Remove any whiff of political agenda from your writing. Report things as they are via facts, statistics, quotes and examples. Stop trying to pass off crap as journalism: what I mean is, copy from inexperienced writers that you can pay a paltry sum to. You aren’t fooling anyone but yourself, even if it means you make money. If you’re obsessed with making money, go sell Beanie Babies. Cheap writers who are wet behind the Airpods can’t possibly have the institutional memory or experience that makes for great writing. And if you do have experienced writers, use them to help the younger ones up.
As a part of our series about “the 5 steps we can take to win back trust in journalism” I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lou Carlozo.
Lou Carlozo is Editor In Chief at Qwoted, a source platform for finance journalists, and host/creator of Bankadelic, a financial services podcast. Through 2019, he served as managing editor at the Bank Administration Institute and an funding writer at U.S. News & World Report. A Pulitzer Prize finalist (team reporting), his work has appeared in Reuters, the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Yahoo Finance, MSN, AICPA magazines and publications across the world; his multi-media journalism credits include BBC radio, Investigation Discovery TV, AOL and an Archie cartoon where he appeared as himself. Lou is also a professional musician, producer/composer and recording studio owner. He resides in Chicago with his wife and two children.
Thank you so much for joining us Lou. Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you share with us the “backstory” about how you got started in your career?
Well… and this is the truth: I became a journalist because I didn’t want to cut my hair.
It was 1989, and I was in a New Jersey pop-rock band and had a really poofy mullet. I’d just been fired from a waiter’s job because my hair was too long, and I was desperate for work. I tried applying everywhere: music stores, bowling alleys. Then I remembered that a friend of mine who was a guitar player — and had really long hair — worked as a freelance writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer. It took some courage to call him, though, because I’d kicked him out of my band a few years previous.
You could never get away with this today but I walked into the interview without any clips; just a few papers I’d written as an English major at Rutgers and one issue of a music magazine, looking like something from a junior high school print shop, where I’d served as guest editor.
The editor who interviewed me stared me down. “You have no experience and you haven’t written for a paper since college?” I nodded my head. It was a two-part question, which allowed me to dodge the fact I hadn’t written for a paper since HIGH SCHOOL.
Still, he was also a boys’ soccer coach whose team hadn’t won a game in more than two years. He took me, mangy stray dog I was, and gave me a shot. His name is Andy Wallace and I owe a good deal of my career to him. Without him, I wouldn’t be here talking to you.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
There are so, so many. There’s been one for every stage of my life, from “The Chronicles of Narnia” Christian allegory series when I was a kid to most recently, Dr. Norman Doidge’s “The Brain That Changes Itself.” Every journalist, every restless creative should read it. Learning stimulates the brain; it’s the key to a long, happy life.
I’ll pick one that forever changed my ideas on suffering and God’s place in it. Rabbi Harold Kushner’s “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” is boots-on-the-ground spirituality. Here was a man who gave his whole life to his congregants, and yet was struck with the terrible news that his son would die of a rare genetic disease, progeria before he was a teenager. The question is so often asked: “Where is God in the midst of my suffering? I’ve been a good person. Why me?” Drawing on the Book of Job, among other sources, Kushner eventually reaches this conclusion: When we weep, God weeps with us. I can’t tell you how inspirational that was and is to me. For similar reasons, I love Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.”
I found Kushner’s book when I was sidelined with illness and low self-esteem. I’ve had a lot of defeat and suffering in my life. I was laid off from a glamorous journalism job at the height of the Great Recession. I came from a highly dysfunctional family. I’d always seemed to fall short in my personal and professional life. Too often, I painted myself as a victim. But once I read about a concentration camp survivor (Frankl), and a father who lost his beloved son (Kushner), I came to feel much less like a victim and instead became a grateful seeker.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
Wow. I have so many and hopefully, they’ll wind up in a book I’ll write. Briefly: I’ve appeared in an Archie cartoon, the only journalist to do something that odd (or care about it!). I once dunked my head in a vat of Twinkie cream for a story in the Tribune’s KidNews section. I interviewed Robert Downey Jr. and struck up a fast friendship with him where we exchanged original music CDs (I’m also a musician). And I once interviewed a man in his vast mansion, then heard him fall on the floor and call for help. There was no one in sight, and this place was as large as a castle. He was close to 300 pounds and I couldn’t pick him up. So I’m tugging on his arm and he looks up at me: “You know what they say about the golden years? It’s all a crock of crap.”
Can you share the most humorous mistake that you made when you first started? Can you share the lesson or take away you learned from it?
Easy. I was covering a council meeting in a small New Jersey town, Gloucester City. It was a very animated place, and I’d only been a journalist for a few weeks. Well, someone on the council took exception to something I’d written, so I got up to defend myself. Choice words were traded and in the end the news got back to my editor. He was horrified and gave me a good dressing down. I had no idea reporters were supposed to be objective and stay on the sidelines. He should’ve fired me, but keep in mind this was the boys’ soccer coach who hadn’t won a game in more than two years. I was a loser, too, so he had to stick with me.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Nothing has ever compared to being the Editor in Chief at Qwoted. I’m moving from a sidelines spectator in the fight for great journalism to someone empowered to do something about it. I’m working on forging relationships with journalism schools and forming a Media Advisory Board where my peers and I can lift up and pass on the field’s best practices. That excites me because I spent more than a decade as a college adjunct and have seen some of my students go on to far outshine me. It’s because they learned how to ply their craft and tap their passion much better than their peers.
What advice would you give to your colleagues in the industry, to thrive and not “burnout”?
