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Rising Star Offers Perspective on the State of Journalism

Natalie Brunell recently hosted Aubrey Strobel on her Coin Stories podcast, and the two discussed Bitcoin, the crypto industry, public relations, and their college years.

Rick Schultz

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When two of the country’s brightest minds collaborated recently, the conversation morphed into an engaging, informative discussion about a seemingly unrelated topic.

It was less about Bitcoin, as initially intended, and more about the underbelly of the television news business. So informative and enlightening was the hour-long episode that any aspiring television news journalist should note.

Natalie Brunell recently hosted Aubrey Strobel on her Coin Stories podcast, and the two discussed Bitcoin, the crypto industry, public relations, and their college years. But perhaps most interesting was their in-depth discussion about the challenging and often pernicious side of the television news business.

Before transitioning to the main topic of the program, the promise, and future of Bitcoin, Strobel explained how a girl from New Mexico ended up living in New York City.

“I actually came out here because my Mom, it was for journalism. Back in the day, I was in the Roger Ailes reporter program, before Roger Ailes was taken down,” Strobel, host of the new show, The Aubservation, said. “I basically lived the movie Bombshell, if anyone’s seen the movie Bombshell. I was living that when I came to New York.”

After graduating from New Mexico State University, Strobel faced the dilemma confronted by many aspiring journalists – whether to begin in a large or small market.

The question is not a small one for graduating professionals looking to make their mark. 

A large market may provide connections. However, the prospects for rapid advancement may be limited by one’s lack of experience. At the same time, a small market may offer opportunity, albeit with meager pay and relative obscurity. 

“I had offers to go and work in these smaller markets,” Strobel told Brunell. “Because you know you never go to a number one market. New York City for a journalism degree after college is unheard of. You never do that. But this program for Fox, my Mom wanted me to apply.”

While providing a springboard for Strobel, the Fox program was about to undergo a major change. On August 5th, 2016, TheWrap.com wrote that Fox News would drop Ailes’ name from the apprentice program.  

“The Ailes Apprentice Program will now be called the Fox News Apprentice Program. Ailes, who stepped down amid a sexual harassment investigation, started the program and named it after himself back in 2003,” Brian Flood wrote for The Wrap. “The program recruits and develops diverse talent who are given a salary and training for their careers. Several past graduates have gone on to work at Fox News. The minority journalist program is in its 12th class and the current group is scheduled to finish in November.”

In her opinion, the time during which Strobel began this phase of her news media career was considerably different than it is today. 

“This was also before Fox was like, not that it’s different now, it’s just a different climate in terms of political reporting,” Strobel said. “This was before the election. It was a little bit more, I think they’ve moved a little bit more opinion based, but all of these networks have. Every single one. It was just more covering the election cycle, which I was really excited about the opportunity to do.”

When her time in the apprentice program ended, Strobel decided to remain in New York rather than begin in a smaller market.

“I know that lifestyle because I worked my way up from a little, tiny market to a big one,” said Brunell, whose early career was also in television news journalism. “My first market was Palm Springs, but I visited so many more. It was great because it was like the backyard of Los Angeles, and I was with a great station and all of it. But it was market 150, and that’s where you start. You’re making no money; you’re covering a little bit of everything. I looked at stations in different states, such as Texas and Missouri, and this and that, but I was really excited to start in Palm Springs. But a lot of people, especially if they interned in, let’s say, a big city like New York City, they have to make that decision like should I stay and work kind of in the network or behind the scenes, or do I go to one of these tiny markets that may or may not even have an airport?”  

The daughter of two teachers who taught on the Navajo reservation in northern Arizona, Strobel always felt that journalism was a natural fit for her talents, background, and interests.

“I really, really just always loved politics. And because my Dad is an American History teacher, it was just something that felt important,” Strobel said. “And I really also loved Clarissa Ward from CNN. She covers wartorn situations, Syria, Libya. I was following all of her coverage, and I thought it was so amazing and sort of heroic that she was putting herself on the line in a way and serving.”

