Jen Maxfield is an Emmy-award-winning reporter and anchor for NBC New York who covers stories of resilience. This is her story about the stories that she’s covered.
Trigger Warning: The Resilience Project provides an open space for people to share their personal experiences. Some content in this podcast may include topics that you may find difficult. The listener’s discretion is advised.
About the Guest:
Jen Maxfield is an Emmy-award-winning reporter and anchor for NBC New York. Prior to joining the station in 2013, she worked for Eyewitness News for ten years, also as a reporter and substitute anchor. Starting her broadcast career in Binghamton, New York, Maxfield worked in Syracuse before moving to New York City in 2002.
Maxfield’s first book, More After the Break: A Reporter Returns to Ten Unforgettable News Stories will be published by Greenleaf Book Group in July of 2022. Maxfield revisits the most memorable stories she has covered during her two-decade career, describing in heart-pounding detail how the events unfolded through the eyewitness perspectives and her own. Returning to the families years–even decades– after their stories were featured on the news gives Maxfield an opportunity to ask the burning question she had always pondered: what happened after the live truck pulled away? One review called the book, “impossible to put down,” while another veteran journalist said the book “will strengthen your faith in humanity.”
Maxfield is also an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. She teaches courses in broadcast journalism, including Video 1 and On-Air skills. A graduate of the class of 2000, Maxfield enjoys coming back to her Alma Mater to educate the next generation. She finds it truly rewarding to work with young people as they launch their journalism careers.
Maxfield’s experience in academia has also proved useful when she is coaching other professionals who want to convey their message clearly and cohesively in front of a live audience. Her advice has helped clients feel more comfortable and confident in front of the camera.
Because of her live television and lecturing background, Maxfield is an experienced speaker, emcee, and moderator, having hosted dozens of events for various charitable and educational organizations. After thousands of live shots, she is well-prepared her for the unpredictability of a live event.
Maxfield and her husband, Scott Ostfeld, met as undergraduate students at Columbia University. Living in Northern New Jersey with their three children, they enjoy travel, hiking, tennis, and trying out new vegan restaurants and recipes. Maxfield grew up in Tenafly, New Jersey as the oldest of six children. An 8-varsity letter athlete, she held the Tenafly High School high jump record (5’3”) for 26 years.
trigger warning, the Resilience Project provides an open space for people to share their personal experiences. Some content in this podcast may include topics that you may find difficult, the listeners discretion is advised.Blair Kaplan Venables:
Hello friends, welcome to radical resilience, a weekly show where I Blair Kaplan Venables have inspirational conversations with people who have survived life's most challenging times. We all have the ability to be resilient and bounce forward from a difficult experience. And these conversations prove just that, get ready to dive into these life changing moments while strengthening your resilience muscle and getting raw and real.Blair Kaplan Venables:ior to joining the station in:Jen Maxfield:
Oh, Blair, thank you so much for having me on your show. And I'm really appreciative of the time and I'm so happy to talk to you and your audience.Blair Kaplan Venables:
So I haven't had a chance to read your book yet. I so could you give us a high level of like, the theme or like what the top 10 StoriesJen Maxfield:
are? Sure. So my title sort of says that all the title of my book is more after the break, a reporter returns to 10 on forgettable news stories. So just to kind of set the stage here, I'm a local news reporter in New York City and I have been for two decades, I estimate that I've done more than 10,000 interviews during that time. But there are certain people and certain stories that have stuck with me for years or even decades after I reported their stories on the news. So what I sought to do with this book, and what I set out to investigate was what happens to people at the center of these news stories, after the live trucks pull away after their names fade from the headlines, what is it like being thrust into the public spotlight due to circumstances beyond your control? And what's it like having your personal information out there in the public, and then everything sort of fades away. So that was my own genuine curiosity really fueled the idea for the book. And then when I started investigating, and I started speaking with these families, again, I realized that so much of the theme that pulls through the whole book, through all 10 stories is about people triumphing over adversity, really the triumph of the human spirit.Blair Kaplan Venables:
