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Natalie talks about her journey from sitting in front of her living room TV, as a 5-year old immigrant, learning English by watching the news, to being on TV and reporting the news. Her passion and persistence offer an example to other Influencers about how you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. We talk the future of News and how Journalism is aided and impacted by Social Media.
A transcript of the full interview follows:
Jon: I am joined today by Natalie Brunell. Welcome to the podcast.
Natalie: Thank you for having me!
Jon: You are a freelance national correspondent with ABC News. You've won an Emmy award for breaking news coverage. Tell me about the story.
Natalie: That was actually for a spot news report about a fire that happened in the Palm Springs area. So it was actually a newscast when we won for covering the fire from all angles: for anchors and reporters and the weather team, altogether. And so that was a very proud moment for me.
Jon: And you've also been nominated for another Emmy for investigative reporting.
Natalie: Yes. For an investigative series that was also in Palm Springs. I did a six month long investigation into public corruption allegations surrounding the mayor of Palm Springs
Jon: Scandal at City Hall!
Natalie: That's what it was called, yes! Took six months, ended with a FBI raid of City Hall. It was a very interesting moment in my journalism career to be chasing that.
Jon: And you are an adjunct professor of broadcast and digital journalism at USC.
Natalie: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: We'll come back to that one. You're the founder of NB media productions.
Natalie: Yes. So I put on a podcast of my own and through the production company.
Jon: And then you're the host of Career Stories. What is Career Stories?
Natalie: So career stories is a podcast that I started, I launched it this year, but I actually started doing the interviews for it last year. And basically I was just curious about people's career paths, especially people who you see in the media. Primarily, I've been interviewing a lot of journalists since that's sort of my forte, my background.
Jon: For season one?
Jon: I actually listened! [Laughter]
Natalie: Oh, that's great. Thank you so, so much. I didn't know if there would be, you know, anyone listening to it. I was just really curious about these types of stories and wanted to reach out to people to hear how they overcame obstacles and how they rose to success and built their brands. And so now I'm expanding beyond journalists and documentary filmmakers to everyone from politicians, celebrity chefs, social media influencers. And it's been a great experience.
Jon: So is there a common thread to each person's journey?
Natalie: What's been really interesting is I wrap up all of the besides by asking people what they would tell their younger self. And that's really where the common themes are because everyone's journey is so different. There is no one path or formula to success, which I love that the podcast showcases, there's not, you know, some puzzle that you can plan out in advance.
Jon: So you don't have to start at Harvard?
Natalie: No, of course not! [Laughter] No, you don't have to be born in a specific country. You don't have to start out with wealthy parents. You know, everyone's path is so different. But ultimately everyone kind of comes back to the same thing that I just, I wish if I could talk to my younger self, I would say to just go for it. Don't be afraid, don't be so self conscious, don't doubt yourself. Just really have your passion come first and take risks and enjoy your life and your career.
Jon: So I would like to take you through your career story. Let's start at the start.
Jon: You are an immigrant.
Jon: Where were you born?
Natalie: [I'm a] first-generation immigrant. I was born in a town called Łódź in Poland.
Jon: And then you grew up [where]?
Natalie: I grew up in Chicago, so my family immigrated to Chicago when I was five. It's so funny, I don't remember much of my time in Poland. I look at, you know, pictures of when I was younger and my mom has to fill in the gaps with anecdotes and stuff. But, right away, remember when we moved to Chicago watching a lot of news programs and movies and television, because my parents, we were all learning English at the same time. My Dad was 41 when we came. My mom was 38 and they had to start completely over.
Jon: So that was your "Rosetta Stone," watching the news?
Natalie: Yeah, totally! Totally. We constantly had something on. And that's where I really think my love of storytelling came.
Jon: I read somewhere where you also watched classic Hollywood films to help learn English?
Jon: What were your favorites?
Natalie: Oh Gosh. We would watch everything. I mean, I was just totally a sucker for all these old movies and nineties movies and eighties movies, but of the classics, I really love The Godfather series. [Laughter]
Jon: Now, what did immigrants coming to America think of The Godfather series?
Natalie: Oh Gosh. Well, I mean, it's just such great storytelling. You can't make a movie like that today. You really can't. I just thought it was so suspenseful and the acting was fantastic and it just...
Jon: I'm just imagining five-year-old Natalie, sitting there with their parents on the couch watching The Godfather.
Natalie: well, The Godfather probably came a little bit later. The first movies I remember watching include, Breakfast at Tiffany's, which I really, really always loved. I loved the, just the sort of carefree spirit of the main character, Holly Golightly, and Pretty Woman. I mean, just like random, you know what I consider "classics" that probably people would not, but those are classics to me.
Jon: When did you first know you wanted to be a broadcaster?
Natalie: I think it was pretty young that I knew I wanted to do something in TV or film because I was surrounded by so much of it. We were constantly watching news as well as movies. I really wanted to become--part of me wanted to become an actress. And then part of me wanted to be Barbara Walters. So I knew from a very young age that I really wanted to go to L.A. Because I saw L.A. as the place that you can make any type of TV or film dreams come true.
Jon: Now. Did your parents try to dissuade you? I mean, first generation it's like "get a profession where you're always going to have work."
