In a world of fake news and misinformation, the truth will set you free. Just ask Joey Cole.
As the executive producer of NBC News Now, a leading source of global news, she is aware of her responsibility to present the public with accurate information. While many sources strive to be first or relevant, Joey believes that presenting precise and engaging information differentiates one platform from the next.
As a leader in her field, Joey understands the influence that the news has on American lives. With over a decade of journalism experience under her belt, Joey has developed a keen eye for observation, which ultimately impacts viewers. Within the span of a few years, Joey has produced for the most notable American news platforms including ABC News, CNN, The Today Show, and more. Despite non-stop success and advancements in her career, Joey still aims to dismantle discrimination in media. Under her leadership, Joey’s goal is to evoke representation with the stories, talent, and communities displayed on your screen.
Her Agenda recently had the chance to speak with Joey about diversity in journalism, the keys to succeeding in the industry, and getting it right the first time.
Her Agenda: Can you please walk us through your daily routine while under the pandemic?
Joey Cole: The pandemic has really upended the way that we work day to day. One of the things that is a major focus for me is how to connect with the staff and folks that I am managing. Though a phone call is great, I am finding that virtual face to face interaction is better. Scheduling meetings with folks individually to do check-ins is much more important than when we were in the office.
First, my day to day starts early. I get up at 5 AM, read through the newspapers, and read through NBC’s editorial. I check to see if I missed anything overnight and review notes that people send me for insight into what the day should look like. Then, I put together the starter’s note which is a rundown of where we should start, reporters that we should request, and guests that we may have. I also include editorial information that producers should include in their particular segment for a means to get started and send it out around 7 a.m. Afterward, I try to get in some exercise for productivity and try to get to the office at 30 rock by 9:30 a.m. Next, I work with our line producer who implements our rundown and the senior producer and we talk about points they think are important for our coverage. Following, I have a call with our senior team around 10:30 a.m. and we discuss different things in the day or what they have learned that can be offered on various platforms in the network. Next, I partake in an 11 a.m. meeting which is a staff call where producers can ask any questions about their particular segments or flag anything. We have two shows, one at 3 p.m. and the other is at 5 p.m. After that is hands-on deck and we are heading into our 3 o’clock hour making sure that our editorial is up to date, and evaluating if we have the best voices for our mission for the day.
We really want to get the pulse of the nation to present various political viewpoints, social issues, and more. We find it important for our reporters to be embedded in communities, towns, and cities so that we can bring those perspectives to our viewers. At 4 p.m., we view the replay of our 3 p.m. show, and we are back up at 5 p.m. for another hour for our evening news coverage. That is what the day looks like regularly, but with certain events like the upcoming election, we update our schedules to be live as much as possible in those prime hours. We are bringing the straight news.
We really want to get the pulse of the nation to present various political viewpoints, social issues, and more.
Her Agenda: Being a producer, how do you influence the way that your team gets from point A to point B?
Joey Cole: I consistently encourage our producers to think about how to push the ball forward in our discussion. It’s one thing to report news, but how do we move the conversation forward so that it is different from what viewers obtain on other platforms. We want our viewers to feel like they are getting unique content and instead of presenting generic information, let’s drill down details. I always tell the producers to give us the latest and the greatest information. Then always give editorial nuggets throughout the segment so that our anchor and field reporter can actually have a meaningful conversation.
As a producer, I am very hands-on and want folks to know that I am here as a resource to help them structure their segments in order to give the best product. I do not know all of the answers, and people will often seek my advice on things I may not have thought of, and I will say, ‘Yes, we should incorporate that.’ I am into providing a focus for people along with a clear line of communication and direction. Instead of going through a grey area and hoping for the best or going down the wrong direction, be clear. I want people to tell me when their hair is on fire and when they are overwhelmed so that we can prioritize. I never want someone to feel like their head is about to explode because they are under such pressure, the job is already pressure-filled anyway. I remember bosses that approached a situation with ‘Give me everything in the kitchen sink,’ and you don’t have enough time or resources. I aim to be adamant that people do not feel that way.
