FREELANCE JOURNALIST | CBS RADIO, NPR
I cover both the headquarters and institutions of NATO and EU and, to some extent, issues in the allies or member states linked to the organisations. I also keep an eye on other pan-European bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe as well as the Hague-based International Criminal Court and International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
What is a 'typical work day' like?
No two are ever the same! When my alarm goes off, I read email and wires before I even get out of bed to see if anything urgent is happening. I get my two boys up and off to school, then I sit down and write an email to National Public Radio and to CBS Radio News, my two main clients, detailing everything that’s happening in my sphere for the day and why it should be important enough to order stories from me.
What do you like about working freelance?
Of course, the main advantage is relative freedom to choose which stories to and/or accept and to arrange my schedule so that I can pick my kids up from school most days. But that flexibility is very expensive in other ways. I end up working until at least midnight most nights and working most weekends. It’s a lifestyle that looks a lot better from the outside than it is in reality – at least in my case.
You have worked for both radio and TV. What are the key differences?
There are stories where I really miss being able to show people what I’m seeing, expressions on people’s faces – things which are very hard to describe but could be easily illustrated with video. On the other hand, working as a one-person band in radio is so freeing because you are much more nimble and mobile without a camera and only have to worry about sound, which can be just as beautiful.
You speak French and Finnish. How do you use it in your job?
It is very helpful in Brussels to be able to speak French, as it’s one of the official languages of both the EU and NATO. I wish I spoke Dutch too, living here in Belgium, but I don’t have much time to study. I lived in Finland for almost eight years, my first foreign reporting job, and I realised early on how crucial it is to learn the language of the country in which you live, if you really want to portray the people and culture with any accuracy. If you only talk to people who speak English in non-Anglophone countries, you are automatically leaving out huge swathes of the population in your comprehension and your coverage, not to mention cheating yourself of a much richer life. Of course, this was before Google Translate and other online assistants but I stick to that principle. Despite it being one of the world’s most difficult languages, I am still so glad I learned to speak Finnish. I have lifelong dear friends there and I still practice it out of love and nostalgia for them and my amazing experiences there.
You have a BA in Journalism and an MSc in International Relations. How do you use them in your career?
There are plenty of people who will tell you it’s not worth getting a degree in journalism because you can learn that on the job and it’s better to 'know' a subject to write about. I can see that point, and it is why I got a master’s when I lived in Finland and became infatuated with world politics. However, when I was studying at my beloved University of New Mexico State back in the 1980s, a journalism degree was gold. By the time I graduated with a BA after four years, I had spent time as a reporter on the school paper, been a radio reporter on the radio station affiliated with the national network I work for now, and had been a TV reporter, anchor, camera person and editor. It would have taken decades to 'pick that up', and no one would have bothered to hire me without it. That said, my focus on journalism and extra-curricular work schedule left little time for any other real academic pursuits. I was dreadfully ignorant about international relations and had to learn THAT part 'on the job', as I watched the Berlin Wall fall two months after my arrival in Europe.
What do you look for in young reporters?
Curiosity, passion and fearlessness! Then the ability to REALLY listen, a respect for all points of view, and the love of wordsmithing as a craft.
What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your career?
I decided to be a journalist when, aged 12, my 7th-year English teacher created a school newspaper and made me, at that time painfully shy, the editor. I have never for a day wanted to be anything else. I still feel privileged to write about the world every single day. The least rewarding part is the ever-present uncertainty about where the journalism industry is heading, and the lack of financial compensation commensurate with the amount of work good reporting entails. I worry for the world if there’s no apolitical investment in good investigative journalism.
What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?
The same things I suggested for young journalists. I am innately intrepid and ready to follow an adventure anywhere, for example moving to Finland, having never been there and knowing no one! Those things are not 'learned'. But at the same time, as a young reporter, I never said 'no' to assignments, and learned a lot from things I didn’t expect to appreciate as much as I did.
What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?
I find it very hard to accept how apathetic most people are, not just about major humanitarian tragedies such as millions of refugee children or disaster-stricken individuals who need help, but even about daily situations they could change for the better if they bothered. It makes me deeply sad on a near-daily basis and I have to consciously distance my feelings from stories I cover or read. I subscribe to the 'Be the Change' mentality and try to make things better. I am teaching my two boys to be empathetic and pro-active and it may be that’s the only mark I make on the world, but I keep trying to encourage myself - and others - to do bigger things.
What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?
I struggle most with the inherent conflict of being restless, ambitious and non-risk-averse and being a mother. Some women have made that work better than I have. I have recently become a single mum, which I prefer to being married, but also means I don’t have any built-in support system. I have found no way to live in Brussels, pick up my kids at school and cover conflict zones elsewhere simultaneously, haha! I want to do all those things every day. I need to manage my expectations so that I am not disappointed in myself professionally as I am currently prioritising being with my boys, aged five and nine. I’d like to be doing bigger things journalistically than I am now.
What achievements are you most proud of?
I’m going to say I’m most proud of having two children and managing to keep my foot in the door of journalism the whole time! My kids bring me the most absolute joy I’ve ever experienced and make me a much better person but balancing that with meaningful work is a struggle so difficult at times that I don’t even want to talk about it. Professionally, I am proud of the fact that, when I moved to Brussels, there had never been a U.S. radio reporter based here for either National Public Radio or CBS Radio News (maybe not for any U.S. radio network) and I don’t think they cared about having one! But I started slowly with relentless persistence and over the past eight years, I have created the most fascinating beat in the world, in my opinion, and I can be heard on American airwaves almost every day. I’m the furthest thing from a businessperson, but I’ve managed to build it up based just on my own fascination with European politics.
Which story are you most proud to have covered?
I consider it a huge privilege to have been to Afghanistan five times on reporting trips, four of them with NATO and the first time with then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. These have been the most fascinating trips of my life and I am constantly yearning to go back to what is very much an unfinished story. But I have not been able to write about it as much as I would have liked in long pieces, because there were full-time correspondents there. Some of my best and most heartfelt reporting was from Norway, when Anders Behring Breivik massacred 77 people in 2011. I arrived there for NPR just hours after his shooting rampage ended and found a nation in deep shock and pain. My background in Scandinavia allowed me to report with authenticity on what an anomaly this was for Norway and why the people could not understand it. It was incredibly painful to live this national nightmare for three days, and I did some of my best reporting there.
Do you have a role model and if so who and why?
Lyse Doucet of the BBC is the most amazing reporter in the world to me and also a genuinely kind, generous and enormously intelligent human being. She’s in every war zone, in city streets and living rooms and refugee shelters, sharing people’s stories and making sure we know we absolutely must care. I want to BE her but I’m not sure the rest of my life will be enough time to catch up to her accomplishments!
Teri Schultz | Freelance journalist, reporting live for FOX News from Kabul in 2002
25 years' experience
CV in brief