Natalie: Yeah, and you know, that's so true. I mean, they didn't try to dissuade me, I think. I think that my parents always just wanted me to focus on education first. So, you know, they didn't me to struggle in life the way that they did. So they kind of programmed in my head that yes, you can do this sort of performance stuff that you enjoyed but always prioritize education. So I think, had it been my mom's choice, my dad's choice, I would have majored in law or medicine for sure, which sometimes I look back and I'm like...
Jon: Doctor, Lawyer...
Natalie: But you know, I think they also noticed that from a really young age, I just had this bug. I really, I took acting classes when I was really young. I was constantly performing. I did dance. I was always on stage. So there was some element that I think they always knew that I was going to do something related to TV.
Jon: Have you always been comfortable in front of the camera?
Natalie: Uh, I think that I've always felt like I enjoy the performance elements, but I think that comfort in front of the camera really came with practice. I think there's self doubt that always comes up, especially when you're starting out and you have to watch yourself back. Like you think you're the greatest person and then you see the video or you hear your voice and you're like, oh, maybe not. I didn't know I sound like that, or I'd look like that. So I think it was a little mixture. I knew I had some sort of talent that people would tell me they saw in me, but I also knew that it needed to sort of be nurtured.
Jon: Were you outgoing in high school?
Natalie: Yes. I've always been outgoing! [Laughter] Yeah, my mom tells me that ever since I was young, I would just randomly be willing to talk to people, make conversation. I was very, very curious. So yeah, that's always been a part of my personality I think.
Jon: So Journalism is like a natural fit then? Talking to people.
Natalie: Yeah! Yeah, and I think it was definitely during college that I maneuvered totally toward the journalism track. At first I thought maybe I would still dabble in the entertainment acting, when I first came to Pepperdine, that's where I went to undergrad. But it was actually my time studying overseas in Florence that sort of cemented the idea that I loved learning about different cultures and people and doing interviews and I thought that those, that love of performance could be sort of molded with Ia desire to learn and be curious and ask people questions.
Jon: Now I've got to back you up just a second. So you're a Chicago girl.
Jon: Chicago suburbs, but Chicago girl.
Jon: And you picked Pepperdine for college?
Jon: How did that choice come about?
Natalie: Well because I knew I wanted to do TV or film, I only looked at schools in L.A. In fact, while I was in high school, I did a summer program through UCLA to gain college credit. I took acting of course [laughter] for college credit for arts.
Jon: So you flew out, you spent the summer in the L.A.?
Natalie: Yeah, while I was, when I was a junior, after my junior year of high school. And I just knew. I just wanted to be out here. I felt this energy, I felt like it was the hub for creative minds and people who wanted to do something in entertainment or TV/film. So I wanted to come out here and I applied to, like I said, only L.A. schools. I actually got into USC and I told them I was going to go. Applied as a business major for the business school. Got into like a fast track international relations program. What I was thinking, I don't know! And then while I was in this program, we toured Pepperdine. And it was just like, I have to go here. I'm obsessed with this school. Everything it offers.
Jon: It's a pretty school.
Natalie: You know, you teach there! It's gorgeous, but more so than it being gorgeous, I felt like if I went there, there would be a sense of community I could be a part of. They really drove home this idea that even if you're a freshman, you can be really involved in different things, whether it's extracurriculars or doing newscasts or acting or whatever it is. It's a small enough school where you can be really involved right away your freshman year as opposed to, I felt a little bit like UCLA was too big for [that].
Jon: Full disclosure, you took a media law class while you were there.
Jon: My class [laughter]
Natalie: Yes, your class!
Jon: Now I keep track of the students, your names are in Address Book so I can email the student during the class period. But I only keep two pieces of information.
Jon: I keep your major. And what your career goals are.
Jon: And you're looking at me like, what did I write down?
Natalie: Yeah, I wonder!
Jon: First let's talk about your major. You were Broadcast News and Italian.
Jon: And I found out in looking at one of your bios that you were the first Italian Studies major in [the] school's history.
Natalie: Yeah, I created the major!
Jon: How did you finagle that?
Natalie: Isn't that funny? So I mentioned I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. I loved my time there. I took all sorts of classes because it's not a major-specific program. So I took everything from astronomy to humanities to Italian. And I just fell in love with being there, with traveling every weekend. I was in a different country with my friends. And so I also just really enjoyed Italian and I was, I specifically remember taking classes in Italian cinema and thinking Italian directors and screenwriters were just just awesome. And I loved the plots of these stories.
Jon: You can explain a Fellini movie to me then!
Natalie: Yeah. Okay. Yeah, [Laughter] I mean, Divórcio à Italiana. I remember was one of the films we would pick apart and it was just so hilarious. It's such a funny movie. I don't know if you've seen it, but I highly recommend it. And so I just really wanted to keep taking classes. I ended up staying, most people just stay their sophomore year overseas and I petitioned to stay longer. So I ended up staying a third semester and then a fourth semester. So I did four total semesters in Florence. And in order to do that, there needed to be classes for me to take. So I went to the, one of the Italian professors I had and I said she had wanted there to be an Italian major, but there was no student that was interested in majoring in it, I guess. So I said, "oh, well I'll do it! I mean, can we create a curriculum and I'll just, I'll be your first?" And she goes, "okay!" So we worked on a curriculum together and they essentially created classes that I could take. I was the only student in those classes in Florence and then I...
