As an Emmy-winning reporter and news anchor, Jen Maxfield estimates she has interviewed over 10,000 people for thousands of news events for ABC and NBC New York. In her recently published book More After the Break: A Reporter Returns to Ten Unforgettable News Stories, Bergen County resident Maxfield revisits interview subjects whose transformative experiences have impacted her life. "I think about many of the people whose living rooms I have sat in, wondering what happened to them after I helped them tell their stories," she says. A native of Tenafly, Maxfield remains in Bergen County with her husband Scott Ostfeld and their three children. Since 2015, she has been an adjunct professor at her alma mater Columbia Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. She spoke with us about the importance of local news in a non-stop news cycle, her optimism for the next generation of journalists.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO WRITE THIS BOOK?
I have always felt a strong connection to the people I interview. In many cases, I'm with them on what might be the worst day of their lives, and that has left a lasting impression on me. During the COVID pandemic, I started searching for people from my news past to see what happened to them. Seeing how engaged and motivated they were to speak with me again about some difficult issues was rewarding.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE FUTURE OF JOURNALISM AS A PROFESSOR AT COLUMBIA?
My students are very motivated to investigate and find stories. So much of what we do at Columbia is using the city as our classroom. We go in the subway or out on the streets covering a snowstorm or a fire. And as much as I teach them, I have learned a lot from them because they're coming at things with a fresh perspective. It's interesting to see how they approach stories differently as a generation raised with cameras and social media. It's also rewarding to teach a student and then write her a recommendation for her first on-air job. I love when my students graduate from being my students to becoming my colleagues.
WHY IS LOCAL NEWS SO IMPORTANT TO VIEWERS?
I think local news is more important now than ever because, unlike what's happening thousands of miles away, these stories impact us daily. For example, are your roads being plowed in the winter? How much funding will your school get this year? All of that is local. Local news reporters live in the communities we report on, so the stories also affect us personally, like Superstorm Sandy. While my team and I covered it, we also worried that our own homes might have been damaged and wondered if our families had power. We're not just flying in for a day or two to cover a story and then leaving. This is where we live.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES OF YOUR JOB?
I think one of my strengths as a reporter is that I'm an empathetic person. I always try to put myself in other people's shoes and understand how it must be for them. That has gotten more difficult after having my own children. Now, I understand on a different level what some of these parents have gone through. While I can't get so drawn into a story that I can't do my job, I think one of the reasons I've connected with people on a deeper level through the years is because I am willing to open up to them emotionally during the worst circumstances. I think that has made me a better storyteller.