Meet the Press: UWG Mass Communications Alumni Help Relaunch News Station
Tuesday, September 5th, 2023
With the resilience of the Wolves at your side, there’s no telling what you can accomplish.
For WDKY Fox 56 News, the goal was to relaunch their news programming. Fortunately for the Lexington, Kentucky-based station, they had the power of the Pack – finely trained journalists who not only had the degrees to back them but also an unwavering sense of purpose.
Although newly graduated, University of West Georgia alumni Bode Brooks ’19, Brice Lewis ’19 and Georgia McCarthur ’19 had been preparing for this for years. Thanks to UWG’s unwavering commitment to creating relevant, 21st-century learning experiences, the trio was proof that dreams can transform into tangible career achievements long before Commencement.
“Learning how to write, shoot and edit a broadcast isn’t achieved through an assignment, just like bringing a personality to life on-air doesn’t happen on your first show,” observed Brooks, WDKY’s state Capitol reporter. “It’s a skill that accumulates with time. It’s about allowing yourself to make mistakes and learn from them. That was the value UWG gave to me.”
UWG’s School of Communication, Film and Media (SCFM) is known for its experiential learning opportunities. Two broadcasting options – WUTV and WOLF Radio – offer a way to create, experiment and learn from trial and error.
“Being in the environment and seeing the inner workings of what’s needed to run a radio station was very beneficial,” said Lewis, who worked as a sports production manager for WOLF Radio and is now a WDKY producer. “Learning about collaboration in the newsroom with like-minded people who have the same goal was also important. While I was learning, I was also helping other students grow.”
Oftentimes, these school-sponsored experiences can act as stepping stones to internships by equipping students with the skills, knowledge and connections needed to secure these positions.
Take Brooks for example. While at UWG, he served as news director of both stations and hosted his radio talk show, “The Power Hour.” Those connections led to his first internship with WSB Radio in Atlanta, which led to part-time anchoring weekends throughout his senior year. That same year – before he even earned his degree – Brooks lined up a full-time job as an anchor and producer for KTVE in Monroe, Louisiana.
For McCarthur – who served as a WUTV cohost and anchor and is now WDKY’s lead reporter – an encounter at Media Day, SCFM’s annual student showcase and networking event, led to a trainee position at Fox 5 Atlanta and then a full-time position at WALB in Albany. And Lewis continued his radio exposure by talking sports on various stations, podcasts and apps.
But in 2021, Brooks, Lewis and McCarthur found themselves looking for something different. It just so happened that WDKY was looking to flip the script as well.
“There was a decades-long partnership between WDKY and another larger station in town in which the bigger channel produced and aired its news on WDKY using their own resources,” explained Brooks. “When WDKY was purchased by another company, it was decided we would do the news on our own. It’s not easy to build a station from scratch. We had to renovate the entire space, build a studio and control room, and hold full rehearsals for every newscast.”
This meant going out, reporting on real stories, meeting deadlines, and going through all the motions as if it were the real thing before the official launch on Jan. 1, 2022.
“We had to make a name for ourselves as journalists,” McCarthur elaborated. “I challenged myself to knock on doors and walk down blocks other reporters might not. I knew to help set our station apart in the community, I needed to go beyond the headline.”
McCarthur has made this philosophy her mission as a reporter. The most impactful stories she’s covered are ones that give power to those who are often silent.
“That’s what I mean by going beyond the headline,” she observed. “You find people who have the voice but not the means to be heard. The best stories are the ones not being told.”
In the heart of WDKY’s newsroom, Lewis is also in his element. With a keen eye for current events, he daily sifts through a cascade of stories, selecting the ones that will resonate with viewers. Armed with an ability to distill complex narratives into succinct segments, he guides reporters, editors and directors through both the monotony of daily segments to the chaos of breaking news – including the recent eastern Kentucky floods.
“When it happened, we were constantly sending people to cover the damage,” Lewis recollected. “When you have traumatic events in the state, those things stick out. It was surreal to see the water levels. Two weeks after the devastation, we aired our first special, which I produced. I think we did a great job depicting what happened, especially considering it was still within the first six months of the relaunch.”
One of the reporters Lewis assigned to chronicle the destruction was his former classmate, Brooks. As a Capitol reporter, there is no busier time than during a legislative session. But with the floods, it was all hands on deck.
Entire homes swept off foundations, Brooks recalled the areas resembled warzones instead of neighborhoods.
“I’ve always felt conflicted about putting a camera in someone’s face during the worst time of their life, but I was surprised to find how many people were grateful to share their story,” he said. “What I learned was when the cameras come out, help tends to follow. It was an eye-opening experience that I hope to never repeat, but I am grateful I went through it because it ultimately made me a better journalist.”
No matter what assignment or station they go to next, Brooks, Lewis and McCarthur say they are grateful for the solid foundation UWG provided for them for a successful transition from academia to the professional world.
“Growing up in a small northwest Georgia town, I always felt the broadcast world was too many degrees of separation away for someone like me,” Brooks concluded. “The years I spent at UWG learning about the industry gave me a vision of who I could be. My dream became a reality.”