Investigative reporter Matt Belanger speaks to a communications class about life as a broadcast journalist

By Daniel Temple

Nov. 11, 2008- Matt Belanger, an investigative reporter for WGAL in Lancaster, Pennsylvania spoke to communication students on Monday about the investigative work he has done over the years, as well as some key advice for students interested in pursuing his line of work.

“You have to really love your craft as well as your job,” Belanger said. “”Because believe me, the excitement of being on TV or seeing your byline in the paper wears off pretty quickly.”

Matt Balenger talks about his work as an investigative reporter

Matt Belenger talks about his work as an investigative reporter

Belanger, who graduated from Elon several years ago, said that he got his start while at school, when he worked for both print news and television organizations. Belanger commented that a good communications student should be able to work in both fields, and be able to relate the skills and techniques required by each.

“You can’t be a good broadcast writer until you understand the basic, fundamental aspect of print writing,” he said. “Broadcast is its own monster, but you’re not going to be successful unless you have some sort of background with basic print media.”

Armed with a seemingly endless supply of energy, Belanger entertained students with a collection of a few of his news stories he’s completed over the years. These clips showed students the range of topics reporters sometimes have to cover, as well as the depth of reporting that is required by news organizations.

“I’m literally working at all hours of the day, if I’m not writing on my computer, I’m writing in my head,” said Belanger. “At the same time though, I’m blessed because I have the opportunity to work on special stories from weeks to months at a time.”

Balenger energetically teaches students about professional journalism

Belenger energetically teaches students about professional journalism

Belanger said that for a lot of his work, he uses government online records from public information Web sites. He said that this information would not be attainable without a competent understanding of the Internet.

“A key aspect of working in today’s media is to have knowledge and a powerful command of the Internet,” Belanger said. “But it’s important at all times to take into account the validity and reliability of the information you’re getting.

On the same topic, Belanger cited YouTube as an example of information that can sometimes be skewed or inaccurate. He expressed his disgust at the amount of people who take in this information as perceive it as factual and unbiased.

“I hate, hate, hate YouTube,” Belanger insisted. “Much of the information is just completely wrong or opinionated, and people just believe it because it’s out there.”

Belanger then delved into what he believes is one of the most important parts of working in a journalism field; an established trust basis with the people you work with and interview. He outlined his personal approach to build trust, in order to maximize interviews and subsequently the amount of information that can be obtained.

“You have to maintain an air of professionalism, but still be human and act like one” he said. “Don’t be a hard ass or over the top, just be a real person. If you’re nice, chances are they’re going to be nice as well.”

Belanger said that he sometimes likes to poke fun at himself, in order to put the interview subject at ease. Above all else though he stated that you need to find a way to be memorable, and then take the information they give you and present it fairly and unbiased.

Belanger finished his talk with what he calls “the Holy Trinity” of today’s reporting; video, sounds and words. Each one he said, plays a key role in grabbing the audience’s attention, and then conveying the necessary information.

“You can’t just focus on one of them and expect to be effective in you’re reporting,” he said. “When I first started out, my biggest flaw was that I was too caught up in the statistics. I didn’t concentrate enough on the story as a whole.”

As for the future of media, Belanger reiterated that today’s journalists must be able to write, as well as work with video and pictures.

“Everything today is merging and coming together,” he said. “The tectonic plates of media are coming together. You have to be able to do it all.”

 

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