Behind Journalism’s Glamorous Facade
It seems like this week’s guest Alisa Parenti has done it all from reporting to anchoring to radio to becoming an author to teaching to her current position as the Breaking News Editor at Bloomberg News. She talks to our hosts about her varying experiences and how her love for storytelling overshadows the less-than-glamorous life of a journalist. She also shares her perspective on broadcast personalities who begin to blur the lines between journalist and media influencer especially as the younger generation turns more to social media for their news. We also get to hear Alisa put her teacher hat on and learn what it is like to teach journalism.
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Rather read? Check below for the episode transcript!
Behind Journalism’s Glamorous Facade with Bloomberg News’s Alisa Parenti
Marc Silverstein: Welcome to After Deadline: The Media Podcast. I’m Marc Silverstein…
Kathy Fowler: …and I’m Kathy Fowler.
Marc Silverstein: We are veteran TV news reporters who turned to the dark side as PR and marketing gurus.
Kathy Fowler: This week, we have a very special guest. A veteran in the business, she has over 30 years of experience as a journalist and has recently become an author.
Marc Silverstein: She’s got quite the journey.
Kathy Fowler: Full transparency, she’s a friend and a former colleague. I used to work with her at Channel 7 in Washington DC. We’re excited to welcome Alisa Parenti, Breaking News Editor at Bloomberg News to the show. Thanks for joining us, Elisa. It’s been…we could sit here and reminisce about our old days at Channel 7, but we have way more important questions.
Marc Silverstein: No, I want to hear about Channel 7, but in a second.
Tell us about being in business news.
Marc Silverstein: Alright, so I’ve got a question. You’re in charge of breaking news, breaking business news, right?
Alisa Parenti: It’s interesting because it’s slightly shifted. I’m at Bloomberg News and, for the longest time, I was covering business news which Bloomberg does on the radio. In January, I started with the speed desk, so print guys have what they call a speed desk, and it’s headline writing and blast writing, and it’s general news out of DC. So, I’m covering President Biden, the regulatory agencies, trade sanctions, elections, midterms, those kinds of things, whereas before, I was more strictly focused on the market.
Marc Silverstein: The fact that, as we speak, Elon Musk is firing people at this very minute. I mean, this may date us when you probably listen to the show, but it doesn’t matter. You can listen and see how it turned out. At this…yeah, like thousands of people are losing their job by email. That’s not something you would be on top of at this minute or is it? And if it’s interesting to cover that story, we’ll wait.
Alisa Parenti: Let me say, Marc, it’s such a good point, because Twitter impacts so many people and Twitter is a fundamental way that the speed desk and reporters breaking news reporters get news. And the Twitter story and Elon Musk has been a huge business story.
So, the reality is that, yes, there are folks at Bloomberg who are covering today’s momentous action in which he closed the offices down and fired half the staff and is going wholesale. And I understand taking back his adversaries’ handles and such, but for our purposes, we’ve spent quite a bit of time figuring out how in the world are we going to verify tweets? How are we going to…there’s already so much misinformation that’s pushed through that platform. How will we be able to vet information as we approach the midterms?
And again, I don’t know when folks will be listening to this, but we’re very much concerned about election security and information security as well as we approach this big election.
Kathy Fowler: You think that you’ll have to no longer use Twitter as a big source because who knows what? I can’t believe even… Elon Musk, one of his first tweets after he bought it, was, um, you know, it was talking about, you know, Paul Pelosi and whether he was drunk or not or I’m just like what, what kind of irresponsible action is that to like throw out some crazy accusation that’s not vetted and this is now the guy who owns Twitter, I mean this is insane.
Alisa Parenti: Kathy, so much so, so stunningly awful. I saw the same tweet, you know, and just that this is, you know, Chief Twit as he calls himself. One of the things I do have to do now with this new position is watch his feed and watch what he’s tweeting and it is frightening. Some of it seems very unhinged and, uh, yeah, scary. It’s also scary to think about that much concentrated wealth. I don’t mean to sound naive, but that’s a lot of wealth, all smushed into one person.
Kathy Fowler: Concentrated wealth and now concentrated power over information, you know, is just too much.
Marc Silverstein: But you know, is Twitter really? I mean, especially after he’s gutting it now and reshaping it, is it? Yes. It seems to me… you know, I’m on Twitter all day long with my big 300 followers, so you know, I’m not worried about the eight dollar a month check that I can pay for or not pay for because no one wants to verify me.
But don’t we get a little too Twitter-centric? You know, this is on Twitter now, everybody has to rush and report what they’re, what’s going on in there. I mean, isn’t it kind of overdone?
Kathy Fowler: But it does end up driving some of the news cycles. Right?
Marc Silverstein: I don’t want to insult my 300 followers here.
Alisa Parenti: It does drive the news cycle more than I even anticipated. I think less so in the broadcast world or at least in my broadcast world prior to this where I was doing business news. We kind of covered Elon and Twitter as a CEO and a company, a founder in a company like we would, you know, Elon and Tesla.
But now when you’re, this is a main way that public officials are communicating, be they Nancy Pelosi or Elizabeth Warren or Secretary Raimundo, whatever the case is, this is the way they’re dispensing information, and it has become shorthand and it there, all the news desks are completely, they’ve got those handles coming directly into our views.
So what will happen? I do think that we may see a swing going back. We look at getting being first on calling races and all of that situation. I know that I will be looking to websites as much as, if not more than, than Twitter handles, where that might not have been the case six months ago, the way we would just not being able to vet Twitter, I’m gonna have to turn to websites more often than I would have in the past to verify information and even as an initial source of information.