Jon: So you were home schooled? [Laughter]
Natalie: I feel like that sometimes! But what's funny is at Pepperdine, one of the great things about the school that I've learned is not the case at all universities, is they required you to have an internship or some sort of job within the major for you to graduate with that major. And so I basically needed to find an Italian studies internship or job that I could have. So while I was in Italy, I did my sleuthing and I found a broadcast station--a TV, essentially tiny station that put together 15 minute bilingual pieces about things you can do in Tuscany, art exhibits, museums, cultural events, food and wine. And I basically said, hey, I'm a European Union citizen because I was born in Poland, I would love to work for you. You don't even have to pay me. Like you just get free labor. Uh, and they said, yeah, come on board. So it allowed me to finish out that major.
Jon: And then the other thing I record is your career aspiration and you put down "to be a travel host for a travel channel."
Natalie: Oh my gosh! That doesn't surprise me at all! That's literally what I wanted to do. I still want to do that!
Jon: Well, I can tell from from your Instagram account that you've traveled a lot.
Natalie: Yeah. I mean I want to...
Jon: Now if you could just have it paid for!
Natalie: I wish I could travel more. Yeah. I wish I also had a crystal ball back then to know that Instagram or YouTube was going to become this thing and I can become a travel influencer like these girls that I see. I'm like, "oh, why didn't I know?" I would've,
Jon: Who knew, who knew...
Natalie: I would've started my blog back then.
Jon: You graduated in '09?
Jon: There was a recession in '09.
Jon: Where did you go to work out of school?
Speaker 2: Well, it was so, it was such a difficult decision about what to do because the job market was just terrible. And I remember there, there was an option for me to go to say, a small market and become a local newscaster. And I remember because I really wanted to be a travel host and I was really interested in these more like documentary style programs that I would watch stuff on Discovery or Travel Channel. I remember I loved Anthony Bourdain's show at the time, No Reservations. And so I just felt like going to a local news market was not the path for me. And so I didn't even consider, I didn't even apply for jobs like that. I just wanted to stay in L.A. and work at some sort of production company and I would send out applications and you know, I don't really remember where I even applied at this point, but I know at one point, one of my mentors from Pepperdine, he was a film director, his name's Tom Shadyac. He said, you know, if you want to work in TV or film, but you don't really know in what capacity an agency is a really great place to start. So I applied to and got my first job at CAA.
Jon: [Laughter] No, I laugh because CAA has that reputation.
Jon: Just of being a very hard place to start.
Natalie: Yeah. I mean it was also a really good experience for me.
Jon: Right, I'm not saying that, yeah, I mean...
Natalie: Yeah. No, it's definitely a lot like the show Entourage if anyone in your audience has seen that. You know, there's elements of it that are very cutthroat and competitive and certainly I was among people who wanted to become heads of studios and really, you know, aggressive agents like the Ari Golds. And I was there thinking like, "I don't even know what I'm really doing here." I want to do stories. Some of you are representing people that do that. So it was an interesting time, but also interesting in the fact that I was making about half of what I made in an internship in high school per hour.
Jon: And I base my comments on, I just finished Michael Ovitz's autobiography.
Natalie: Oh Wow.
Jon: One of the cofounders of CAA and he describes it kinda that way.
Jon: You then went on to get a Master's.
Natalie: I did.
Natalie: Medill [at] Northwestern. So I went back home for a year.
Jon: While you were--was it there or after you graduated that you started at CNN--did work at CNN?
Natalie: So I did my, my schooling first and then I applied to, it was essentially a fellowship that CNN had. I don't think it exists any longer, unfortunately, but it was for people who specifically have a Master's in Journalism and it allowed you to, it was one position in the L.A. Bureau and I think maybe one in the D.C. Bureau. And you would rotate through all of the departments, all of their different shows, and essentially contribute, whether it was field producing, writing for cnn.com production assistance, editing. I mean...
Jon: So you got to see everything.
Natalie: You get to see everything. Yeah. Yeah.
Jon: From there, your journey took you to Reuters?
Natalie: Yeah. So, well that's sort of, um, I was juggling a couple things at the same time because at that point I knew my goal was to get on air and I had to create essentially a tape, a newsreel that I could send to news directors.
Jon: Well, when you graduated high s-- [not] high school!--, Graduated college, did you have a reel?
Speaker 2: I did have a real, but it was funny. I mean, I've always had this pull back to LA and so I applied to this fellowship not knowing if I would get it or not. My plan was to just send a bunch of applications out, see what happens, apply to local news markets, for on-camera. But then the CNN opportunity seemed amazing and it was back in the city that I felt very comfortable in. So I literally have the job right out of Grad school. I started the following Monday. Uh, so it kind of, it veered me off the on camera path for just a little bit, but I also felt like that experience was really--was really beneficial to be at a major international cable news outlet.
Jon: So I interrupted you on, you were talking about putting together a reel for Reuters.
