you been in the media business?
I got my first job as a part-time associate producer while I was still in college back in 1994, after interning there earlier that year. So I guess I’ve been in the business for 14 years now.
Where did you go to school?
I went to the University of Richmond, and then while I was working in Boston I went to Boston University and got a Masters in Broadcast Journalism.
Where did you get your start in journalism and where do you currently work?
I started as an intern at WRIC-TV, the ABC affiliate in Richmond while I was a student at the U of R. Now I’m a reporter at WMAR-TV, the ABC affiliate in Baltimore.
How long have you worked at your current job?
I’ve been here since June of 2006; so about three-and-a-half years.
Do you believe blogs or online journalism have changed journalism standards? And why do you say yes or no?
I think the ‘bloggers’ have created their own standard. It depends on what kind of site it is; some sites are willing to pay people to be interviewed. In ‘traditional’ media this would be an obvious no-no and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
The blogs also have much less adherence to old-school standards like AP style, having two sources before going forward with a story, etc. It’s up to the traditional media to maintain the traditional standards. That means sometimes the blogs will be ‘first’ with some stories, but it also means the blogs will be ‘wrong’ with some stories.
Do you think there have been more positive changes in the media world or negative changes? Please Explain.
There have been a lot of positive changes. But I think two big negatives out-weigh those. Number one has been the decline of newspapers. Nobody buys a subscription to the newspaper anymore, because you can read them on-line for free. Now newspapers are cutting staff and closing down all over the country, and I think this has led to a big decline in original reporting. Instead they just do an easy story based on some press release. Wwhich leads me to the second big negative:
These days it’s much harder to gain access to newsmakers than it was in the past. Now, every company, government agency and sports team has a fully-staffed media relations department. Go back and read or watch “All the President’s Men” and you’ll see Woodward and Bernstein walking around, talking to everyone from district attorneys, to mid-level bureaucrats to secretaries – on the record – and using the information in their stores. Today those people either hang up the phone or refer you to media relations.
Have you been directly affected by the changes in the media world and if so how?
The technology has changed in TV news (and so has the emphasis on cutting costs). So now the cameras are getting small enough that a lot of stations expect reporters to go out by themselves. They call it a ‘one-man band’ or ‘multi-media journalist’ and it’s coming to WMAR pretty soon. That will be a big change.
Has it been difficult to adapt all of the time to the changing world of journalism?
Sometimes it is difficult, but if you have a grasp of the basics it’s easier to roll with the changes.
Do you think the internet allows journalists to stay closer to their hometown or it really has had no effect?
I think it allows everyone to stay closer to their home town. If you’re living in California but you’re from Baltimore it’s now no big deal to read the Baltimore Sun. Young people don’t realize what a big deal this is, because they’ve grown up with it. But it’s a pretty revolutionary concept that didn’t really get going until after I graduated from college.
The internet has also made it easier to do research on stories, and find the back-ground of people you’re going to interview before you talk to them.
Do you think technology is making it easier for journalists or harder to do their job?
There are some negatives (like going out to shoot a story by myself instead of with a photojournalist) but overall, you have to remember that only about 30 years ago people were out shooting news stories on FILM. They had to go back to the station and get the film processed before they could use it. The audio was recorded separately and matched to the film. What a nightmare.. The changes to cameras and the move to digital editing has made TV news millions of times easier to do over the past few decades.
What advice do you give future journalists?
I once heard someone tell potential actors – if you can do anything else in the world, do it. And I would give similar advice to future journalists. If you don’t love this job, you won’t last. The money and benefits are not that great. You’ll spend time away from your friends and family. So if you’re not totally committed, you might as well find something else to do now.
What goals do you have for yourself and your career?
I never set goals because in this business you don’t get to decide where you go. I could say, “I want to work in L.A.” and send 100 resume reels to all the stations out there, and still never get hired. But then somebody in Dallas might see the tape and bring me in. It’s too hard to predict. All I can do, is do the best possible story every day and let the chips fall where they will.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
In the immortal words of Hunter S. Thompson, “The TV business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.”