A Day in the Life of a Broadcast Journalist
Written By: Kate Houser
Sunday March 18, 2012
My day began at 7:30 a.m. sharp and still being a student with all afternoon classes, I hadn’t seen this hour of the day in quite some time. I awoke however, full of energy and eager to begin my day, a day in the life of a working broadcast journalist.
I was nervous to say the least. For I was going to not only have the privilege of meeting someone with talent and experience in the field of reporting, but I was going to be working alongside someone doing the job I’ve spent the last four years of college working towards becoming myself.
The reporter I’d be shadowing was Karen Kiley from WDBJ Channel 7 News. I had seen Karen before on segments on the 5 and 6 p.m. news casts. She is someone who I look at with both jealously and admiration. As an aspiring reporter myself, I can’t help but look at the women on my television without falling into a brief day dream where I am the young, tireless reporter working to develop the latest news for the nightly broadcasts. So to have the opportunity to work alongside one of those very women I so much admire for a day was quite an exciting ordeal.
WDBJ 7 has their main station located in Roanoke, Va. But they also have satellite offices in Lynchburg and Blacksburg as well. Karen is the chief reporter for the Blacksburg office, so it was there that I arrived around 9 a.m. on the morning of Friday, March 16th. One would not know it was a major news stations office by driving by. The office is located in a small brick building along with a few other businesses. As I entered the WDBJ 7 office, I entered what looked to be a small apartment. It was an L-shaped room consisting of Karen’s office, her photographer’s office and a small room with cameras and editing equipment.
Karen came to greet me in a warm, friendly way. It was still early in the day, so when I arrived she was sitting at her desk applying her make-up and checking her e-mails. Her photographer was out for the morning doing movie reviews so she let me sit at his desk. Karen told me that she usually starts her day by checking the producer rundown chart on a program called “inews”. This program is controlled by the assignment editor but allows all WDBJ reporters and anchors to edit it. It is a chart that shows the stories being covered for the day and who is covering them. This is how the station stays organized to know that all stories are being covered and what newscast they’ll be aired on later that day.
Karen went back to her desk as I continued to look around the inews program. We got to talking about how Karen got her start in the news industry. Karen graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in broadcast journalism. She spent months sending out her tapes and finally in the summer after her graduation, Karen was offered a job at a news station in West Virginia. It was there that Karen got her first professional experience as a news reporter shooting, editing and reporting her stories. It was close enough to her home in Maryland that she could visit her parents on weekends, but far enough that she barely knew anyone.
“I remember calling my dad the day I signed my lease to my apartment and I was bawling my eyes out,” she said. The opportunity to have a position at an actual working news station is a great thing, but the distance from home and being in the middle of nowhere, not knowing a soul was what upset Karen. However, she knew that’s what she had to do to get the experience she needed and stayed in West Virginia for a couple of years. A few times Karen was called in the middle of the night to cover breaking news. She would wake up at three in the morning and report to a scene sometimes even in sweats just so she could get the quotes and footage she’d need for the morning show. “It was more important to get the story,” she said.
Being woken up in the middle of the night to cover a story isn’t the only downfall to working in news. The average salary for an entry-level reporter at a news station in a smaller market can be as low as $20,000 a year. Often as a reporter if you want to move up the ladder of news markets you must be willing to move literally anywhere where you may know no one. “Everybody at my station was in the same boat, fresh out of college not making much money. That made it a lot more fun though. You’ll make some of your best friends in the business from your first station,” she said. Kiley still keeps in touch with some of her first colleges from her West Virginia station, many of whom are now spread out at stations all over the country.
After a couple of years in West Virginia, Karen moved up in the news market almost 100 spots, going from market 170 in WV to market 66 in Roanoke, Va. She started in the Lynchburg office where she lived for eight months. After that she was transferred to the Blacksburg office where she enjoys working more because there’s more news available than she found in Lynchburg.
Moving to a larger market like Roanoke, Karen was able to finally have her own photographer. Before, in West Virginia, she was in charge of shooting and editing all her material. Larger market news stations are able to afford more photographers. The day I was with Karen however, her photographer was out for the day shooting other stories, so it was up to her to go out and retrieve the footage. We shot three stories in one day on Friday. One story took us to the drill field at Virginia Tech, the other to a police station in Radford, Va.
After gathering footage Karen always goes back to the station and edits all the video in the small editing room. This is the same room with a high top table and a flat screen tv that Karen does her live shots in front of whenever she goes live to the main Roanoke station for the 5 or 6 p.m. shows.
Karen’s day is composed of searching for stories, contacting potential interviews, doing live shots, writing up anchor scripts and recording voiceovers. She spends time throughout her day lugging around a tall tripod and a heavy camera bag with her barely five foot two frame. If you’re driving around the New River Valley and pass a white SUV with the WDBJ 7 logo on the side and see a petit blonde woman driving, that’s Karen Kiley probably on her way to shoot her latest story.
“This job isn’t impossible; you can make it if you want too. I see diva’s come in all the time who don’t want to work at stations in the middle of nowhere, but it doesn’t work like that. You have to put your time in to move up.” Like all reporters, Karen is still looking to move her career further. She has multiple offers from stations in both the top 40 market, and top 20. I am personally eager to see where Karen’s talent and drive takes her with her career in the future and wish her only the best of luck.