Strobel has seen the evolution in the news media business over the last decade since she began her career.

“I just think content has changed, and storytelling has changed. The way we’re even having this conversation right now,” she told Brunell over the remote connection. “And I saw that trend happening too, back then. I saw news networks like Cheddar pop up, which you probably saw too. Things were going more digital, and you could have a voice and talk about these things that were important to you, and that mattered, without being on Good Morning America and being an anchor.”

Not that the traditional media was altogether bad, but today’s news consumer simply has different needs and preferences.

“Yeah, it has all the, like, credentials and, you know, validation and people love watching that show, but actually the generation shift of Millennials and Gen Z, they’re not consuming news from Good Morning America. They’re just not,” Strobel said. “Everyone’s talked about news has been dying for years, but it wasn’t even how I consumed my news any more. So I felt like you can have a voice and an impact and tell stories, but it doesn’t have to be for, you know, Fox, Good Morning America, Today Show, whatever. But I did love The Today Show growing up, so that would have been great.”

“It’s so interesting because the change in the industry happened so quickly, between when I was young and when I went to college and graduated, the technology shift and  social media coming out and all of the sudden everything’s digital, and you’re a one-man-band instead of having a crew. Everything changed,” Brunell, who has embraced those changes to become one of the most eloquent voices on the emergence of Bitcoin, agreed.

A twin from Gallup, New Mexico, Strobel found that her time in the apprentice program taught her what television news was really all about. She said every other woman there “looked stunning” and “everyone was gorgeous,” and much of her time was devoted to changing outfits, fake eyelashes, and gobs of makeup.

“We both know that broadcast does care about what you look like. Fox cares about what you look like,” Strobel said, detailing stories about having her wardrobe changed because she didn’t have the correct look. “And they also put so much makeup. I mean, I did not even look like the Fox-i-fied look. There’s a whole thing that they do. And at the end of the day, Fox is selling an image. They’re selling a person and a brand and the people that work there. And so it was a moment where I did question, was I here because I’m talented, I’m smart, and I’m good at reporting?”

Based on their enlightening conversation, Brunell and Strobel agree on much. They both hold tight to the ideals of principled journalism and used those standards to fuel the early stages of their careers. 

Both believe journalism has evolved but that it should always hold true to the noble precepts that initially attracted them and continue to attract others to the industry.

And while much of their conversation was devoted to the changing news media business, they both agree that Bitcoin has bright days ahead. A future that, quite similar in their opinion, offers so much good to many people worldwide.  

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BNM Writers

Michael Berry Doesn’t Want to Be All Serious All the Time

“I get to entertain everyday and people come and listen to me. That really — more than anything else — is the thrill.”

Garrett Searight

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A photo of Michael Berry

There are plenty of nationally syndicated radio shows that began as local shows. Not many hosts, however, have both a local radio show and a nationally syndicated show each weekday. But Michael Berry isn’t your average radio talk show host.

In addition to hosting a local show on NewsRadio 740 KTRH, Berry hosts The Michael Berry Show on more than 40 stations throughout the nation. And he believes having a local show in his hometown market — Houston — while still getting to talk about national topics on his afternoon show is the ideal situation for him.

“It lets me sort of keep my hand in two very different pies and do two very different shows. And that fulfills me,” Berry said. “I wouldn’t want to do just one or just the other. And I think part of it — I was the Mayor Pro Tem of the city of Houston, so I got very involved and very entrenched in the political world. I know a lot of the restaurant owners, I know a lot of business owners, and I really enjoy making the fourth-largest city into a tiny town for our listeners.

“But I also want to be able to talk to a national audience on a national level. I get to do both of those. I think that’s ideal for me.”

Michael Berry served on the City Council in Houston from 2002-2008, which gives him a unique perspective about both local and national politics that many others in the format don’t have.

“I think the experience of how bills are made and the backroom deals and how they’re done, I think that informs my opinions in a way that if you haven’t done that, it makes it harder to understand,” said Berry. “Also the blocking and tackling of how you get bills passed and how you win elections and those sorts of things.