Natalie: Yeah, so basically after my fellowship ended, I stayed on as a freelance associate producer at CNN and I was creating a reel, I would go out with reporters, I would shoot my own stand ups and look lives for pretend live shots is what we call them. And then I also contacted Reuters because Reuters was looking for people who could shoot, write and edit their own pieces. And so I contributed to their science and technologies innovations feed is what they called it. And so I would do stories, anything related to science and tech around California. I would shoot the pieces myself, edit them, write them, and they would be sent out to Reuters international feeds. And from that reel that I created at both CNN and Reuters, I got my first on camera job.
Jon: Which was where?
Natalie: Palm Springs.
Jon: Palm Springs. Which is where you got the Emmy and the Emmy nomination.
Natalie: Yeah! Yeah.
Jon: How did you get that job? Because I've heard you in your interviews of other newscasters talking about there's tests.
Natalie: [Laughter] Yeah.
Jon: Did you have to take a test?
Natalie: Oh Gosh. I had such a funny experience. I actually tell my students about this and tell them, you know, to be really, really persistent because I did not let this idea of working in Palm Springs go. I really wanted to start there. And so I bugged the news director just incessantly. The reason I want to just start there is because, local news markets are losing resources. I mean, now it's even worse than when I was entering the business. And I knew that I wanted to go somewhere where they would allow me to do live shots and where I would at least occasionally be able to work with a photographer because you do so much better work when you're not also worrying about the production element.
Natalie: And so Palm Springs for me was a place where not only would it be great to live there--two hours away from LA, an airport where I can fly home to see my parents--some of these local markets, no airport for hours in site!
Jon: I grew up in Nebraska so I feel your pain!
Natalie: Yeah! And--and they allowed you to, they did live shots every single night and it was a top rated station. It just had really great resources. So, I just started sending my reel to the news director. His name's Bob Smith. He's no longer there unfortunately, but, I just would send him updates and I would bug him pretty much every couple of weeks saying, do you have an opening yet? You know, here's my new reel!
Jon: [Laughter] "Sure you don't want to fire one of the broadcasters?"
Natalie: Exactly, right! Like, "are you sure you don't have an opening?" And he was very, very nice and he allowed me to come in for an informational interview, but he said, "you know, we don't, we don't have anything. So, you know, next time if something comes up, like I wish you all the best, don't turn it down." And I did not take his advice. I turned down offers, I would go to other local markets and I just saw the value in Palm Springs. I would go to places where I would be doing my own live shots with a satellite backpack...
Natalie: And where I wouldn't be able to go live and where I wouldn't have an airport to potentially fly home to see my family. The little things that sort of add up. And when an opening came, I was the first person, to of course email him because I was tracking the website like an obsessive maniac! And he said okay like of course he announced it in the meeting after I got hired that I pretty much there was no one else he could've hired. I would have bothered him and like kept bugging him and kept flooding his inbox. So the persistence paid off for sure.
Jon: Now I--I heard through your interviews that sometimes you have a test where you have to pronounce different streets?
Natalie: Oh, yeah!
Natalie: I mean cause I was thinking the first--When I first moved to Los Angeles "Sepulveda" did not roll off the tip of my tounge.
Natalie: Oh yeah. Well, some news directors will actually give you a test of the area to see how well you know it. I don't think it's a terrible idea. It's a little bit intimidating, you know, when you're just starting out. But yeah, I remember doing an interview in the Central Coast, I think it was San Luis Obispo where I had to take like five tests just to become a local reporter there, or for the chance to become one. And it was everything from current events to knowledge of the Central Coast area to, you know, go--doing an Anchor audition where they're just giving you names of people and streets...
Jon: And you have to pronounce it?
Natalie: And you just have to--yeah. And so hopefully you've done your homework a little bit. But all of that, hopefully I think good managers know that you can learn anything. You just need a little bit of time and research.
Jon: How long were you in Palm Springs with the airport in the nice weather?
Natalie: [Laughter] So I was there for two years.
Jon: And then you went to Sacramento?
Jon: Tell me about that job.
Natalie: So I went to KCRA in Sacramento, which is, it's known as a legacy station. It's the top rated station in the State Capitol. And one of the reasons I really wanted to go there is because, not only were they so well known in the broadcast world, but I had really enjoyed my experience of being like an investigative reporter and looking into city politics. And so I thought, what better place for stories than the State Capitol?
Natalie: What I didn't know is that, you know, the Sacramento market is number 20 for a reason. You cover 20 counties in Northern California. You cover everything from the Bay Area, all the way to Tahoe, sometimes north, all the way to almost Redding. So you're covering such a wide range of stories. It's definitely not just state politics, but, but yeah, I actually loved living in Sacramento. It was a good experience.
Jon: And then you transitioned back to ABC or not back, but to ABC.
Jon: Back in Los Angeles.
Natalie: Yes. Yes. So, I did not realize, and I think this has changed since when I started, most of LA is a freelance market nowadays, especially for reporters. So most of my colleagues in the business are freelance. Um, it's very rare now to get a full time contract, whether you're on camera or behind camera. And so this opportunity came up and it was for what's called news one. It's the affiliate service for ABC News. So basically, I would go to a national story like let's say it's the wildfires here in California or a hurricane or a mass casualty incident. I file a national story and that story goes to 200 ABC affiliates across the country and internationally. So we have affiliates in Canada, in France, in New Zealand, in Israel--and you're also basically offered up to do live shots for any of them. So sometimes, I mean, I've been in stories where you go live from like two o'clock in the morning until 11 o'clock the following night because it's breaking news and you have to have that live presence.
