Media reporter’s advice for her replacement: ‘Turn your computer off once in a while’

Until the end of the month, Johana Bhuiyan is a digital media reporter for Capital New York. Bhuiyan’s headed next to cover tech for BuzzFeed’s FWD. Before she leaves our tribe of media reporters, we thought we’d get the download from her on her time as a media reporter, which began last October. Everyone from Poynter’s reporting team asked a question through email. I asked two.

Kristen Hare: When we met in June, you mentioned that you thought media reporting was a great place to start your career, why?

Bhuiyan: It’s funny because I always complain about media execs’ tendency to stick to the talking points, but this is definitely one of mine. It doesn’t make it any less true, though. I think starting off as a media reporter is a really great way to start your journalism career, whether you stay on the media beat or not. I was the kid who dreamt about being thrown into a battlefield, literal or figurative, and reporting from the front lines. I had this really romanticized concept of journalism. But when you’re reporting on media you quickly realize it’s a business, not that I didn’t know that before but you become hyperaware of the real or potential cash flow dictating a lot of the decisions being made. I’ve grown sort of jaded and have, what I think is, a healthy perspective of my own industry and I think I’ve developed a fairly deep understanding of it in my few months as a media reporter. But now because I’ve developed sort of a healthy distrust of my own industry, covering any other industry is a cake walk. I know to ALWAYS dig beyond what is being pitched or told to me. This is probably a stretch but it’s like not trusting your own family…there’s a pretty small chance you’re going to trust anyone else.

Andrew Beaujon: A lot of the people writing about media are white males. Is that a problem for our field?

Bhuiyan: Considering I’m a brown female, I’d say so. A lack of diversity of any kind is a problem for every field, particularly journalism regardless of what your beat is. For one, a diversity of voices introduces new angles and perspectives and can open up an entire world of approaches to media reporting that some reporters have never even considered. I think without that readers are at a loss because reporters are seeing and reporting on the industry through their own lenses only. They’re beating the same drum over and over again.

Hare: How do you think your audience and sources covering tech at BuzzFeed will be different from journalists?

Bhuiyan: Well what appealed to me the most about FWD [BuzzFeed's tech vertical] is that it covers the intersection of tech and culture, which, though it’s a sort of broad topic, can be appealing to a range of demographics. My hope is I can send my mom, my non-media friends and my media friends a story and they’d all be interested in reading it. My niece actually asked me why I didn’t write about anything she cared about. And it’s true, media reporting appeals to a very specific audience: the media. So at the least I hope other journalists will respect my work at BuzzFeed, people around my age will get it, my dad can email it to his friends (he does that a lot) and they’ll be intrigued by it or will know what I’m talking about and my niece will care about it. That’ll show her.

As for sources I bet it won’t be other journalists, which is a good and bad thing. Because journalists get exactly what you’re doing and why, some are really helpful but others can be really careful around you while some others just stay away from you completely. For what it’s worth, evading me, as some people could probably attest to, does nothing but make me chase you more. I mean, make it more obvious you’re hiding something.

Ben Mullin: What area of the media biz needs more sunshine?

Bhuiyan: I think the business itself. I like to think of myself as a business reporter. But media reporting is really centered around personalities and names and we (myself included) sometimes forget to look at the financial implications of the news we’re reporting. So this site launched this new vertical? Great, how much did they invest in staffing, designing, promoting it? Are they over- or under-budget and what does that say about their profitability? Why did they choose that topic? Do they have an existing advertiser or one they’re trying to nail down who might find that topic appealing to sponsor?

Traffic is a good example of that. We treat it as this standalone or arbitrary measure of success for a site or article, but clicks and traffic are what sites sell advertising against. Let’s talk more about that, like how many clicks are enough for a brand to buy ads in a startup media company versus an established one?

Sam Kirkland: Has it been awkward to report on media companies (like BuzzFeed) that you might want to be employed by in the future?

Bhuiyan: Never awkward. It wasn’t a matter of wanting to be employed by anyone but that the people I’m writing not always great things about are my colleagues in the industry. As you guys know it’s an interesting balance you have to strike between being a colleague but also a journalist. For me journalist always came first. Sure we can grab coffee later but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to ask why you just laid off 40 people.

Seth Liss: What advice do you have for your replacement?

Bhuiyan: Peter Sterne, who just joined as a full-time reporter, is inheriting my beat. So I get to give him advice in real life in the next few days. But I guess: Turn your computer off once in a while. Covering digital media and all journalism really requires you to spend a lot of time online. Just close your laptop and take some time to yourself even if you’re working on a big story; it helps to go back to it with fresh eyes. You’re of no use to anyone when you’re burnt out and images of TweetDeck are invading your dreams.

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