P.J. Tobia, a foreign affairs producer at PBS Newshour, is a master at finding the local angles in large, global stories. Whether it’s immigration, child slavery or the Syrian refugee crisis.
“It’s kind of the through line in my work, globalization and how everyone culturally, economically and in many, many other ways is becoming much closer whether you like it or not, even if you never actually interact with a citizen of another country on a day-to-day basis,” Tobia told It’s All Journalism producers Michael O’Connell and Nicole Ogrysko.
Even though Newshour is known for its serious, even-handed coverage of weighty issues, Tobia said there were important discussions that didn’t always make it on the air.
“A lot of story ideas that I had or very interesting conversations that I was having with smart people were getting left on the cutting room floor,” he said. “And I kind of thought, what’s a way that I can use these smart conversations that I’m having with people?”
To remedy the situation, Tobia launched Shortwave, a weekly foreign affairs podcast, that examines the local impact of major global stories for an audience that enjoys getting its news online.
“It’s in the same Newshour style of being objective and in-depth and even-handed, but kind of repurpose it for an audience that maybe we’re not reaching with the broadcast.”
Newshour viewers are already used to a robust digital product, where they can engage in social media, read transcripts or livestream full episodes on the show’s website.
Each episode of Shortwave takes deep dive into a particular topic, culled from Tobia’s reporting or the work of fellow Newshour journalists.
Shortwave also gives Tobia the opportunity to work on impactful stories about big subjects.
“I like reporting on brutal human rights violations, but at the same time there are so many of them going on that Americans tend to be like, ‘All right, what does this have to do with me?'” Tobia said. “What it has to do is that that hot chocolate that you’re drinking was grown by child slaves in West Africa, or, the coltan in your phone was mined by child slaves in the Congo. … That kind of story that has the hard human rights angle that I like, but with a twist that makes it a western audience stand up and say, ‘Oh, geez, slavery is in my pocket every day.”
On this week’s episode of It’s All Journalism, producers Michael O’Connell and Nicole Ogrysko talk to P.J. Tobia, a foreign affairs producer at PBS Newshour. He talks about his journalist’s journey from working at an alternative newspaper in Nashville to covering local news in Afghanistan to launching the foreign affairs podcast, Shortwave. He also offers some advice for young journalists starting out their careers.