Her Agenda: In your opinion, how does the news shape our relationship to reality?
Joey Cole: We are in a time period where there are many outlets for people to get their news.
There are a plethora of platforms from podcasts, cable, websites, and more. I always say that if you do not like a platform, you have many other ways through which you can receive information. It is really up to the viewer and the consumer to curate their own news reality. I do not think it is necessarily up to networks and organizations, as we give you the best information that we can, and allow you to make a decision. I think viewers have multiple options that they can create their own news reality and personal perspective of the world.
Her Agenda: In an era of fake news and fact-checking, do you think that news outlets are doing a good job of presenting unbiased and accurate information?
Joey Cole: Overall, I do. I think the term “fake news” is fairly new. There is misinformation, but I do not think that comes from news outlets which are often fair and unbiased. If you want a particular point of view, there are platforms that viewers can seek out to obtain a particular perspective on the news. In terms of news organizations, it is becoming increasingly important for us to get it right because fake news is prevalent, so we cannot get it wrong. There is a huge weight on us to get it right factually while presenting multiple sides on an issue to present fair and balanced reporting. The core of everything we do has to be fair and balanced. After that point, you leave it up to the viewer or consumer to make up their mind on the topics, issues, and subjects.
It is becoming increasingly important for us to get it right because fake news is prevalent, so we cannot get it wrong. There is a huge weight on us to get it right factually while presenting multiple sides on an issue to present fair and balanced reporting.
Her Agenda: You were a producer for various networks including Huffington Post, ABC, and CNN. Though you were in high positions, did you ever feel the intersection of your race and gender influenced how others treated you?
Joey Cole: Absolutely! I do not think it is a secret that the news industry needs to offer more perspectives. Our chairman, Cesar Conde, has done an excellent job of illustrating how he wants our work and employees to represent viewership. We want our newsrooms to look like our viewers across the country and that means incorporating diverse perspectives of all ranges. The word “diverse” is broad, but there needs to be a consciousness and effort by those who are running these networks and companies to hire individuals representative of their audience. Personally, I am conscious of being a Black woman in the news, which grants a diverse perspective of stories that may not be thought of otherwise.
In recent years, I have noticed a concerted effort to include diverse perspectives through who we interview or subjects that we cover. I see the change and evolution of journalism and think that we are headed in the right direction. However, there is a lot of work to be done. I always say that progress does not come in a massive wave, it comes by continuously moving in a direction.
I always say that progress does not come in a massive wave, it comes by continuously moving in a direction.
Her Agenda: I know that you were an adjunct professor at Columbia School of Journalism teaching students about the industry. What is the biggest piece of advice that you instilled within them?
Joey Cole: I would say to be curious about the world. Oftentimes, when one enters into this profession, they have a curiosity about the world around them. When you lose that curiosity and the desire to ask “why?” you could possibly lose your drive as a journalist. I think that as a journalist, you always want to keep digging and finding new perspectives. Getting a “no” on a story pitch does not mean that it is a bad story, you just may need to figure out a different way to tell it. Ask yourself what you need to tweak in order to get it published, get it on air, and have a wider viewership. I think that this business is tough and you have to be passionate about it, because if you are not, you can easily become jaded, and then it can feel monotonous. But, the great thing about this career is that it is exciting. You never know what is going to happen from one day to the next. You can guess and think about it, but each day brings a new thread line for us to cover. Which, again, goes back to curiosity.
Her Agenda: In an ever-changing industry, how do you think journalism will look in five years?
Joey Cole: It is interesting because the digital landscape is where I see the future of this industry. Anecdotally, I feel that with the pandemic and more people being at home, more folks are consuming more information. I think that more people are looking for new outlets of information and it is shifting the perspective of how people consume information. I believe that digital and social media platforms are the future of this industry and that is the reason why I made this shift. Digitization presents new opportunities to give information and offer non-traditional platforms to tell stories that you may not see in the traditional platform space.
[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]