Throughout her career, Juju Chang has traveled the world covering issues like maternal and infant mortality in Mozambique, the struggles of people with Albinism in Tanzania, and natural disasters in the U.S. and abroad, among many others for ABC News. On Tuesday the Emmy-winning co-anchor of ABC’s “Nightline” made a stop in Ames to present the 2015 Chamberlin Lecture to over 600 Iowa State students, faculty, staff and Ames community members on a topic that entices the nation, and especially the state of Iowa, every four years: the U.S. presidential election.
In her lecture, titled, “The Presidential Campaign: A Search for Meaning,” Chang provided an analysis of the race to the White House and the candidates running for both the Democratic and Republican Parties’ nominations, infusing insight gained from her 30 years of working as a journalist.
Combining a discussion on current events, like the Pope’s recent U.S. visit, controversy over Planned Parenthood, and analyses of past elections and presidential candidates, Chang’s pointed out that anything is still possible this early in the race. Nonetheless, she shared her own and others’ observations of the candidates and what recent polls suggest voters are looking for in the next president of the United States.
“Voters are often looking for authenticity,” Chang said. The rise of political outsiders including Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina in recent polls is the result of voters having “demonized” politicians, especially political brand names like Bush and Clinton.
She also referenced a discussion that she moderated between ABC Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and Nate Silver, founder and editor in chief of “FiveThirtyEight,” an award-winning polling aggregation website that also has a political blog. She used Silver’s prediction that either Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker or Sen. Marco Rubio would likely be the Republican Party’s nominee to illustrate how unpredictable the race is four months before the Iowa caucuses.
Another hot topic on which Chang offered insight on was Vice President Joe Biden, saying that she’s heard he’s closer to running than not. As great as some may find that information, Chang said, Biden’s high polling numbers at this point are all speculative and largely the result of voters projecting their hopes and dreams on to a still-unofficial candidate.
In addition to her political insight, Chang also offered some career advice and best practices to Greenlee students in a question-and-answer session following her lecture. Chang highlighted the role that social media plays in tracking stories and finding sources, saying that even she was surprised at how many times she’s used Facebook to book interviews. She was also quick to assert that, “nothing beats face-to-face interaction.”
In addition to finding sources, Chang emphasized the importance of keeping in touch with them and discussed her experience with follow-up stories, which can be difficult to sell with the media’s shortening attention span, she explained, but are still important. When asked about covering stories on sensitive topics like sexual assault, Chang emphasized the importance of telling all sides of each story and being compassionate when speaking to victims.
One piece of advice Chang offered students was that they need to be ready to take on more work, especially the tasks that others don’t want to do, to set themselves apart. “Be helpful because that’s how you will advance,” she said.
“[Her message] just kind of went back to show that you have to prove yourself and I think that’s something that we stress; we don’t allow our students to graduate without having that type of skills,” said Raluca Cozma, associate professor. “It’s easy to see someone who’s so successful and to envy them, but it was nice to realize that they worked hard to get there and that anybody, regardless of their modest background, can make it.”
Before and after her lecture, Chang spent time with Greenlee students discussing her career and their ambitions, answering their questions and offering input on how they can succeed. One student Chang met with before her lecture was Kennedy Graham, senior in public relations. Graham is the president of the newly-founded Iowa State chapter of the Association for Women in Communication and she was able to talk with Chang just before she presented her lecture.
“Her message wasn’t necessarily directed toward just journalists, her main point about finding meaning and creating meaning and infusing your life with meaning was really applicable to anyone,” Graham said.
In closing her lecture, Chang shared the story of Lizzie Velasquez, a 26-year-old who suffers from Marfan Syndrome and Lipodystrophy, making it impossible for her to gain weight. Chang recently reported on Velasquez for “Nightline” after she began speaking out against online bullying in response to a YouTube video about herself titled, “Ugliest Woman in the World.” Velasquez’s decision not to let her bullies silence her and instead become a motivational speaker and lobbyist for anti-bullying legislation in Washington perfectly illustrated Chang’s lecture’s underlying theme of finding meaning.
“It’s up to us to find meaning, create meaning and infuse our lives with meaning,” Chang said.
While political coverage has focused largely on wedge issues, “we need to have a political discussion that rises above rhetoric and strategy and looks at truth,” Chang said.
“I always tell my students that our job is about telling stories and finding meaning and I really related to that,” Cozma said. “We don’t write articles and do video packages; we write stories and try to understand what humanity is all about and find meaning in all of the craziness.”
The Chamberlin Lecture, sponsored by ISU alumni Margaret (left) and L. Eugene Chamberlin, showcases speakers of national stature in journalism and mass communication. The lecture series also features the selection of a Chamberlin/Iowa Newspaper Association Fellow who visits with Greenlee students and faculty in conjunction with the Chamberlin program. The INA Fellow in 2016 was Amy GIlligan, managing editor of the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald.
Previous Chamberlin Lecturers have included Rick Green of the Des Moines Register; Eugene Robinson, the Washington Post; Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune; Bethany McLean, Vanity Fair; and >Paul Gigot, Wall Street Journal.