Tag Archives: news media

What’s Her Story: From Covering Atlanta’s Mean Streets to Hollywood’s ‘Different Kind of Scary’

RELATED: Read how other former newspaper folks are reinventing themselves.

Maria Elena Fernandez, writer, writerchica, Los Angeles Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta, Hollywood, reporter, Venice Beach, Latina

Maria Elena Fernandez

Maria Elena Fernandez and I became fast friends at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the mid-‘90s when we were both Metro reporters. She was on the police beat and I had the courts. She’d cover a murder and its investigation, and then I’d get the trial. It was a fun tag-team.

Fast-forward through the next decade or so, and Maria ended up in Los Angeles, spending a dozen years covering TV for The LA Times. That switch from the streets to the studios was followed by another, from print to digital. Maria joined The Daily Beast and then NBCNews.com. She lives in Venice with her fabulous husband and their two dogs. The last time I visited, she was prepping for the next day’s Emmy Awards. A far cry from, say, interviewing suspects, victims and cops here in Atlanta.

We covered crime together in Atlanta and then you took on showbiz in Hollywood. Which is scarier?

Good question! There’s probably nothing more nerve-wracking and challenging than knocking on the door of someone who just experienced a personal tragedy. You talk to parents whose missing child has been found dead, and anything can happen in terms of how they respond to you.  It takes a special kind of strength and heart.

That said, Hollywood is a scary beast of a different kind, without public records or the public right-to-know on your side. All you have is your ability to connect and establish relationships. When you’re covering crime and you catch a cop doing something wrong, you might get a call from someone accusing you of being biased or not getting the whole story. But in Hollywood, you get angry, berating calls from people saying things like, “How could you? I thought you were a friend.”

It’s a very different perception of what a journalistic relationship is and entails. It’s a different kind of scary, in other words.

Which do you like better?

Maria Elena Fernandez, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jay Croft, Los Angeles times, MSNBC, Daily Beast, crime, Atlanta, Hollywood, show business, journalism, newspapers, reporters, online

Con mi amiga, Maria Elena Fernandez, on Venice Beach a couple of years ago.

I like them both because they bring out different sides of my personality. I love news, I love to cover things that matter, and when I was covering crime, I very rarely felt I was writing something trivial. I enjoy covering  entertainment the most when I’m writing about something in the zeitgeist. People take their pop culture interests seriously and it’s always really fun when you have the inside scoop on people’s favorite movies, TV shows, actors.

I never get tired of talking to the writers and producers behind shows and movies. They are the real geniuses to me. I love the way their minds work. But the way Hollywood operates can be really draining. On those days I miss running around communities and talking to people who don’t necessarily want to be famous.

Now, put it all together, like when life handed me the “Desperate Housewives” trial (when Nicollette Sheridan sued over losing her role) and I am in heaven. Big show, big stars, big drama unfolding in a courtroom. It was a rare, open, behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood. I always tell people who love stories: Hang out in a courtroom.

That’s for sure! People always ask me if I miss the old newspaper days. I don’t. Do you?

I miss the time I used to be able to spend reporting a story. It literally feels like a luxury to think back now to the days when a crime happened late at night, and I’d spend the next 12 hours figuring it out before I wrote a word. In today’s Digital Age, that’s a lifetime. Now you confirm something’s happened and a few sentences are up on a site in a flash.

Cuban-mapWhere did you get your passion for telling stories?

My grandmother was my best friend when I was a kid. We went on long walks every afternoon and she’d tell me all kinds of stories about her life in Cuba. When I couldn’t sleep at night, she’d tell me more. She never even finished elementary school, but she was gifted. She made me love words, the way they sound together. She was hilarious. Her favorite words were all curse words! My father, too, played a big part. He taught himself English reading the newspaper and made me fall in love with newspapers at an early age. He always used to tell me if you want to write, you must read. He was so right.

As a reader, do you like print or digital?

I still love to hold a book in my hands, but I can’t remember when the last time I actually touched a newspaper. And I can’t live without with my iPad.

Joe Manganiello, Maria Elena Fernandez, True Blood, Emmy Awards, Emmys, LA Times, reporter, MSNBC

With Joe Manganiello at the Emmys

A little Hollywood dish, please? Who are the most gorgeous stars you’ve met? I was so jealous when you met Alcide from “True Blood.”  The smartest? Funniest? A behind-the-scenes moment, something like that?