And I first of all, thank you for doing this work, because, you know, I'm some I watched the news, like, we're literally opposite sides of the continent, like I'm in British Columbia, Canada. And I obviously watch our news, and I am someone with a communications background. And so like, I watch the news with a different lens, and I often wonder what happens with specific stories, because there's no follow up. You know, because it's always on to the next thing. It's on to the next thing. And obviously, like the world has been in a completely chaotic state with the pandemic and the wars and everything that's going on. And you've been doing this for 20 years. And how do you like how did you choose which stories like how do you know what resonates first of all, do you have like, this huge, like Rolodex filing cabinet in your brain? I mean, you probably have it somewhere, obviously, because you keep track of everything that you do, but like, how do you weed out, you know, two decades of experience 10,000 interviews of experience to 10 stories that really stood out to reach and reaching out to those families about like, what happened next?Jen Maxfield:
It was really hard to narrow it down. But the starting point for me was just what people was I still thinking about what I drove past, sir In towns in New York or New Jersey, or even when I have a dream sometimes about a person that I had covered on the news that told me that I was still thinking about that person, and that I still had unresolved questions. And I figured that if I was still thinking of them, and I still had questions that the reader of my book would also be curious. And look, it's a common complaint, right about local news is that we never follow up, I cover 20 million people in the New York media market. And the cycle of news is relentless. And we don't usually have the luxury of time to go back to somebody who we interviewed on a story many years ago. But taking a step back from the TV part of it. And putting this in the format of a book did give me the luxury of time to sit with the families, and investigate what happened after that first day. Look, there was a great quote that I think about a lot. And it says news is the first rough draft of history. And that is what we are doing, right? We're getting assigned a story in the morning. We're working on it during the day, and it's airing at four or five o'clock at night. And then the next day, we start the cycle again. And so yes, I may have written the first rough draft, but I was interested in refining that a bit more and spending more time with the 10 families who trusted me not once at the original news story I reported but now twice, to open themselves up to me again, the second time for the book.Blair Kaplan Venables:
I love that. And it's like in my mind, the marketers like, oh, this can be a whole series that you do. Or reporters do, because this is probably something that happens in every market. Every market, right?Jen Maxfield:
Absolutely. And I think it's a common feeling among reporters and photographers who go out and we cover these stories, and we're with people on the best day of their life, the worst day of their life, the most tumultuous day of their life, right? And then we leave, and we never see them again. And I think there is really, and again, that's really what fueled the book is just my own natural curiosity about what happened to this person who spent this impactful day of their life with me. And then when I was choosing the 10 stories, it wasn't just about the people who I was still thinking about, I wanted to really give you as the reader a range of stories, a range of people, people with different ages, who live in different areas, people, some people may have survived a terrible injury, some people may be dealing with a medical challenge. Two people were unjustly incarcerated, other people have their homes destroyed by a natural disaster. It's a range of stories. And if you look at the reviews that people are posting online, it's interesting to see that people identify with different chapters, maybe based on their own life experience.Blair Kaplan Venables:
Yes, oh my gosh, I love this. And there's so much alignment with the global Resilience Project and gathering the stories. We're telling stories for the first time, but I think what you're doing is so much deeper. And what's really beautiful about that is that, you know, you're capturing this specific moment in time and telling that story. But then there's all these other things that unfold. And over 20 years, like I'm thinking 20 years ago, there was no social media, there wasn't a lot of the tools, the communication tools, the access to stuff that we have now, then. And so I'm curious to know, with the stories that you told which one goes the furthest back.Jen Maxfield:
