Olivia Fuller / August 22, 2016

For this week’s Media Monday we’d like you to meet freelance writer and journalist, Sara Lerner. During her career, Sara has worked for KIRO Radio and KUOW. She currently freelances and sits on the Society of Professional Journalists Washington Board.

Let’s get to know Sara a little bit more!


How did you find yourself as a reporter?

saralerner-headshot-mediamondayBeing a journalist had been my vision of a glorious, perfect job, starting back when I was a teenager. But I didn’t think it was for me, at first. I pursued environmental studies, thinking I could do research in places like Costa Rica. But while helping with a long-term study of cacao plants, I discovered research is rather tedious and requires great patience, and I’m more prone to things like running towards fires. So I went back to my dream. When I finally interned in public radio, I realized I could combine reporting with another love: audio nerdiness. I remember my first tour of KCUR public radio station in Kansas City. I smiled and felt like I was home. I was lucky –things took off from there.

Which of your stories/shows are you most proud of?

I received a letter last fall that’s more important to me than any award. A listener described herself as an Evangelical Christian and a used-to-be conservative. She said that she never in a million years would have thought she’d ever attend an inter-faith service, but my story about a Muslim family in Redmond inspired her. I had interviewed a woman and her three daughters about how they were worried about their safety, in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks and after many prominent Americans had made anti-Islam statements. The middle-school age daughter smiled as she explained what she would tell any schoolmates who think she’s ISIS. “I don’t even have a sword!” she said. At this point, she and her sister broke into fits of giggles. The woman who emailed me said this made her think of her own daughters, and really helped her think more about local Muslim families. She then attended that inter-faith prayer service.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

I absolutely love interviewing people. I love how the microphone turns on and the scene is right and, sometimes, people just open up. People will say, “I didn’t know I thought that” or “I’ve never told anyone that before.” Plus, I’m generally curious, so asking people questions about themselves scratches an innate itch for me. I thoroughly enjoy it.

What is your interview style?

I think the answer here is patience and a chill vibe. I make sure people I interview are comfortable. Of course, there are times where it’s inevitable there will be some awkward moments, like when I’m questioning an interviewee who is in a position of power who isn’t being completely forthcoming with the truth and I know it. That’s different.

What do you look for in a story?

I used to say that it must have a news peg and it must have a personal story. But now that I’m freelancing, the news peg portion of that has opened up a bit. No matter what, it needs to have something personal in it. That’s important. If it’s authentic and intimate, it’s interesting.

What is your day like at your job?

Now I’m a freelancer, so that’s hard to answer. I work on my own time, which is terrific. I’m also doing some non-journalism work, too, which I’m enjoying.

Who do you most look up to in the journalism industry?

There are public radio reporters who tell a great story with hard news but who do it in a way that is so fun, and full of personality – and authentic voicing – that you don’t even notice or get stuck in the hard news. That’s my favorite. You shouldn’t have to make an effort to listen. You shouldn’t have to rewind, or reread, to understand. Robert Smith of NPR comes to mind. He’s also a great guy and very helpful to people who are starting out. Hillary Frank does a wonderful job with the Longest Shortest Time podcast. I’m sure I’m forgetting someone else spectacular!

What is your favorite news outlet?

That’s very difficult for me to answer. I constantly switch around. Maybe that’s easy to believe, as I am a rare breed who went to commercial radio for a spell after ten years in public radio. I think it’s important to listen to everything and I’m sad our media has become, in some ways, as bi-partisan as our politics. The Daily Show viewers don’t all watch Fox, but they should. I flip around and consume as much as possible.

What is your guilty pleasure?

I’m being fully honest with you here: US Weekly! It’s absolute garbage. But sometimes your brain just needs a nap, you know? And I’m down with that.

Sara-Lerner, Seattle Freelance and Former KUOW and KIRO Host