Marc Silverstein: I have an exclusive for you. The Powerball is now up to $1.6 billion, and I’m gonna win it and then buy Twitter, so you can go with that.
Kathy Fowler: Okay, actually I do, I will be stopping by and getting a ticket though.
Alisa Parenti: Um, yeah, absolutely why not? Kathy, will you call Marc the chief twit if he does do all this?
Marc Silverstein: She calls me a lot worse, trust me.
Kathy Fowler: That half the time…
Marc Silverstein: That’s a compliment.
Kathy Fowler: That is true.
Can you talk a little bit about how you got into journalism and which role you’ve liked best?
Kathy Fowler: All right, so let’s go back a little bit. You began your reporter days in journalism as a reporter. You moved on to anchoring along the way. You were in radio, and now you are an editor at Bloomberg.
Out of all those roles, is there one role… it seems like you’ve done it all. Can you talk a little bit about how you got into journalism and which role you liked the best, or did you enjoy all of them as part of the journey?
Alisa Parenti: It’s hard to choose favorites between our children. But I do have to say that this last year, I had an opportunity to get a book published, and I don’t think of that so much as journalism. It was a historical fiction, but more like storytelling. I have to say that ended up being my favorite of all of it. But there are different pieces of it.
Marc Silverstein: What is the name of the book?
Alisa Parenti: It’s called Betrayal: The Ethel Rosenberg Story.
Marc Silverstein: We’re going to talk about that in a little bit. Yeah, you’re an author. You got to drop the name of the book.
Alisa Parenti: See, I got to get better about this stuff, Marc. I need you to come in and help brand me. That’s what needs to happen.
But I loved reporting. I loved being in the street and talking to people and the excitement. Anchoring, living a little bit more comfortable, structured life. I think there are different pieces of it.
The radio, I love the medium, and that was just really fun. I did that for about 10 years after Channel 7, where I worked with you, Kathy. From there, I went to business radio and worked with some great folks, and many of them are still doing it, doing the thing. Yeah, it’s just, I feel like it’s such a privilege. I always wanted to be a reporter, kind of one of those people who would buy into this idea of it being a service and giving voice to stories that would otherwise go untold. I love that about it.
Marc Silverstein: How old were you when you realized this?
Alisa Parenti: Well, when I was in high school, I was running around, basically, kind of gossipy, nosy, trying to get the scoop on everything going around. Then, in college, I had an internship at the CBS affiliate in Chicago. I went to school at Northwestern. One election night in the 80s, because I am 150 years old, at that time, it was an upset on election night. I was at the winning candidate for, you know, Cook County Clerk or something. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe they pay people to do this. This is amazing.” It was just so much excitement and energy, and then went into local news from there.
Kathy Fowler: So you love this storytelling aspect of it and being the first to deliver the news and spread the news and inform people, I guess, it was kind of what was a driving factor.
Marc Silverstein: The Cook County Clerk, that’s the one who makes sure that the dead people all vote.
Alisa Parenti: Now hey, no slamming Chicago.
Marc Silverstein: That’s how it happened for the Kennedy election. Wasn’t the Cook County that came in late?
Alisa Parenti: Actually, I’m remembering Marc it was Cook County Sheriff, and I want to say the guy’s name was Jim Ryan, so the enforcer maybe of the election stuff.
But yeah, to Kathy’s points, in all sincerity, it sounds really cheesy and hippy-dippy, but I do love that. I just really like doing something different every day and the opportunity to meet more people and kind of get out there.
How do you feel now when you look at journalism?
Kathy Fowler: How do you feel about now when you look at journalism? It has changed so much, and before, to be a journalist, you were trained. You most likely went to college and studied journalism, and then you had to understand the ethics, and now it’s like any blogger or anybody on Twitter could be considered and lumped in as a journalist. I think it really waters down and hurts the profession in a way. In a way, it makes it better because everybody could be a potential journalist, but on the other hand, the irresponsibility and misinformation that happens make it much more possible.
Alisa Parenti: I agree, and I would also say that while there’s been this explosion in the ability to tell stories, as you mentioned, every person could become a reporter, what we have not seen keeping pace with that is news consumers’ understanding of what they’re consuming and what they’re watching.
We have these people who are really personalities on some of the networks, on Fox, on MSNBC, on these places where some of them are decidedly have a point of view. People perceive that they’re watching a news program and they are not. They are watching political commentary, and it doesn’t even necessarily need to be about politics, but it’s definitely a slanted view, and the personality doesn’t necessarily have to say, “Hey, this is unbiased,” or whatever. They may be appearing on a network that portrays itself as a news source.
One way to fight back would be to have more education of consumers of what is the news that you’re consuming. We need more personal finance education in high school and college. I know I personally did. Here I was the business reporter that didn’t… not necessarily that I didn’t balance my checkbook, but it was a do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do situation. In terms of the actual understanding of what you’re watching, especially with all this huge explosion of information, we have not kept pace with ways to understand what you’re taking in, in my opinion.
Marc Silverstein: And what about younger demographics? Are they paying attention to Bloomberg?
Kathy Fowler: They’re not watching the news. They’re getting stuff on TikTok and Snapchat.
Alisa Parenti: Literally. Those are the places, and I think that if you turn the other way and say, “Oh, I’m not a journalist on Snapchat. I’m not going to do that,” well, you’re spelling your own doom because these are the consumers of the future. You’ve got to find a way to have responsible storytelling occur on those other platforms, but yeah, that is where they’re getting their news. The numbers are just amazing to me.