“It just gives you that experience and it also helps you understand when a politician or an elected official says something that seems to go against what he believes or what he promised. You have a better sense of ‘Ok, who did he sell out to? Why did he do that? Where is the pressure point?’

“Because I think listeners want to understand not just why is Mitch McConnell doing something that feels like it’s against what the base is doing. The better question is, what’s the pressure point? What’s driving him? Who’s pushing him into that corner? And I think when you’re in the process, you get a very good sense of that.”

One could refer to Michael Berry as an almost new-age news/talk host. While one of the large criticisms of conservative talk radio today is the vitriol and anger most hosts present on the air, Berry is often presenting the opposite. Oftentimes, his show isn’t centered on conservative political viewpoints at all. A constant presentation of hope, admiration, and excitement not just about politics but about culture and the conservative lifestyle is the backbone of Berry’s program.

And while he has an affinity for those inside the conservative talk radio format, he simply believes he’s filling a different, virtually unoccupied, lane.

“There are some brilliant people out there on the radio. Sean Hannity has access to every elected official. Clay (Travis) and Buck (Sexton) are getting access to anybody they want as a guest. Mark Levin is a brilliant mind, a brilliant legal mind. (Glenn) Beck has a great perspective from decades of experience. Dan Bongino’s a really smart guy. There’s some really, really clever, smart, experienced broadcasters. I don’t need to be a lighter version of them, which is all I could ever hope to be. I want to be who I am,” admitted Berry.

“And I don’t see myself as competing with them. I wouldn’t want to. They’re all wonderful. We can all coexist, but I don’t want to watch the same show 24 hours a day. I want to create content that is different than other people are doing,” Berry continued. “Not because I’m better or they’re not good, but because I don’t think I can do it as well as they can. So I want to do what I do well.”

Michael Berry free admits he’d get bored simply sticking to the conservative political script for two separate shows each day. That’s why weaving other topics into his program continues to excite him.

“If all you do is what I call angry, old white man radio, you can’t build an audience and you can’t keep an audience. And the reason is that it becomes tedious. It becomes a chore to listen to. And everybody has heard that type of program that never laughs at anything and especially not that itself. We want to make people laugh. We want to talk about real life things, as well. We don’t have to talk politics 24/7.

“When I think about the influence in this country, on the culture, comedians have always had such an influence. The reason is that when you’re laughing, you’re thinking, and you’re engaging and you’re building your bond. I think that one of the great barriers to success in radio and success for the conservative movement is the inability to bond on the deeper level of let’s share a laugh.

“I think there is a great joy when I find that I’m making a point that I consider to be important, and yet in the middle of it, we can all laugh.”

Ultimately, Michael Berry doesn’t view his role in talk radio as a political pontificator, conservative advocate, or a preacher from behind the Republican pulpit. He views his craft from a completely different angle.

“I view myself as an entertainer. The hardcore conservative listeners don’t like me to say that because that means you must not mean what you say, or you’re not serious. I mean every word I say. And I’m very serious,” Berry stated. “But I’m serious in the way Dave Chappelle is serious. And make no mistake, Dave Chappelle is having a huge influence in America today on how we view the First Amendment or the concepts of freedom of thought…the reason is, is because he’s dead serious while making you laugh.

“When I was really deciding that this was a career I wanted to pursue…I went and studied stand-up comics, because I felt like that was the place. Otherwise, I would just mimic the guys that were already successful, and I didn’t want to do that,” Berry continued. “I felt dishonest about that.

“So what I did, instead, is I went and studied comedians, and delivery and how you engage an audience and how you hold an audience and how you make a point without beating the audience over the head with it. And how you go from point to point, how you pivot, how you make it fun. A lot of these are sort of back porch conversation tricks, you know, parlor games of, of how we keep a conversation going except it’s a one one man conversation without it feeling like I’m lecturing you.”

During our conversation, Michael Berry admitted he can hear hosts around the country who have lost the will to create compelling content, who say things they don’t believe, and are no longer in love with the format that once enticed them to join the industry.

