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Marci Hughes Headshot

What I Learned From Roger Ebert

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I entered into the television world by what I call design and some would call luck and others still, by accident. I was twenty two and unsure of what I wanted my future to hold when I walked into The Oprah Show Studios on a temp job that I planned on holding for two weeks. Those two weeks turned into thirteen years. After thirteen years of intensity, I moved on to my next chapter when The Oprah Show came to an end. In the past two years, I have done my share of freelance and one of my greatest honors was having the opportunity to work with Chaz and Roger Ebert and their team.

For thirteen years, my most valued treasure was the integrity and depth of the stories we told. Recently, an associate made a comment that I wasn't a journalist because I worked on an entertainment show. I immediately started defending my career. Didn't they ever watch The Oprah Show? How could they think all we did was book tabloid TV and makeovers? I began planning my comeback if the perfect opportunity arose. I created a list all of the high profile stories I had told, huge national and international events I had covered, interviews I had done world leaders and celebrities. I'm not going to lie, it was eating at me and I was hell bent on making this person see the error of his ways. I lost sight of why I love working in television.

This week, along with the rest of the world, I learned that Roger passed away and my first feeling was of gratitude that I had the privilege to meet and work with him if only briefly. My second was that the world lost a great storyteller. So as I was thinking about what made Roger so powerful today, I came across my answer to the question I had been contemplating: "Am I a Journalist?" I came up with three major lessons Roger Ebert taught me:

  1. Define and use my voice. Roger Ebert's legacy to me is that he fearlessly used his voice. Even when his physical voice failed him, he continued to share his passion with the world. In the crazy world of media, it is easy to stray from what you know is true and right and tell the side of the story you know is safe or that will sell. There's pressure to embellish, mislead and sensationalize. Don't fall into that trap. Roger didn't care about that. He cared about integrity and intention. He wasn't afraid of saying what he believed. And his audience knew it.
  2. Embrace change. The most amazing thing to me is that Roger was a seventy year old man that not only remained relevant but was a major power player in the media industry. He embraced the changing scene of media. He took his column and made it into a TV show. He took his TV and made it into a blog when blogging wasn't cool. And finally, he took his voice to social media. He didn't wait to be pressured to jump on these new mediums, he was at the forefront. He hadn't been on television in years, yet his twitter was in the top 2,000 accounts and he had more than 800,000 followers and over 100,000 likes in his combined Facebook pages. He created a community. He included that community in his stories and he created a space for them to engage in conversation. Huge lesson: Don't preach to your audience, include them and grow with them.
  3. Be a Storyteller. Listen and learn from other people's stories. Tell them with heart and passion. Challenge your audience to examine it from all angles and layers. Give them stories that move them and shake them to their core. Few mediums connect us like film and Roger felt the reason. We want to learn, share and grow from hearing other people's stories. We want to see worlds we could never imagine and examine our own humanity. Roger told stories in every piece of writing and looked for importance and meaning in other people's stories. For over forty years, he was our master storyteller. Don't report what's happening. Create dialogue. Create stories. Create community.

Thank you Roger for teaching me I am far greater than a journalist. I am a storyteller.