Journalism is no ‘Guessing’ game

The local investigative reporter who broke the scandal surrounding Tampa’s top-housing official was at one point interested in nothing more than earning her doctorate in English.Robin Guess, investigative reporter for ABC 28, told USF students Monday night that journalism broadcasting was something she just “fell into.”

“I wish I could tell you that Lois Lane was my hero, but that would not be true,” Guess said. “I had no idea I would be doing this.”

A group of about 20 members of USF’s Radio-Television News Directors Association listened to Guess speak about how she was introduced to television reporting and gave students an inside view of investigative reporting and journalism.

Guess said after earning her masters in English at the University of California – Berkeley-she was seduced by television and what she calls the “darker side.” Once Guess began working for the California Legislature, a job she thought would be clerical duties, she never returned to her studies in English.

“I thought they would just stick me in a corner to analyze bills, but I didn’t get that experience at all,” Guess said. “Everything I hated about politics I learned.”

After a year of working at the legislature, Guess said she attended Columbia to earn a masters in journalism as something to do in between. Guess said she was first devoted to print journalism and later got into television after working with the senior producer of 60 minutes.

Guess said she has no regrets for choosing television instead of print journalism or not continuing a career in English because she is passionate about her job. It gives her independence.

“I have more freedom than general assignment reporters because their agenda runs on daily news, where I get to do a story I am interested in,” Guess said. “I think the thing that makes people say I really want to listen to this story is the passion, and you have to convey that.”

Guess, who began working for ABC 28 seven months ago, broke a story about Steve LaBrake, city housing chief, and his girlfriend Lynne McCarter, a City Hall employee. They used their positions to collect city funds to build a luxury home in Tampa.

Guess told students that investigative stories such as these have the ability to destroy a person’s life and destroy a news organization. That is why the story can’t be rushed.

“The danger of cranking out these stories is that we could be sued. We never rush these stories,” Guess said. “The fear of a lawsuit can cripple a news organization.”

Guess said one of her pet peeves for investigative reporting is stations that do consumer report investigations.

“It’s the people who call themselves problem solvers or say they are on your side – I can’t stand it,” Guess said.

She said viewers are aware of the lemon law for used cars and it is the consumer protection agencies’ responsibility to investigate situations when that law is violated.

“That’s why there is Consumer Protection Agencies … they are taking the cheap way out.”

Guess advised students who are interested in pursuing a journalism career to earn a bachelor’s degree in a liberal arts study and use graduate school to specialize in journalism.

“There is not a good experience with the people under me who have communications or journalism (bachelor’s) degrees,” Guess said. “I don’t think it’s the best way to go.”

Senior Wendy Whitehurst said listening to Guess let her know what to expect in her field when she graduates from college.

“It is good to see someone who is acting in this business and to tell us what to expect, a lot of people graduate from college and don’t know,” Whitehurst said. “Since I am interning at 28 I don’t get a chance to see her, and also she is African American, and you don’t get the chance to see to many role models.”