There have been some grand moments, like riding horses with William Shatner. As a big fan of “24,” meeting Kiefer Sutherland and watching him go from aggro Jack Bauer to soft-spoken and grateful off-camera is a pretty cool way to spend a workday. Also:  spending the day at James Spader’s favorite sculpture garden or getting make-up tips from the stunning RuPaul. Come on! When a short interview over coffee turns into a three-hour lunch just because you’re having a blast with a very funny person like Sofia Vergara, the job is a joy. Antonio Banderas re-enacted a scene from “Puss in Boots” for me during an interview, and my heart was won!  Lunch with the entire cast of “Big Bang Theory” was also really memorable. It was early in the run of the show–before it was the big hit it was today. It’s great when you meet people under those circumstances and later see that success doesn’t change who they are essentially. That is rare. Chris Colfer, America Ferrera are people I’d count in that short list, too. And, of course, the almighty Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. And I would be crazy not to include one of the best days ever: a one-hour interview with Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray about a year before Hagman died. That one was for the ages.

We have so much film and TV production here in Atlanta. Any chance you’ll come back and cover something going on here?

Oh yeah! I would love to. Atlanta is home to the biggest show on TV. I need to get over there and interview some zombies!

Follow Maria Elena Fernandez on Twitter @writerchica and me at @JayCroft

RELATED: Behind the scenes of ‘The Walking Dead’

RELATED: Ex-photojournalist starts ‘Plan B’

RELATED: Ex-Reporter Now Works for Atlanta Mayor


What’s His Story: Former City Hall Reporter Now Represents Atlanta Mayor

Carlos Campos, Atlanta, mayor, kasim reed, spokesman, police, news, newspaper reporter, AJC, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Carlos Campos, interim spokesman for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed

Carlos Campos has been on both sides of publicly told stories, first as a journalist and now as a government spokesman, which gives him a rare point of view about how tales are shaped and shared. For many years, Carlos was a top reporter at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where his beats included Atlanta City Hall (and where, full disclosure, he and I became friends). But now, after a stint at a public relations firm, Carlos works for the city he used to cover. He was  the spokesman for the Atlanta Police Department starting in 2009, and then was named interim communications director for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed last fall.

You’ve been a storyteller, an advocate and now, frequently, a subject in stories that are shared publicly. Which plays the biggest role in telling a story?

Stories are always told through the eyes of the storyteller — and that’s not a criticism of any storyteller. It’s just the immutable truth. Having been on so many different sides of a story, I’ve  seen them told from a number of angles. I don’t know who coined the phrase, but it’s one of my favorites: “There are three sides to every story. Yours, mine and the truth.” Every story will have holes in it, often created by how we see it. Storytellers have a tremendous amount of power that comes with an obligation to seek the closest approximation to truth as possible.

As a reader, do you like print or digital?

I’ve always enjoyed books and newspapers. But I have adapted to the Digital Age. I can appreciate the nostalgia that some hold for the feeling of holding a book or a newspaper. For me, the ability to access hundreds and thousands of books and newspapers via a single electronic device is nothing short of amazing.

Favorite blog or website?

Snopes.com investigates urban legends, which have always fascinated me — how they get started, how they grow. It’s my go-to site whenever I see some absurd claim, which almost always turns out to be false.

Favorite story or storyteller?

Jon Krakauer’s book on the Everest disaster, “Into Thin Air,” is absolutely compelling from the first sentence. I have a short attention span, so I need authors who grab me by the throat very early on.

Favorite journey?

Cuban-mapWell, I would have to say “Don’t Stop Believin’.” … Oh wait … My favorite journey was in 2000 back to my homeland, Cuba. It was bittersweet. It was beautiful to see relatives – aunts, uncles, cousins – I had never met before and to experience the culture and people. But it was immensely sad to see the poverty and government oppression. At least my relatives know nothing else, and their spirit has not been killed.

Your Own Go-To Story:

I was born in a poor nation to parents of limited means. We are living the American dream; we came to this country with nothing and have had an opportunity to become educated, graduate from college, own a home, hold good jobs and pursue life, liberty and happiness. Yes, it’s about as corny a story as you will ever hear. But it is my truth — one that I fully embrace.

Carlos Campos, Kasim Reed, spokesman, Atlanta mayor, journal-constitution, arc

Carlos Campos with his family, including wife, Asa, to his left, and his parents on either end of the table.


EARLIER: What’s His Story: Behind the Scenes at ‘The Walking Dead’

EARLIER: What’s Her Story: Small Business Owner Makes the Most of Social Media, Internet

EARLIER: What’s His Story: Meet The Run Commuter, Who Gets to Work on Foot