Karen Lincoln Michel | Mentor

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MIJE Staff
July 17, 2014


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Karen Lincoln Michel is an independent journalist who focuses on digital media and Native American issues. She is vice president of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism board of directors and serves on the editorial board of Winds of Change magazine. Michel is a former executive editor of The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, La., and prior to that was assistant managing editor of the Green Bay Press Gazette. Michel began her daily newspaper career in Wisconsin as a reporter at the La Crosse Tribune and went on to The Dallas Morning News in Texas, where she covered a variety of beats. From 1987 to 2005, Michel was on the board of directors of Indian Country Communications, which publishes News From Indian Country in northern Wisconsin. She has written extensively about Native American issues as a freelancer and was a columnist for The New York Times Syndicate’s former New America News Service. From 2006-2008, Michel was president of UNITY: Journalists of Color (now UNITY: Journalists for Diversity), representing news reporters and editors of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. A past president of the Native American Journalists Association, Michel has a master’s degree in journalism from Marquette University.


Karen Lincoln Michel Q & A

Q: What are two important skills a journalist should have?

A: The ability to tell a story using digital tools is an important skill to have in this multimedia news environment. Good writing and reporting are essential, but a journalist also needs to consider how their story will play across various platforms. There are so many powerful apps that can turn a mobile phone into an audio and visual reporting tool. Record an interview and post an audio clip of the best quotes to accompany the story. Take photos and transform them into a dynamic slideshow. Record video and allow the scenes to place the reader at the center of the story. All of those different streams flow together in the art of digital storytelling. Another important skill to develop is the ability to dig deep into a story and follow the paper trail. It takes tenacity, grit and attention to detail, but the hard work can produce some hard-hitting pieces.

Q: What is the key to working well with your boss?

A: There are multiple keys in working well with your boss; but if you’ve just gotten a new boss, one key is to know how and when your boss likes to communicate and receive information. Does he or she expect you to respond immediately with feedback or take a few extra moments for a more thoughtful reply? Is a face-to-face meeting preferable to deliver important news, or is email better because it provides a record? It’s also important to know your boss’s priorities (both immediate and long-term), because then you can be more effective in assisting in the work that matters most to him or her. All of these points fall under the category of communication, and good communication should flow both ways.

Q: If you could have a do-over in your career, what would that be?

A: I generally avoid thinking about what I could have done differently in my career because my choices and experiences – good and bad – have taught me important life skills that I rely on today. But if I had to choose a do-over, I would say that I should have made an even greater push industry-wide for diversity in newsroom staffing and not let that message falter as media companies were downsizing. I should have worked on developing a stronger voice for underrepresented groups in the media. And as part of that philosophy, I should have led an effort years ago for media companies to end the use of sports team nicknames that are racial slurs or offensive toward Native Americans.

Q: What is the most important issue facing journalism today? 

A: The most important issue is our ability to embrace change and move in a new direction while remaining true to our core values. Technology is changing how we deliver news, but our news judgment and journalistic integrity should remain constant. Amid all this disruption of media, I sometimes think about my Native American ancestors at the moment they realized that the way of life they had known for countless generations was coming to an end – and how they ultimately embraced change so that the culture would live on and thrive. I come from a strong, determined and principled people, and I’m not just talking about my Ho-Chunk tribal roots. I’m also referring to my roots as a journalist. We must welcome change to excel in whatever comes next for us as journalists.

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