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Leamy's Lessons - 7/23/2014 -


Leamy's Lessons

What does an Emmy award-winning journalist have to teach association communicators and publishers? There’s more than you might think.

By Jennifer J. Salopek 

Elisabeth Leamy, an Emmy award-winning journalist who currently serves as investigative correspondent for the "Dr. Oz” show and money columnist for ABC News, delivered an inspiring, energetic closing keynote at the AM&P Annual Meeting in May. Titled "What I’ve Learned: Lessons from a Career in Mass Media that Can Help You Too,” Leamy’s talk was structured around ten of her most memorable work experiences and the resulting takeaways, and was accompanied by photographs that essentially served as a history of broadcaster hairstyle trends. Energetic and often hilarious, Leamy’s warmth and self-deprecating humor made her very approachable; she engaged the audience for well over an hour.

Here, her lessons:

  1. Be resourceful.
  2. Talk to strangers! "Talk to anybody, even those who don’t seem to have a connection to what you want.”
  3. Make yourself indispensable. "’That is not my job’ is so out.”
  4. Arm yourself with strong story ideas to protect yourself from awful assignments.
  5. It’s not about what you want; it’s about what you want to contribute.
  6. Play the part. Take advantage of a power vacuum. "No one has ever gotten in trouble for doing more work than they were supposed to.”
  7. If you can’t dig up the biggest scoops, dream up the biggest stunts. "I tried to tell every story in the most creative way possible.”
  8. Let ‘em see you sweat. "Be human, be vulnerable. Admit your mistakes and apologize. Address them and move on with grace.”
  9. Make all of your work good, some better, and a few projects the very best.
  10. If you have to do something on the cheap, make cheap charming.

Leamy sees lots of parallels between our work and her own. She had researched our group, talking extensively beforehand with Diane Rusignola and poring over the Excel awards winners. "Your concerns are so much the same as my own; we share many of the same goals and challenges. Association journalists and consumer reporters focus less on general news and more on news readers can use. We must stay relevant, as we can affect people’s lives directly,” she says.

Of the lessons she shared, her top three are numbers 3, 5, and 9. As to making yourself indispensable: "Working your tail off and saying yes to any task can work at any point in your career,” Leamy says. She acknowledges that determining what you want to contribute is still about what you want, "but it’s less about fame and money and more about doing a job that does some good” — a central goal of association publishing. "The journalism that AM&P members do is information people need to improve their lives and careers,” she says.

Above all, Leamy tries to live by lesson number 9. "It isn’t appropriate in this day and age to try to make everything the very best it can be,” she says. "We are under so many external pressures, from employers and competitors, and internal pressures to succeed; but most employers are perfectly happy with good work.” Steal time and energy from the less important things for a very few best projects. ”These are my Emmys; these are your Excel awards.”

Leamy had a single opportunity a few years ago to interview President Obama — an unusual opportunity for a consumer reporter. When faced with high-stakes interviews, she advises, research and careful selection and honing of your questions is critical. She also suggests practicing asking your questions out loud — but don’t memorize them: "Internalize them.”

"That experience was so nerve-wracking,” she says. "The real key for me was unbelievable amounts of preparation.” (Her virtual tipsheet, "Crafting Vibrant Videos,” is available here.)

During the Q&A session after her talk, Leamy was asked, "What lesson do you still need to learn?”

"I loved that question. It was a great reminder that we are all always learning,” she says. "Just because I ‘made it to the network,’ as we say in broadcast news, doesn’t mean I know it all or am finished putting in the hard work.”

Leamy is currently reinventing herself as a part-time TV correspondent for Dr. Oz and a part-time speaker. "I wanted association media folks to know that they’re not alone,” she concludes."We, as journalists, no matter our specialty, are in this together. Expectations continue to grow while budgets shrink and deadlines loom. But with a few smart strategies, you can continue to flourish in this wonderful, creative career. I still love what I do, even though it’s maddening at times.”

Jennifer J. Salopek is a freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience in association publishing.


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