Meet a DEMAN Keynote Speaker:
Annika Pergament (Trinity ’91) of Spectrum NY1
Pergament will be part of the keynote conversation during Duke’s DEMAN Weekend at 7pm in the Nasher Museum of Art on Friday, November 2.
Annika Pergament is a co-anchor of Mornings On 1, a live three-hour newscast on Spectrum News NY1 which focuses on New York City news, politics, business and the arts. Pergament covered the terror attacks of September 11, the crash of TWA 800 shortly after takeoff from JFK Airport, and the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath. She has appeared in numerous TV series including The Sopranos, Gossip Girl, Mr. Robot, Law & Order: SVU and Power, as well as in films including Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Non-Stop, and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. She earned her BA in History from Duke University. Pergament will be presenting as a keynote speaker for Duke’s 2018 DEMAN Arts & Media Weekend at 7pm in the Nasher Museum of Art on Friday, Nov 2.
Q+A with Annika Pergament
We asked students to submit questions for our DEMAN Keynote Speakers. Here are Pergament’s responses.
Q: Can you point out a pivotal moment in your career where you knew you were doing what you wanted to do?
Annika Pergament: Very early in my career I covered the murder of Jonathan Levin. He was the 31-year-old son of Gerald Levin. Jonathan was a popular English teacher at a high school in the Bronx. He came from a wealthy family and dedicated his life to teaching at an inner-city school. One of his students, Corey Arthur, was arrested and charged with going to Levin’s apartment and torturing and murdering him. Corey was convicted and sentenced to 25 years. His alleged accomplice was acquitted—despite an 11-page confession—by convincing jurors that the confession was coerced out of him when he was drunk. I covered the murder, the funeral, and then the trial. I got to know the family. I was able to tell viewers who Jonathan was as a person. It had a deep impact on me at the time. It felt important to me to get it right—to give respect to his life and his memory.
I covered the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and reported from the scene. It was a defining moment in my professional and personal life, as it was for so many. I tried to describe what I was witnessing without injecting emotion, which was a challenge, but it was my job. I have always loved history (I was a history major at Duke) and to be present as history was unfolding felt like the right place for me.
I think the challenge for journalists is to keep the focus on the story. Tell the story, then think about the best platform for its delivery.
I learned (especially with TV reporting) to not make myself part of the story. I wanted the interviews and the video to inform the viewer. I was simply the conduit.
Q: What are one or two of the best mistakes or impactful lessons you have learned in your career?
AP: When I came to New York I was hired as a political reporter to cover Albany. I was young and inexperienced. It took me about five minutes to realize that if I simply covered the talking points of the politicians and lobbyists I would never last in the job. I watched how the more experienced reporters handled themselves. I learned what kind of questions they asked and how they kept pressing for the truth. I would follow them down hallways to see who they were interviewing and then I’d grab that person afterward and ask the same questions.
Jim Dao was The New York Times Albany bureau chief. He and a few other print reporters were generous mentors and teachers. It was like taking a masterclass in journalism. I knew enough to know that I didn’t know much, but that I was willing to learn. That was a great lesson: to learn from people who already knew how to do the job.
I also learned (especially with TV reporting) to not make myself part of the story. I wanted the interviews and the video to inform the viewer. I was simply the conduit. You don’t have to remind the viewer that this is a sad or horrific story. The viewer will come to their own conclusion. The challenge is to find the good stories and tell them in the clearest way possible.
Q: What are one or two things you wish you would have done or taken advantage of while you were still at Duke?
AP: I would have written more articles for The Chronicle to have more news clips when I was applying for jobs. I would have been more involved with campus clubs to take me out of my comfort zone. I played it safe at Duke. I hung out with the same group of people with the same interests and that was fine—but I wish I had tested myself more and taken more risks. It could have been as simple as profiling other students from different life experiences than mine. It took me a while to comprehend that you grow by meeting new people and trying new things. Journalism is a great excuse to ask questions and push both personal and professional boundaries.
Q: How do you think your industry has changed?
AP: The news business has changed radically since I entered it. The rise of social media has created a flood of new platforms to deliver information to people. That, in turn, has created a 24-hour news cycle, meaning that people are now informed almost instantaneously. Today, there are many news outlets available. News has gotten much more partisan, with people often electing to select news that reinforces their view of the world. Furthermore, there is the rise of “fake news.” Increasingly, I’ve found that when someone doesn’t like a story they simply give it that label.
I think the challenge for journalists is to keep the focus on the story. Tell the story, then think about the best platform for its delivery. At the end of the day, good journalism is about fact finding and storytelling. These days it’s easy to get sidetracked, but what makes a successful journalist, TV reporter, and anchor is the same as it’s always been.
Q: For all the students interested in working in creative industries, what would you tell them makes the best employee or intern? What do you look for when hiring?
AP: I want to hire and work with people who are smart, resourceful, have high integrity, leave drama at the door and help make my job easier. Do the easy stuff well. Be punctual. Listen. Follow through on what you’ve been asked to do. Work hard. Don’t complain. Look for ways to do more than you are asked to do. Don’t let your pride get in the way. The best producer I ever had came to me straight from the School of Journalism at Columbia University. In the evenings she networked and freelanced stories for the free daily papers. I had a newborn at the time and she would come to my apartment and work as our babysitter, doing her writing after my son feel asleep. These days she’s a best selling author, a sought after speaker and has a leading podcast.
Warren Buffett looks for three qualities in the people he hires: integrity, intelligence and energy. I think that’s exactly right.
Q: What’s your favorite spot on campus? Durham?
AP: My favorite spot on campus is Duke Gardens. Downtown Durham was one of my favorite places when I was a student. Back then it was pretty gritty with a lot of abandoned buildings. But there were a few good restaurants and it was always an adventure to leave campus and head downtown.