What are your job responsibilities/duties?
I shoot, write, edit, and report stories for TV, web, and social media. I cover breaking news, features, enterprise stories, and in-depth issue stories. I primarily work solo, though on occasion I will work as part of a team.
What does a typical day look like?
I arrive in the newsroom around 9am, hopefully knowing what story I'll be covering that day. If I am still unassigned, I'll scan the local papers, blogs, and follow up on ideas I keep in my file. We have a meeting at 9:30 to decide what we will cover that day. Ideally, that meeting ends by 10:30 and I'm able to hit the streets ASAP to start shooting video and gathering interviews. I like to be logging my video by 1:30 or 2, and I'm usually on-air with the first of 2 or 3 versions of my story, starting on the 4pm news. I'm posting web and social updates throughout the day (again, ideally). I try to be out the door and on my way home by 6pm.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
I love the variety. One day I'm covering a medical story at a children's hospital, the next day I'm watching a tunnel boring machine dig a huge hole under downtown Seattle, the day after that I'm on a ride along with the Coast Guard in Puget Sound, and the day after that I'm chasing a wildfire. Of course it's not always exciting. I have plenty of boring days, but I always try to find something interesting that I think will hook my viewers and readers. I also know any uneventful day can change in an instant.
What is the most difficult aspect of the job?
Without question the most challenging periods of my career are when I'm on the front lines of an awful story, and tasked with explaining the unthinkable to an audience who wants to know why. I happened in be in Atlanta the day of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting and I rushed to the scene. I spent a week immersed in the anguish and nearly a year later, it's something I am still trying to process. I covered a school shooting a few years prior. The images of children evacuating, their frantic parents waiting for them, the tearful vigils, and moments of profound grief and shock are seared in my mind. These are incredibly important stories which require you to use every ounce of your skills, energy, and talent. It's when the viewers and readers need you most and you need to get as close as possible to the emotion. You put up a shield at first, but it doesn't protect you. No one can walk away from that experience unchanged.
What on-campus activities were you involved with? Where did you gain relevant experience?
I spent four years in the Marching Illini. It wasn't terribly relevant to TV news but it did teach me about discipline, showmanship, and teamwork.
I interned at WCIA, NBC News Chicago bureau, and CNN Chicago bureau. WCIA was my first opportunity to write a story, edit video (tape to tape), and gather news with a photojournalist. I stayed late a few nights covering tornado outbreaks. I remember one night we had to evacuate the studio and head to the basement while we were live on-air.
How did your experience at ILLINOIS and in the College of Media prepare you for your professional life? For this specific position?
I was pushed by my professors and instructors to do quality work that mattered to viewers. There were no excuses for sloppy reporting. Nancy Benson encouraged me to take deep dives on issues and produce stories you couldn't find anywhere else. That's been a key to my success as a journalist. Don't do what everyone else is doing. Do what everyone else is overlooking. John Paul taught me the mechanics of producing a newscast and Mitch Kazel taught me how to gather the visuals, an incredibly important skill, which is somehow often an afterthought in TV. The curriculum in the College of Media was wisely structured in a way that gave me flexibility to pursue different paths in journalism. I'm not just a reporter. I'm a photographer, an editor, a researcher. No one is just doing one job anymore.
What advice do you have for students interested in this field?
Go to uncomfortable places and have high standards. I took a job in Alaska because I admired the work a TV station was doing there. I stayed almost four years and grew a ton. Your station or employer won't always have your best interests in mind, so you have to watch out for yourself, and put in extra effort because you need a story to meet your personal standards. People will notice that and it'll get you places in this business. There's no easy path to the upper levels of the business. You just have to trust that if you do great work and have a really good attitude, your reputation will carry you to where you want to go. Find journalists you admire and study their work. Don't copy them. Listen to their voices, and then find your own.
What is one thing that you know now that you wish you had known when you started in the field? When you graduated from the College?
Patience. Take your time. Breathe. Enjoy the ride. You'll get to where you want to go. It won't be on your terms or timeline, or maybe not as quickly as that classmate who seems to be advancing at lightning speed. Stop worrying about others. Focus on producing quality journalism and enjoy your time away from the newsroom. Ten years in I am still working on this.