We The Journalists: Toluse Olorunnipa
In celebration of National Diversity Month, which takes place every October, SPJ Florida is featuring a finalist of its 2013 Diversity Award.
Toluse Olorunnipa recently got a new job as a Florida correspondent for Bloomberg News, covering politics, business and breaking stories in the Sunshine State and throughout the South.
By Jason Parsley
He’s also written for the Wall Street Journal, the Tampa Bay Times, the Stanford Daily and the Tallahassee Democrat. He is originally from Tallahassee.
He’s won awards from SPJ, the Society of American Business Editors and Writers and the Bernie E. Glaser Scholarship program. In 2011 he took home first place for Real Estate Reporting in SPJ’s annual Sunshine State Awards contest. Follow him on Twitter.
SPJ Florida: What are your thoughts on diversity in the newsroom and diversity in coverage?
Toluse Olorunnipa: The more the better! I think newsrooms in general realize the importance of having a diverse workforce more than many other industries and I think most editors of news outlets would like to have more diversity (of all kinds) in staffing and coverage. Our readers, subjects and sources are diverse and we should be too. Unfortunately there are so many economic pressures on news companies that not only has it been difficult to hire and retain diverse journalists, it’s been difficult to hire and keep journalists period. Despite this, I’m constantly impressed by the diverse talents of Florida’s reporting corps, both here in the Capitol and around the state.
What’s one part of your job that most folks don’t realize you do?
While Bloomberg News is a leading source of financial news, we cover so much more. Since we’re a relatively new addition to the Florida Capitol press corps, there are people who don’t know that we cover stories that might not appear to be business stories per se (although, I’ve learned, just about everything that happens in the Capitol seems to trace back to a money-angle).
Most frustrating part of your job now? Most fun?
The job is great. I just started this new position so there’s a bit of a learning curve as with any new venture. But I’m enjoying the challenge. Also, I’ve never been a big fan of deadlines, since I tend to be a slow writer.
The most fun part is the sheer breadth of the coverage. One day I might be covering a story about gambling in Florida, the next I’m writing about the South Carolina governor’s race. It’s a challenge and a rush to cover such a wide range of stories and issues, especially when the stories make an impact.
Every time I write a story that highlights wrongs being done by a powerful actor against a powerless, voiceless victim, I sleep incredibly well (no matter how stressful the reporting process might have been).
A couple years ago when I was covering real estate for the Miami Herald, I got a call from a Jamaican immigrant who said she had been scammed out of her house and was going to be foreclosed on despite not missing a mortgage payment. It was a little difficult to understand her through her accent and tears, but I got enough out of that initial conversation to realize that she had been wronged somehow. That set off an investigative reporting mission that unveiled an elaborate mortgage fraud scheme, as well as unscrupulous foreclosure attorneys and a callous court system–all of which took advantage of this woman and contributed to the her housing nightmare.
You can read a little more on the background of that story here.
In the end, the front-page articles I wrote about the woman’s ordeal helped to delay her impending foreclosure case, and rallied the support of a pro-bono lawyer and local lawmakers to help her.
Probably any time I’ve had to issue a correction on a story. I hate corrections.
Most amusing professional gaffe?
So after a long day of hard-charging journalism, I like to unwind by driving home to a booming soundtrack of music. This usually involves some animated driver-seat karaoke.
One day I was really into one of these jam sessions at a stop light and a state official who I had recently written a tough story about pulled up next to me. Waiting for the light to turn green after noticing who was watching me was one of the most awkward 20 seconds of my professional career.
Give us your weirdest dues-paying job in your career.
I went to college in Silicon Valley, and was basically a lab rat for professors and grad students who were trying to come up with the next big tech invention or social science breakthrough. For $10 to $15 a pop, I participated in every experiment I could, from living as a woman in a virtual reality setting, to walking around a bright room with a strange brain-wave helmet on. Still not quite sure what the helmet experiment was about.
How have you incorporated or utilized social media in your job or at your company?
I use social media to stay on top of all the news going on in a state as large and diverse as Florida. Twitter and Facebook are my newsfeeds, and without them I’d miss a lot of stuff. I also use Twitter to publicize my stories. I don’t use it as much as I should to interact with readers and sources, but when I do it’s always enlightening. @ me! @ToluseO.
One piece of advice you would give journalism students.
Take an interest in local, state, national and international politics and find out how public policy affects your life. Do the same with the world of business/finance. Just about every story you’ll do can be enhanced by at least knowing (and most likely including) information about how makers of public policy and business interests are involved. The best watchdog journalism often involves policymakers and/or money, and it helps to have a good background in both.
Anything else you’d like to add?
If you’re reading this, go subscribe to a newspaper! Seriously, good journalism isn’t free, so please support your local newspaper.
Throughout September, October and November, SPJ Florida will feature Q&As every Friday with Florida’s most prominent journalists. Want to see someone featured? Want to conduct your own Q&A? Want to join SPJ? Email us.
Jason Parsley is President of SPJ Florida. Follow him on Twitter.