Q&A with Lorna Dueck, Executive Producer of Listen Up TV
Inspired by the interviews in the Paris Review and Bomb magazine, "The Questions" in Sports Illustrated, and the regular interviews on the blogs of Tom Peters and Guy Kawasaki, Comment has asked a diverse group of mentors for their stories.
Comment: How would you explain what you do to an interested nine-year-old child?
Lorna Dueck: I have a television show, and I am one of those people you can watch on television. It's called Listen Up TV. We listen to what's going on in the world, then we look up and ask what God thinks about these events we cover. Our show looks like television news, but the ideas in it take you deeper than most television news, our stories help people think about God and what God would want for our lives and our world. I work with a team of ten others who are reporters and writers, director, camera man, editor, money, and administration specialists, and together, we create television. My job is to pull all those resources together to make sure the most interesting stories get told in the best way to as many people as possible. Nine television networks carry our show, our biggest audience is Sunday mornings at 11 a.m. on Global TV across Canada, and you can also watch Listen Up TV on the web at anytime or look for pieces of it on YouTube. I also write about Christianity and Canadian life for The Globe and Mail, and keep a blog.
Comment: What first drew you to this work?
LD: I have always been a very curious person, and a creative person. From as early as I can recall, I loved to write, and was fortunate to have school teachers who really encouraged that gift in me. But it was the pitch of my voice that led my sister to tell me my stories belonged in broadcasting. I have a good voice for that, which is obviously a gift from God, and that has always opened broadcasting opportunities for me.
Comment: As a novice, what were your most valuable learning experiences?
LD: I'd have to say it's the pressure to deliver the story. I began in this business thirty years ago, and the first month I worked at Golden West Broadcasting, the news director had me sit in the talk booth and just practice reading. Rip and read, it's all I did; he just didn't feel I was ready to be reading anything over the airwaves. It was a humbling awakening to the pressure to deliver content in an acceptable way. Now, no news bureau would spend the time training staff like that, but I've never forgotten that there is no substitute for working hard to get the content the best it can be. Every market I've worked in, the pressure to deliver or not be published, has been valuable for crafting the story and my style.
Comment: What is the best advice you've ever been given?
LD: "Look forward." Don't manage the mistakes or mess behind you, just focus on taking the next steps forward.
Comment: From what sources do you draw inspiration for your work?
LD: Psalm 145 is one of my favourite, biblical passages that enthuses about the joy of communicating about God. There is no way I would be in Christian story-telling via the medium of television if it weren't for the persistent theme in Scripture of God's passion for communicating with the human race. It's an honour to work with God in communicating His love to us all; really, it's just a huge privilege to be part of this. However, I regularly need to reconnect with the purity of God's intentions in communicating, so I look for that theme in the Bible often, and reflect deeply. One of the best things I did recently was to spend five days in a silent retreat, spiritually reconnecting with what the Bible has to say about my work.
Comment: What rituals and habits structure your workday?
LD: I usually spend the first hour of a day in meditating, Bible reading, prayer, and journal writing. Then I like to read two newspapers, and I rip out pieces that interest me and keep a file to start ideas from. Then I get to the office and start the morning by talking to our staff team. I like to connect even just for a moment or two with people personally, rather than do it all electronically. My ritual is to answer any emails I can in the first half hour, and then I usually leave them until the end of the day, I keep the email notification turned off and will answer most in waiting moments out of the office by BlackBerry. I am strict about blocking time for tasks as part of the ritual of actually getting something written or accomplished. I'm very committed to scheduling the important things, but everything about my job requires flexibility in me and my team, for our media work to be successful. You never know when a news event will occur to which you have to react. When the work day is done, a habit I've settled nicely into is resting, and turning the noise off in the evenings and on Sabbath. I'm really enjoying the metaphor of being led by still waters, I rarely work more than 55 hours a week, and that includes my studies. When I was younger, I was zealous about only working four days a week so I could still do the things required for homemaking and raising our two kids.
Comment: What are your favorite tools?
LD: I really fought this thing arriving into my life, but now I love my BlackBerry Pearl. I was covering the Micro Credit summit in Halifax in 2006, and was convicted by a speech there from Nobel Prize winner Mohammed Yunis who said that in developing countries women's income doubled when they got a cell phone. It was easy to connect the dots; my life would improve in productivity if I were willing to be more accessible. I know this sounds outrageous, but within hours I had a call from my office saying a gift had arrived for me from RIM in Waterloo. It was the BlackBerry Pearl, just getting a market launch, and there was one waiting for me. I also really like the Google.docs system and use it weekly for all our broadcast collaborations. I always have to be pushed by others into new tools. I tried recently to get my husband and adult kids into a family calendar system on Google but he made the point that for our family life he thought it was "more administration and less real communication."
Comment: Tell us about a project that delighted you.
LD: "The Right to a Home" was a recent documentary we did on 22,000 children in Canada who are awaiting adoption. Most of the children are over the age of four, and they really need a mom and dad. We found a family who had adopted nine such kids, troubled, complicated, and amazing. We featured Vicki Mansell—one of the more famous in that family because of the extreme trauma of her pre-adoption childhood. Vicki, who is now twenty-five years old, couldn't understand why Canadians were so afraid of "damaged" children, and urged parents to take in these children languishing in our social services. We were able to take this story to The Globe and Mail and other media outlets, and the buzz it generated was a delight because team members brought their strength and lobbying to this cause when I needed convincing we could tackle this. The effects of this show have actually resulted in twelve good parents' being moved to adopt some of these waiting children, and we've worked with the Adoption Council of Canada to help further promote this great need in Canada.
Comment: How do you plan your work?
LD: We have two documents we've spent a lot of time refining and collaborating on: a strategic plan and a weekly pre-show evaluation that include both entertainment and evangelism "measurables" for our TV work. I am always referring back to these documents to see if what I'm getting involved in is actually what we planned to do. When all else fails, there is a handwritten sign by my phone that asks, "What did this do to bridge people to Christ?" I am one of those privileged few who have an executive assistant, and Gloria works my calendar to schedule activities to help us fulfill our tasks which are pretty demanding.
Comment: How does your work connect to other aspects of your life?
LD: I think it has enriched my family and me immeasurably. I often bring home the stories and ideas we connect with at Listen Up TV and the people we meet. I find that these discussions give our family and me a chance to wrestle through a lot of things that all seem to point back to what it means to be a faithful disciple of Christ. The story content has given me endless opportunity to plumb the depths of what it means for people to have a relationship with Christ that engages vibrantly with the workplace, school, culture, and the broader world. I have had to give up the idea of being a private, unknown person. That has had some difficult realities to it, but after this long in the communicating business, the education I've received from so many people telling me their stories, their work and faith walk, has more than made up for that.