Allie Clifton: ‘You can’t fake who you are’

My post-grad class had a wonderful time with Allie Clifton, who is the Spectrum TV pre-game host for the L.A. Lakers telecasts. She played college ball at Toledo, work for the ABC affiliate doing sports there, caught on with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ broadcast team, and has been with the Lakers for a couple of years. She talked with us for nearly an hour, and was open and smart and helpful. I’ve pulled a few of the gems she passed on.

On her professional path

“I’m 32 and I still wake up and wonder if I’m heading in the right direction. If I’m doing what’s right. If I’m putting myself in the best position to succeed.

“You have to have that inner drive because it’s competitive just as much as it was competitive for me between the lines on the court. It is that much competitive or even more so competitive in the profession I am in now. You can have a goal. You can have an idol. You can look to so many others in particularly this business and say you want to be that person.

“But the one thing I’ve learned is you can’t fake who you are. You have to be true to who you are. And along the way, there are those doubts and there are those failures and as an athlete. I learned without failure. There is no success.

What she wishes she had known at 22

I think the one constant is I wish I would have known is that preparation and hard work will forever be necessary and important. I’ve had moments where I’ve gone into a broadcast and I’ve walked away on a high and I felt real confident and I felt great. And there’s ultimately  moments of just like wanting to relax and just kind of relish in the moment and take it all in.

“I think of Cleveland and those six years I traveled with the team. And I covered every single game. I went to every single practice and in six seasons. I probably missed five, five to seven practices. It gets exhausting. And so there’s moments where you do have those great broadcast and you want to just go back to your hotel room on the road and go to sleep or you want to get on that airplane, as you guys catch that flight to the next city. Get in at 2:30 in the morning and you have a back to back, and a broadcast.

“That’s just like the one thing that I didn’t understand — how much hard work and preparation goes into being successful in this business and really anything in life.”

On hearing “no”

I don’t know how many no’s and in as many ways that I received. I know, while getting my master’s, that I received that there would never become a yes. And lo and behold, it did it happen. And that was my opportunity in Cleveland. But you have to be persistent through all of those no’s. You know I played college basketball, Division One, at the University of Toledo, Mid-American Conference, and I was told at one point that I couldn’t work at a specific network because I didn’t play in their conference. And I mean, you talk about giving everything you have for four years to the university and sacrificing time with your family and friends …to get that kind of no was hard. And so I think just understanding that, one’s no could be another person’s yes.”


“It’s like the biggest key in this game is you can never be connected enough because those people could ultimately be a mentor of yours. That can ultimately be that foot in the door to your next opportunity that you didn’t see coming. And so I think: stay persistent and know that there is an opportunity out there for you. You just have to keep going for it. It’s important. And it takes again a lot of work. But it’s worth it. It is worth it.”

Sunday sampler

N.C. newspapers continue to feature racial justice-related stories on their front pages, including these from Statesville, High Point, and Wilmington, which includes a story about the 1898 coup that I can’t find on the Star-News website. (Has anyone told Gatehouse that the search function at its websites doesn’t work?)

Other good stories:

Hickory: Wait. What? That’s me!!!! “People aged 65 and older represent only 12 percent of the total confirmed cases in North Carolina but 79 percent of all deaths.” The Daily Record talks with senior citizens about how they’re dealing.

Jacksonville: The number of child abuses cases is down in Onslow County since the virus hit, but it’s complicated. “She explained during the stay-at-home order, the CAC was only able to serve children under emergencies,” which include if medical intervention is needed or sexual assault is indicated.

Raleigh: The N&O has a good piece on why the PPP program has been so problematic for all small businesses, but especially Black-owned ones. “The process for applying was incredibly complicated, and a lot of businesses are feeling like they will have to hire an accountant to help them figure out how to apply,” Ward said. “It adds cost and a huge amount of time that was never intended … so that’s a real challenge for smaller businesses.”

Raleigh: The N&O has a stunning story about how the coronavirus spread at Butner prison and ineffectual efforts were to stop it. “Butner is emblematic in other ways. Prison officials were slow to test for the disease, enabling infected men to spread the virus to their neighbors in cramped dorms where social distancing is impossible. In sworn affidavits, prisoners reported they went untested for six weeks or more even as their dorm mates fell ill, were taken to hospital and died. Officials moved infected men among the complex’s five units.”

A collection of the best reporting advice

This Twitter thread….