Kathy Fowler: I wish there was an independent body that certified journalists, that you were certified and it meant that you weren’t out there, that you were truly trying to, I know it’s probably impossible to do…
Marc Silverstein: What are you, like TASS from the old Soviet Union? People at the government will decide…
Kathy Fowler: It wouldn’t be the government. I don’t even know.
Marc Silverstein: Don’t they do that in England?
Kathy Fowler: I don’t know, I just know that there are too many people out there sharing misinformation, and there are way too many people who are saying “Well, so-and-so said…” and I’m like, “Do you understand who that person is that you’re listening to?” I mean, it just…it’s wild, and it’s really impacting democracy. You name the issue that we’re having in this country, and not just in this country but around the world, it’s becoming a huge problem. And people are…you know, using it, like powerful people like Elon Musk, and spreading misinformation helps them. It’s just…I don’t know what the answer is, but I know it’s a big problem. And if we don’t get our arms wrapped around it, I don’t know what happens.
Alisa Parenti: I agree with you on all points, and I’m not sure what the answer is. One thing would be to make people more aware, or some kind of vetting system. You know, something, it would be, I think, hugely helpful.
Marc Silverstein: Yeah, so okay, so let’s jump back for a little bit. Okay, so you’re at the CBS…um, I think in Chicago, right?
Alisa Parenti: Yes, I was interning.
Marc Silverstein: Interning from Northwestern. Very impressive.
Alisa Parenti: Thank you. That was nice. Go Wildcats.
Marc Silverstein: Were you at the Medill…
Alisa Parenti: It is Medill, I went there, and actually the best thing I got out of Medill, the grad school program, my husband… Yeah. That poor, long-suffering gentleman.
Kathy Fowler: Yeah, well, you know, if anybody doesn’t know, when you say Medill in journalism, to go…I mean, that’s where people were like, “Well, I went to Medill.” That’s the Harvard of journalism.
Alisa Parenti: Thank you for saying that. I don’t know if that’s true, but thank you.
Marc Silverstein: That’s like saying the Rolls Royce is like the Lincoln of cars.
Alisa Parenti: Are you making fun of me? I’m trying to explain to people who may not understand Medill and journalism.
Alisa Parenti: Well, thank you. Thank you, I appreciate it.
Where did you go after the CBS station in Chicago?
Marc Silverstein: And, um, so you knew, okay, so you took the gossipy things from high school or whatever, you knew you wanted to be a journalist, which is why you went to one of the premier journalism schools in the country. And then you’re working, so what did, from the CBS station in Chicago, which was a big deal, where did you go? Some small town…
Alisa Parenti: I did, I went to Syracuse, New York, which is where my husband’s from, upstate New York. And so we went there, and I started at Channel 5 there. And it snows a lot in Syracuse. A lot. A lot, like…
Marc Silverstein: That’s not a bad market, that’s a pretty good…
Alisa Parenti: It was, you know. And interestingly, too, like it was, like, in the 80s, I think. Now it’s, like, in the 100s or whatever, just as time has gone on. But, but, um, so it was, it was great, and I was just a general assignment reporter there. And, um, it was a great place when the kids were little, but boy, the cold and the dreary and the cloudy. I mean, it snowed on Mother’s Day, and so I turned to Jim and I said, “I’m leaving. You can come with me but I’m out. I’m done now.”
Kathy Fowler: People don’t understand when there’s a big snowstorm and everybody else has to stay home, and it’s the journalist who has to get up at two in the morning before it snows and then stand out there all day long. And sometimes your mouth is so cold that you can’t even form sentences.
Alisa Parenti: Oh, I know. And you just…all, and this stuff is hitting you in the face, and you try to get under an awning and they’re like, no, no, we want to see you out in the elements. I’m like, great, you know, you want to see you look bad. But then my husband had an opportunity in DC, right around 2000, and we moved to the DC area, and I started work, got really lucky, and got an opportunity at the ABC affiliate, Channel 7, and was there for about seven years, primarily reporting during that time.
Marc Silverstein: And that’s where you met Kathy.
Alisa Parenti: And that’s where I met Kathy, and just…yeah, she’s just…I’m a huge, huge fan of Kathy, because here’s what people may not know: she’s great, obviously. Like, the public piece of her is amazing, you know, and a great storyteller, always has been, always will be. But she’s really kind. Like…which is just like, “Oh, really? Like, I’m not”, okay. I’m…I’m kind of…I’m noticing…I’m thinking of you two people, and I may…I confess, I may be more like Marc than like Kathy.
Marc Silverstein: Thank you.
Alisa Parenti: This is what I’m starting to see, a little bit of a cynic, a little bit of, like, “I don’t know. How’s that gonna work?” You know, Chicago, Parenti. So, yeah, I’m kind of more that. But, but Kathy, for listeners, I would just say she’s just like truly a kind, good soul, a great person, and just…yeah, there’s not many of them in news. So, yeah, my memory of her is long-lasting and very positive.
Kathy Fowler: Oh, I was wondering where you’re going with this because I was like, “It’s her story!”
Marc Silverstein: Is there a but… there?
Alisa Parenti: Yeah, there’s no buts. No buts.
Kathy Fowler: On the way to the anchor desk to try to take my job.
Alisa Parenti: No sharp elbows.
Do you have any stories that you can share with the public to give them insight about journalism?
