10 Questions with ... Linda Thomas
August 20, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
After getting my degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Northern Iowa, I took a job that was as far away from Iowa as I could get. It was only decades later that I appreciated the work ethnic now engrained in me from growing up on a Midwest farm. I moved to Lake Tahoe and did the morning news for a rock station, then got more serious about my career and moved to Reno. Not long after that I took a temporary job at KIRO Radio as an overnight editor. Five years later, after doing every job there, I was the first female drive-time anchor.
For about a decade, I left full-time work radio to raise my kids. During that time I worked with legendary broadcasters â€“ Bob Rivers and Ichabod Caine to name a couple â€“ and had a freelance print journalism business. I came back to KIRO Radio as the morning news anchor in 2010, and it was like coming home. I love my dynamic, talented, fun KIRO radio family.
1. First, how did you get into radio in the first place? What drew you to going into radio?
Growing up on a farm that was at least 50 miles from the middle of nowhere, I listened to AM radio every night. Through the static, I heard stations from Minneapolis, Chicago, Atlanta, and occasionally Dallas. The people on the radio seemed to live exciting lives; at the very least they were in a city which is where I wanted to be. Radio is the most intimate medium, and it seemed to me that the people on the radio were my â€œfriends.â€ My simple motivation for getting into radio was wanting to be a friend to someone who was listening. Much as I want to inform people every day, because thatâ€™s my job, Iâ€™m happy if I can just make someone smile.
2. Your background has been in news and broadcasting, but you've been very active as a blogger and in social media. What appealed to you about doing work online, and do you see it as an adjunct to your broadcast work or a separate discipline itself?
Iâ€™m a journalist first. The medium I use is secondary. I favor radio, but I find a tremendous value in communicating stories in other ways too. Some stories are best hearing the voice of the individual. Many stories have more impact online and I like that they can be easily shared in that way. Maybe a slide show with a simple narration tells the story the most effective? Some stories are visual and need to be told with video. All of these mediums are tools that have strengths and weaknesses. I canâ€™t imagine being limited to one of them.
3. You've reported on a wide range of stories and interviewed countless subjects. Is there one story or interview among them that sticks in your mind as most memorable? (Feel free to talk about more than one if you can't pick a winner....)
Every person I meet has changed my life in some small way. I say on my website, â€œEverybody has a story, whatâ€™s yours?,â€ because some of the most remarkable stories have been about â€œordinaryâ€ people. A few who come to mind:
Peter Pilkington is a Seattle man who lost his house, his business, his marriage and about a million dollars in the effort to prove his son wasn't responsible for his own death in an oil-rig diving accident. He was right. But 17 years later the U.S. Coast Guard still has not adopted safety regulations for the commercial diving industry. His dedication to the memory of his son is inspiring.
Joe Moser is one of a kind. I drove about three hours on a Friday afternoon to talk with him. He was an American pilot who ended up in Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II. His survival story is remarkable. Even more astonishing is the fact that he didnâ€™t talk about what happened for several decades because when he tried, no one believed him.
Seattle rapper Macklemore certainly isnâ€™t â€œordinaryâ€ but I interviewed him long before he hit it big with â€œThrift Shop.â€ In the living room of his small apartment, he opened up about his struggles as a musician and an addict. Sincere, spiritual and kind. Heâ€™s the real deal.
4. Who else do you think does Twitter "right"? Who are the best follows in social media?
Anyone who is using Twitter to create relationships and build a community is doing it â€œright.â€ People who are there simply to promote their radio show or their business are missing the real potential for social media. The people who I follow and enjoy arenâ€™t celebrities or big social media types â€“ theyâ€™re my friends. I follow back nearly everyone, by the way. Imagine being at a party with a group of people who all want to talk with you, but you only give your attention to one or two who look important. You could be missing out on the most interesting person in the room. Same is true for Twitter. When you only follow back the people who look impressive, you could be missing out on the next great tip or meeting someone who will pick you up when you need it. My Twitter friends do that for me all the time and theyâ€™re all â€œbest follows.â€
5. You've also written for various publications and sites, including the Seattle Times and P-I, the latter now online-only. Do you think the continuing move to online publication has changed the nature of journalism? Is there room for the traditional news article or will social media on one hand and the appetite for multimedia reporting on the other make news, in print or online, a different animal in the future?