…is pretty damn awesome. And on target. There are 805 comments and counting. Some of my favorites:


In the company of giants: the Ethel Fortner Award

I was on my way to looking up something else on Wikipedia, and I noticed a hyperlink to the Ethel Fortner Awards, which were awarded by my alma mater, St. Andrews College, to “recognize persons who have been outstanding contributors to the writing community.” (Ethel Fortner was an accomplished poet and a contributor to the St. Andrews Review.)

Back in 2000, I joined the late Frank Barrows, then the managing editor of the Charlotte Observer, and Stevie Daniels, who is an editor, writer, poet and horticulturalist, in receiving the award. I had been editor of the News & Record for two years. All three of us were graduates of St. Andrews.

We were feted at a lunch and all three were invited to give short speeches. As I sat at the podium and looked over the crowd in the Belk Center, I recognized a few faculty members who were there 26 years earlier when I was there. I wondered if they actually remembered me as a student. I was quite unremarkable; I rarely spoke in class and graduated with a middlin’ GPA.

Dr. Dick Prust, who taught philosophy, introduced me. Dick was a young professor when I was there and made an offhand comment to me after I graduated that made a pivotal difference in my life. In his introduction, he began by quoting from “The Chronicle of Divine Decadence,” which was a mimeographed monthly newsletter I sent to my suitemates and assorted St. Andrews friends for a year or two after graduation. It was a stream of consciousness update on what all we were doing and thinking. It had all the sophistication of a college boy’s diary, I’m embarrassed to say.

Stevie and Frank gave eloquent talks about writing and St. Andrews. Both had prepared texts. Stevie and Frank were – and in Stevie’s case, still is – excellent writers. I wasn’t known for my writing, and I knew it. I was there as an editor. I had a few notes and spoke for five minutes or so, making the point that St. Andrews didn’t teach me how to write; it taught me how to think, which helped me be a decent editor.

So, as I stumbled upon the Fortner entry in Wikipedia, I was agog at the other awardees. Maybe I knew who had received it before me; I don’t remember. Some I knew because we were friends at St. Andrews — Tom Patterson and Beth Copeland. Some were faculty members — W.D. White and Charles Joyner. And then those I know only by reputation: Bill Friday, Geneva Holshouser, Rolfe Neill, Roy Park, Doris Betts, John Ehle, Heather Ross Miller. It’s a breath-takingly impressive group; I’m humbled to be a small footnote in it.


Sunday sampler

President Trump may be trying to refocus Americans away from issues that hurt him politically but at least one slice of the media world hasn’t followed along. Rather than worrying over monuments, newspaper editors are in touch with their communities and covering stories that touch them directly: the pandemic and racial justice.

Raleigh: “Last Sunday, two groups of protesters planned gatherings in two downtown Raleigh parks, both working to draw attention to police brutality against minority groups. One gathering was by protesters mostly focused on the concerns of LGBTQ people. The other was by protesters who have been fighting racial discrimination against Black people. By the end of the day, the two groups had merged together to march as one.”

High Point: “The City Council Public Safety Committee recently discussed the ‘8 Can’t Wait’ reforms being touted by activists in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in the custody of Minneapolis police. ‘I think what people around the country are protesting is the instances where unarmed people end up dead in an interaction with police,’ Councilman Michael Holmes said.”

Wilmington: “Last month, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo asked city attorney John Joye to start looking into what a citizens’ review board — essentially, a community board with oversight of police actions — could look like in the Port City. The creation of such a board is one of the things local protesters and activists have been pushing for in recent weeks.”

New Bern: “Residents of Pamlico and Craven counties came together in New Bern Friday for a march to demand the prosecution of a Pamlico deputy accused of using his position to assault women over the past few years. Called the ‘Justice for Sam Justice for All’ march, about 40 protesters gathered at the former Days Inn parking lot at Five Points at 3 p.m. and marched to the district attorney’s office at 310 Broad Street, chanting as they went, calling for an end to racism and violence in American police forces.”

Greensboro News & Record has a story about the impact coronavirus and Black Lives Matter marches coming together to heighten stress among Black people, but I can’t find it online.

The Burlington Times-News has a story about law enforcement officials across Alamance County holding a news conference to address concerns brought forth by a community group about policing, but I can’t find the story online, either.

As for the coronavirus, suffice it to say that several papers cite the number of cases rising in their counties. For instance, in Morganton.

Emily Fortner’s advice for job seekers: Think about yourself as a brand

“Don’t feel boxed in. Your specific concentration won’t hold you back. Your skills transfer.”

That’s Emily Fortner, manager of content & channel strategy at Twitter, speaking to my post-grad group. She was addressing the question of someone who had graduated with a specialty in one area of journalism (broadcast) and was thinking about doing something else in journalism, perhaps social media.

