In December 2006, Janice Allen graduated from Northern Illinois University (NIU) with two bachelor's of arts degrees — journalism with a broadcast emphasis and communication studies with a media studies emphasis — as well as hands-on broadcasting experience from coursework, internships and independent study.
Janice set an ambitious goal for a final semester of independent study at NIU as the producer, reporter and anchor of Inside 815 (a local entertainment show). She created the show's concept, format and rundown; shot and edited video for news packages; and reported and anchored the show on a bi-weekly basis. At the same time, she served as an intern for Oak Brook, Ill., cable channel CLTV's newsroom and Metromix show, where she assisted in field production of stories and helped obtain and edited video for shows.
Her internship at WREX in Rockford, Ill., offered her the opportunity to write stories and edit video for newscasts, assist in production and gain experience with Avid Newscutter XP and Avid I News programs.
As the past president of the Students in the Illinois News Broadcasters' Association, Janice coordinated programming, constructed meeting agendas and directed weekly meetings and extracurricular association activities.
Janice also got involved at NIU on a campus-wide level, serving as a Northern Ambassador, providing information about campus activities, departments and services during open house programs and prospective student tours. She additionally served as a residential community advisor for the 2004- 2005 school year.
Meantime, she excelled at her studies, achieving student honors including: Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges-2005; Northern Illinois University Dean's List; National Society of Collegiate Scholars; Golden Key International Honor Society; Illinois Broadcasters' Association Multicultural Internship Program-2006.
But Janice didn't always have a clear path for her education. She spent her freshman year at a private college in Florida and when it didn't meet her expectations, the Wheaton, Ill. native found her school niche closer to home in Dekalb.
*This interview was conducted when Janice was still a student at NIU.
You & Your Education
What led you to decide to study broadcast journalism?
I fell into broadcast journalism in my junior year. I was originally thinking I was going to go into radio. A professor encouraged me to take a broadcast class, and I really fell in love with broadcast news and being on-air later on.
What are some of your professional goals?
I hope to be a reporter in the next three months (following graduation), hopefully within a top 25 market. Eventually I'd like to get to a network, but right now, I'm interested in getting some small market experience. Then I'll move my way up through the "food chain," that is, unless I get "discovered," of course!
How did you choose the broadcasting program and the communications/media studies program at Northern Illinois University?
I transferred to Northern my sophomore year, I didn't know which area I wanted to go into, whether it would be journalism or communications. I decided to do both. I wanted to see what classes I liked better, what kind of career I wanted to go into. I looked over both majors, and I saw some of the possible professions that people went into with the major. It turned out that journalism was the first one I declared. Here at Northern, journalism has only a slight PR emphasis, so it's really a print or broadcast track. I did a little of PR, and found as I took those classes that I wasn't interested so much in PR. Then I went to broadcast, loved it, and I got a lot of positive feedback from professors as far as how I was doing in my classes, and here am - about to graduate.
The communications/media studies program is like a really soft broadcast journalism program, where you take classes learning about TV writing and about being in front of the camera. It's more of a basic overview, you you don't delve in as deeply into camera work, TV writing and being on-air as much as a broadcast journalism major.
What is the broadcast journalism concentration curriculum like at NIU? Is there a specific class that stands out as a favorite?
It is pretty intense. It's a minimum of four classes taken all together - they call it the j-block. There are two classes that you have to take two semesters together, so they are co-requisites. The first semester, you are introduced to electronic newsgathering, you learn how to edit, you learn how to work the cameras, and you produce one news package. The next semester, you are completely thrown into it, and you create a news package every two weeks for the campus news that airs every day; so those are aired during the student newscast. Also you anchor the news once a week, so you get more of a deadline pressure, as far as producing a package, going out and interviewing people, finding angles on different stories. You get a lot more into the editing, and being more creative, and of course you focus on writing copy for broadcast. The semester after that you can opt to the producing course, which I did. In this course you are the producer for the show, you do the run-down for the show, you do the writing, all of the transitions from story to story, the breaks, the teases, the bumps into the breaks - so you get an idea of what it might be like to produce an actual newscast. After that, if you are still ambitious, you can take an independent study. Right now, I am taking an independent study that I really love. I have my own entertainment show that I'm producing and I'm the reporter and anchor of. It's called Inside 815. It's been a lot of work, but I'm sure its going to pay off eventually, and I really enjoy doing it. It's sort of “Jan's chance to do it all.”
