Kare Anderson is an Emmy-winning former NBC and Wall Street Journal reporter who now writes the Connected and Quotable column at Forbes, and speaks on communicating-to-connect. She’s the author of Moving From Me to We and co-founder of the Say it Better Center.
Q: What’s the most significant risk you’ve taken professionally?
Kare: As a Wall Street Journal reporter, in my second week of work, based in London, and with no background in economics, I was told to interview one of the foremost economists in Europe.
He was so enraged by my “ineptitude” and “ignorance” that were “blindingly evident within minutes of my interview” that he stood up and started pointing and shouting at me in his office with the door open. Yes, I remember those exact words and phrases, and those are the ones that are “clean” enough for me to repeat here.
I kept asking for clarification of his terms and concepts and that irritated him more. A small crowd was forming just outside his door. I could hear tittering. The economy was bumpy then and he felt strongly about what the government should do. I simply did not understand him at first and it took quite awhile for me to decipher a couple of his views so (barely) adequately write my story. My boss, the bureau chief was not happy with me when I returned and told him what had happened, including how he finally kicked me out of his office. Walking through that parade of chuckling staffers was not my best moment especially as he had spilled coffee on my skirt during one of his outbursts… I mean clarifications. He wrote a letter to the editor, quite articulately and vividly citing my flaws as a reporter. There were 30.
Yet several people wrote letters say they finally understood the underlying economic theory. That’s what most mattered to me, yet I know the writing was not my strongest because of the pressures I felt, being new to a news bureau and a country.
The unexpected upside for me (and I DO mean unexpected) was that his letter apparently boosted readership of my story… and many people, especially women, expressed outrage at him for his personal attacks. Even more women and men wrote letters to the editor in the coming weeks in support of me because the economist made the mistake of responding to some of the attacks by counter-attacking people by name, thus escalating it. I found it mortifying.
My boss was thankful that the battled was made personal, rather than about my “thin coverage” (his polite phrase) in my original story – and that the back and forth story had legs, getting picked up by other media outlets. My nimble French interpreter (I was moved around Europe and she spoke seven languages) and I bonded over the incident. She was wonderfully protective and reached out to her well-placed friends and family members to fan the flames of the story, I learned months later.
Ironically the visibility made people curious about me so it was easier to secure interviews. Above all it cemented my habit of doing more advance research before an interview and to grow credibility in one, specialized beat so it was less likely I had to cover stories outside my area of expertise.