Adrian Walker, one of the participants in the group, suggested we ask Emily, who lives in San Francisco, to talk with us. I was excited about her because I like Twitter and wanted to hear her perspective. I particularly like the idea of networks and how people are connected, even as they don’t know they are. When I looked up Emily on LinkedIn, I noticed that she was connected to my two daughters. It turns out that not only is Emily from Greensboro, but my elder daughter and Emily’s sister were in Indian Princesses together. Networks.

Emily talked with us about job hunting and branding and innovation. She was smart and helpful. But like a bumbling idiot, I forget to record it. So, I turned to the hive mind of the group to help me remember the highpoints. Several participants responded, and then Anna Grace Freebersyser comes in with a detailed outline, which I copied-and-pasted below. (Yes, Anna Grace was an exceptional student.)

There are jobs and Twitter is hiring. She is a hiring manager so she knows.

General philosophy: “Just take the next right step for your career.”

Q: Tips for branding yourself?

It’s not just about the visuals–color, resume, etc. What she looks at when she hires is people who tell a compelling story.

  • Her LinkedIn looks like a scattershot. Regardless of broad experiences, think about what you enjoyed, where you excelled in those jobs and then pull that out and weave it into a narrative.
  • Look for the why and how. Think about what excites you and sets you apart; pull those things to the forefront on your LinkedIn, resume, etc. Think about how you show up as a person more than the visuals. If the substance isn’t there then the fluffy stuff won’t matter much.

Q: How do you distribute that brand?

Think about yourself as a brand or company: Think about how you communicate down to how you sign off your emails. Think about the channels you communicate on–are you active on twitter, Instagram? Do you write a blog in your free time? How do you spend your time building a brand and what channels do you use to do it?

  • Look for consistency and what’s going to set you apart.
  • Think about what you want to accomplish and the type of role you want to have. (Ex. if you want to be a sports reporter, you should probably be an authentic fan and cultivate your channels around that.)
  • Be strategic, but authentic to what is actually interesting and unique about you because faking it isn’t going to help you or the people hiring you find your value.

Q: Would you recommend making content when you’re not employed?

Yes. She just hired someone (further along in his career than us) and one of the things that interested her about him is that he’s been writing movie reviews on the side for seven years. That doesn’t have a lot to do with writing product tweets but it did tell her that he loves to write–enough to do it in his free time–and has niche interests he’s passionate about and can create content around.

  • It’s becoming more of a thing, at twitter especially, to bring your whole self to work. People want to work with people who have diverse interests and can contribute their perspectives to the workplace. If you have professional or personal interests that you can demonstrate through your internet presence that’s great–definitely not going to hurt you.
  • Avoid being gimmicky to get a job but if you have a desire to get a job in content, it’s great to build a presence or a youtube channel, etc. because it shows your initiative and capacity.

Q: Specific advice for anyone job searching?

  • Always write the cover letter even if it’s not required.
  • Be more targeted in your job search. Your first few jobs can set you up for success so if you can afford to financially, don’t just apply for anything and everything. Pick places that will build the career you want.
  • You will probably hate your first job, you will definitely not get your ideal job. But still, think about how a job can set you up for future success and pick a job you can actually put your heart into (otherwise, lack of love will show up in an interview). Use that first job as an opportunity to learn and observe how things work.
  • Don’t be afraid to move around with jobs. Every step should be a step forward.

Q: What makes social media management a cool job?

It’s revolutionized the way we people expect to see and interact with brands. One big part of her job is the ability to communicate difficult messages to different audiences. She loves crisis communication (PR background came in handy). It involves careful message crafting.

Q: Advice for working at a startup?

Startups are typically more flat and less hierarchical so there are fewer barriers to learning from and interacting with “higher-ups” than at a more established company.

  • Take advantage of that flexibility by talking to different people there and learning from them about their roles, the industry, disciplines to hone, etc.
  • Ask questions when you don’t understand.
  • Learn the processes.

Q: What’s the most important thing to know if you want to get into social media management and how to learn it if that’s not your background?

  • You don’t have to pick an industry, but if there is one you like, learn the language of that industry.
  • When you get your foot in the door, keep doing the job well and advancing by growing your skills until you can be more picky about what you do/the scale you do it at.
  • Your skills transfer more than you think they do (content strategy, planning, interviewing all apply from j-school to social media management).
  • Don’t feel boxed in. Your degree matters, but not that much especially in job applications.
  • Find nonprofits or small businesses that you can volunteer to work with and help out with their social media.

Q: What does advancing look like?

