Becoming a Radio Journalist: Q&A with ‘The News Chick’ Linda Thomas

radio journalist linda thomas KIRO radio

KIRO morning radio host Linda Thomas, pictured with her co-host Dave Ross

One of the hardest decisions we make in life is determining who we want to be when we grow up.

Considering the average American worker holds just under 11 different jobs between the ages of 18-42, most everyone is burdened by some level of hesitance in declaring a life plan.

The question of who you will be seems daunting even when approaching college at age 17, when parents, teachers and school counselors all seem to want to jam the big decision down your throat.

For Linda Thomas, the path wasn’t a struggle at all, it was abundantly clear at an early age.

“I was a reporter by the age of 5” says the award-winning radio journalist.

“In kindergarten, I asked classmates a lot of questions about themselves and then wrote their answers down in a notebook. My kindergarten teacher also called me “bossy” because I told the other kids which crayons to use, but that’s another matter.”

Thomas has made a career out of interviewing news makers big and small, her passion for story-telling is infectious, her belief in the power of journalism inspiring.

Here’s more with morning news anchor at KIRO radio in Seattle and Digital Journalist for MyNorthwest.com, Linda Thomas:

During your 25 years in broadcasting I’m sure you’ve worked with all types of people…is there one trait, or skill, that generally leads to success?

Thomas: Passion.

There is a place in a reporter’s soul that compels them to do something. For some, they’re compelled to find the truth, for others they need to right a wrong, for me I just have to know what someone’s story is.

That drive can’t be taught. It’s a part of who they are.

It’s as second nature as putting your feet on the floor when you get out of bed, you don’t think about it, you just do it. Successful people are driven to change the world around them in some way, either by providing information that will make a difference, or simply introducing you to someone who changes the way you view the world.

You were named one of the top 100 news-people student journalists should follow on twitter…why should student journalists follow you?

radio journalist linda thomas kiro radio

Radio journalist Linda Thomas explores the key element to a successful career in the broadcast media (Photo Courtesy: MyNorthwest.com)

Thomas:Twitter is truly one of the great joys of my career. It has helped me connect with people around the world I otherwise would never have met.

Some of my best friends in real life today are people I met first through Twitter. I understand how this medium works. It’s not an extension of what you do on other platforms. It’s a unique and valuable tool of its own.

I’m happy to explain how I use it to student journalists. Twitter for me is not about the number of followers, it’s not about sharing links, it’s not about the words that take up 140 characters, it’s about relationships.

I’m grateful Twitter has helped me create an amazing network of friends and colleagues.

You’re diversified. You aren’t just a news radio anchor – you’re a print writer, a blogger, a social media maven – is that what the industry demands now, that you can’t just do one thing anymore?

Thomas: Yes, the industry demands diversification. Diversification is also fun! Wouldn’t life be boring if you just did one thing?

I’ve diversified not out of fear, but because stories lend themselves to different mediums.

Sometimes an audience needs to hear the voice of a person featured in a story, other times, that story might be stronger with their quotes and no audio. Maybe a picture with voice over works best.

There are many ways to tell a story, and as a journalist today you’ll be more valuable if you are able to use several of the tools (audio, video, print, online, social media) proficiently.  The real benefit though is that it gives the journalist more ways to tell a story that’s important to them.

My advice is to specialize in one medium – mine is audio – but understand how to use them all.

An ambitious intern comes up to you, full of admiration and says “I really want to be on radio” – what advice do you give them?

Thomas: Great! The industry needs people who are excited about radio journalism.

When I got into radio broadcasting 25 years ago people said it was a dying medium. Now, 25 years later I’m still able to do what I love so it hasn’t died yet.

It is evolving as radio listening has declined and podcasting and online sources of audio become more dominant. There will always be a need and a way to tell stories with audio.

That’s what radio was when the first commercial broadcast was heard from KDKA Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on November 2, 1920. That’s what radio is today when I broadcast the morning news from KIRO Seattle, Washington.

You’ve interviewed hundreds of news makers, is there one interview that stands out for either good or bad reasons? (p.s. my daughter loved your Macklemore article)

macklemore interviewed by radio journalist linda thomas

Linda Thomas finds interesting stories in all people, penning a wonderful article on Macklemore, before anyone knew his name.

ThomasIt was amazing to interview Macklemore – Ben Haggerty – in the living room of his apartment as his girlfriend was trying to clean up the laundry that was scattered in the house. This was before he hit it big. He was down-to-earth, vulnerable, and even spiritual. I love the guy because what you see really is what you get.

Every person I talk with becomes my “favorite” interview until I move on to the next.

There is one man I’ll never forget named Joe Moser. He was a farm kid (like I was) who ended up becoming a pilot during World War II and was one of the few Americans held in the Buchenwald concentration camp. I listened for hours as he told me his story, and about what life was like when he got back to the United States and no one believed him. I listened to him talk for hours and the only time he cried was when he talked about how much the U.S. flag and what it represents means to him.

Remarkable man, remarkable story.

I’ve just passed the 1.5 million word count on my blog, and I’m so blessed to be able to do what I do.

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About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the broadcast media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, you should.

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