An aspiring and successful actor, Che is deeply immersed in the Rochester cultural scene. So much so, we’ve named him Che of The Town!
Exclusively for Talker, Che has solicited and is conducting interviews from about 50 Rochestarians working in a diversity of creative fields.
For the full series, see Che of The Town: Interviews (1-29)
In this highlight, we turn our attention to Hélène Biandudi Hofer, a warm hearted, passionate journalist and prominent figure within the community. Hélène is host and producer of WXXI TV’s Need to Know.
I first met Hélène last year on set for a documentary project she was working on. The experience was an insightful one, I was fortunate enough to listen in on her interviews she conducted with the guest speakers within the documentary, and was thoroughly impressed by her intellect, professionalism and ability to have the guests feel at ease.
I asked Hélène a series of questions. Here is what we discussed.
Tell us a little about yourself, where you’re from, grew up, what H.S./College you attended etc.
I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. My parents were educators — my father from the Democratic Republic of Congo and my mother Mobridge, South Dakota. I’m convinced my love of news, travel, culture, people and film (plus all-things fashion) came from both of them. They let me dream and travel down every path that piqued my curiosity (dance, art, trumpet, piano, theatre, track & field – you name it). I graduated from Columbus Alternative High School in Columbus and attended American University in Washington, DC and transferred to New York University where I graduated in 2013.
What inspired you to be a journalist? Early experiences worth sharing?
In the 4th grade I met CBS correspondent Erin Moriarty (thanks to my art teacher, Erin’s sister). After learning about the job of a journalist through Erin, the news/media career path was pretty much a done deal for me. Early dreams of becoming a teacher like my parents were long gone!
My path in news has been an interesting one. I didn’t land a job immediately out of college. It was after months of literally showing up for impromptu meetings with news directors throughout the east coast when I got my first job as an associate producer at WBNS-TV in Columbus, OH. Erin Moriarty has told people I never left her alone after meeting her in the 4th grade and she’s right! I continuously reached out and updated her on life and work. I have her to thank for putting in a good word for me with that first job. Even though I wanted to be a reporter right away, she told me to start the learning process from the ground-up. That associate producer job taught me how to write tight and creative copy. I later became a public/motivational speaker before transitioning to 48 Hours at CBS in New York City. Public speaking taught me how to communicate and connect with different audiences. At CBS I worked for one of the most respected and amazing women in media — Susan Zirinsky. The “early years” experiences would have been lost if I immediately jumped into the world of reporting fresh out of college. Sometimes when things don’t go as planned, it’s for good reason.
Talk about a time where you have faced adversity/conflict and have triumphed.
I remember when a former interview subject accused me of creating what he called “a false perception” regarding an issue I covered. I had done a series of stories related to his line of work (a couple were picked up by national NPR) so I was well aware that some of my more-than-thorough reports were not necessarily appreciated by all. I was stunned when this individual confronted me about this particular story more than 8 months after it aired. Credibility, accuracy and unbiased reporting are a MUST for journalists. The comments made seemed to threaten three of the most important rules of my work. I immediately discussed the issue with my boss, reviewed the story in question, read and re-read all the interview transcripts and came to the conclusion that he simply did not like the story. It was a great learning experience and a reminder that stories aren’t intended to make friends, but to provide context, seek the truth, and report it.
There are so many incredible journalists in the Rochester community, around the country and throughout the world and each one brings something powerful to the field of news. What I strive to do in this work, I believe, is similar to the mission and goals of many in news/media. I want to provide a platform for the voiceless to have a voice. I want to ensure young people have a place to share their perspectives, concerns, and hopes – because far too often stories are covered on our youth without providing a space for those very young people to have their voices heard. I want viewers, listeners and readers to feel compelled to do something – whatever that something may be – in an effort to make a positive difference in their neighborhoods after tuning in to Need to Know on WXXI-TV or viewing one of my documentary projects. I don’t think these things necessarily set me apart, but rather emphasize what drives me and others blessed to be journalists at this time in our country.
Oh yes! I love to travel (especially with family or somewhere near an ocean), read (non-fiction), cook new recipes, binge-watch documentaries, and have brunch or dinner parties with friends. The best part – I get to do all these things with my husband & best friend, Terry.
Any projects you have out or currently working on?
I’m glad you asked! In 2015 I launched my media group, HBH Enterprises, LLC. For years I’ve wanted to see a docu-style series on television or the web that explores the power of dress, the stories behind the clothing we wear and the many connections to clothing and culture, politics, religion, education and more. I’m thrilled that series was never created because it gave me the chance to create and produce it myself — and I’m working on it right now! It’s called The Empty Hanger. I’m in the process of pitching the concept to different broadcasting outlets for partnership and distribution.
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
In 5 years, I would love to be hosting and producing season 4 of The Empty Hanger series (a girl can dream, right?!), knee-deep in reporting and producing a long-form documentary for WXXI-TV/mobile and collaborating with other production teams on special projects around the country.
What advice can you give to aspiring journalists?
1 – Join and continuously take classes/workshops from journalism and media groups (in-person and online) such as The Poynter Institute, The Knight Foundation and others. As journalists we’re always learning and technology and the news landscape is constantly changing so it’s imperative to keep yourself up-to-date not only with current events, but also this changing medium.
2- For those currently in college or recent grads planning to pursue a career in journalism I would highly suggest finding an area of interest (politics, education, arts & culture, healthcare, sports, etc.) and then start finding and shooting stories in your community focused on that particular interest (similar to a news beat). Learn to shoot your own stories (whether on your phone or with a DSLR camera), write colorful copy, build your contact list and network of professionals connected to this “beat,” edit your stories and share them online whether on your own blog, social media or both. Then, ask for feedback. Make connections with journalists in your community and ask for their input so you can perfect your craft. This will put you ahead of the game when you land that job in a newsroom or with an online news site.
How can we follow along in your journey? Social media?
Please follow along! I love getting feedback, story ideas, documentary ideas, etc. You can join me on the journey and connect via my site: HeleneBiandudiHofer.com. Be sure to sign up for the latest news on The Empty Hanger series at TheEmptyHanger.tv.
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