Pulitzer winner counsels students on using media


By Miharu Sugie, News Staff

From newspapers to radio and television, and now online news and social media, the platform in which people communicate and merge with media has changed. And as the industry changes, the key storytellers of the industry have to change and become entrepreneurial, said Ellis Henican, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Newsday columnist, New York Times Best selling author and radio and television personality.

“As we deal with the changing media landscape, technology continues to change,” Henican said. “Whatever the technology, it really comes back to stories.”

In front of a projected image of himself speaking on a news channel, Henican spoke to about 60 students – many who are taking communications studies courses – and his long-time friend, Bill Lancaster, a communications studies professor at Northeastern.

“You can look at any culture,” Henican said. “There are always stories, it comes from something innate in us. How do we share the experiences we’ve had with the people we care about?”

Henican, who grew up in a family of storytellers in New Orleans, said that in the world of communications, people in journalism, public relations, advertising or any related career, has the responsibility of the storyteller. Storytellers, according to Henican, have to communicate with people and facilitate this communication between people, to creatively teach people about the world they live in. Statistics can only tell so much about what happened; stories, on the other hand, evoke emotion to the reader, according to Henican.

Now, with the push for the media to go online, Henican said people like him are forced to do a variety of things like updating their Twitter accounts, writing books, etc. In the end, it all involves finding stories that are interesting.

“We have a blessed opportunity to make people think about something, think about something that’s hard,” Henican said.

The communications field that many students pursue is a field that allows for a variety of career paths and opportunities, said Henican. When he started out as a young reporter in Kentucky, he said he didn’t think he was capable of writing books, becoming a radio personality, etc.

“You have to recognize what you’re good at, what you hate, what you’re comfortable with,” Henican said.

Caroline O’Brien, a sophomore communications major and business minor who sat in the audience, said that Henican’s words were “very reassuring.”

Currently, O’Brien is taking a course on public speaking. She said that seeing how Henican engaged with the audience through various gestures and tones opened her eyes to the different applications of communications skills like public speaking.

In Henican’s case, his skills in storytelling and communicating with people were polished throughout the years, and gave him different career paths. When he was a young reporter at the Kentucky Post, he managed to persuade the mother of a murder victim to open up to him. As he moved onto appearing on television, he appeared as the liberal representative and debated with Bill O’Reilly from Fox News’s “The O’Reilly Factor.” Henican recounted that sometimes, loyal Fox News fans would approach him on the streets and tell him “You know, I don’t agree with anything you say,” the highest praise he said he has ever received. The Newsday columnist said he collaborated with NFL coach Sean Payton to co-author “Home Team: Coaching the Saints and New Orleans Back to Life,” and even did some stand-up comedy in the past.

After listening to the New Orleans native, undeclared freshman Yo-Yo Fu, who also does stand-up comedy, said he realized he should put himself out there like Henican did. Henican, who juggles nine jobs, said that he loves challenges, as it forces him to become more entrepreneurial.

“I would urge all of you to listen to people who have different opinions than you,” Henican said. “It might piss you off, but with today’s media you can listen to just the people who you agree with, but you’re not going to learn much. It’s a good challenge. I promise you it’ll make you smarter and interesting.”

Photo by Arzu Martinez