Journalists at Work

Apologies for somehow missing the entire month of May without refreshing this website but, hey, I’ve been a bit busy in another corner of the Internet.

Nearly two months into my job as senior executive producer for digital news for the soon-to-be launched Al Jazeera America, I can report that we are definitely making progress. It’s so exciting to be in a newsroom again — and a television one at that. There are some amazing people coming on board at our cable television channel and the 24/7 digital news operation that I’m proud to be helping to launch.

In case you missed our preview of what to expect from AJAM online, check out the recent post by Tony Karon and me about our digital vision here.

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What A Week For News

This was quite the week to begin a new job in the news business but, as they say, timing is everything.

As I write this, the fugitive suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing has just been taken into custody, the search for more victims of the Waco fertilizer plant explosion goes on and the man whose visionary creation for a national general interest newspaper, Al Neuharth, has died.

Although I began my career working for a series of small newspapers in New York, Florida and Illinois, it was USA TODAY — where I worked for nearly 24 years — that made my career. Thanks to the newspaper, I traveled the country and the world covering the biggest news of the day. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.

But the news business, as we know, eventually changed. A few years ago, I left to join the online world with AOL News and then The Huffington Post. And now, in this most momentous week for news, I begin the latest — and arguably the most exciting — phase of my journalism career as senior executive producer for digital news for the new Al Jazeera America.

We are just getting started and won’t launch until later this year. There is much work to do until then but I hope you will follow our progress and check us out when we make our debut.

In the meantime, read the release about myself and my colleague Tony Karon here.

Where Would You Rather Be?

The never-ending, New Years Eve-spoiling Fiscal Cliff drama still unfolding on Capitol Hill has reminded me why I so disliked my years covering Congress as a reporter for USA TODAY. As many of my friends and former colleagues learned last night, much of their job is standing around. And standing around. And, oh yeah, standing around while our elected representatives dither over what they would — or would not — do about something they should have done long before. In other words, a lot of late nights.

Take this photo that ran in The New York Times back in 2005. It shows Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist briefing the media during the debate on Judge John Roberts’ nomination for chief justice of the Supreme Court. That’s me on the right diligently taking notes. That was a rather calm presser and, unlike those covering the current controversy, I didn’t have to cancel my New Years Eve plans.

Capitol Hill 2005

Now take a look at these photos of me hard at work almost four years ago to the day:

abu ghraib interview

abu ghraib street interview

These were taken outside the prison in Abu Ghraib in Iraq a couple days after New Years 2009. I was there for this story about the transfer of detainees to the government of Iraq.

Yes, I did have to wear heavy body armor to interview a local council member and storekeepers in the market. And I did have to travel in an armored MRAP to get to my appointments. But compared to covering the political battle right now on Capitol Hill, I’ll take a war zone in the Middle East any day.

Who You Calling ‘Old Media?’

A few months ago I was interviewed by a public relations outfit called the Beekeeper Group. They wanted to know about my journey from “old media” to “new media” through my use of “social media.”

I’m approaching 67,000 subscribers on Facebook and recently passed 2,000 followers on Twitter. I can do better, of course, but considering my college newspaper was produced on a Linotype machine, I’m not complaining.

Check out the buzz at Beekeeper here and please follow me @andreastonez.

The Religion Factor

As we await the first debate between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney, issues of religion and politics resonate in this election just as they have in previous elections. Whether it is Romney’s Mormon faith or the insistence of some that Obama is a secret Muslim, faith matters to many voters.

That was the case in the 2008 cycle, the first time Romney made a run for the White House. I traveled on the Massachusetts governor’s campaign plane in the days leading up to Super Tuesday, meeting up with him in Salt Lake City at the funeral of the prophet of the Mormon Church. The trip was a cross-country sprint that included stops in the Midwest, a Super Bowl watch party in the lobby of a Nashville hotel (the campaign gave out New England Patriots caps to the traveling press but the New York Giants pulled off a stunning win anyway), an airplane hangar rally in Long Beach, Calif., and a red eye back to Boston to await returns on Super Tuesday. As we know. Sen. John McCain was the Republican victor that day and Romneysoon pulled out of the race.

Two months before his first presidential campaign ended, I was in Key West, Fla., at the Pew Forum’s biannual Faith Angle Conference on religion, politics and public life. The invitation-only retreat featured some of the nation’s leading journalists, including E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, Mike Allen of Politico, syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker and Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report and Ross Douthat, then of The Atlantic and now a columnist for The New York Times.

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

At the time, Romney was preparing to make a major speech about his Mormon faith to counter the unease felt then — and now — by many evangelical voters. So it was fitting that one of the sessions at the conference featured political scientist John Green discussing his research on how religion might influence the 2008 presidential election. The points discussed, including a Q&A session with the journalists, is worth revisiting as we enter the final weeks of the 2012 election.

You can read the transcript here. Be sure to read all the way down to the part where I talk about evangelicals and Reform Jews and the meaning of being “pro-Israel.” Republicans and Democrats are still arguing over which party should get that label, as I have written about for The Huffington Post on several occasions.

Covering Women in the Military

In 2010, the Navy opened submarines to women. As I wrote for AOL News:

For someone who never served in the military, I’ve walked a lot of miles of Pentagon corridors and eaten in more DFACs than is good for anybody. During more than two decades as a correspondent for USA TODAY, including a long stint at the Pentagon, and now reporting and writing for AOL News, I have chronicled the ups and downs of women warriors.

Whether sharing a tent with female helicopter pilots during the Kosovo War or interviewing a female MP “attached” to a combat unit in Iraq, I was privileged to be able to document the advances made by women in the military.

Fort Stuart, Ga., 1997

Like the photo? That’s me in the my early Pentagon reporting days — before I realized public affairs officers weren’t supposed to provide reporters with a personalized BDU (battle dress uniform). This was taken at Fort Stuart, Ga., where I went to profile the new generation of female commanders, incuding a female colonel who tucked a pistol under her pillow while sleeping in a tent out in the field.

Read the story about my 20 years covering the evolution of a more (but not perfectly) equal armed forces. The headline said it all: For Women in Military, a Long Slog Toward Acceptance.

21st Century Women Journalists

In late 2011, I was honored to be interviewed about my career by a student in School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa. The project involved many of my fellow Journalism & Women Symposium members and together form a valuable archive for women considering a career in the Fourth Estate. Read what I had to say here and check out the other interviews on the JAWS website.