Although I never even thought about going into reporting before this interview, after talking with WSLS 10 Reporter Candice Nelson I am truly thinking of another career path. Her inspiring interview helped me understand all the aspects of the news-reporting field. Read on to find out about Candice’s life and some tips she gave on the news broadcasting industry.
Ashley: What inspired you to want to go into reporting?
Candice: I think it probably started when I was in fourth grade when I participated in 4H public speaking competitions, which ultimately led to my interest in reporting. In high school I took a TV production class, where they would have us go out and do packages. I expanded my experience in college by working for the Colligate Times newspaper and then became interested in VTTV. It was my Electronic News Gathering class, where we did newscasts weekly, that kept me going toward reporting as a career.
Ashley: Did you have any reporters/anchors you looked up to as a kid?
Candice: I really just looked up to the local anchors that were in my area because you could watch them every night and see them reporting on things relative to my community. People like John Carlin and Karen McNew were two in particular that I looked up to, and now I am working with them. Even though John has since retired, I had the privilege to learn from him prior to his leaving the air.
Nationally I have always looked up to Katie Couric. I was aware she went to UVA, where I also wanted to attend...but they didn't have a Communications program, which prompted me to apply to VT in my senior year of high school. Accepted at both UVA and VT – I decided that I just loved the campus at VT and the fact that they had a program in place that interested me that I chose to attend VT.
-What about them did you admire?
I think their integrity is what I admire most about all the reporters looked up to over the years.
Ashley: I read on your website you like baton twirling. What made you get into that and are you still doing that today?
Candice: I started out as a dancer when I was three years old. It just happened that they had baton twirling so I tried it and liked it. I competed starting when I was 12 and did it up until my freshman year of high school. I also twirled for the Marching Virginians here at Tech. But no I don’t do it anymore; there really is no other place to do it even though I wish I could. I still have the baton in my living room and will walk around and twirl in the privacy of my own home.
-What other activities do you like to do?
I love to read. I am one of those people that can go into Barnes and Noble and stay there for hours just reading. I also love movies. I will admit I am not much of an exerciser and, in fact, I hate exercising. However, I am trying to get intro running and I just started it last week, so we will see how that goes.
Ashley: So you were in VTTV and Colligate Times, how involved were you in them and what did you do?
Candice: I worked with Colligate Times either my sophomore or junior year and I believe I wrote about five or six stories. I was trying to get an internship at a local newspaper in Martinsville, Virginia so I used that experience to get my foot in the door and happily I got that internship. I was involved with VTTV from freshman to junior year. During that time I did Tech Tonight, the newscast, and I did some anchoring and reporting. Senior year I stopped doing VTTV and did the ENG class at Virginia Tech, which was very time consuming.
Ashley: What did college not prepare you for in your industry?
Candice: The number one thing that college did not prepare me for was how to make contacts in the industry. Being connected is a huge deal and probably the hardest thing I had to face when I got into the business. You really rely on your contacts, like maybe your one contact in the police department or fire department to let you know what is going on. That’s something I wished they pushed more in classes.
-How did you overcome that obstacle?
It’s a business where every single day you have to turn a story in and you have to make a deadline. It’s a challenge every single day and some days are better than others but when things go bad, you have to keep making those calls and forget what happened the day before. It’s completely different from any other business.
Ashley: While you were an intern for WSLS did you have any memorable or exciting stories to cover?
Candice: Oh yes! When I was an intern I got to go to on this really big forest fire down in Patrick County located on Bull Mountain. That was one of the biggest experiences I had as an intern. Typically when you’re an intern you just follow someone out to an interview but on weekends, when I worked, there was only one reporter to follow so wherever they went I went too. The fire ended up burning thousands of acres and was a really big story to cover especially since it happened on Easter Sunday. The most exciting part was that we got to put all the firefighting gear on and see them fighting the fires first hand.
Ashley: You were here for the April 16, 2007 tragedy. What was that experience like being a reporter at the time and did you cover any part of it?
Candice: I was a senior intern at the time. I covered a little bit of it. It was the same time of year as all these bomb threats were going on, so someone called into the studio and said there had been a shooting and at first we were like ehh we will put in a few calls and see what happens, but no one was taking it seriously because nothing was confirmed. The biggest story that day, if April 16th had not happened, was the wind because the wind was really really bad that day. So I was sent on wind patrol and I had to go find down trees and go to the schools because school was being let out since there was no power they could not make lunches and such. So that was my morning, and while I was doing that, I called my boyfriend who was here as an engineering student in the building connected to Norris Hall to see what was going on. He was talking about how they heard gunshots but maybe it was just constructed and said that everyone was just staying low that day because they were unsure. After I finished my story about the wind, I called my assignment director to let him know and he was like, “ Candice I don’t care just get back to the station right now.” And I was like, “ Oh so it has been confirmed.” And he said, “ Yeah just get here now.” So I went back to the station, and they just had me making phone calls to people I knew to see if they would talk to us. We tried to get them to call in, because we were on the whole time, we did not do just a 6 o’clock news, we just stayed live all day, and wanted to see if they would talk about what happened.
Ashley: Do you come up with your own story ideas to report on or do you have someone to help you?
Candice: Yeah, that’s another hard part about it because they expect you to come in every morning and you have to have a story to pitch. Some days you will come in and they will be like,” Candice I want you to go cover this.” Its probably 50/50 as far as them wanting you to go on your own or giving you stories.
