SENIOR PRODUCER | AJ+
Tell us about AJ+. How is it different from Aljazeera English or Aljazeera America?
AJ+ is a digital only channel. We create content — primarily video — that informs and engages our millennial audience over social networks. I joined in October 2013, about one year before our formal launch, and the startup atmosphere we had then is still palpable today. My colleagues are incredibly committed to what they do every single day. They’re passionate about the world and to ensuring the voiceless get a voice. I’ve worked in several newsrooms, and I don’t think I have seen as much commitment and passion as I have seen here. The channel is built and driven by our diverse newsroom, and I think it really shows in our work. Our content is sassy, sometimes comical, sometimes quirky, and sometimes very serious.
What do you do as Senior Producer at AJ+?
Currently, I wear a few hats at AJ+. I start my day in Hong Kong working with the real-time news team. I oversee the late night content, virtually, by working with a San Francisco-based producer and editor. Second, I monitor the news and publish content on our social platforms whether that is video content or breaking news. And finally, I act as Asia editor for our global network of freelance video journalists. I commission stories with freelance video journalists, oversee or produce video scripts and packages, and try to expand our network of video journalists (VJs) in the region. But at its core, my job is about experimenting and pushing the boundaries on new storytelling formats.
What is a typical day at your job like?
Busy! I start at 8:30 am. I usually have a handover call with the real-time news team’s EP in San Francisco. I find out what the team did, about anything they need me to approve or publish. I work with our late-shift producer on scripts and a final quality control of video content. I also monitor breaking news during the Asia time zone. After wrapping up our late night content, I join the Doha morning news call for a handover update. I’ll also work on any scripts and stories sent in from our freelance video journalists. I’ll field new story pitches or Skype with potential new VJs. Working remotely can be a big challenge, but having video calls and handovers really help create structure in my day.
You previously worked as a text reporter for Dow Jones Newswires and have published work in Time.com and The Wall Street Journal. How did you make the transition from reporter to producer? Was this always your goal?
I definitely didn’t make a strategic effort to move from text to video. For me, journalism has always been about telling good stories, and I was lucky to have done that in different formats early on. To a large extent that was the result of keeping an open mind in an industry that is going through a lot of changes. You have to get the basics right, and I learned that from wire reporting, but beyond that, all journalists will now have to experiment with different formats during their careers. When I joined Reuters Insider, a multimedia platform for financial news, I had to learn the visual medium from scratch – TV scripting, production, as well as field and on-air reporting. This was also my first launch of a new platform and I learned how to constantly pivot and experiment.
You studied Japanese at Georgetown University. How does this skill help with your job? Do you speak any other languages?
Languages can be a huge help if you want to do international reporting, work abroad, or cover local communities in their local language. Languages can also open doors to jobs and opportunities. For me, studying abroad in Japan during my junior year in college gave me the opportunity to intern at a local English language newspaper — my first taste of journalism. I also landed my first job out of college at a Japanese newswire, Kyodo News, based in Washington D.C. I didn’t use my Japanese there every day, but certainly knowing Japanese and Asia current events helped me with the job. I also took Portuguese 101 in graduate school, which was fun.
How did you become a reporter/ producer for Thomson Reuters? What was the application process like?
I found out about the job opening through a contact. After I sent my resume to the hiring manager, I came in for an interview. I also had a written test, interviewed with one or two other editors, and then had an impromptu interview in Japanese. That was the first time my language skills were tested on the spot during an interview — so definitely brush up before you go! I joined Reuters as an assistant producer and worked my way up to a reporter/producer.
What advice would you give to a young woman who wants to pursue a career in journalism?
It’s an exciting time to be in journalism, but adaptability and flexibility are key. Be open to learning new skills and take chances on opportunities. Be resilient. People will slam the door on you when you want an interview, or you may face a layoff. And finally, just get out there! You have all the tools you need to get published so don't wait.
What are the key skills that make you good at your job? How does one achieve these skills?
Be able to write clearly and concisely. Synthesize information into the most important bits. Work well in a team. Communicate. Fact check. Question. Be flexible.
Practice. That’s the way to learn and get better at all these skills. From the moment you’re in school writing papers, making presentations and researching to your first internship, volunteer position, or job, keep practicing your communication skills.
What is the toughest lesson you have learnt in your career?
Resilience. Journalism is a competitive business. You will hear from many people that you aren’t fit for the job — that you’re too nice, too soft, too quiet, voice or look isn't right... It isn’t always easy but you have to just ignore the naysayers and follow your gut. When one door closes, another one will open — if you stay positive, resilient and pro-active.
Do you have a role model? Who is it, and why?
I actually don’t have one single role model, I have many people I admire for their different qualities.
What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your career?
The most rewarding aspects include getting to witness and participate in history, whether on the ground or in the newsroom. Working with interesting people. Meeting and interviewing interesting people. Having an impact. Being creative. And having fun!
Negatives? News is an intensive, deadline-driven environment so there’s stress. Long hours. Instability — steer clear if you’re looking for a stable job. You have to be excited at the prospect of not knowing what your job will look like in five years — and that’s not for everyone!
What achievements are you most proud of?
I’m proud of AJ+, which so far has been a very successful venture in new media. As a founding member of the real-time news team, I would like to think I have helped push the boundaries on short-form shareable news content. I would also have to mention my work on human trafficking, which is an issue I care about. And finally, I am proud of being a mom, and a working mom at that. It’s new territory for me and a complicated balance to strike, but it's been so worth it.
You’ve worked in many amazing cities but most recently, San Francisco and Hong Kong. Where are your favorite places to take visitors to in SF and HK?
Both cities are blessed with natural beauty and stunning views. There's the obvious tourist spots like Coit Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Embarcadero. On a nice day, I'd take visitors on a walk through the trails near Land’s End and Golden Gate Park. The views are stunning.
In Hong Kong, you have to go to the Peak (a lookout point at the top of the island) where you get some amazing views of the city. I also enjoy going to the south side of the island, visiting little beach neighborhoods like Shek O.
Lisa Yuriko Thomas | Senior Producer | AJ+
13 years' experience
CV in brief
Inspired by Lisa's career? Check out these opportunities at AJ+
Exclusive interview by Aisha Babalakin, April 2016