Jon: And I want to talk to you about the live--which do you prefer, live or recorded?
Natalie: Um, it really depends. I prefer live when there's something active happening. And there's something to show because then it's really exciting and cool and I think live TV's amazing. You can't, there's no planning it, you can't predict it. There's like something really real and raw and authentic about it. What I don't like is when you have to go live, when there's nothing to show, like everything's over. You're just live. We call it :for the sake of live" sometimes just to have that presence. But really there's like just a boring background behind.
Jon: Trust me, there was somebody being arrested an hour ago!
Natalie: Yeah. So for, for those situations, I don't like going live, but when there's something really active where you can sort of take the viewer by the hand and walk them around and show them something, I think that's really exciting.
Jon: For live reports, how much of your report have you already formulated in your head?
Natalie: Well, so for News One, for ABC, you're generally tossing to a package and you don't have a lot of time. Time is really always your enemy.
Jon: Let me stop you. When you say "Tossing to a package", what do you mean?
Natalie: "Tossing to a package" means that I have written a 90 second news package, which is essentially a video that has sound bites. It has video, it has my narration. It's a fully composed video that we have sent to the stations and I toss to it, meaning the anchor's go to me live. I do a two sentence introduction and I toss to the package. You watch the package. I do a close and that's, that's a wrap. Yeah. So, so for the most part it's very, you know, formulaic. I only have the opportunity to be live for a couple seconds.
Jon: Do you ever get nervous?
Natalie: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I definitely would get nervous when I did my first live shots that were national because--locally I don't get nervous anymore. I just, I don't know. I think because I'm so comfortable and I've done it so many times, I feel very good about my live presence. But I remember doing my first live shots for some of the national shows. Like we have overnight shows and when there's breaking news, I've had to go live for ABC World News Now. And that's scary because, I mean you don't know who's watching and it feels that much more important when it's national. So you never want to mess up and you have to remember every--you have all these facts in your head, you have to remember them. So yeah, I've definitely, definitely felt the nerves.
Jon: Tell me about the first time someone recognized you.
Natalie: Okay, well I don't get recognized here at all, but I would get recognized in Palm Springs and it was awesome because--[Laughter]--you'll understand why. So Palm Springs is, it's pretty much known as a retirement community.
Natalie: So our viewers are news watchers, you know, so they're, they're living out their, "blue years" in Palm Springs and they actually watch the programs on like a lot of my peers and colleagues my age here in LA. So I'll be at the grocery store and this really friendly guy in his eighties. He'll be like, "I saw your investigative piece, I loved it!" And I'm like, oh my gosh, my work being something to somebody, you know, it's just a cool feeling when you feel like what you're doing is being appreciated or viewed. So yeah, it was fun to be recognized there.
Jon: What is the most memorable--and I'm jumping around now, but we're at that part of the interview--what is the most memorable story you've covered?
Natalie: I would have to say it was the investigative series that I did in Palm Springs. And it just taught me so much. It taught me how to be a journalist and how to ask tough questions without being afraid and how to hold public officials accountable. And it also taught me really just how much work goes into doing an accurate in depth report. I mean, I had to dig through binders of city documents and it took a lot of time, but those little nuggets that I was able to pull and find ended up breaking angles on the story. And I felt like we had made a difference in the community. So the, the Mayor is no longer the Mayor, he's indicted on, I think 33 counts of public corruption right now. And so I felt like I was serving as a watchdog and protecting the taxpayers there. So that was probably the most memorable.
Jon: In the book, All The President's Men--a lot of people don't know it was a book before it was a movie--but, there Ben Bradley, the editor of The Washington Post required the reporters to have two sources before they went with any story. Is that still the standard?
Natalie: We generally have to have three. Yeah. And if it's very high ranking officials, then two is okay. But we generally, we cross our T's and dot our I's and it's super important to be accurate. And that's something that I feel fortunate that I've worked at organizations that have really prioritized that because I've heard some places don't.
Jon: How hard is that given social media now?
Natalie: It really just depends...
Jon: I mean that urge to get that tweet out there before somebody else tweets it...
Natalie: Yeah. Yeah. But you know, then then comes the fallout. If you tweeted out something: you were first, but you were wrong. You know, and that's happened to big news organizations for sure. But I think that the most challenging part about verifying information nowadays is just having people be willing to put their name on it. That's what I've come across. Like right now I'm looking into a story that I'm really passionate about. It's an investigative piece that I can't say much about, but I have great characters who just are so scared that they will lose their jobs if they put their name on it and put themselves on camera that I don't have that element yet. So until someone is brave enough to come forward and sort of stand up for the cause, it's really difficult because you feel like you have this great story and you really can't do much with it.
Jon: Completely. Shifting gears.
Jon: You're an adjunct professor, which we talked about.
Jon: And you were kind enough to give me a copy of the syllabus before we sat down and I'm probably the only person that's ever read your syllabus start to finish.