The one that actually goes the furthest back is chapter eight, which is called Free at last. And that's a story about a documentary that I actually produced when I was in grad school at Columbia, I went to the Columbia School of Journalism. And in order to earn our master's degree, we had to produce a master's project. And so I chose with two other women to produce a documentary that was about mandatory minimum sentencing for first time nonviolent drug offenders. And at the time, New York State had something called the Rockefeller drug laws that mandated these very harsh sentences for first time nonviolent offenders who've been arrested for drugs. And so we actually went to a men's prison. And we interviewed two people there, Chris Clemente, and Taryn Stevens, and in the 22 years since I've reported that story, a lot has happened. First of all, they both been released from prison. The Rockefeller drug laws that put them there for so long in the first place has since been overturned. And both men are thriving and living successful lives in a way that doesn't surprise me, because I got to know them very well when they were still in prison. But it really does make my heart sing, just to see how they've been through so much. And here they are now, having served their time and gone through that experience and really thriving and living these successful lives.Blair Kaplan Venables:
Oh my gosh, that just gave me goosebumps. That's First of all, wow, I'm really glad they overturn those laws because that type of punishment shouldn't be given for that type of offense. So the fact that you were with them when those laws were in place, following up with them now and everything in between what were some of the biggest lessons or takeaways from your conversation you've had with them recently about what the last two decades have been like?Jen Maxfield:ne my documentary in the year:Blair Kaplan Venables:
Yeah, I think that's really beautiful. And I think that's a really a good point. Because often, I mean, you share the highest happiest moments and the saddest, darkest moments. And we want to know what happens after the fact that these you know, these two people are thriving, and that you've covered all these other stories, you must have seen a theme of resilience woven through each of these stories. And I want to talk about that for a bit. I define resilience as the ability to bounce forward from a difficult time, because I used to call it bouncing back. But what are you bouncing back to? Because when you go through something, a big life challenge, you're never going to be the same. So what are you bouncing back to? And so everyone's allowed to interpret the word resilience as however they want it to be or mean to them. But for me in the community, it's bouncing forward, you'll learn a lesson and you become a new version of yourself. You go through something hard, you become a new version of yourself. And I'm wondering if you spot or notice even beyond these 10 stories, like a theme of resilience, and what you've noticed with that,Jen Maxfield:
that is absolutely the theme of going back to these news stories. I don't interview celebrities. I interview regular people who were putting these circumstances through no choice of their own right things have happened to them. A storm hit their house, they were in a terrible accident. So the resilience piece is not necessarily evident on the first day that I'm covering the story. Because whatever has happened to that has just happened. It's almost too early to even evaluate the bouncing forward as you put it. But now in the book, being able to go back the theme is absolutely resilience. Because now we have the benefit of hindsight, right? We're looking back what happened after whatever landed them in our newscast. Maybe it's the young girl who was in a terrible school bus accident, who wound up changing the law to make school buses safer. In New Jersey, maybe it's someone who lost both his legs in a ferry crash. Now being an advocate for people with disabilities. These are all stories in the book. And again, the luxury of time, the benefit of looking back and saying, What is the why? What was the purpose? For in my case of putting these stories on the air? Right? We're always looking for purpose in our lives. And and what is the bigger picture here, I'm telling you these stories every night on the news. But what is the bigger picture. And maybe in some cases, the bigger picture is when you do open up your life to the public, and you do share your story with a reporter, real change can happen in your town, or your county or your state. And that that, to me is really the value of local news.Blair Kaplan Venables:, and you have obviously like:Jen Maxfield:
Yes, I definitely felt that I learned a lot of life lessons from the people who I interviewed for the book, just about to your point, going through something that's really tough and emerging on the other side with with lessons to teach all of us. I mean, one of the stories is about a woman named Isabella della who say, this is a woman who was in her early 50s. never drank, never smoked was an endurance athlete running 100 mile races completing Ironman triathlons, and here she is and she gets diagnosed with stage four lung cancer of all things. So and she's given six months to live. So this woman now is at year four, after getting that six month prognosis, and she's thriving. She's been able to climb mountains and continue to do marathons, although she assures me she's walking them now instead of running them. But this woman has so much to teach everybody else about dealing with really a life changing diagnosis. And she said something to me