Tell us about your current student project as producer, report and anchor of a bi-weekly regional show. How did you develop the concept?
In addition to the newscast, there has always been a standalone sports show on campus. A year ago, some friends and I decided that we wanted to have our own, standalone entertainment-based show. My professor wanted me to go through everything, so I went through the producing class before I took that on. This semester, I was really serious about doing it, and I decided to do an independent study. My professor thought it was a little ambitious, because I was taking on more than I needed to meet the requirements of the independent study. But being so close to graduation, I wanted as much experience as I could get and to add to my resume tape. The show is called Inside 815. We deal with things that are happening inside of Dekalb County, neighboring towns like Sycamore, Rochelle and Genoa. The common link, aside from the area code, is that we cover entertainment - so we do restaurant reviews and we go to plays and attractions in the area (I just did a story on a local corn maze). We focus on stories that are happening on campus, such as organizations having special shows. It's kind of allowed myself and the two reporters that work for me to have a more feature-style presentation with new stories. It's allowed us to have a lot more fun with how we write and present the news.
You are a member and past president of the NIU chapter of Students in the Illinois Broadcasters' Association. Tell us about your involvement in the organization.
Last year I was way more involved as president. I found out about SIMBA at the end of my junior year. I wanted to join because it was at the time that I was getting way more involved in my major. It's kind of a fledgling organization, and last year I took it upon myself to bring it back, and that is always difficult, especially when there are not a lot of members that are dedicated and can help out. It's a small organization that we're trying to start back up; we're trying to connect with other organizations at other universities by setting up a SIMBA network. Last year as president, I directed meetings and planned events. One of our most popular events is called “Anchor Night” when anyone can come to the TV center and see what it is like to be an anchor or a reporter. That draws a lot of people to the journalism program; actually a lot of people I work with now switched their majors to journalism because of those events. This year, because I'll be graduating, I could only serve as treasurer, so this year we are reaching out, we'll be making our presence known on campus, and getting more people to join.
How does it support your broadcast education goals?
Its helping me as far as networking with other people. It's given me a better idea of leadership management when I was president.
What do you enjoy most about your hands-on broadcasting experience so far?
What I like the most about all of my broadcasting experience is that it's given me a really good idea of what its going to be like in the field one day as a reporter. Working at my small market internship in Rockford, it gave me an excellent idea of what a starter market is like, what kind of stories I would be turning day in and day out, and what would be required of me as a reporter. I love that my experience has made me better as a broadcaster. It's improved my writing. I have a better idea of how the stories should be constructed. I've learned how to edit with inews and ADPNS. I'm learning how to use Clip Edit, its given me really good experience to offer my first employer when I graduate.
What do you now know that you wish you had known before you began to pursue your broadcasting education?
I didn't really know that you have to start out kind of lower on the pay scale when I first started. That really isn't as important to me as finding a career that I really love, but it would have been nice to know more about it. I also wish I would have known more about the importance of internships earlier on - I would have loved to have done more, and sooner in my college career. They gave me a really good idea of how to report the news. I feel like a lot of my work earlier in my career could have been much stronger if I would have had that extra experience.
Do you feel that is important for someone to be passionate about broadcasting in order to be successful?
I absolutely feel that, especially having been in my internships, I hear a lot of stories of people mentioning to me that you really have to love this career, because you are not in it for the money. Since you are dealing with issues all the time like death and destruction, it can be depressing. I've heard a lot of stories about people being burned out after four or five years in the business and changing to another field. So you really have to be passionate.
What factors should prospective students consider when choosing a broadcast school?
Students interested in pursing broadcast should make sure that the journalism program will allow them to have some hands-on experience. Some schools might not allow you to actually work the cameras, or go out into the field. I would definitely encourage them to find a school that has a TV center, or a hands-on journalism program that will allow them to get in there and experience shooting a camera, editing the footage, gathering news stories - something that will give them the kind of experience they need to go on in the field.
Are there different considerations for students seeking to specialize in a certain area of the broadcasting field?