  • Have a clear expectation of the role you are employed at so that you can meet expectations. Know clearly what good looks like but have a strategy for getting to great.
  • Under-promise, over-deliver.
  • Over-communicate. If you don’t know what to do, ask questions and get help. That’s way better than the work not getting done.
  • You are a frequent topic of conversation between your managers. That’s not scary, it’s just an incentive to meet deadlines, do the work, present yourself well and continue to be consistent in meeting the standards you purport to have in your personal brand. Be consistent when things go wrong, in emails, in meetings. Be reliable.

Q: How do you know when to take the innovative risk?

Take smart risks.

  • If it’s your first time out of the gate on that work, then it’s probably not the time to take the risk. If there are clear ideas around the deliverable, then try it the standard way first (there’s probably a reason it’s standard). After you’ve done something is the time to evaluate opportunities for innovation.
  • Follow instructions the first time, learn it well, then be critical and by the fourth or fifth time evaluate if there’s a way to make it better/more useful.
  • Find peers to talk about your ideas with. Ideate with others. Lean into your professional network and get feedback.

Q: Mistakes to avoid in job search?

Network: don’t be afraid to reach out to anyone. Be curious and be insistent in learning about what you’re curious about.

  • Don’t let your resume look like a list describing tasks/responsibilities you did. Make it a list of accomplishments/impacts and quantify volume or impact where you can.
  • Do your research ahead of time. Know why you want to show up at this company every day. Speak the same language as your resume and as the company. And, again, tell a consistent story.
  • Throw out the dressing up and bringing a fancy copy of resume (specific to tech industry obviously: know your audience and make a judgment call).

Q: How important is learning to getting where you want to go?

  • Know what’s going on in your industry.
  • Emily starts her day every day by catching up and learning from tech blogs,, etc and sharing that with her co-managers.
  • Always be improving and learning more about your industry and relevant fields, especially as you settle in.
  • Take whatever development opportunities your company offers you. It shows initiative and makes you better.

My plans for the fall

I plan to teach in person when classes begin next month. Yes, the virus is surging and there’s little sign it’ll be under control in August. But everyone – instructors and students – will be wearing masks in Carroll Hall where I teach. Classrooms have been designated with six-foot distancing capacities, which creates a teaching challenge that I’ll discuss later.

I had the option to teach remotely, which means using Zoom, but going to campus and being in a classroom with students is a no-brainer for me. I taught for six weeks on Zoom in the spring and didn’t like it. I wasn’t very good with it, and I missed the students. One of the big reasons I teach is to get to know the students — they’re smart and fun and engaging. You just can’t do that as effectively online. (OK, boomer.) And I don’t think they learn as effectively online.

People have asked me how I can feel safe teaching students who, perhaps the night before, were at He’s Not Here, drinking, laughing with, breathing on and touching others, shoulder to shoulder. My response is always the same: “I go to the grocery store several times a week and I’m usually about the only one there wearing a mask or keeping my distance in the produce aisle. I think I can handle a classroom where everyone is masked and six feet away.”

The rub is that, because of the six-foot distancing rule, classrooms have new, limited, capacities. Many seat only 10 or 12 people. That means I will divide my 20-student classes into two sections, post lectures online for them to watch at their convenience, and have less face-to-face time with them.

Not ideal, and we’ll see how it goes. It would be easier to be completely remote. I wouldn’t have the commute or the gas and parking expenses. I’d save two hours a day not in the car. But I admit that part of the allure is the challenge of figuring a new way to teach, reinventing courses I’ve taught for several semesters. It will give me new skills to be better when we return to normalcy.

Of course, in truth, I’m confident the campus will be closed down by mid-September and I’ll be teaching remotely anyway. The coronavirus has no respect for the “full on-campus  experience.”


Sunday sampler

The coronavirus and racial justice dominate many front pages in North Carolina today. First, the virus:

Irony is not dead as readers see stories about coronavirus cases on the increase in their counties at the same time that their elected sheriffs proclaim they won’t enforce the governor’s executive order requiring people to wear masks in public.

In Hickory, 42 new cases Saturday, the largest one-day gain in cases. Meanwhile, the Catawba County sheriff says the executive order is unenforceable.

In McDowell County, the first paragraph of the McDowell News announces the sheriff won’t enforce the order. The second paragraph: “On the same day, local health officials announced that seven additional McDowell County residents had tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of known positives to 203.”

Rockingham: “As Rockingham County’s reported COVID-19 cases jumped by 13.5% in three days, Sheriff Sam Page announced on Friday that he will not enforce Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order requiring citizens to wear masks in public.”

