University of North Carolina at Wilmington - B.A. in English, Minor in Journalism and Professional Writing Certificate
News changes in the blink of an eye, and with that, you have to be flexible and go with the flow. Sarah Crandall knows this firsthand as the web and associate news producer for WECT TV6 in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Although she had planned on a traditional print career, Sarah reached out to a local broadcast news station after graduation and landed a TV and web production gig. She now handles everything from creating content for the station and its 14(!) hyperlocal websites to fine-tuning scripts before airtime. As Sarah points out, “In news, things rarely go according to plan.” In addition to laserlike accuracy and good grammar, working in news requires a calm demeanor and flexibility. Above all, she says, “Don’t freak out!”
News can be stressful, but you have to remember to stay calm and in control at all times. If you do, you’ll find it to be much more rewarding at the end of the day.
How did you get your job? Did you always have an interest in news production and web journalism?
My college has a website just for students and alumni where employers can post openings. I had recently graduated, visited the site and saw a few openings for broadcast news positions at WECT, but none of them were really writing-related.
I went to school for and studied print journalism and honestly hadn’t thought too much about a career in broadcast journalism. But when I saw the other openings, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to email the station and let them know I was looking for a writing job. So that’s what I did. A few weeks later, I got a call they were looking for a web producer and news producer and it all kind of went from there.
What is a typical day in the newsroom look like?
When I come in, I check my inbox and the homepage of our website to see the latest news. I look to see if there’s anything I immediately need to dive into and help get posted on the web, like a breaking news situation. If there’s not anything crazy happening right away, I start gathering news for the community’s websites. In addition to our main website, I manage and write content for 14 hyperlocal community news websites.
While I’m looking for and writing for community content, other things will come into the newsroom, like breaking news, arrests, etc., so I help to make sure that the public is informed on our main website, on our mobile site, through social media, email, text alerts, etc. In between writing communities stories, I look for or create content I think viewers would want to see, whether it’s a story or creating a photo gallery of something that happened, like a fire. I also help with posting reporters’ stories or copyediting them before they go live online.
Saturdays, it’s usually the same thing, but I also produce the 10 p.m. show. That means creating a newscast, writing scripts for the anchor and editing reporters’ scripts. Then, for all three of the newscasts, I go to the production booth and make sure the shows that night run without hiccups and that each one is timed correctly.
The first time you have an article published online is always exciting! It’s rewarding to see your stories doing well, as far as people reading and sharing them.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
Sometimes I think about how I could have made a news story—on air or online—better. Also, some days are easier than others when it comes to finding community news. In general, the summer is tough because schools aren’t in session and a lot of people around town are on vacation. It can be harder to get information, so sometimes I worry about where I’ll find good content on those days.
News is 24/7. How do you cope with a less-than-ordinary schedule?
Working on weekends and holidays is never fun. A lot of my friends who work regular-hour office jobs forget about my hours and will invite me to go do fun things on Saturdays, for example, and I have to decline. My boyfriend and I only really get to see each other one full day a week and some nights because of my schedule. So, those things can definitely be tough.
I just keep in mind that that’s part of the news industry, no matter where you go, and that enjoying my job makes it worth it. I also try to take advantage of my days off and relax as much as possible.
What are some of the rules you live by?
Don’t freak out! News can be stressful, but you have to remember to stay calm and in control at all times. If you do, you’ll find it to be much more rewarding at the end of the day.
Be flexible. Go with the flow. Things can change in news at the drop of a hat and rarely go according to plan—if breaking news happens that you get confirmed during a newscast, you have to add it into the scripts quickly and accurately. One time, I was putting the finishing touches on a newscast about 20 minutes before we went on air, and we found out that Whitney Houston had died. I had to completely change the show. It was tough because I had already written all my scripts, but I had to suck it up and create the best new show that I could.
What qualities and skills does it take for someone to be successful as a web and news producer?
You have to be very willing to learn in the news industry, very detail-oriented, and willing to work strange hours, holidays and weekends.
When it comes to the web, you need to have strong writing, spelling and grammatical skills and you need to be able to think outside of the box as to what will make readers want to click on a story.
For producing, you also need to be able to write well, but you especially need to be assertive and confident to be able to take charge when you need to. You have to make big decisions in the blink of an eye that could affect an entire newscast.
What advice do you have for women who would like to break into news or digital careers?
Look into broadcast news industry opportunities where you are. In college, journalism was presented to me as black and white—divided into either print or broadcast. I always thought I’d end up working for a newspaper or magazine because I love to write for print and didn’t really know or think about print opportunities in a broadcast setting. But now, more people are reading news online than ever, so writers are needed. If you’re a strong print writer, you’ll probably excel at writing for the web. Get in touch with your local TV news station and see if you can intern or if they have any jobs available.
You also have a music blog. Do you have goals you'd like to pursue with that?
I love music. Like, I mean love music, to the point where I wanted to be a music journalist for a while. I took a class in college on writing about music and did an internship where I wrote about bands and their music. After that, I realized writing about music is a lot harder than it seems. When we’re taught to write, we usually incorporate what we see, smell, taste and touch, but it’s rare that we’re taught how to write about sound. I found it to be fun at times, but pretty challenging at others.
So, I hope to get better at writing about music through my blog (thesoundvine.blogspot.com) and continue to share music with people that they may not have heard of before.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I’m not sure, but as long as I’m doing something that involves writing and being creative, I’ll be happy.