Meet Lisa Fletcher, Peabody Award–winning journalist and host of “The Stream.” Read on to find out how Fletcher’s experience as a hard-hitting investigative journalist prepared her for her Al Jazeera America debut.
What is your role in the company?
In addition to hosting “The Stream,” I’m very heavily involved on the editorial side. The production team and I determine what our topics are going to be, how we’re going to present the show, who we’re going to have as guests, how we’re going to deliver the content and how we want it to appear in terms of elements that we want in the show. We strive to direct the discussion in a way that engages our viewers and really breaks ground.
What is a typical day in the office like for you?
We have a meeting in the morning where everybody pitches ideas and talks about whatever they find to be the most interesting, cutting-edge emerging issues of the day. Then I meet with the producers, and we set up a flow for the show in terms of content. We have a rundown, where I go over the stories and scripts with them and we talk about how we want the show to come together. A few hours later, we have an editorial meeting with more of our staff. That includes the interview producers and the social media team. By that point in the day, we’ve got a pretty good sense of how things are coming together. So we go over all the nuts and bolts of the show from beginning to end and hash out anything that may have emerged in the previous few hours that we didn’t have a chance to discuss in the morning. Then I go back to reread the scripts before we air. All the while, I’m preparing throughout the day for our interviews — which are really more of a conversation, a fluid give-and-take between our guests and viewers— and continuing my research and preparation to discuss our topic of the day. The last thing we do is shoot the show. We’re in rehearsals now, but when Al Jazeera America launches, it will be a live show.
Are there any topics or stories that you’re particularly interested in covering on the “The Stream”?
I’ve been an investigative reporter for a good part of my career, so I like anything that has an enterprising and investigative angle to it. Environmental and animal issues are some of my personal favorites, but we will be covering a very wide and broad range of topics.
How did you get to this point in your career?
It’s been an evolution, and these things build on each other. You develop a certain skill set. And I think that when you follow your passion, good things come. And that’s what I’ve done. My objective has never been to attain one particular job or post, just to follow my passion with news.
What influenced you to pursue journalism?
I think it started all the way back when I was in high school. I was the captain of the speech and debate team, and I competed nationally. I was also the editor of the school paper. I realized very early on that I like to talk, I like to debate and I like to write. So it dawned on me that television news was a great way to combine all of the things that I really liked into a career.
What is the most rigorous assignment you’ve ever taken on?
As an investigative reporter for many years, I’ve had quite a number of them, so it’s hard to isolate just one. The challenge is always getting to and exposing the facts that people work very hard to keep in the dark. That is the continuous challenge for every story that involves investigative reporting. But there have been a couple of stories that I found particularly challenging. I exposed child predators who were traveling to Mexico to prey on children in a sexual manner; I changed the way airport security is handled nationwide by exposing a major security breach at one of the nation’s largest international airports; and I forced an investigation of an immigration and naturalization service on the West Coast because of the way they were handling travelers that resulted in the chief of the INS for the West Coast leaving his post. There have been so many stories, but there’s always the main challenge of getting to the truth. Usually it comes with the help of an informant or a terrific paper trail of evidence. Sometimes it can take months or even years to put together.
What’s your favorite place that you've traveled to on an assignment?
I’ve had a lot of fun in a lot of places, but usually the context in which I am traveling is not fun. My role was to cover things that were fairly hard-hitting. But I will say, the most fun story that I’ve ever done was an extreme eco-tourism adventure in Oregon — I climbed 250 feet up into an old-growth Douglas fir tree, where I then spent the night. There I sat, on a limb, 200 feet in the air, with an expert in old-growth canopy ecology. It was my first and only interview in a treetop. The story was about how there are these entire ecosystems that exist only in these old-growth treetops. We slept in little contraptions called tree boats, which are essentially like hammocks. One end ties around the tree trunk, and it hangs off a branch, so you’re suspended. It was an exhilarating experience, one of a kind!
What do you see Al Jazeera America bringing to the American news conversation?
Al Jazeera America is going to bring an element to the conversation that doesn’t currently exist. I think there are a couple of gaps that we’re going to fill. Our approach to news is just different. It is consistently in-depth, we do a lot of investigations and we have many documentary-style stories. The United States doesn’t exist in a bubble, nor does any other country. What Al Jazeera does really well is, we take the issues that are happening here and connect the dots to show viewers the impact that the issues have globally. And that’s important because we live in a society where everything is so interconnected, even more than it was just five or 10 years ago.
We also have a commitment to telling stories from the bottom up. That means no typical spin doctors or talking heads talking “about” something. We give a voice to the voiceless — to those on the ground who are the reason the story exists. Most often, the people you are going to hear from on Al Jazeera America are those experiencing the story.
What are some challenges that you feel you will have to face in this new endeavor?
What some people may look at as a challenge, I see before us as an opportunity. We have a real chance here to bring something new to America and show people a different model for getting news and information that is truly relevant. I think it’s very exciting.
What steps do you think Al Jazeera America needs to take to gain the attention and trust of the American public?
We have a tremendous reputation globally as a news leader. We just have to continue to do what we’ve been doing and what we know how to do so well. When viewers in the United States tune in, they’re going to see the difference with our content. It’s going to speak for itself.
What about Al Jazeera America have you really liked so far?
The most important thing to me about Al Jazeera America is the approach that we take to what we do. For us, being impartial and bringing in so many viewpoints to every story we do is most important. It’s all about solid, honest-to-goodness, hard-hitting journalism.