Kathy Fowler: I’m trying to think, so, you have been in TV journalism for quite a few years. Do you have any, in DC, Chicago, what are some of the biggest stories, or some of the biggest things, that you could share with the public to give them insight about journalism? Or is there any story that you covered that still sticks in your mind, or a story that you could have done better, or a story that you’re particularly proud of?
Marc Silverstein: Let me jump in real quick, yeah. For Kathy, the whole premise of the show for Kathy is to, to…that we’re the PR company for news, for all of news.
Kathy Fowler: Oh, that is true. I think that journalism…
Alisa Parenti: I love this.
Kathy Fowler: …is a PR effort. Like, that’s why we wanted to start this podcast is because I’m like “People don’t understand journalists. They think that we go in with an agenda, they think that we go in trying to make somebody look bad”, and I’m like, “You guys have no clue. We just want the story, whatever the story is.”
Marc Silverstein: You also wanted to do this podcast so you could have Alisa on to compliment you, I think.
Kathy Fowler: Yeah, that was it too. I was like, “She’ll say nice things about me.”
Marc Silverstein: It was a really long play.
Alisa Parenti: She’s playing a long game, Fowler is?
Kathy Fowler: Okay, I’m trying to build my own PR image.
Alisa Parenti: Yes, so first of all, that’s amazing and I think it’s really needed. And here’s the other misconception I would argue about journalists, is that it’s so glamorous, especially in broadcast. It’s like, “Oh, and you know the big, the lights, and everything.”
Let me tell you, when you’re running around in southeast or take your city or your neighborhood of choice, and trying to find a bathroom that’s open where you can wash your hands before anything’s open at 4:35 in the morning and then racing back to your live shot, and in many cases doing your own makeup and your own hair and trying to stay warm and a million other things, uh yeah, no, the glamor not so much.
So what I found why I really enjoy the work is that I’ve tried to enjoy every piece of the journey of the day. So, and I’ve said to students, if you don’t like going out chasing sound, you know, interviewing people, which on all of that involves, I mean, they may like unintentionally spit on your face, like they’re animated and they’re, you know, it’s kind of gross, I mean, there’s some stuff that’s not so pleasant, but if you don’t enjoy kind of the opportunity to get out there and talk to different people and put and write and pick your sound and do the pieces of it, you are not going to be happy, because that moment of standing in the lights and being a, air quotes, star, is very fleeting in your day. It’s a very small fraction of your day and you’ve got to really enjoy the rest of the work. So, that’s what I would say towards the perception of it.
Kathy Fowler: Yeah, you’re right. The glamor is about a minute.
Alisa Parenti: Literally.
Kathy Fowler: The rest of it is a lot of grunt work.
Alisa Parenti: Exactly. But one story that sticks in my mind out all these years later was one at Channel 7. I picked up a call into the newsroom and it was somebody telling me about this woman who had skin cancer and had basically been untreated. She was pregnant and she had fallen into a coma, and her name was Susan Torres, and so they were a Catholic family, and the husband wanted, and her family, really wanted for her to stay alive for the birth. The baby inside her was still alive, and so she, I think she was six months maybe when this when she slipped into a coma.
And so that story was, I felt so privileged that they let me into their world to share what they were going through, and I think that was kind of the most important story that I had an opportunity to tell. It’s not like you could ever choose what it would be, you know? I would never have even thought of such a thing, and I would like to say that it was, you know, “Oh, I was just developing such great sources that I happened upon this.” It was just dumb luck, I just happened to pick up a phone, but I think that those are the stories. And I also got to interview…
Marc Silverstein: It isn’t that you just picked up the phone, you picked up the phone and turned it into a story and followed up.
Alisa Parenti: Wait Marc, you’re getting more like Kathy now, what’s going on? You can’t, don’t get nice on me now. I can have two nice, if somebody’s got to play bad cop here, what’s going on?
Marc Silverstein: I’m very hungry. I’m thirsty for praise.
Alisa Parenti: Thank you.
Kathy Fowler: And also, people don’t realize that when you heard that, you picked up the phone and you heard that story, you had to go to the bosses and say, “We have to tell the story and why.” You gotta fight for stories in newsrooms because they’re like, “Well, no, there’s a bed bug story and this would be better.” And you have to fight for why is that important to tell that story. And so, you fought for it and got it on the air.
Alisa Parenti: And this is one of the things that you’ve brought out really well, I think, in this podcast, this piece, that fighting for stories that matter and that it’s not always obvious that your management isn’t always going to take the stories that need to be told because they may not necessarily draw eyeballs. They may not be advantageous in terms of building viewership.
For a while, different consultants would come through, and not even necessarily in the DC market, but other places I’ve worked, and it’s like, “Okay, you need to walk and talk.” Like everybody’s now suddenly walking somewhere. “Where are all these reporters walking?” Everybody’s on the move. They’re walking and they’re gesturing, and it’s just like, “Really? What’s going on?”
But that’s kind of the context, and you’re coming in with like, “My gosh, this is life and death. This family is struggling with and literally, like, when are they going to terminate the life support? She’s technically brain dead. They don’t want the baby’s birthday to be on the same day as when this woman’s going to die.” And just the courage that’s involved in that.
So, yeah, I was really lucky that I was able to get the time and the photographer, get the crew designated, so that I could go cover that, and that they gave me the time to do it. Yeah, for sure.
Marc Silverstein: How did it end up?
