Jaspers Talk Journalism with NPR’s Melissa Block

By Megan LaCreta, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Peabody Award-winning journalist and former host of NPR’s “All Things Considered” Melissa Block stopped by for an online Q&A with some journalism-minded Jaspers last week.

The Wednesday evening event was co-sponsored by the Manhattan College chapter of Her Campus and PRSSA, and hosted by students Jocelyn Visnov and Angelica Niedermeyer.

Block shared advice, stories and answered questions about her experience as a journalist over her 37-year career at NPR.

Block did not always have the intention to pursue journalism. She had studied French history and literature at Harvard University, and planned on attending law school. However, she ended up with an internship at “All Things Considered,” tasked with booking interviews for the NPR radio show and the experience took her down a whole new path.

“I just loved what I found [at “All Things Considered”],” said Block. “I loved the people, loved the medium, loved radio and so, I guess that I didn’t choose journalism so much as it chose me.”

Bridget Turro, a junior political science major and Her Campus writer who attended the event, believed that Block’s path from college to her career was important for students to hear about.

“She went to college for something completely different than what she ended up doing, and I think that’s really cool, and I think a lot of people do that, actually,” said Turro.

Turro had listened to NPR with her parents growing up, and was familiar with Block from her 12-year run as host of “All Things Considered” from 2003 to 2015. However, Block’s field reporting has also found her fame in the world of journalism. Block has been commended for her reporting on the war in Kosovo in 1999, and has won Peabody Awards for her coverage of the 9/11 attacks and of a 2008 earthquake in western China, where she was one of few western journalists on scene.

However, hard-hitting news and tragedies isn’t all that Block has spent her career writing about. Olympics, World Series Yankees games and interviewing quirky New Yorkers have also been personal highlights for Block.

“There was one story I did when I was sitting on a bench outside a courthouse,” said Block. “These two older women sitting next to me were having this incredibly lovely conversation among themselves and I just said, ‘Do you mind if I record you talking to each other?’ And they are just incredible. It’s one of my favorite stories, and it’s nothing other than a little slice of life and the little portrait of these two older women talking about being alive at the age that they were and waking up with their cat and wondering why they’re still here, but I hear their voices still. Those are the stories that kind of balance out all of the really heavy stuff that sometimes we have to do.”

Block’s advice to aspiring journalists falls in line with her own personal journalistic ethics.

“​​You approach people with respect and with humanity,” said Block. “And also letting folks get to know me as a person so I’m not just sort of a blank slate talking to them. It’s a connection when you’re interviewing somebody, ideally, you’re bonding with them in some way and it’s not an interview. It’s a conversation.”

Arshia Anwer, Ph.D., communication professor, pointed to this as an important piece of advice for students in fields extending beyond journalism.

“I think that’s a very important thing, regardless of the career that you are in, making sure that you are able to interact with people as humans and not just, ‘this is a subject that I’m interviewing and I have to write about,’,” Anwer said.

Anwer also stressed the importance of hearing from female journalists like Block, considering how many areas of journalism remain heavily male. 

Block acknowledged that women still struggle in the field, particularly with feelings of imposter syndrome, and worrying whether they deserve the chance to be there. However, she offered some advice for people who feel that way.

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“Self doubt is pernicious, especially for women,” said Block. “I mean, I remember when I went to a really tiny public high school, and when I got to college, I remember thinking I was just so far behind the pack, and I was in a lot of ways, but just listening to people in classes, and then I realized, they sound like they know what they’re talking about, but it’s kind of an of an act, and they don’t really know a whole lot more than I do. So I think it’s sort of also taking those filters off a little bit and just taking a step back and sort of analyzing what other people are saying and doing and why you feel the way you do. And just recognizing that you have as much right to be in that space as anyone else.”

Block’s advice resonated with the Google Meet, which was largely attended by female students. Her inspiring words are sure to be in the minds of the next generation of Jasper journalists.

Editor’s Note: Jocelyn Visnov and Angelica Neidermeyer both work for The Quadrangle as web editor/production assistant and staff writer respectively.