Jon: Talking as a professor, knowing that my students don't read mine start to finish, but there's a section that says, "this course will introduce you to the step-by-step process of producing news content from understanding the concept of news judgment, when an event is news and why." And I want to stop there. What makes a story newsworthy? I mean, Kim Kardashian's reading for the bar, sitting for the bar. Is that newsworthy?
Natalie: I know. Well it really depends nowadays, right? Because there are enough outlets out there saturating the market that it's going to be newsworthy to someone probably. And there's a lot of people who want to consume news that I don't find newsworthy. But I think for me, I have a really traditional "big J" background. So for me the litmus test is much more difficult to pass when it comes to news.
Jon: So for hard news, what would, how would it be newsworthy?
Natalie: I mean, I think that the greater the impact, the potential impact, how many people are affected by it. And you know, something like these wildfires, the hurricanes, the mass casualty, you have--it's a national conversation because these are massive events that are historical events that don't happen frequently. Although some of these are happening more frequently. But, I think you would just have to really think about what's relevant, what is the national conversation. And I'm thinking about that more and more now since I've have experience outside of local news. Just what are people, what do people care about? What are people talking about? What are the issues that impact a lot of people, whether they are health related or crime related or economic. I tend to have that filter whenever I think about whether a story is newsworthy. And I think it's actually a great lesson for PR people because I've been pitched so many horrible things throughout my years as a journalist where I'm like, how do you think that this is news? It is completely not newsworthy. And I think that for PR people, I always advise them, you know, find some sort of nugget that's in the news and gear your pitch around that. What makes this newsworthy? Is it current? Does it matter? Does it impact people? I think that's sort of one of the ways I think about that.
Jon: One of the assignments, which this just shows how everything's changed, is for the students to compose tweets and write push alerts.
Natalie: Uh Huh. Yeah.
Natalie: Well, you know, it's really interesting. USC has an amazing program, Annenberg. It has this beautiful facility, the media center, which, allows students to really get their hands dirty with all the different elements of a newsroom. And right now the big focus is really digital. And how do you tell a story that might be told one way for TV, another way for radio and another way for digital? Because most people, most of my students, are consuming their news on their mobile phones or their iPads. So that's sort of thinking concisely because a tweet is only, what, 140 or so characters?
Jon: It's now 280. They doubled it. So you can be wordy now!
Natalie: So you can be a little bit more, yeah. How luxurious. So yeah, it's really getting them to think about headlines, think about what are the most important parts of this story and how do you communicate that in a way that'll grab someone via, say Twitter, so that they'll click on your article and view your content. So we definitely have them practice that.
Jon: And then one of the other assignments is for students to pair up and examine each other's social media profile.
Natalie: Yes. Oh yeah.
Jon: Tell me about that.
Natalie: Well this is a really interesting assignment I think because we, I think most people today live sort of two identities. We have our real life identities where it's a little bit more real. You know, we have ups and downs, we have struggles, we have triumphs, and we're sort of a mix. Some things are good, some things are bad. And then online we put our highlight reel and we put our best selves. And nowadays I think people are much more open than they ever have been. So especially with public figures, you see people being extremely personal on their accounts, whether they're, you know, drinking with their friends or going to parties or wearing certain clothes. They're on vacation. And so what messages are you putting out there that you might not know you're putting out? So this is something that we do sort of at the beginning of the semester where people don't know each other yet. And it sort of breaks the ice, but it also makes you think about your own account. Like, what have I been putting out? How is this read by people who, you know, might not be my friends who might just read it very objectively and think, wow, she's a partier or she, oh wow, she really loves music. She...
Jon: Which would make you, as the consumer look at that newscaster a little differently.
Natalie: Totally. Totally. And you have to think about that because if you do want to be a news personality--I think that it could take away from someone's credibility for sure. You know, one day you're reporting on this really serious bill that's come before the Senate floor and then, but we see you taking shots with your friends. I mean, obviously there's nothing wrong with people having a personal life, but what you show, I think also today it really matters as well.
Jon: How many of the students go back and have to scrub their social media?
Natalie: Well, for the most part, lot of theirs are private. So you'd be surprised how many of how many times that came up actually with this assignment was, "well I tried to look at their profile but it was private." So I think students, especially at USC are pretty smart about about that. And we didn't have too many issues in terms of someone putting on stuff.
Jon: I heard a report that Stanford law is a couple of years ago, all but one or two of the students were not on social at all because they all view themselves as future Supreme Court nominees.
Jon: And they didn't want a history, thanks for saying that. We now know with Brett Kavanaugh who would drink beer. They didn't want that out there.
Natalie: Yes. Yes. Well it's funny because social media for journalists is part of your job. So if you don't have a presence, that's actually kind of a problem as well because you need to be engaging with your viewers and that's a way to pull people in and draw them to your stories and reports. So it's almost a, I wouldn't say it's a requirement, but it's definitely really encouraged to be active on social media.
Jon: And you are active on social media. What accounts--I know you're on Instagram.
Jon: You use Twitter.
Jon: You have the coveted blue check?
Natalie: Yeah. Oh, I'm not on Twitter. Not on Twitter, just on Instagram and Facebook. Yeah.