Alisa Parenti: They did, the baby was born, and oh my God, this is so weird, I’m going to get emotional, but the baby died after a few weeks. The woman also died, and so I thought lately, like about, I wonder whatever happened with that dad, and that my husband and wife had one son who was I think like three or four at the time. It was truly tragic. She had basically untreated skin cancer. But it’s a common name…
Marc Silverstein: That’s the other thing, you move on on these stories, but they stick with you. You never find out these things, you know, it’s a lot like doctors in a hospital when they treat a patient, they may save a patient, but that’s it for me. We parachute into these lives, sometimes we get bound to them…
Kathy Fowler: You do get emotionally involved sometimes.
Marc Silverstein: You do, and then you gotta unfortunately, you gotta move on to the next story, and you’re always like…
Alisa Parenti: …what happened to that person? Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.
Marc Silverstein: But, uh, no, I’m glad you told that story. It’s, um, yeah, and that’s where you make a difference. And did you have a public reaction? Did you hear from people?
Alisa Parenti: People did really respond and wanted to hear more about them and talked about praying for them. And the family was very receptive. The husband, in particular, was particularly appreciative. So yeah, so that was just, um, kind of the best experience, one of them, that I can remember. I really, really felt positive about that.
Kathy Fowler: The other thing is, you probably, by giving information about the undetected skin cancer, I mean, think of all the people who went, “Wait a minute, I cannot ignore that thing on my…” again. So in a way, her story probably saved other lives. And who knows how many lives, you know what I mean, that it could have impacted and prevented somebody else from going through the same thing, which is what we try to do in journalism as well as make a difference. And those stories make a difference.
Alisa Parenti: It’s exactly right. And as a medical reporter, you know, I know that resonates with you. And that’s why the work is so important. And, um, yeah, those are the things that do make the difference. And you want people to realize that, you know, that’s what the end goal is here, is not to, you know, some of these other things that, not to be famous, not to be a star.
Marc Silverstein: No, I like that part, but especially the restaurant part, eating for free in restaurants.
Alisa Parenti: Oh, now that, I never see this as a thing. I was never almost famous. I wasn’t even almost famous. I never got the free food gig.
Marc Silverstein: Yeah, the free food did not suck.
Tell us about teaching journalism.
Kathy Fowler: So you also, so you were teaching journalism too, right? So how, where did you do that?
Marc Silverstein: Georgetown.
Alisa Parenti: Georgetown, and, um, that was really fun too. And I would say I’ve been involved in, um, at my alma mater, this mentoring program where we pull alumni and connect them with current/future journalists who are students right now. And those interactions, it’s always like, “Oh gosh, I got this thing I gotta do tonight,” and go meet up with everybody. And then when you get there and then when you do the teaching or, you know, teach the class or review AP style or whatever it is, it is so inspiring and so fun to see these young people excited about what’s next or just really early on in their journalism journey, which again sounds super hokey, but it’s true. It’s just, I always feel like I get more out of it as a mentor than I would imagine the mentee or the student does, uh, because it’s super inspiring. So yeah, I really enjoyed that, and I haven’t taught in a while, um, but I, you know, I definitely would be open to it in the future.
What do you think young people see in journalism?
Kathy Fowler: How do you think the young people like, what, what do they see at journalism? How do they see journalism? Are they excited about it? Are they also nervous about it because sometimes you can be in target these days as a journalist, you know, I mean, female journalists are getting, uh, you know, it’s, it’s horrifying.
Alisa Parenti: It is, it so is. And so there are a lot of training for folks that are interested in going into conflict reporting. There are a lot of good ways to prepare those kinds of reporters who are looking for that work.
The other thing that I find really interesting is that I’ve noticed that a lot of journalism students these days are interested in what I would call advocacy journalism. They’re more interested in kind of, not necessarily a bad thing, but telling the story of nonprofits, for example, like “Oh, they…”
And so what is positive in all of that is that frequently those kinds of students will end up being storytellers, not necessarily in a traditional medium, but for the American Cancer Society’s Action Network or whatever the case may be. So, I would say that’s one big difference.
I do think that academic framework needs to take some steroids and really grow into what we were talking about earlier – what it is to be a reporter on TikTok, what’s involved, and understanding who are the people who are putting the feeds in for Snapchat, and countless other apps that you and I don’t even know. Okay, maybe you guys know, but I don’t.
Kathy Fowler: I don’t.
Alisa Parenti: One clue for the parents out there listening, once your kids let you follow them on something, they are clearly on to the next thing. If they have friend you, Facebook was so five years ago, so they’re now onto something else.
Marc Silverstein: Our daughter, she told me the other day she doesn’t even know how to use Facebook. And she’s an influencer, a content creator.
Kathy Fowler: Yeah, but she doesn’t create content for Facebook. She does for Tiktok and Instagram.
That’s the other thing. If they let you follow them, they may have what they used to call a “finsta” – a fake Instagram – so that’s not where their real content is…
Alisa Parenti: See, she’s got the scoop, she’s got the intel, finsta. I didn’t even know that.
Kathy Fowler: That’s old, it’s probably called something new now.
Alisa Parenti: I’ll go up to my daughters and I will be like, “Okay, what’s your finsta?” “Mom, you’re embarrassing me.”
Kathy Fowler: “Mom, that’s so five years ago, whatever.”
How did you become a business reporter?
Marc Silverstein: Okay, so you wrapped up at Channel 7, and then you do business. How did you become a business beat reporter? Did you know a lot about business?
Alisa Parenti: Not at all, Marc. It was like a big… It was like, “Oh my gosh.” So, here’s this… This is also really funny. So, what I kind of pretended was, I was like, “Look, you need somebody who can really speak in layperson terms. That’s me.”