-How do you find the stories to do?
It’s a mixture of contacts. Sometimes when we go out on assigned stories someone will come up us and say “hey, you're with channel 10 - I have another story idea for you.” So sometimes it’s about being in the public eye, but mainly the stories we do require a follow up. Its different every single day and you have to come up with something concrete every single day.
Ashley: Describe an average day working at WSLS 10.
Candice: I have a really weird schedule. I work nights on Mondays and Tuesdays, which are 2:30 pm to 11:30 pm; Friday, Saturday, Sunday 9 a.m to 6 p.m. If I work days I come in at 9:00 am attend a 9:30 am meeting for story pitch. You have to pitch your story hard because you want to do that story for the day. So when they give you the go ahead, you get moving. What’s so great about this business is you do your story and you don’t have someone looking over your shoulder the entire time. It’s pretty nice having free reign.
If I am on the 5 o’clock show, we want to get back in time so I can log through the sound bites, and what they means is looking through the tape and finding the quotes I want and choosing the time is on the tape. Editors usually have a about an hour to fix it up and get it ready to air. It can be hectic, but fun to see your story aired.
Ashley: How time consuming is your job?
Candice: Really time consuming. I work 9:00 am to 6:00 pm on days and 2:30 pm to 11:30 pm when I work nights. I don’t really get a time set aside for lunch or dinner since we have competition of channel 7 there is always that pressure of them getting the story we didn’t. I’m lucky I am not a teacher, because I don’t have homework each night when I get home, but I’m really busy during the day and it goes by really fast.
Ashley: What is the hardest part about the industry?
Candice: Right now, the challenge is that the industry is currently changing. It used to be that people would sit down to watch their 6 o’clock news, but right now because of the Internet, people want access to news all the time instead. Can you blame them? The hardest part about that is we have the deadline for the newscast we are in but we also have to get it to the web asap. You’re trying to get all the information to the web guy and he is posting everything but it’s a tug-a-war because its like what do the viewers want? Do you want to get it to the newscast first or to the web and tip of the competition so they can get it to the 6 o’clock. So I think that is defiantly the hardest part right now.
Ashley: What if your favorite part about your job?
Candice: Meeting people. I am one of those people that can’t just sit in an office all day. I love getting out of the office. The bad part about it is if it’s snowing outside and they want you out there at 5 a.m, but its still about being out and about and meeting the public.
Ashley: What is your most memorable moment you have had since you have been working at WSLS 10.
Candice: I have several. I have been here 2 years and the favorite story happened a little over a year ago. It happened in February 2008, and while it was a beautiful Sunday the wind was really bad. People were riding on 4-wheelers whose engines were sparking as they rode the trails, which ignited some forest fires, but really there everything was contributing because the wind was so bad. Our crew went out to the forest and the wind was so bad that it blew a limb out in front of us and it gave us a flat tire. We were stuck because we didn’t have a spare. So we had to call another photographer to come get us, but when he came to us the forest fire jumped the road and he got held back. He eventually got to us and on our way back the fire jumped the road again and we had to find other ways home. When we got back to the station that night, it was almost like a weekday because everyone was called in to cover all the stories related to the fires. It was just one of those days you were just so excited that so much was going on.
My most memorable was the homestead shootings that happened back in March (WHAT YEAR?) A man named Beacher Hackney, whom they still have not found, shot and killed two of his co-workers at the Hot Springs Resort. We went around and followed the police looking for this guy through the woods with their weapons drawn. This type of experience sticks in your mind a little bit because you don’t know where he is and are exposing yourself to danger.
- Early we talked about the shootings of David Lee Letzler and Heidi Lynn Child, here is what Candice had to say in relation to this story…
I think with what happened with the two Virginia tech students, David and Heidi, touched me more then any other story I have done. Mainly because they were a Virginia tech couple innocently out at Caldwell Field, and I have been there myself with my boyfriend, since he is a hunter. And they still have not found who did it.
- Did you cover any part of this story?
I was not at the crime scene part but I covered the funerals. I also went out to the little ice cream shop they both used to work at and I talked to the manager there. She talked about how good they were and gave us a glimpse into their lives. Ultimately, it was one of the hardest stories I ever had to cover. I remember coming in that weekend and I just sat at my desk and cried – so very emotional.
-Is it hard, the stories where you have to cover deaths?
Yes. When you have to talk to the family because its expected as part of your job its one of the hardest responsibilities of the job. You never get used to covering these stories because you hate to be the one to go up and knock on the family's door. Sometimes you go to the door and the family wants to talk because they want you to know about the real person the deceased was, but other times they yell at you and ask you to leave.
Ashley:Do you have any major goals or future plans?
Candice: A lot of people ask me if I ever want to be an anchor and it is one of those questions that I am not really sure. There is something about going out and getting a story, meeting the people involved and putting the story together into a finished project, rather than just reporting the news.
Long-term plans, I would really like to teach journalism one day.
Ashley: What advice do you have for aspiring reporters?
Candice: Because the competition to get into this industry is so hard, especially with the way the economy is right now, you have more competition for jobs. I don't think I can stress enough to get as much experience as you can. Intern with a company for the field that interests you the most - because newspaper and broadcasting for example are so different. Also I would say, a lot of students try to intern at ABC, NBC and the big places and you don’t really get that much experience. So I would suggest go to a medium size market and they give you a whole lot more that you can do and add to resume tape and show off.