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Successful Alumni: Courtney Anderson used experience, determination, to make it in TV news

*Courtney Anderson is now the Web Producer for WREG-TV

By Madi Bowling, JEM 414, Fall 2018


A day in the life of Courtney Anderson starts bright and early as she enters the office of WREG in Memphis at 5:30 a.m. Anderson organizes the calendar of events that will be televised by the station that day and focuses upon the most important events. She talks to daybreak producers about what the morning staff is covering and is sure to redirect them to any breaking news. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., she meets with day producers to plan shows for the day. She assigns reporters and photographers to their crews and trucks, dealing with any bumps in the roads and doing her best to keep the news day running smoothly.

The next day, it starts all over again.

Anderson exemplifies a successful University of Tennessee alumna in Journalism and Electronic Media. She began working as WREG’s assignment editor only four months after her college graduation, and she works hard to be successful in her job every day. At the time, Anderson was the youngest person that WREG had hired in the newsroom.

While she was 22, everyone else in the newsroom was around age 30 or 40.

“I’ve had to learn to communicate in a way with these people where I can assert myself without coming off as overly confident or pushy,” Anderson said. “I also had to establish that just because I am young does not mean that I cannot offer other people something, or that we cannot relate to one another, or that I cannot alter the course of their careers like they alter the course of mine.”

Before Anderson became an assignment editor, though, she was just like any other college graduate, struggling to find a job. Anderson began looking through after graduation, trying to find a job listing that would pique her interest. She looked for jobs for about four months until she applied for WREG and, to her surprise, got a callback.

“I didn’t think I’d get it, because I didn’t have any TV news experience,” Anderson said.  “I didn’t have any [professional] experience, really, I had just gotten out of college. But I applied for it anyway.”

Sending in that application really paid off.

Anderson went back for multiple interviews with WREG, first meeting with the assignment manager, Lisa Dandridge, and speaking about the specific job of assignment editor. Anderson was a guaranteed hire for the job when she inadvertently found breaking news for WREG during this first meeting.

Anderson was being interviewed in the assignment editor office where police scanners are located so that the editors can listen for interesting news stories. Dandridge was introducing Anderson to the assignment editor who was already employed with WREG, and the three were having a conversation about the job. Anderson interrupted to reveal that she heard something on the scanner about a shooting. Dandridge then gave Anderson the police station’s phone number and urged her to call and double-check the information.

“I called them and told them that I was with WREG and asked if they could verify what I thought I heard, and it was actually a shooting. Then, they gave me the address, and I gave that to the assignment editor,” Anderson said. “My boss told me later that because I helped them find breaking news during my interview, they knew right then that they needed to hire me.”

After that interview, Anderson was called back to talk to a news director who gave her a tour of the station. Finally, she was called in to meet the general manager and was approved for the position.

Anderson had hoped that the news station would take a chance on someone who was young and willing to learn, and sure enough, it did just that.

Since Dandridge is very hands on when it comes to the assignment desk, she and Anderson have a very close working relationship. “Courtney has picked it up. She’s very smart,” Dandridge said. “She’s a self-motivator and she brings a lot of knowledge, with her being a millennial.”

In addition to being youthful and eager, Anderson also accomplished a lot throughout her college career, which prepared her for her assignment editor position. For example, she was the news editor for the Tennessee Journalist, TNJN, at UT.

“My job now is to talk to reporters and photographers about their assignments, and I occasionally write for our station’s website,” Anderson said. “That was basically what I was doing as the news editor for TNJN.”

Anderson also wrote stories for the Arts and Culture section of The Daily Beacon. Although Arts and Culture was outside her comfort zone at the time, she now has to give assignments based on of similar subjects. Because of her experience in UT student media, Anderson felt prepared for her job at WREG.

Anderson also took courses at UT, which she felt prepared her to succeed in her career. The course Anderson found most useful during her time at UT was web journalism, because it helped her realize that she I liked writing for the web as opposed to print. She also enjoyed taking Journalism 414, magazine  and feature writing. “That course was more long form and involved talking to people who were attending things other than campus events,” Anderson said. “Campus is so very different from the world around it.”

Although Anderson was well equipped for her WREG position, she still finds challenges in being an assignment editor. One of the hardest aspects of her job originally was learning to communicate with so many different types of personalities within the world of news. Assignment editors have to pair reporters with photographers, and those pairs usually have to be together for at least eight hours a day.

“Some photographers can’t stand some reporters,” Anderson said. “In navigating that situation, you can’t cause any chaos or any problems, but you also have to let them know that they have to work with their person. They can’t just choose.”

Anderson’s biggest advice for college graduates attempting to break into journalism is relatively simple: don’t give up. There are always ways to improve, and there is always something new to learn from trying out different skills and different types of writing.

“If you are someone who is a sports writer, try doing arts and culture. If you’re a science writer, try news. If you’re a news writer, try science, because you can learn something from each field,” Anderson said. “Don’t be afraid to talk to people even if you think that you have nothing in common with them, because you’ll be surprised.”

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