Marc Silverstein: That’s good.
Alisa Parenti: I don’t know anything about business.
Kathy Fowler: That’s how you got in? You’re like, “You need someone who doesn’t really know a lot because they will talk way too detailed.”
Marc Silverstein: I think that should be your bio on your Twitter.
Alisa Parenti: That’s from, like, the branding standpoint, you know, like in further conversations, somehow to pull this in. “She knows nothing, and it works…”
Kathy Fowler: …and that’s why she can explain it to you.
Marc Silverstein: That’s brilliant. That is brilliant because that’s what I mean. We keep explaining to clients and we keep when we were doing the interviews with when we were reporting, whatever, you know, say it in English, say it simple. Explain it to me like, you know, it’s like that line from Philadelphia with Denzel Washington, ‘Explain it to me like I’m a second-grader or a fourth-grader, whatever it was,’ and that’s what you’re able to do. You’re able to translate things that people sometimes can’t decipher for themselves, can’t figure out. They tune it out.
Alisa Parenti: No, what I would say is, for example, on the stations that we were on, it was originally the CBS legacy station. So in the DC area, WTOP, in New York, 1010 WINS, WCBS in LA, KNX in Chicago. These big legacy stations would contract out with, it used to be MarketWatch. I was on the MarketWatch team, which was owned by the Wall Street Journal, and we would dip in and provide a market update.
So those stations are being played, for example, in New York, a cab driver is listening, or a Lyft driver is listening in Manhattan, and you need to be able to speak to that person as well as to a trader who may be in their car listening for traffic, or whatever the case is.
So it truly is that you need to understand what you’re reporting on and to be able to translate it. So, I enjoyed it more than I did at first. When I first was like, “Oh my God, this is what it’s come to. I’m going to be doing business news for ultimately The Wall Street Journal,” oh my God, you know, and Jim’s laughing. My husband’s like, “Yeah, you know, you’re not exactly the cerebral type. I don’t know how this is going to go. Okay, don’t let them know.” You know what I mean? I’m hiding kind of under my desk, kind of shuffling and hoping nobody sees me.
But it did work out well, and I did learn a lot about markets. And, in all seriousness, I do think that our kids, and through the public education system, need to have a better grasp of what the markets are, what’s being traded, and just some kind of personal finance pieces that are important that are getting glossed over.
And then I got laid off again, so I got laid off from Channel 7, budget cuts. And then what happened with Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch, was they sold all of the stations, the CBS stations, which then became Intercom, to Bloomberg. And Bloomberg stepped in, and this was in 2014, and hired some of the people who were the anchors previously.
And so when we went in for interviews, having been laid off from Channel 7, I was like, “I will do anything. What do you need?” You know, I’m like, “I got it,” and so they wanted the jobs to be in New York. And so I agreed to relocate, which was crazy but exciting to be in Manhattan, you know, doing that work and working at Bloomberg headquarters. But the city is really a young person’s game and a wealthy person’s game, and I was neither. So my husband and I, we were in this, he was working at Columbia, so we kind of relocated.
Marc Silverstein: That’s too many community colleges, or are you just gonna do the big ones.
Alisa Parenti: It was like college, and not in a good way. We had one bathroom. I’m going to tell you that after 30 years of marriage, we’re not sharing a bathroom, and it’s a no for me on that. I pulled the trigger on Syracuse, we kind of mutually agreed, okay, we got to get back out of the city.
Luckily, Bloomberg invested in the station here in DC, WNEW, and so now there’s 4 Bloomberg ONOs in addition to all those syndication team. They called in all those legacy stations I mentioned before. And did that up until January of this year when I kind of graduated from the kids table and went over to the print side of the building where I’ve been doing headline writing and blasts and kind of covering different things. It’s been amazing.
Marc Silverstein: Well, getting fired is part of the gig. I mean, you just are getting laid off or whatever.
Alisa Parenti: No, it was, I considered it fired, and I was so, I mean, it was crushing. Like, I was crying. And I remember people saying, “You’re gonna look back, and this, you’re gonna think this is such a good thing” And I was like, “Give me a break! How could this ever be a good thing?”
And it happens, you realize that it just forces the change that you need. I would never have learned about the things that, you know, I learned in terms of radio and business news. And what I’m learning now in terms of the nuance of truly like headline writing, you know, is fascinating.
Um, the book thing is just kind of like, it… it kind of funded the ability to do that, you know what I mean, because it was during the pandemic, so it was like, “Okay, I’m gonna just pull back now.” Um, my time and your kids grow up eventually. So, again, parents listening, there will be a day when you’ll have your life back and you can do all the things.
Why did you decide to write a book about Ethel Rosenberg?
Kathy Fowler: Well, that’s what I was gonna ask you. You go from headline writing to then writing a book, which is very, very different than, um, then really then journalism, really. I mean, it’s completely different.
Marc Silverstein: It’s a different writing style, even.
Alisa Parenti: Yeah, it is.
Kathy Fowler: How did you decide to do this and why did you choose this story or do you feel like the story chose you?
Alisa Parenti: Oh, that’s such a good question. I do feel like it chose me. I felt very much like Ethel Rosenberg. And for the people who may not be familiar with the case, and was in the 50s and she was very much, the Rosenbergs were very much scapegoated.
