Local news surging with burst of young talent from the School of Communication
Reid Campbell was just beginning his job as a producer at WDBJ-TV in Roanoke when he was tasked with filling in for the 6 p.m. show. He managed the content, stacked the show, and then, in an ironic twist of fate, handed the rundown to anchor Robin Reed.
Just a few weeks earlier, Campbell had been a Virginia Tech senior handing in assignments to Reed, a professor of practice in the School of Communication. Now as producer, Campbell was giving the 40-year WDBJ veteran his assignment for the night.
“When he handed me my rundown and said, ‘Robin, here’s your rundown.’ I said, ‘Well, at least you turned your assignment in on time,’” said Reed with a grin.
The newsroom erupted in laughter. It was a harbinger for the smooth-sailing show that was about to take place with Campbell calling the shots behind the scenes.
“It was weird to go from ‘He’s my professor’ to now I’m telling him what to do,” Campbell said. “I’m speaking into his ear, telling him, ‘Hey, we’re going to cut this story. Hey, I need you to read this.’ It was weird being in charge of his anchoring all of a sudden, but it was cool. It was like ‘I made it’ a little bit.”
Campbell is just one example of a number of recent graduates from the School of Communication’s multimedia journalism program who have immediately launched into a career in the local news industry. Nowadays, while print media has taken its lumps, digital media in the form of the local news is still going strong.
The hiring practices within these television stations have changed, giving a priority to the young up-and-comers who are bringing a passion to the jobs they perform.
“Ten seconds out of college and we’re hiring them,” Reed explained. “That’s happening throughout the country.
“By all surveys, the local news continues to be a well-thought-of institution. If we’ve got young people coming out of college with enthusiasm and energy, I can only think that their ideas are the ones that are going to make this industry continue to roll at some level.”
Enter Alessandra Young onto the scene. Young, a 2020 graduate, is the nightside reporter for WSET-TV in Lynchburg, a position she began nearly two years ago when she was still a Virginia Tech senior. Her lively personality and on-camera demeanor — which she credits to developing in Reed’s Broadcast Performance class — makes her the ideal candidate for the role.
“The multimedia journalism major at Virginia Tech taught me my love for this. I walked in and never looked back,” Young said.
“Robin Reed was my professor in that class, and that was the first time that I actually sat down at a desk and read a prompter for the first time. I thought, I love this. This feels natural. This feels like something I would want to spend my career doing.”
The School of Communication provides all the tools to make these dreams possible for those in the multimedia journalism major. The course sequence begins with Media Writing and progresses to Advanced Multimedia Reporting. All the skills are brought together for Digital Newsroom, the senior-year class that simulates an actual newsroom environment.
“Our courses combine traditional classroom learning and experiential learning to equip students with the knowledge and skills to pursue different career paths in multimedia journalism after graduation,” said Syrenthia Robinson, an advanced instructor in the School of Communication. “Digital Newsroom is one of those classes that blends multimedia writing, reporting, and news production to allow students to develop a comprehensive set of skills that will prepare them for a competitive and ever-changing news industry.”
Using the state-of-the-art equipment in the school’s multimedia center at the Moss Arts Center, students put on a biweekly newscast in the course, shifting between the different roles of producer, technical director, multimedia journalist, and anchor among others.
“The program does a great job of not only making you interact with your peers, but having you do all the jobs,” Young said. “Not everyone wants to be in front of the camera and not everyone wants to be behind it. You learn appreciation for the other person’s job and you start to understand the stresses that the other side goes through. You learn if it’s a good fit for you. Tech does a good job of preparing you for that.”
This was certainly the case for Campbell. While he performed fine in front of a camera, he realized it wasn’t for him. Instead, he preferred to be the one wearing the producer’s headset.
“You literally write the news and you see people read it,” Campbell said. “You watch an hour and know you made all of that. It’s a fulfilling feeling. During Digital Newsroom, I had a week where I produced. I liked it, and I was good at it. When you’re the boss of your own show, that’s an exciting feeling.”
While School of Communication graduates enter the local news industry throughout the country, a special pipeline is being built in stations across Virginia, particularly in Roanoke and Lynchburg.
“In recent years we’ve had graduates get jobs all around the country, from Florida to Massachusetts and the Virginia Tidewater region all the way to Nebraska,” said Jared Woolly, instructor in the School of Communication. “Still, it’s particularly satisfying when they land right here at home in the Roanoke/Lynchburg market. Not only is this where they’ve called home for four years, but it’s a pretty big media market for a first job in broadcast journalism. We are fortunate to have great partners at the journalism outlets in southwest Virginia who hire our graduates, and it’s always fun to see a great story or newscast put together by a recent graduate.”
Reed added that the connection speaks to the campus experience. It also showcases the value of internships at these stations.
“We know internships are where we grow our best candidates,” Reed said. “We can send people right out of Tech to some major locations in Virginia, so they don’t have to move so far from home. These are great starting jobs for folks.”
It’s a win-win situation for Campbell. All it takes is a quick trip on I-81 to visit his friends still at Virginia Tech in graduate school or to attend a football game in the fall. And many of the stories that come in are Virginia Tech related.
“It’s a nice feeling that I can stay in the area and give back to people here,” Campbell said.
Most college students learn through the tried-and-true method of lectures and notes, but multimedia journalism majors in the School of Communication will continue to grow through the hands-on experiential learning experience at the anchor desk, behind the cameras, and in the control room.
The school’s multimedia center is already equipped with color-changing LED panels, an acrylic anchor desk, a 10-foot panel screen with 4K video, and multiple cameras that can glide across the floor on tripods or soar toward the ceiling for overhead shots. More cutting-edge equipment will arrive as the studio continues to transform into a replica of the massive contemporary broadcast studios in the best stations across the country.
More than anything, it’s the educators who lead the way and mold the students into professional journalists, teaching them the importance of the profession every step of the way.
“It’s not just the classes, it’s the professors. They really go above and beyond for their students,” Young said. “I get the joy of telling people’s stories. They trust me and I get to help give them a voice. To me, that’s what it is all about.”
Story by Cory Van Dyke