During her more than two decades as a journalist, Alison Stewart has reported for all the major national news networks and anchored her own groundbreaking and successful news programs on NPR, PBS, and MSNBC.
Alison has reported from the floor of six presidential conventions and anchored major news events from Hurricane Katrina to the shootings at Virginia Tech. She has reported from Africa, Cuba, and Jordan and reported live from the winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.
Stewart served as anchor for ABC World News Now from 2000 to 2002 and reported live from the World Trade Center on 9/11. She received an Emmy as part of ABC News’ coverage of the event. Stewart began her career as a producer/reporter for MTV News’ breakthrough political coverage Choose or Lose, for which she won a Peabody Award.
She has interviewed news-makers including President Bill Clinton, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, singer/activist Bono, Senator Elizabeth Warren, director Julie Taymor, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, radio icon Howard Stern, author Carl Hiassen, movie titan Steven Spielberg, and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher.
In addition to speaking at colleges across the country, Alison Stewart has moderated events for NYC’s 92nd Street Y, The World Science Festival, The Smithsonian Institution, The Connecticut Forum, and the New School. She is the author of First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School, which was named one of the best books of 2013 by Essence and Mother Jones magazines.
Stewart graduated from Brown University. In 2013 she was elected to The Board of Trustees of the Corporation of Brown University. She has been active in various charities, including Dress for Success, The Lighthouse, and Chess in the Schools. She lives in New York City and Woodstock, NY with her husband and son.
Ms. Stewart was kind enough to spend some time recently answering some of my questions and offering advice for my daughter.
What are some of the skills and characteristics needed to be successful in broadcast journalism and writing?
I think it is important for a journalist to be curious. It is important to be eager to learn new things and willing to put aside what you do know to entertain other ideas. It is also important to be tenacious. Many times there will be roadblocks. For example, a journalist often encounters unwilling interview subjects or loads of boring paperwork that need completing before gaining access to some information. As for writing, there's nothing better than just doing it on a regular basis. I think setting aside a specific time to write every day and a specific place to do it really helps.
What advice would you offer to someone who is starting in (or wants to pursue) broadcast journalism?
I think the most important thing to do is get involved early on through internships. Internships can expose a newbie to all different aspects of the business and provide opportunities to actually do some work. Just being around a newsroom is a great way to absorb information. Next, I would say practice, practice, practice, whether it be maintaining a blog or a Facebook page or some sort of social media news entity that allows a young journalist to show off what he or she can do. The barrier to entry is so much lower these days.
What do you enjoy most about writing? What are the challenges you face?
I enjoy being able to make something. So often as a journalist you are reporting on and interviewing other people who made something. It was great for me to actually MAKE a book. The hard part is that writing is very isolating. It is you and your research and your computer. Also, sometimes when a piece just isn't working you have to start all over after putting in a lot of time.
What is most rewarding about parenthood for you?
I really enjoy watching my son learn and learn life lessons. When I see him being kind to other kids or walking away from a bad scene, I am so happy that he is a good little guy.
What is one motto that has served you well in your life and career? Why?
I have three. The first is my high school yearbook quote from George Bernard Shaw. "Some look at things that are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?" I just think it is always good to keep dreaming of possibilities.
The second is the Dunbar motto---"Keep a pluggin' away." You just have to keep trying and keep going even when things seem really, really, tough. So many times it is the person who sticks it out who wins!
And finally my mother always said to me when I was fussing about my appearance, "Honey, it is more important what's in your head, than what's on it." Concentrate on the important things and don't get distracted by the little dumb things in life, which sometimes masquerade as something meaningful.
Thanks to Alison for her time and candor!
Alison's fantastic and incredibly important book, First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Abebooks, and Powell's Books. It is one of the best books I have read in recent years.