Monica Eng – WBEZ, Producer & Content Provider
In the craft of beat writing, it can be tempting for journalists to settle into a particular beat and become comfortably insulated from other topics. Not so for Monica Eng, established watchdog reporter for the Chicago Tribune, who will join WBEZ-FM on August 5 as a producer and content provider. Although she has specialized in food for 17 years, she is ready to broaden her coverage in this new position, which will require her to prepare a variety of segments for three shows: Morning Shift, Afternoon Shift and Worldview.
Expanding coverage should be no challenge for Eng, who has covered many topics throughout her career while taking an interdisciplinary approach to food writing. Her journalism career started at age 16, when her mother’s old beau, the late Roger Ebert, directed her to the Chicago Sun-Times. “He asked if any of her kids needed a job over the summer,” she said. “I was the only one who wasn’t doing anything, so I said sure I’ll try it.”
Initially, she covered “entertainment stuff, a lot of music and pop culture.” Although she covered some food early on, that didn’t become her concentration until joining the Tribune in 1996.
During her career as a food writer, Eng had focused on restaurants, ethnic food and food policy. Her grandparents, successful restaurateurs in Chicago, stirred this passion. Eng has typically taken an unconventional approach in her coverage. For example, she once wrote a piece about “where to get a full sheep’s head in Chicago.” She also believes that “the best way to introduce one culture to another is through food.” In recent years, she has become more focused on food policy, which requires her to interweave political, cultural and health issues.
“Lately, I’ve become much more interested in the nutrition and food policy angle,” she said. “I think everybody is much more interested in where their food comes from, and with all sorts of interesting health developments in the United States, a lot of people are looking at environmental factors. One of them is food, in terms of what has changed in our environment over the last 20 years. And it’s not just nutrition. Politics is of course a very big factor in terms of what we eat, and that is where food policy comes in. What are the political and economic forces affecting what’s on our plate?”
Eng also touched upon a common misconception of food writing; namely, that it is easy. Food policy writing is particularly complex and requires coverage from many different angles. “You have to go through a sort of ‘baptism by fire’ to learn the ins and outs of all the different coalitions, organizations and special interest groups who want to have a word in what America eats,” she said.
As a producer for WBEZ, she will depart from food coverage, although not completely. Her primary responsibilities will include fielding ideas for segments, securing guests, prepping hosts and even hosting segments herself. She anticipates covering “everything from culture to politics, legislation, restaurants, etc.”
“I think my broad background of reporting helps because those are pretty general shows,” she continued. “I also have a fairly extensive international background. I lived in England, Central America, Central Asia… so I guess that’ll help doing Worldview.”
She will also do some blogging for WBEZ that coincides with the segments she produces. Additionally, she hopes to blog about food, health, nutrition and ethnic culture – topics she’s covered before. And although it isn’t finalized, she may host a food podcast with Louisa Chu, a segment producer at WBEZ.
Eng also expects utilizing social media more so than she does now. “At WBEZ, I think we are going to try to get the word out about segments early so we can get some good public feedback,” she said. “If we want to get callers or commenters on specific topics, I think we can use social media to reach them.”
Generally, Eng is quite flexible and eager to fulfill her new role in any way possible. “I tell them I want to learn everything,” she said. “I want to jump in and help wherever it makes sense there.”
Like most journalists, Eng prefers that PR professionals take the time to learn about her and her work before sending pitches. “It was always a little disappointing when PR professional weren’t aware what my beat is,” she said.
However, if the pitch is concise and displays a familiarity with her work, she’ll consider it.
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