He was a spy for the Soviets. It was kind of the beginning of the Cold War, and um, she, there was no evidence against her. The only evidence against her was her brother testified against her to save his own skin. And I saw basically a 60 Minutes interview with him in which he said that, Bob Simon was the guy interviewing him, and then they repackaged it, and Cooper Anderson was…Anderson Cooper, I always invert that. Um, it was interviewing, you know, showing the same clip.
And because the Ethel and Julius Rosenberg’s two sons were making a case to try to get her name exonerated, and the brother, Ethel’s brother, admitted that he testified against his sister because in the direct quote was, “Well, I don’t sleep with my sister,” meaning they were going to go after his wife. So he said, “My sister is a spy,” and they put those people to death.
The case, I just find so fascinating. There are so many different betrayals that occur. She was betrayed by her mother when you learn about her origin story. Um, and she was betrayed by the system, I don’t think she got a fair shake from a judicial standpoint at all. So I was really drawn into the story. And for like a year or two, I just read everything I could get my hands on. And I realized that all of the stuff focused on the legal case and on Julius Rosenberg, and I didn’t feel like that her, a woman’s, her perspective was being told and how she was just kind of…she really was just, you know, Roy Cohn factors into this thing, he was…
Marc Silverstein: Doesn’t he always?
Alisa Parenti: There’s a quote from him where he’s like, you know, “I didn’t need to see any evidence, I could see it in her eyes that she was guilty. I sat in the courtroom with her and I could see it in her eyes.” I’m like, “You’re an Assistant Attorney General, what the heck?” You know, like kind of my moment where I was just like, “This is insane! What do you mean you don’t need any evidence? You’re like a top law enforcement officer in the country, you know? Crazy.”
But anyway, I really enjoyed that writing, and the flipping for writers, I would tell you every single person listening to this podcast at this moment has a book in them, and that includes you too, you guys, you have amazing stories to tell. And it was always kind of a lifelong dream of mine. I ended up going with a hybrid publisher. So, I would just encourage anybody to Google that and you know, email me. Let’s write together. Let’s do stuff. Let’s get it done, because it can happen and there are really important stories that need to be told.
So yeah, for me, it was just, I just was so excited about it. I love it.
Marc Silverstein: So when okay, so the book comes out, and then you go promote it, do you?
Alisa Parenti: Yeah, that’s then see, this is again where we’re gonna have to have an offline conversation, maybe with your daughter. You could hook me up. I, you know, it kind of became like, “Ah, I was supposed to be on social media talking about it,” and I did not enjoy that as much as I did enjoy the writing and the contemplating of it. I didn’t like the promoting of it, quite frankly. I mean, some of the things…
Marc Silverstein: It goes against your…
Kathy Fowler: …journalistic nature…
Marc Silverstein: …which is, you know, not to march with the people in the protests.
Alisa Parenti: Exactly right.
Kathy Fowler: The journalist doesn’t want to be the center of the story. The journalist is the storyteller. So it’s, it’s against everything about you to be the center of it, even if you’re telling another story.
Alisa Parenti: Yes, you guys, just that is just such an eye-opener for me because I’ve been struggling with it. It came out, the book came out in April of ’21, and next year, it’ll be, you know, 70 years, I think, yeah, since ’53 when they were executed, and I have struggled with it, and I was invited on a panel at a synagogue in Northwest, and I mean, I’ve had different, you know, Jewish women’s groups that I’ve talked with that I’ve really enjoyed, and that I’m happy to engage on the content, but you’re exactly right. I think that’s why I’ve resisted it, and I just, I don’t enjoy it.
Like, I’m happy to look at cute family pictures, but it’s like, to, but anyway, so that’s the story with that. I definitely need to, um, I, you just kind of want the work to stand for itself and like, okay, if it means something to somebody great, and if not, it was cathartic for me.
Kathy Fowler: And an honor to tell that story.
Alisa Parenti: 100%, yes.
Kathy Fowler: Yeah, it’s an honor to tell people’s stories and I don’t know if people understand that aspect.
Alisa Parenti: I agree, and Kathy, let me just interrupt to say that the her sons, the oldest, the older one, Michael Meeropol, I’ve communicated with him a couple of times, and he is just incredible, and I mean, I just have so much admiration and respect for, and the brother started a foundation.
All they do, the Rosenberg Fund for Children, all they do is raise and distribute money for children of activists who are basically prisoners of conscience, who are perhaps wrongfully held or held because of their ideas and their ideals.
Marc Silverstein: Did he change his last name?
Alisa Parenti: So they were adopted after the Rosenbergs were executed. They were adopted by Abe and Ann, I believe her name is Ann Meeropol. This is crazy. Meeropol was the writer of Strange Fruit, and they were very liberal-minded people who lived in New York City during that time. So they adopted the two sons, and yeah, it’s crazy.
Marc Silverstein: What’s the name of the book?
Alisa Parenti: It’s called Betrayal: The Ethel Rosenberg Story.
Marc Silverstein: And where can people find it?
Alisa Parenti: They can find it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, all the usual places.
Kathy Fowler: Go buy that book.
Alisa Parenti: I hope it resonates with folks, and even if it doesn’t, and you want to tell a story or you have an idea for a book, reach out to me, and I can… because I’m researching some about hybrid publishing. I’m thinking of going a different direction for my next project.
What is hybrid publishing?
Marc Silverstein: When you say hybrid publishing, meaning what?
Alisa Parenti: So, a lot of times, you know, self-publishing, you kind of think of it as a vanity project a little bit, like, and I don’t have that kind of money anyway to go in and just fund the book yourself.