Jacksonville: The Daily News reminds us: “Compared to the last four weeks, North Carolina is forecast to likely exceed those numbers over the next four weeks.” Onslow County says it will enforce.

Several newspapers throw shade – probably unintentionally – by also publishing this national AP story: “But now, some places that appeared to have avoided the worst are seeing surges of infections, as worries shift from major cities to rural areas.”

Raleigh: The N&O explores how masks became so political. (I say Trump, but that’s just me.)

Now to racial justice:

Burlington: The Times-News publishes a story based on a small, unscientific survey of residents seeking the answers to these two questions: “What is one area/issue you think Alamance County can address to overcome systemic racism? How can that goal be achieved?”

Winston-Salem: “A group of Black Lives Matters protesters gathered downtown Saturday evening to demand more accountability from the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office and better treatment for the inmates detained in the Forsyth County Jail.”

Then, also in the Journal, there is this story about a mayoral candidate’s racist Facebook post. And this one about the racist post by the racetrack owner.

Greensboro: The News & Record publishes a look at how Christianity is intertwined with the Black Lives Matter movement. “As a faith leader, it is my obligation to speak against injustice. Jesus was a victim of injustice. If I don’t mention that when I preach, I’m complicit.” — the Rev. Richard Hughes.

And still other good stories:

Asheville: The Citizen-Times has a package of stories on why police didn’t arrest armed counter protesters (white men) at a Black Lives Matter protest. “Police Chief David Zack defended his officers’ decision to not immediately arrest heavily armed counterprotesters, saying they were concerned about the possibility of a gunfight breaking out in a crowded public area.”

Journalism advice: ‘Push against the conventional wisdom’

Christina Reynolds, VP of communications for Emily’s List, and an alum of Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns, spoke to my post-grad group this week. She talked politics and journalism from a vantage point this group isn’t used to hearing: from the candidates’ side.  She is a straight-talker and gave impressive insight.

Here is a little of the journalism advice she gave, edited for clarity:

“A tip to all the future journalists: We’re all watching your Twitter because we know you say more in your Twitter than you do in the questions you ask and sometimes in your stories. It’s how we get that this person doesn’t like this idea or this person seems to think this or think that.”

“Diversify your sources and make sure that you’re talking to a lot of different people. I try to talk to a bunch of different reporters and I find that there are reporters who only talk to the same people and those same people end up in their quotes. What I find is the ones who reach out to more people and to different people get better stories. I know that seems obvious, but you find that  a lot of political reporters are always talk to the same people.”

“You know conventional wisdom is not always right. And sometimes we fall victim to just assuming that it is. Stop believing the random pundits on TV. I think part of what makes you good on TV or a good political operative is sounding definitive. Push against the conventional wisdom. That’s important.”

Elvis has left the building

The News & Record staff has left its home at the corner of Davie and Market streets since the 1970s. A lot of wonderful memories in that squat two-story building. The people. The stories. The laughter and the tears. I remember the first time I walked in for a job interview in 1984 and the day I left in 2011. Good times and hard times.

But mostly I’m ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ . It’s a building, and not an architecturally attractive one at that.

In 2004, when publisher Van King retired, the paper threw a big dinner in his honor. My wife and I were seated at the table with former Mayor Jim Melvin and his wife. Jim, who  is known as Mr. Greensboro, told me the story of how the News & Record ended up in that location downtown.

At the time, the paper was in an old building where the Cultural Arts Center is now. When Landmark Communications bought the Greensboro Daily News and Greensboro Record, it wanted — it needed — a new building. Jim said that Frank Batten. who owned the company, and Pete Bush, who was the new publisher, were looking for cheap land to locate a new building for the paper. They didn’t care where in the city but the land had to be well-priced, Melvin said. They were looking near High Point Road and I-40.

Melvin was the mayor at the time, he was an enthusiastic downtown promoter, and there was no way he was going to let the paper locate on the interstate. He told me he got the paper a good deal on the Market Street property and persuaded Batten to take it. “I’m the reason the paper is downtown and not at Four Seasons,” he told me.

Van laughed when I told him that story. He said that Batten had always planned to locate downtown. In those days, newspapers were not located in the suburbs; they were located downtown where the government buildings are. That’s where institutional news occurs — the police station, the courthouse, City Hall. Batten just used the other location as a bargaining chip to drive down the price for the Market Street property, Van said.

Of course, that was several lifetimes ago in the news business. Landmark Communications sold the newspaper to Warren Buffett’s company, and the real estate on Market Street became as valuable as the paper. It’s been sold and the staff has to move….

…to a site south of the interstate.