Jon: And how, how much are you on Facebook?
Natalie: Not as much as I used to be. Facebook's, I remember it started while I was in college and so I used it a ton, in a very different way than I do now. Obviously there was no news on Facebook and companies weren't on.
Jon: Well some could argue there's still no news on Facebook.
Natalie: Well that's true. That's true too. It was really a way to, you know, connect with your friends, post photos from studying abroad. And now primarily I use it, Facebook, as sort of an extra news source, but I just don't check it that often. For me, I love Instagram, just because I love the visual element of it and the photographs are really catching and it's really a black hole because sometimes I could get lost for hours on Instagram and I try not to do that. And Twitter, definitely for news
Jon: Because you had, in the syllabus you had suggested sources to follow on Twitter. How often do, does the news hit Twitter for a major news organization? That they'll do a tweet before it even gets on their website?
Natalie: Oh Gosh. I don't know because I've never specifically worked for a digital department. I would guess that a lot of it's at the same time, just because of how the content management systems work. I imagine that it's sort of, even if there's a preliminary article, it might be super short, so it'll come with a headline and we're working to get more information and that will also be sort of attached to a tweet. I think that they're in hand-in-hand, but I'm not really sure.
Jon: Now for Twitter, do you use the Twitter app or do you use a third party app?
Natalie: I use the Twitter app on my phone.
Jon: How do you sort your news feed? I mean, when it's coming, it's coming fast and furious.
Natalie: Yeah, I mean that's the thing about Twitter that that's why it's difficult for me to use primarily is because every few seconds there's, you know, millions of new tweets. But I have trusted news sources including ABC, which I'll constantly check and monitor and then I get alerts for them as well, especially for all the local affiliates. So anything going on in LA, whether it's LA Times or the local ABC 7 affiliate, I will get alerts anytime something's happening that will pop up and alert me to open up my Twitter.
Jon: And do you feel pressure to build your following?
Natalie: Yeah, I do. I do because I've definitely met with people, whether it's agents or decision makers in the industry that think that that is now a currency and brings value. So if you have a huge following that could potentially translate to viewers or an audience. So I do, I think it's a currency nowadays and it's really difficult to build a following organically.
Jon: I was going to ask how you work, how you work at building your following.
Natalie: I wish I was better at it. I really do. I think I struggle because I have this very traditional background. And so for me, being overly personal is difficult because I think, you know, that's not very professional of me. On the other hand, the personal life or the personal, the personal photos and posts tend to do better because you're sort of being authentic and sharing something and they're behind the scenes. So it's a really difficult line to sort of weave between for me. But I think the podcast has helped a lot because for me, I can share a lot about the podcast and the episodes that I get really excited about. And for me that's like, it has nothing to do with me. I'm trying to get people excited about my interview guests. So I think that makes it easier to post.
Jon: How do you consume content?
Natalie: I consume content in every possible way. I mean, I'm on my phone too much. I wish that I could be better about screen time. I watch different video series online. I follow everything from VICE News to The Hollywood Reporter to 60 Minutes to still some travel programming on Netflix. I consume it in all different ways, but mostly digital.
Jon: The last, I want to touch the last area from your class.
Jon: There's a discussion about fake news.
Jon: How do you define "Fake News?"
Natalie: Oh Gosh. How do I define "Fake News."
Jon: Because one political party would define the other's position as "fake news."
Natalie: Yeah. It's so hard.
Jon: And it's not fake, it's just different.
Natalie: Right. It's so hard because we, I think so many people today live in their own echo chambers and they listen to their own experts and their own personalities that are reinforcing their own worldviews. I just, I think that, you know, just black and white "fake news" is something that's not verified that isn't accurate, that's not based on facts. It's based on maybe conjecture or opinion. That to me is fake news. But you know I've been, it's a really hard time to be a journalist because I've been out in the field and people have shouted at me who I'm not a national figure or very well known in journalism and I've been called, you know, "fake news" because people just scream it at you. And there's definitely this anger that you can tap into among people that are upset with the way things are in our country.
Jon: I have a theory for you.
Jon: That it is helping, that charge is helping the major stations. Because you have to have a trusted source.
Jon: I mean I know I find my own content viewing is like, even though I may disagree with some of the political positions, I'll go to The New York Times or The LA Times before I'll go to some of the other sources.
Natalie: Sure, sure.
Jon: Because you trust them.
Natalie: Yeah. I definitely agree with you on that. I think it's also interesting how news personalities really aren't trusted sources as much as the actual outlets. Whereas I think when I was younger it was different. You trusted a specific person that was giving you the news. And nowadays there's so many shows that are coming out without hosts. And that's something I would try to prepare my students for as well. You know, you, most people are not connecting with news anchors and reporters the way that they used to. The Messenger is not very important nowadays unless you're one of the top, you know, 2%.
Jon: Or unless you have a big Instagram following.
Natalie: Yeah. Yeah. So really it comes down to the story and how compelling the story is because to me, more and more the host, or the messenger, does it matter that much.
Jon: I'm going to go, I'm not going to go the 73 questions a la Vogue. But a couple of personal questions.
Jon: What's your guilty pleasure?