Marc Silverstein: You work for Bloomberg Business, you got to get some inside trading things quick…
Alisa Parenti: You see again the cynic over there, Marc, like, hey, you know, you got to get some good trades under your belts.
Marc Silverstein: A few tips, that’s all.
Alisa Parenti: You get to Chicago, and you know, do some deals.
Marc Silverstein: Or you could just pass it on to me and then work something out.
Alisa Parenti: Wait a minute, yeah.
Kathy Fowler: She can write her next book from jail. She’ll have time on her hands.
Marc Silverstein: But she’ll have money.
Alisa Parenti: But you know, it wasn’t like Simon and Schuster were blowing up my phone to say, “Hey, you know, we really want you to write this book.” So for people who… I wanted the credibility of a publisher, but I didn’t have the opportunity to meter the entree to a publishing house that others would have had.
So with hybrid publishing, you basically get a publisher. It’s kind of somewhere in-between, so you do some crowdfunding to raise the money to produce the book. And this is one of the ways that Amazon has changed the world is that you don’t have to have a minimum run. I was like, “Well, how many do I have to kind of sell?” And it’s one. It doesn’t work like that. You basically upload the contents of the book into the cloud, and then Amazon publishes it one or two or 25,000 or whatever it ends up being
Kathy Fowler: Or 50,000. Well, so your mom was, did she like, you know, your parents are your biggest fans, like what did your mom…
Alisa Parenti: Oh my God, my mom was just like, she thinks I’m brilliant, you guys wouldn’t believe it. I’m like, I should have her do my PR because, you know, she’s just like, “Oh, you know…”
Kathy Fowler: “My daughter is a publisher, an author.”
Alisa Parenti: “She’s an author, a famous author.”
It was really fun to write, and she was kind of my front line editor, and she’s an English teacher and therapist later in her career. And so she was great. She gave me great feedback, and I would just say my dad was also helpful. He’s the Chicago guy, very much like Marc would suggest, you know. Tassani was my maiden name, and so he was very much like, “All right, we got to figure out how you’re gonna sell this book. We gotta, you know, how are we gonna do it?”
So, my dad passed away over the summer, and so I’ve been really grieving that. Yeah, it’s just horrible, but I’m really particularly grateful that the book was published before he passed and that we had that connection.
Kathy Fowler: Oh, that’s sweet. Yeah, that’s very nice. Um, yeah, sorry to hear about your dad. I knew that we had.
Alisa Parenti: Yeah, we talked a little bit.
Kathy Fowler: Well, um, thank you for sharing all these amazing stories. This has been really fun.
Marc Silverstein: Quite a journey.
Kathy Fowler: You’ve had, like so many chapters of your life. I can’t wait to read about the next one.
Alisa Parenti: Thank you.
Kathy Fowler: Any ideas where you’re going next or, you know, just who knows?
Marc Silverstein: She’s happy where she is in case her bosses are listening. Loves where she is.
Alisa Parenti: Yes, yes, I love where she is. I love where I am. I love my employer. Um, if anything, I’ve been thinking about maybe writing about my dad, but I’m just kind of, we’ll see where it goes. But I do want to say thank you so much to you Kathy, to you Marc, not just for including me, but more importantly, for this important project that you’re doing. It means a lot and I’m really grateful and honored to be a part of your podcast. And so cheers to you and thank you for doing the hard work.
Kathy Fowler: Thank you. So, how does everybody get in touch with you? What can, you have some social handles?
Alisa Parenti: Yeah, that would be great. My handle is @Alisa, a-l-i-s-a, parenti, p-a-r-e-n-t-i, so at @AlisaParenti. And I’m on LinkedIn, everything pretty much by my name on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, all the places. And my email is just my whole name at gmail.com. I am serious about anybody who’s interested in writing. I love to research with you and help get books published because I think we need these stories out there. Thank you.
Kathy Fowler: And the book, once again, is “Betrayal: The Ethel Rosenberg Story.” Get it wherever you get your favorite books.
Alisa Parenti: Thank you, guys.
Marc Silverstein: And she’s a journalist who reads, which is important.
Kathy Fowler: All journalists have to read. You have to read everything.
Marc Silverstein: They skim. I think most journalists skim.
Kathy Fowler: Well, that’s true. We do skim.
Marc Silverstein: Bullet points. What do we put in every news release, in every pitch we make: bullet points. Make it 2 seconds to read this.
Kathy Fowler: Because all good journalists have to have a little ADD in them, or they can’t process it.
Alisa Parenti: Right? Exactly.
Kathy Fowler: Exactly. Thank you so much. It’s been a privilege.
Alisa Parenti: Thank you. Appreciate you.
Marc Silverstein: That’s great. Thank you very much.
Alisa Parenti: Thank you.
Kathy Fowler: Wow, that was pretty amazing. I think anybody who wanted to know about news or wants to become a journalist probably learned a lot, or wants to become an author.
Marc Silverstein: Quite a journey there. I mean, from, you know, she went to Chicago, she went to DC, she went to New York. It’s taken some turns.
Kathy Fowler: She came back to DC.
Marc Silverstein: Yeah, covering news, covering breaking news, covering business news, faking it till you make it. I mean, you know, and really touching that story about the family that wanted to keep the woman alive until she had the kid. That’s very, you know, that stuff sticks with you.
Kathy Fowler: It does.
Marc Silverstein: And that shows what a good reporter.
Kathy Fowler: Right, and why real reporters, journalists, get into the business. They want to make a difference, and those stories that they tell, it’s important to them to get it right, you know, and to have an impact.
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