Tens of thousands of journalism jobs have been lost in the past few years â€“ about 1,800 so far this year. Thatâ€™s scary, but I know journalism will survive. I speak to students often and tell them thereâ€™s never been a better time to be a journalist. I really believe that. There have never been more ways to tell a story, and more means to distribute that story. Who will pay for the story? Thatâ€™s the tricky part. Some traditional news organizations are already adapting and discovering new ways to give consumers news. The delivery medium has changed, but journalism has not. Journalism exposes wrongs, changes policies and enlightens a community. There will always be a need for journalists who have a unique way of looking at the world and create unique content.
6. Describe your process - when you get to the station in the morning, what do you do to get the show together? What's your first order of business -- what do you look at first to get up to speed?
I get up at 1:00AM, generally after posting my last tweet around 8 or 9. Remind me to get more sleep. Iâ€™m at the station by 2AM. I start with getting features ready for air that Iâ€™ve created, and then look at the content generated by our reporters. Next I dive in to figure out whatâ€™s new. I use a great tool created by one of our Bonneville team members â€“ James Bottorff â€“ called Headslinger.com. This is a huge time saver all broadcast personalities should use. After you set up which news sources or websites you want to look at, it strips away all the ads and photos you donâ€™t need to give you a headline and synopsis of a story. I go through between 50 and 100 sites this way to discover things I didnâ€™t know about from the previous day, and write (always with credit) a lot of my own news.
By 5:00 Iâ€™m on the air. I love being the first person in the studio for the day. My partner Dave Ross joins me at 6. The morning flies by working with Dave. Heâ€™s talented and witty. Love him. The showâ€™s over at 9. We have a morning meeting after that and I begin working on podcasts and interviews for original stories Iâ€™ll do the next day. Generally that involves going out for an interview by late morning. Then I go home and continue working on my blog until early evening.
7. Who are your mentors and/or influences, in radio and in life?
My influences in life are my parents, my brothers and extended family, and my kids. They are the base of unconditional love that makes everything else possible. My husband Tony Thomas is both a life and radio influence. I wouldnâ€™t be the broadcaster I am today without him. We were meant to be. Other broadcasters who influenced me include the anchors who were at the NBC radio network in the late 1980s, specifically Cameron Swayze Jr. and Ann Taylor. Paul Harvey is still the reason I have never worn jeans to work. He wore a suit and tie, and I dress up every day too. I also appreciate all the women whoâ€™ve gone before me in this medium, because even though itâ€™s 2013, radio broadcasting still tends to be a manâ€™s world.
8. What do you do for fun?
I love hanging out with my family. My husband and son Michael, whoâ€™s 13, make me laugh like no one else on the planet can. My daughter Maddie, off to college soon, is my best friend, and we both enjoy art, walks along the water and shopping. When Iâ€™m not writing news, Iâ€™m still writing other stuff. I have a couple of journalism-related books that Iâ€™ve been working on, and lately Iâ€™m drawn more to a fictional story Iâ€™m writing about a girl named Mae.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ___________.
...Diet Mountain Dew.
10. What's the most important lesson you've learned in your career?
Itâ€™s all about relationships. Every broadcast day for me starts with the listener. What can I tell listeners that will change the way they think about the world or themselves? Too often we forget the person whoâ€™s on the other side of what we do because we canâ€™t see them. I want to be there for them first as their friend, and then as the lady who gets them caught up on news. Relationships behind the scenes are critical. Nurture them. I owe my career to a great network of people who have encouraged, challenged and supported me. No one does this alone, and Iâ€™ve been blessed to work with remarkable people throughout my career.