Natalie: Oh, my guilty pleasure. Um, Gosh, well, I'm a really big Foodie, but I don't feel guilty about it, so I'm gonna. [Laughter] Yeah, I think that that's something that really I adopted in Italy and I actually want to go on a tangent for a second because one of the things I'm so glad I've adopted of the Italian culture from living there is this idea of not feeling guilty and really enjoying things because Italians have the art of pleasure down. You know, they wonder why Americans feel guilty about anything. You should enjoy your life. You should work hard, but you should enjoy the cup of coffee, the piece of chocolate, the bowl, massive bowl of pasta. And so I really like to indulge in that, especially with food and you know, traveling. I just, for me, I don't feel guilty about that. So I would have said maybe travel or food, but not that. I guess maybe The Bachelorette. [Laughter].
Jon: You had a great Instagram post on that. It said "The Bachelor: a show about a guy dating multiple women at once, watched by women who, hate guys who date multiple women at once."
Natalie: [Laughter] It's so true. It's so true. I don't know why, but I started watching that show right as I graduated from Pepperdine and I was working at CAA and I'd come home on Monday nights and the Bachelorette was Gillian Harris. I still remember. And I don't know, there's something about it that intrigues me. And nowadays with social media, these people are getting jobs that I wish I could have. They're becoming, you know, national hosts and they're interviewing people on the red carpet and I'm like, oh my gosh, this is a segue into a career!
Jon: If you could star in a movie, who would you choose as your costar?
Natalie: Oh Wow. Okay. Well, I have an answer. Just I've got an answer and it's not--it's not an intelligent or really compelling one. But, Chris Pine, because he's just a huge crush of mine and I dream of meeting him here in LA some day, bumping into him. So he would be my costar. We would be love interests for sure.
Jon: Of course. Have you ever been starstruck?
Natalie: Of Chris Pine? [Laughter] One time I saw him driving away from a coffee shop in a Los Feliz or Silver Lake and I almost had a heart attack. So I think by him only. But no, I've interviewed a lot of celebrities and for the most part I get nervous only if I'm not, I feel like I'm not prepared because sometimes on the red carpet people will come up to you and you're like, "Oh shoot, I know this person's name... That's, I'm not connecting to it!" Um, but no, I don't. Other than that, I don't really get starstruck.
Jon: What is the question you wish people would stop asking you?
Natalie: Well, you know, I get asked a lot if the podcast is my full time job and--I wish! I wish! People keep asking me, you know, about sponsorships and and making money on podcasts. And my answer is always, "I wish, like if you have the recipe, let me know." Because I don't know how to do that. I just, I've been doing it for fun and so people ask me if it's like my actual job and it's not. It's a total hobby.
Jon: Last personal one. How hard is having a relationship when the goal is to keep moving different markets?
Natalie: Oh my gosh. Having a relationship with a news person is so difficult because if you are on the TV side--and oftentimes on the newspaper side as well--, you're moving from small market to middle size market to a bigger market to large market. And your schedule is always in flux. So, you know, I've worked--in Sacramento, I spent two years working weekends and you're working nights a lot of the time, you're getting home really late. So it's really hard to make time for a personal relationship and it's hard for the other person to understand, hey, I can't go out with you on a Friday night. I'm going into work, but we can do like brunch on a Monday, you know?
Jon: "We can bottomless mimosas on Tuesdays!"
Natalie: And they're like, "Ah, I'll be at work." Um, so it's, it's difficult in that, but I think that it also allows you to--the people that filter through that are the people that actually genuinely--
Jon: Are meant to be in your life.
Natalie: Yeah. They care about you and they--it doesn't matter what you do or what the schedule is, they really love you and care about you. So I think it's, it's hard though. For sure. For sure.
Jon: Now, this is a question you had to know was coming. Go back in time. What would you tell your younger self?
Natalie: [Sigh] Go get a medical or a law degree? [Laughter]
Natalie: Um, oh gosh, I--I don't have as good of an answer as my guests do yet. Because I don't, I don't think I've reached the level of success that they have to have that sort of wisdom. For me, I think often about what I wish I knew when I was younger. Like I wish, I wish that I had started on digital earlier. I wish that maybe I had studied something that wasn't just journalism so that I could have a specialty. Like nowadays people are really valued for an expertise in something. So maybe that's law, maybe that's medicine, maybe that's you know, business. And so, I sort of wonder sometimes should I have gotten a different major, gotten a different degree. But ultimately I think I would just tell my younger self not to worry so much, because I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself as I think a lot of my guests have in the past. And you realize that worry just, it does nothing for you. It's just, it hurts you. If anything, it doesn't make anything easier. The only thing that makes anything easier is just moving forward, working really hard, being good to people and doing your absolute best that you can for that day. So I think I would just tell myself not to, not to put so much pressure on myself and not to worry.
Jon: Final question, where can people find you on the Internet?
Natalie: Okay. So I first want to direct everyone to my podcast, to Career Stories, which is on Apple and Google Play and Spotify: Career Stories. And then I'm on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and all of it's just under my name. Natalie Brunell.
Jon: Thank you.
Natalie: Thank you for having me!
The Creative Influencer is a podcast about digital media.
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