by John Winn
Corruption. Crime. Office politics. Christina Hazelwood has seen it all. The freelance journalist, entrepreneur, and indie filmmaker has had a front row seat watching some of the grittiest and dirtiest moments in our nation's history.
Despite those experiences leaving a bad taste in her mouth, she's managed to parlay her experiences as a writer into a successful career as a syndicated columnist in addition to earning director's credits along the way.
Hennen's John Winn caught up with Hazelwood and asked her about her career, her take on journalistic ethics, and advice for tomorrow's reporters.
JW: When did you become interested in covering politics and investigative journalism? Are there any formative experiences in college or high school that have pointed you down that road?
CH: I had a very stressful, difficult, and lonely childhood in which I was not allowed to express myself or be acknowledged as an individual with free will. That was very difficult for me because, by nature, I am a creative, expressive person. I learned to keep my mouth shut, be obedient, anticipate others' needs, and observe. My only outlet was secret writing. I would hide away and write volumes to the air and to myself to maintain sanity.
JW: In addition to your work for ROM (Results Oriented Multimedia) International, you also write a column on the side for a variety of syndicated newspapers. How do you reconcile your objectivity with your role as an advocacy journalist? Is it possible for a reporter to be both impartial and passionate about her beats (the particular news source that a reporter is responsible for covering)?
CH: Currently, I am not assigned to a beat. I take story assignments and come up with news stories that I propose. If a reporter were assigned to a specific beat, it would be best not to write opinion-editorials about topics associated with that beat so as not to bias one's sources against the reporter in question.
In addition, the very structure of journalist writing makes it easy to keep one's opinions or views completely out of the story being written. When properly following the "inverted pyramid" style of writing, it is downright difficult to work one's opinion into a story without it being clearly flawed. As a news professional, the task is simple and clear: report what occurred, what people say and keep your two-cents worth out of it.
After so many years of doing this, I began to see a deficiency with the system. Over time, a reporter cannot help but see patterns and gain perspective on all that she observes. Yet, by virtue of the job, her knowledgeable perspectives are not allowed to be expressed, heard, or known.
At a certain point I felt that it was important for me to start offering my views, formulated after a couple decades of observing. That is when I started writing opinion-editorials.
JW: You have also penned an award-winning screenplay. Are there any lessons you have learned from working in film that you've applied to your journalistic career?
CH: The only thing I learned, which applies to the film business, journalism and every other venue life has to offer, is that most people want to keep you out and most of the systems in the world are designed that way. America is viewed as the land of opportunity, but that's not necessarily true. There is opportunity everywhere, but rarely the sort one is seeking.
The more desirable a venue or system of business is because of its high earnings, power, or fame, the more the people in it want to keep you out. Most of the moneymaking systems in America, and even the world, are closed systems. But it is in the insiders' interest to make people think they have a chance to get in because that keeps everyone working, trying, and feeding into the system.
Some outsiders do manage to get in through ingenuity, hard work, luck, resourcefulness, secret dealings and the like... Most people won't tell you that, certainly not your parents or teachers. The truth is most people are born into a spot and follow the path that's open to them. You might get lucky and be the child of a movie mogul or a corporate executive or an opera singer, or you might be the child of the school janitor. Let's face it: the janitor's child has a lot more obstacles to overcome.
JW: Final question: what advice would you give to aspiring writers/journalists who are reading this right now? What should they be doing to prepare themselves for the challenges ahead?
CH: The number one challenge for any line of work that involves creativity is figuring out how to survive financially and still be able to pursue one's calling. If you are like the rest of us--starving artists--you will have to determine how badly you want to write and what is your pain threshold for financial hardship. Try to find a niche with the level of finances you can tolerate, choose a different profession, prepare to work a second job for most of your life, marry rich, or be very, very lucky.