However, he’s made a vow to never lose the excitement that comes with working in a format he still thoroughly enjoys.

“I view it as I get to wake up every day excited to go to the studio. My dad worked for 40 years at a plant in the maintenance unit and he hated every day of it. But he had all us kids to take care of. I get to entertain every day and people come and listen to me,” he shared. “That really, more than anything else, that is the thrill. I know that sounds hokey, but it’s true.

“I think that most people probably don’t love what they do…I’m a megalomaniac. We all have to be to have the audacity to think that you can talk every day and people want to hear you, but I love it. It’s a thrill. I love to talk and I love to create stories and I love to create entertainment and create content. And when I hear from people that in some way they enjoyed it. It’s more rewarding than you can imagine, in the way that it would be for a pastor, or a comedian, or a songwriter, or a singer. It is incredibly rewarding.

“We live in an abundance of riches when it comes to content…but for them to choose to come and say I’m gonna let you entertain me,” Michael Berry concluded. “That is the ultimate compliment.”

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BNM Writers

Do Radio Hosts Actually Care About What They’re Talking About?

So many shows do topics because they feel like they have to. Maybe the topic’s trending. Maybe it’s leading the news. But if you don’t care, listeners will notice.

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If you don’t care, why should anyone else care about what you do?

That’s one reason why I didn’t watch the NBA All-Star Game Sunday night. You don’t get a 211-186 final if anyone is remotely making any effort at all. It’s an extended version of the pre-game warmup. Everyone’s throwing up threes with no defense. They might as well break into a layup drill. Nobody wants to get injured in a meaningless game. I’ve endured a lot of All-Star games among the major sports leagues, and I stopped bothering to watch years ago. I haven’t missed much.

That translates to other realms as well. This column focuses on the media, so if you’re, say, a talk radio host, you should be asking yourself whether you really care about what you’re talking about. That’s the threshold question: Do you care? Because if you don’t, are you really going to put in the effort to make the topic entertaining so that other people – your listeners – care enough to listen and stay with you for the whole segment?

So many shows do topics because they feel like they have to. Maybe the topic’s trending. Maybe it’s leading the news. But if you don’t care, listeners will notice. And “I don’t care about it” isn’t a particularly compelling talk radio topic, is it?

It’s easier for local sports talk – it’s a given that whatever you’re ranting about and whatever take you have, listeners care because, well, who listens to sports radio and doesn’t care about what’s going on (All-Star Games notwithstanding)?

News organizations, on the other hand, have a different goal: If it’s news that on the surface is dry and boring but still matters, it’s the reporters’ and editors’ job to explain why a viewer or reader should care. Ukraine or Gaza might seem remote to a lot of people, but their importance to a typical U.S. citizen can’t be understated, and it’s important (and often forgotten) to emphasize why they matter and what impact they have on everyone.

The simple fact is that the energy you project on anything you talk about or report upon is a reflection of what you have invested in the story. You can fake enthusiasm, but if you just truly don’t care about Taylor and Travis, you’ll just be going through the motions and that’s what the audience perceives.

On the other hand, if you’ve invested a lot of time digging into an arcane financial story and you know that what seems like a remote, inscrutable radio topic may have profound consequences for many consumers, emphasize that and make clear why the viewer or reader should care, and do it right out of the gate to grab their attention.

Here, a digression: Why do they even bother with the actual All-Star Game anymore? Take the NBA All-Star Weekend: Nobody will remember anything about the game (other than that one team scored over 200 points) but everyone will remember the Steph Curry-Sabrina Ionescu shootout. They may remember Mac McClung’s repeat dunk contest win or the celebrity game or Rising Stars games.

Why not just do the skills and challenges, which are usually entertaining, and skip the All-Star Game itself, which isn’t? Maybe add some contests and honors for past greats. Most of the people who trek to the All-Star venue are there for the parties anyway. And with baseball now doing interleague play all season, none of the All-Star Games involve getting to see players who don’t normally face each other in the regular season face off. They don’t need a game nobody in it wants to play. I recognize this will never happen.

