AUTUMN CHILDRESS ’18 grew up in the TV news business—literally. As a child she would sometimes wake up at 3 a.m. to go to work with her mother, a morning news anchor at the local ABC affiliate in Richmond.
“I’d sleep under her desk until it was time to go on air,” Childress said. “Then she’d wake me up, and I’d watch her do the news. I knew that it was cool, and I really wanted to do it.”
Her career choice was sealed when she arrived at Longwood and took Professor Jeff Halliday’s intro to public speaking course. She decided she wanted to follow her mother’s footsteps into a broadcast TV career. Four years later, that’s exactly what she did.
Childress started her job as a dayside reporter at WHSV in Harrisonburg just weeks after graduation. On a typical day she turns around two stories for air by 5 p.m., which she shoots and edits herself. She’s also responsible for writing web stories and coming up with additional web-exclusive content.
Halliday, an associate professor of communication studies, cites Childress as an example of Longwood’s ability to prepare graduates for journalism careers. “If you come here to be a journalist, you can be a journalist,” he said. “It’s very possible if you work hard.”
Longwood’s communication studies program, which traces its modern origins to the late Dr. Bill Stuart, has roughly doubled in size since Halliday was hired as the university’s first full-time media professor in 2007. There are currently more than 200 students in the major.
“It’s exciting to see how many people who cut their teeth here are leading really fulfilling careers in the news business,” said Halliday, a former TV sports anchor and reporter, and former radio talk show host.
Childress arrived at Longwood at the same time a state-of-the-art $1 million broadcast studio in a newly renovated French Hall was coming online. “It’s a cornerstone of the digital media concentration, and I think it’s a real jewel for the school,” said Halliday.
By the time she graduated, Childress had shot, edited and produced two award-winning short documentaries and had a dynamic highlight reel to send to potential employers.
The resources available to Childress are in stark contrast to those that were available to PHILIP TOWNSEND ’06, a two-time Emmy Award-winning journalist who was at Longwood more than a decade earlier and also majored in communication studies.
Currently the weekday co-anchor of the 4 p.m. newscast at WVEC 13 NewsNow, the ABC affiliate in Hampton Roads, Townsend recalls there was only one broadcast journalism class offered when he was a student, and he graduated without a résumé tape. He spent the summer after he graduated working to create a tape and eventually was hired as a production assistant at WVEC. He landed his first reporting job at WHSV in Harrisonburg—the same station where Childress now works.
Historically, getting a start in TV news involved cutting your teeth behind the scenes at a small-market station before you could get hired as an on-air reporter. But the old dues-paying system isn’t as rigid today.
“When I first started, they would only hire reporters who had experience in other markets,” Townsend said. “Now we have two or three reporters straight out of college.”
Anchored by a strong cadre of faculty, Longwood’s communication studies program is continually evolving to ensure graduates are competitive.
“The backbone of who we are as a program is making sure we are staying on target with professional expectations,” Halliday said. “That includes changing and tweaking the course offerings so that our graduates stand out in the job market.
“Whether it’s traditional news, or documentary filmmaking, or social media management, or public relations content, our students should graduate with the ability to do all of those things.”
NATHAN EPSTEIN ’11, a sports reporter for WAVY, the NBC affiliate in Portsmouth and Hampton Roads, has seen those changes firsthand.
“When I got into the business, everything that we did for the web was secondary and the on-air product was the primary focus,” he said. “Now I think the on-air product is still first, but not by much.”
Epstein arrived on campus at the same time as Halliday, who served as his mentor—a relationship that continues to this day. On occasion, Epstein returns to campus to visit one of Halliday’s classes or to report a story, which he did recently when he covered Longwood’s men’s basketball team and first-year coach Griff Aldrich.
While the TV news business hasn’t been hit as hard as print journalism, the industry faces similar pressures based on viewers’ changing habits. Increasingly people are getting news exclusively from social media, and more and more consumers are ditching cable and satellite services—primarily watching streaming services instead.
“You have to be digitally minded to get into this industry now. It’s not just about being on TV,” said Townsend, who did a stint at a station in Dallas before returning to Hampton Roads as an anchor in 2016. “I can’t wait to show news to people at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. anymore. They want to see it on Facebook as soon as I have it.”
Longwood Alumni in the Media
In addition to the alums mentioned in the preceding pages, many other Longwood alums work in the media. Below is a partial list.
Will Armbruster ’10
Digital content manager, WRIC TV (Richmond)
Kyle Centers ’10
Junior video editor, National Geographic
Farah Walton ’10
Marketing consultant, Sinclair Broadcasting
Claire Turck ’11
Manager, Digital Customer Care, Washington Post
Ashley Hodge ’13
Staff writer, The Gazette-Virginian (Halifax County)
Michelle Goldchain ’14
Web producer, Education Week (Washington, D.C.)
Kevin Green ’14
Digital content producer, WAVY TV (Portsmouth)
Eric Hobeck ’14
Assistant district manager, circulation, The Daily Progress (Charlottesville)
Nick Conigliaro ’15
Morning news reporter, WRIC TV (Richmond)
Briana Adhikusuma ’16
Business reporter, The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk)
Taylor O’Bier ’16
Digital producer, WAVY TV (Portsmouth)
Ri’Shawn Bassette ’17
Multimedia journalist, WALB TV (Valdosta, Georgia)
David Pettyjohn ’18
Reporter, The News Virginian (Waynesboro)
If you are an alum and work in the media, Longwood magazine would like to include your information in the next issue’s Class Notes. Please send your name, your graduation year, your job title and where you work, and any other information you’d like to share to browncs2@ longwood.edu.