You have to pace yourself. Journalism is maybe the one career that most breeds workaholism. I’d say workaholism is downright evil: It destroys health, relationships and a person’s spirit. And yet it’s rewarded. The phrase I’ve heard most often at awards banquets over the years is: “I’d like to thank my wife/husband for all the nights they had to spend alone while I…” Well, your partner isn’t thanking you. And you lost all that time you could’ve been with them, or your family, to the clock. Community is what fosters regeneration, I think, for any of us. Isolation is a killer. Don’t isolate. Don’t bury yourself in your work — “bury” being the keyword. It’ll kill you from the inside out.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main parts of our interview. According to this Gallup poll 45% of Americans trust the mass media. As an insider, are there 5 things that editors and newsrooms can do to increase the levels of trust? Can you give some examples?
- Remove any whiff of political agenda from your writing. Report things as they are via facts, statistics, quotes and examples.
- Give up on “false equivalency.” If you are interviewing a college professor who has won awards and dedicated her life to studying a topic, don’t interview an opinionated head of a fringe movement for the counterpoint, just to provide “balance.” Eggheads invented this approach in the ’70s, the same time lime-green shag carpet and the AMC Pacer became popular.
- Call out your colleagues in the newsroom when you see them getting boosterish, or writing to pander to an audience rather than to do good work.
- Go out into the field and build relationships. The people with the most opinions on fake news, etc. have probably never met a journalist or talked to one. Wherever possible, be a goodwill ambassador. Go to schools. Talk at community outings. Show up!
- Stop trying to pass off crap as journalism: what I mean is, copy from inexperienced writers that you can pay a paltry sum to. You aren’t fooling anyone but yourself, even if it means you make money. If you’re obsessed with making money, go sell Beanie Babies. Cheap writers who are wet behind the Airpods can’t possibly have the institutional memory or experience that makes for great writing. And if you do have experienced writers, use them to help the younger ones up.
As you know, since 2016, the term ‘fake news” has entered common usage. Do you think this new awareness has made a change in the day-to-day process of how journalists craft stories? Can you give some examples?
For starters, it helps to know that “fake news” as a label is mostly an invention of the Right and our current president. It is a game of stickiness. If I call something or some outlet “fake news” every day for three years, the label will glue itself on, even if it isn’t warranted. That some people now routinely regard the New York Times as “fake” makes me nauseous.
As for the “real fake news,” what’s hurting us is the profit play from people who don’t know a headline from a bowling ball. Mark Zuckerberg’s desire to crush Twitter led to major newsfeed mistakes at Facebook that allowed for bots, Russian miscreants and Cambridge Analytica to meddle in the 2016 election. He’s not a news person; he lacks that judgment to filter out the lies because a) he’s blinded by dollar signs and b) has zero experience with media ethics and best practices. All he knew and cared about in 2016 was that the propagators of the fake stuff were paying him money. Period. Four years later, he still hasn’t quite fixed it. News media and social media are still often a toxic mix, no matter what he insists.
Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Find your tribe. As a young’un I wanted to gravitate towards the (stick your nose in the air) “seeerrrrriouussss journalists.” But they weren’t my tribe, and I had to find one. As a cub, I worked under the great Jim Naughton of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who used to address the newsroom — I kid you not — dressed in a chicken suit, or a shiny purple turban. He was my guy.
- It will be harder than you think — but persevere. Anything worth doing well involves a large measure of struggle, bureaucracy, politics and failure. I am a big fan of “passion,” though not the way most people think of it. The actual definition of passion is “to love something so much you’re willing to suffer for it.” As a Christian, I’d cite the example of the “passion of the Christ”: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…” Loving something, being passionate, will bring its share of suffering — and hopefully, success and peak moments of joy.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. I had a friend whose first book landed with a major publisher. Yes, I was jealous. But he in turn envied other writers we knew whose books became bestsellers. And the guy we both knew who’d written a big bestseller wondered, “Is that the only commercially successful book I have in me? Why aren’t I Dave Barry?” This is a game no one can win. Enjoy your work while you have light in the sky to do it and you’ll be more successful than most.
- In newsrooms, appearances often trump reality. The terrible side of journalism involves those who work the system as minimally talented writers but maximally talented schmoozers. If you yell at someone just one time on a deadline, watch out for the colleague who labels you the “newsroom hothead.” (This actually happened to me.) Do not count on your good work to save you or promote you, because it won’t. Hate to say it, but image management is paramount because you have to protect yourself.
- Zig where everyone else is zagging. The Inquirer had this genius streak for covering conventional stories in unconventional ways. When the U.S. bombed Iraq, they sent their correspondent to the racetrack to interview gamblers just trying to get bets in before the place blew up. If you stand out, you’ll stand above.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Glad you mentioned that. The enormous influence I have on my kids comes with being a Human ATM when they need to buy anime books and grande lattes. (Laughs.)
This country has lived in such a disunified state for the past few years that it’s hard to remember what we agree on. So I think we have to start there. In my small corner of the world, I think journalism must divorce itself from the agenda and return to a tireless commitment to witnessing, telling the truth and shining a light in dark places. I.F. Stone once said, “The journalist’s job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I don’t know if I fully agree. That’s taking sides in a sense as well. There are plenty of comfortable people, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, trying to make a difference in this world with their money and power. If we’re all willing to rally behind a unifying cause — which in my case, would be to return journalism to its best practices, including mentoring and passing on institutional memory — I’ll take anyone I can get to join me.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Best place is LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/loucarlozo/. I’m starting to get active on Twitter again (@LouCarlozo63). I also have a financial services podcast, Bankadelic, that I’d encourage everyone to check out. We’re making banking safe for fun, or is it the other way around?
Thank you so much for your time you spent on this. We greatly appreciate it, and wish you continued success!