But the main takeaway here is that it’s less true that you can’t make someone care about a thing they don’t care about themselves than it is true that if you don’t care, you have zero chance making anyone else care. Your poker face isn’t that good.

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Radio Was Built For Charity and Volunteer Work

Your charitable activities build a better world. Your radio show and station make a real difference.

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Art Bell once said, “We are all here for a Cosmic Blink. Use your time wisely.”  The wisest man in all of history, a fellow named Solomon said, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” All of us are drawn to radio for usually a basic human impulse…it is a narcissistic rage that exists in every baby. Look at me! Listen to me! My opinions are important!

Unless you are a completely narcissistic fool, you have looked in the mirror and wondered about why we are here. What is your worth in the cosmic blink? Ok, let old Uncle Peter (Yes, I went full third person) explain.

We have all been given an amazing platform. Not only to spout our beliefs, biases, and humor, but to touch our communities. Does your show have a charity? Why not? Does your station have a charity or a “Day of Action” to support local causes? The answer should be yes. Radio shows and stations raise millions of dollars to improve our society. We raise awareness of issues that create change. It is why we are here. 

Before I give you some random idea starters for your show/station, let’s talk about the charities that you personally support. Do you give a portion of your income to religious, humanitarian, or conservation projects that you believe in? You should if you don’t make these donations. I don’t know what floats your boat, but I think it is important psychologically to donate to organizations that do good things in our world. 

These donations allow a portion of the cosmic blink of our lives to pay it forward. Even if you don’t make a lot of money, a small donation helps you feel connected to our world. If you are particularly blessed by the fruits of your hard work, make that donation bigger. Investing in the charities and religious organizations of our choice gives us significance. Instead of the narcissistic screaming for change, it is an action step.

Your show can unify your community through service. There was a movement that is still going on today by some churches that take a Sunday off from a religious service to spend their day serving their communities. This can be painting an elderly widow’s home, cleaning a park, feeding the homeless, or other things. If you speak to homeless shelters, lots of people want to volunteer on Thanksgiving morning, but not so much in the middle of February. 

So how about a day of service for your radio show? Reach out to a local charity that needs volunteers and make it an all-day affair. Perhaps you can do your show from the homeless shelter. Interview the people who serve the downtrodden every day or interview listeners who donated their day with you? Make it big and use your platform to make someone’s life better.

For those of you who have been doing radio for a decade or less, I have had listeners reach out to me about something that I said on the air 25 years ago. It’s very humbling. Every day you get on the air trying to perform. Heck, have you ever wanted to scream “Is anyone listening?” I have. I had someone reach out to me on Twitter to share a moment that meant so much to him. When those moments happen, I thank them for listening and what an honor it was to impact their memories in such a way. You are making a difference for people every day. 

Your station may broadcast a big charitable event each year. Be involved in every aspect of the planning process. Buy in 100%. When you take full ownership of the station event, your interest will take this fundraiser to the next level. Talk about a way to build goodwill in the community. 

Do you want to create an unbreakable bond? Help a local charity. You will go viral. Take selfies with all of the volunteers and organizers. Put this on your social media. Make it big. Do something that makes a difference. Go to their events and volunteer to do anything. Likely, you will be an emcee, but, if they want you to wrap presents, shovel up some stuff do it. Be a servant. 

In our post-COVID world, I keep reading about disconnection. Civic groups and religious organizations are experiencing a crisis of participation. This is terrible. Our society’s drift into solitude is damaging. Census figures show that the average household size in the USA is about 2.5 people. This means there are a lot of people sitting in a home or apartment alone. These people are disconnected from society. They go to work, go home, and live their solitary life online. Humans are not built for this. Your radio show is a connection for them. By the way: Your community’s average age is probably around 37 years. Think of this. You are a lynchpin for building community. Your station’s charitable events help people belong to something greater than themselves.

You are an influencer. Be a leader. Build a community. Create belonging.

Your charitable activities build a better world. Your radio show and station make a real difference.

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