that I think about a lot. She talked about the difference between hope and joy. And she talks about when you're hoping for some Don't think it pertains to the future about something that's going to happen or that you're wishing will happen. But joy is something that you can find every day in every moment, if you just set yourself out to look for it. And coming from a woman who's now living four years after she was told she only had six months left on this earth, I just think that that was a really powerful observation. And that's what I mean, about not only the resilience piece, but just about learning from the, from the people who I went back to for this book, and and frankly, how much I got out of it as the author to go back and research these stories. Wow.Blair Kaplan Venables:
Oh, I can't wait to read that story. That's really fascinating to me. Because what you're actually saying is a good thing. I'm so excited. Okay, mindset, her mindset. She wasn't like, Oh, I'm gonna die and just need to lie here and wait for death. She probably said, Okay, I got I got to make the most of my life and kept living. And you know, those two gentlemen that were incarcerated, there's probably a mindset element. Did you notice a common theme amongst people's mindsets while going throughJen Maxfield:
their challenges? I think you're right. You you earlier said something about survival mode. And I do think that that shock and survival mode is what people are typically in when I first meet them at these news stories, right. But I and by the way, I should also note, I am always really humbled when people do agree to speak with me, because here I am showing up at their door, asking questions. I'm not a medical provider, I'm not the police. I can't help with these immediate concerns. But I am there to share their story. And I am thankful that really far more people than not do invite me into their homes in their lives. But as far as the mindset piece, I do think that everyone who I interviewed for this book did have a mindset of survival. And then as time went on, also thriving to say, Yes, I'm this thing happened to me that I'm not going to let it define me. I'm going to move past it and look at the bigger issue and really try to triumph over whatever it was that happened and learn to live with it. Oh, that'sBlair Kaplan Venables:
so great. You know what I call that I call that through revival. thriving and surviving. I love that. You go girl revival. But yeah, I think that's true. And I mean, everyone's journey is so different. And the global Resilience Project is, it's my life's work. Like, I feel like I was put in this body on this planet in this lifetime, to turn my pain into purpose. You know, I don't have any kids. We're not gonna have any children. And I want to be that advocate, to help people navigate their difficult times. And I'm always looking for other tools and resources to provide people because, like, there's no plan, like, we don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. So we don't know what resources we need. And I am so honored that you came on our podcast, to share your book with us. And as we're wrapping this up, I want to know where can people find your book? Oh, sure. AndJen Maxfield:
Blair, really, I'm so thankful that so thanks to you and all your listeners, the best thing to do if you want to connect with me and buy the book is to go to my website, which is Jen maxfield.com. And you'll see links there to buy the book. And you can also read a bit more about my career as a reporter and also I teach at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. And really, it was it was the teaching with the students that helped inspire me to go back and ask these deeper questions and pursue these stories. But yes, and then you can find me on social media on Jen Maxfield news on Instagram and then you can look me up Jen Maxfield on Facebook.Blair Kaplan Venables:
I love that and I have a bonus question. Okay. After reading, writing and reviewing and reading, rereading your book. You're in it, you're so deep in it, you're you're digesting, you know, you but you step away, and then you come back and read it. What do you think the biggest lesson you learn from going back to these 10 stories, isJen Maxfield:
I think the biggest lesson I learned really is similar to what I was sharing about what Isabel about finding joy in every day, and really being thankful for all of the blessings of my life. I mean, I've been adjacent to so much tragedy and heartbreak over these last 20 years and what I feel that all this obviously pales in comparison to the people who are actually experiencing it. But there has been something about being with people on these days. It's maybe Very thankful for every day with my good health with my family's good health, and really not expecting perfection from myself or others, and just being thankful for the beauty of every day.Blair Kaplan Venables:
Beautiful, Jen, thank you so much for all the work that you do and for bringing this gift into the world. Thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in to another episode of radical resilient. Remember friends, you got this you can do hard things you are