Even if you want to specialize in sports or business reporting, you still need to have a good basis, a good foundation. That hands-on experience at a journalism school or program is still needed, but you want to make sure there are other things there to accentuate your program, such as, area sports, or classes that would help out if you are interested in business or international news.
What can students applying to broadcasting programs do to increase their chances of being accepted? Is it competitive?
Actually, broadcast journalism has grown popular over the last few years, the numbers are going up. As far as getting into the program, it's not that competitive, but it is competitive to get into the classes. I can only recommend patience if you can't get into that first class. That's the only really difficult thing with broadcast journalism because you can't really have a large class size and give everyone the hands-on experience.
Based on your experience as a student leader, what are some of the most respected and prestigious broadcasting schools, departments or programs?
I always hear good things about Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism; Columbia College has an excellent communications/media major. As far as state schools in Illinois with broadcasting, there's Southern Illinois University that has an excellent TV program. Also Eastern Illinois University has an excellent TV center, and Illinois State University is considered good. Actually, a lot of Illinois schools have good journalism programs.
What types of broadcasting organizations can students expect to have access to?
A lot of the other schools have a SIMBA chapter; we are trying to get connected. If the school doesn't have a specific professional broadcasting organization, you can always get involved with something like forensics, that's a great background. TV or radio station experience is also a good background to get.
What types of specialty broadcasting technology, computer programs, etc. should students expect to become familiar in school or in an on-the-job training prospect?
Here at Northern we learn to edit with non-linear equipment, which a lot of stations use for their equipment. I couldn't tell you the type of cameras or anything specific. As far as editing, we use a program called Pinnacle, it's a type of non-linear software.
How available are broadcasting internships? Any tips for landing them? What skills should students expect to gain?
It could be a little difficult depending on the time of year because, in the summer for example, a lot of people are out there trying to land an internship. It's competitive, because you need to have at least one internship to get in to somewhere good. If you know what stations you want to be at and know when the applications are due, try to get it in as early as possible. Don't feel dejected if you go to an interview and don't get the internship you ultimately wanted. Some of the best advice I ever got was to go to a small market to intern, because you get the best hands-on experience; you'll be able to do things yourself. In Rockford I actually wrote stories for the news that aired. I actually edited film for the news, all the time. I actually got to do things. I know that in Chicago, a lot stations are union. That fact prevents you from getting a lot of hands-on experience that you can get in a small market. At CLTV, which is in Oak Brook (a Chicago suburb) and is not union, I've been able to do a lot more than I would have been able to do at NBC or ABC downtown.
I would say that you should know something about the station. If the interviewer asks if you have questions, you already should have formulated a few questions in your mind that show that you are knowledgeable about the station, the internship position and what it entails.
What other advice can you offer to prospective broadcasting students?
I think that if you really want to be a broadcaster, and are serious about it, then you should practice your craft. Get as many writing and speaking opportunities as you can; public speaking is really good practice. I would also say watch the news. As a journalist, you are supposed to know what is going on in the world, and be up to date. Watching the news has made me a better reporter. I see how other reporters produce stories, how they construct their stories, it gives me ideas. Watching the news will not only keep you current, but it will also make you a better journalist.
Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your education, your internship experiences or your goals that would be interesting or helpful to others aspiring to follow a similar path?
There are two things. First I would say develop a tough skin. I'm sure I'm going to hear a lot of “no's” before I hear a “yes” in this field. Getting into this field, you have to be really comfortable with who you are. I'm sure there will be a lot of criticism, a lot of things picked apart, but if you have a strong core, a sense of self, that's important. The second thing would be that if you do an internship, get the most out of it that you can. Don't just sit around at the computer. Take the initiative to ask people how to do things. Take the initiative to ask go out with a reporter on a story. If they will allow you to, try to edit something and put something together for your résumé tape. Get as much out of the experience that you can. I've gotten a lot of good material from my internship for my résumé tape. At my last one, in Rockford, if I hadn't gotten up and asked people how to do things, I would have sat at the computer all day long. So it's really import to take the initiative, to meet people - to introduce yourself to what's going on.
Editor's Note: If you would like to follow-up with Janice Allen directly, click here.