"People have a voice, it's about giving them the platform to make their voice heard."
Simone McKenny is a multimedia journalist for WHSV in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She graduated with a degree in journalism and mass communication from The George Washington University.
McKenny has held internships at CBS in her home state, Philadelphia, and at NBC 4, the local news station in Washington D.C. McKenny is most passionate about telling stories that focus on the community and aims to amplify the voices of others, connect with her audience and give a platform to those who are often overlooked.
I spoke to McKenny about her journalism journey through college and landing her first job a few months after graduating during a pandemic. She shares her experiences that led up to her role in local news and offers a great deal of advice for aspiring journalists as well as other students who are still trying to figure things out.
WBI: Other than internships, what sort of training prepared you for your current role at WHSV?
McKenny: I did acting school in seventh or 11th grade, so I think that really helped me to be able to present, give a good voice and tell a story. Also, I really enjoy watching local news and hearing how anchors are speaking locally around me and just learning from what I see.
WBI: What has it been like going out in the field during a pandemic to cover topics like Black history, snow storms and the pandemic itself?
McKenny: I keep my mask on. Sometimes it's weird because you have to think about how your story will come out, but also your safety and your safety comes first. Overtime, I calmed down and I felt more comfortable.
Weather is like, "yeah I'm standing outside, it's two degrees and it's hailing all over me," so it's just kind of uncomfortable. I guess overtime you kind of get used to it, you know it's coming, you dress warm and you're only on TV for like 20 seconds, that they will physically see you, so if you can hold it together for those 20 seconds, it's pretty fine.
WBI: What are some of your favorite stories that you've covered in your journalism career?
McKenny: Definitely will be Montgomery Hall Park in Staunton Virginia, because it combines community and Black history. It was just amazing to see how this one meeting place in the community did so much for the people there. I also got to connect with people who were at that park when it was in it's prime and hear their stories and their resilience in their journey. It was just so much fun putting it together.
The story about COVID-19 in correctional facilities down here. I wish I could do different things or have more time to work on it. So many people reach out when they have someone who is incarcerated and dealing with the pandemic. Hearing their stories and how they feel made me realize how important allowing people to speak up and have a voice is. A lot of times people like to say 'give a voice to the voiceless' and I always think that "people have a voice, it's about giving them the platform to ... make their voice heard" and I think that's important to distinguish between.
My favorite stories are the ones that get me really in the community so I'm able to meet people. The pen pal story I did was really fun because the fourth graders give such good stories, they speak very well and they are so interesting.
WBI: Who are some journalists that you look up to?
McKenny: Abby Phillip on CNN. I really admire Jeannette Reyes on Fox 5, she's amazing all round and she's very good at telling a story and making you feel like she's sitting in your living room talking to you. You tell so many stories, but if people feel like they can really connect with you, that makes all the difference. There are so many journalists that I look up to. I don't know if I can pick a few, but I look for people who are able to tell a good story and really do the work to bring all of it together.
WBI: What advice would you give to aspiring journalists?
McKenny: "Cast a wide net to exactly what it is you want to do." I believe that yes, it's a pandemic, yes it's very hard to get a job, but there are so many things you could do outside of being employed by someone. If you are actively applying, you can still be putting content out there. If you want to do photojournalism or videos, you could go out, ask these non-profits, 'hey, can I shoot something for you guys or can I do a story with you guys on what you're doing and how you're trying to help?' and a lot of times they will say yes, because they need someone to share their story. Whether it's just to your followers or your blog or wherever, you can continuously be putting content out there and honing your craft whether you are employed or not.
I think there's something out there for everyone, it's just to be patient. You can always take time to figure it out. Once you start working, the ball's rolling. You put yourself in the job, you get an apartment, you get bills, it's hard to stop and go. So take that time to really think about what it is you want to do and go for it.
Make a plan, reach out to people, and it's a hundred percent OK because if they don't have time, the worst they are going to say is no. As long as you come correct, respectful, have a good email, nine times out of 10, they'll speak to you because a lot of people want to share their story. They want to help someone else and they've been in your position.
Lean heavily on mentors and make sure you're not only leaning on them when you need help. Keep in contact with your professors because a lot of times they'll be your references or your internship coordinators. Also ask them specific questions about their career journey. And then honestly go for it.
WBI: How did you stay consistent with putting out content when you were in college?
McKenny: I think you have to know yourself. Personally, I have to plan. If I don't plan, I could easily talk myself out of doing something. Set things up so that it's very hard for you to not do it. Plan your breaks in between too. Or knock a lot of stuff out in one day and then you can schedule your posts and that's how you keep yourself going. Just plan it out so that it's easier for you in the long run.
WBI: Is there anything else you'd like to say?
McKenny: Really go for whatever it is you want to do. Nothing you want to do is out of reach. I'm spiritual, so I feel like God has already mapped that plan and journey out for you, you just got to stick to it and trust.
WBI: Honestly, Thank you so much. This has been great.
Thanks for reading Written By Isi