I’ve known who news reporter Caroline Vandergriff is for a while.
Besides having a cool name, Caroline did a story on a hero of mine, Mildred Meachem. Mildred played in the All-American Girl Professional Baseball League. I knew Mildred from my time as a member at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte.
When Mildred died in January, Caroline did the story for Spectrum News.
Caroline treated my friend like the treasure she was. I expressed my appreciation, and told Caroline I wish she could have met Mildred, a pioneer for women’s sports whose accomplishments paved the way for girls like mine in athletics.
It’s an honor to feature Caroline Vandergriff today in the latest #GirlsRock interview.
Caroline approaches her job with a fearlessness that reminds me of Mildred – and also a compassion and concern for others, like Mildred, too. Caroline not only wants to tell the story – she values the connections she makes along the way.
Please give her a warm CD welcome.
Eli: When you were little, what did you think you’d grow up to be?
Caroline: I thought I’d grow up to be a famous actress! I practiced my Oscars speech in the mirror all the time 🙂 When I was little, my parents thought acting lessons would be the best way to channel my energy and nonstop talking. Turns out, they were right! I loved performing and quickly became a regular on the local theater scene in Arlington, Texas – along with some commercial and TV spots. In high school, I was even voted “Most Likely to Be on Broadway.”
But at the end of the day, I didn’t see myself living the life of a struggling artist, auditioning and trying to make it. My heart just wasn’t in it.
Academics were always really important to me – and I loved to write. One day, my high school English teacher suggested I look into pursuing a career in broadcast journalism. She thought it would be a perfect blend of all my passions, which was great advice. When I was accepted into the journalism program at the University of Southern California, I took the leap and haven’t looked back since!
Eli: Before we get to reporting and all – what was the defining role in your acting career?
Caroline: It would be hard to pick just one! As a young girl, my favorite roles were Susan in Miracle on 34th Street and Lucy in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Getting to be in a Visa commercial with Bob Dole was pretty fun too! In high school, I had a blast playing Frenchy in Grease and won some awards for my portrayal of Bessie in Marvin’s Room. Every new character presented a new opportunity to learn and grow.
Eli: Do new stories you work on give you similar opportunities to learn and grow?
Caroline: That is one of the best parts about this job! Since I’m a general assignment reporter, that means I report on anything and everything – from breaking news and severe weather to complex community issues and lengthy court cases. I’m constantly learning. Oftentimes, in a matter of a day, you have to become an expert on a subject you might not know much about, in order to effectively inform the public and tell the story. Plus, you get to engage in interesting conversations with different people in the community every day – there’s always opportunities to learn and grow with that!
Everyone has a unique story and perspective. It’s truly an honor people, who often start out as strangers, trust me enough to share that with me.
Eli: Who has stood out to you in all the interviews you’ve conducted?
Caroline: I have had the chance to interview such a wide range of people in my relatively short career – from governors and mayors to athletes and celebrities – but the people who always stand out to me the most are the “regular folks” who are making a difference in their community. Some have taken a horrible tragedy or event in their lives and turned it into something positive. The perfect example of that is the family behind Kilah’s Law.
After Kilah Davenport was beaten by her stepfather and suffered horrific injuries, her mother and grandmother worked tirelessly to pass a bill increasing the penalty for child abusers in North Carolina.
They also do so much work to support other kids and families affected by abuse. I have gotten to know them through several stories over the past few years – and I love them BIG! as Leslie Davenport likes to say. In her too short life, Kilah made a major impact on me, and her family continues to.
Eli: As a reporter, what keeps you up at night? What do you fear most?
Caroline: In general, working in news comes with a lot of stress – pressure to get it right, make deadlines, beat the competition, stay on top of social media, deliver live reports without stumbling and keep the community informed. When you factor in working long hours, weekends, and holidays, you have to really love what you do to stick with it in this industry! Personally, I always want to make sure my reporting is accurate, rooted in fact, and shows multiple perspectives.
If I so much as have a typo in someone’s name, that keeps me up at night. It’s also really important to me that people I interview never feel “used” – like I shoved a camera in their face just to get the sound bites I needed.
I always want people to walk away from an interview knowing I was genuinely listening to them. Making those personal connections, whether I meet someone for five minutes or spend a day working on a story with them, is one of the best parts of this job.
Eli: What’s one thing you haven’t experienced as a journalist, or achieved as one, that you want?
Caroline: There is still so much I haven’t experienced or achieved as a journalist! Even though I have several years on the job under my belt, I feel like I’m really still in the beginning of my career. I look forward to reaching new goals and working in new places in the years to come.
Eli: What would you say are the biggest opportunities and challenges for TV journalism?
Caroline: That is a big question! In recent years, the industry has changed so much as technology has changed. I’m sure it will continue to do so to keep up with new developments. One of the biggest opportunities that comes with this new technology is the ability to connect with our viewers. With social media, we can hear directly from the people who watch us – that means getting insight on what we’re doing right/wrong, reaching out to people for potential interviews, and making personal connections.
We can also get pertinent weather, traffic, or breaking news updates out to people quickly – often times helping make people safer.
New technology also gives more opportunities for creativity in storytelling! As cameras get smaller (think of the GoPro or even our iPhones), you can shoot video from different angles and perspectives like never before. It’s fun to imagine the platforms that haven’t even been invented yet, and how we will be able to incorporate those into our newscasts.
A challenge that really concerns me is some of the public’s distrust. There’s an overarching attitude that has recently developed toward “the media” and an inclination to write us off as biased, which scares me. There is no such thing as “the media” as a whole (great article on that here) because there’s so many different and new forms of media. Opinion shows on cable news networks are not the same as local TV news. From my experience in this industry, local TV journalists are working to bringing you current, factual, important stories your community faces – with no hidden agenda.
As long as we continue to do so, I think we will remain many people’s top source when they need to find out what’s going on around them.
Eli: Caroline, thanks so much for taking the time to do this! Do you have any words of advice to girls who might consider a career in TV journalism?
On the practical side – if you know you want to pursue a career in TV news, it definitely helps to go to a college with a great program for it. The training and skills I got through the Annenberg School of Journalism at USC prepared me so well for the “real world.” I took every opportunity possible at the student-run TV station to anchor, report, shoot, edit, host entertainment shows, post to the web, etc. The more skills you can develop, the better! And find internships where they not only let you shadow people in the news industry, they also let you practice stand-ups and putting together packages.
Your resume reel is what will get you a job. Be persistent and be prepared to go anywhere. I took my first job at the NBC station in Lansing, Mich., right out of college. I had never been there before and didn’t know a soul in the entire state, but I LOVED it. I never expected to move to North Carolina either, but when the opportunity came my way, I seized it. You will have to work long hours, weekend, and holidays at different points in your career. It can be tough, but it’s so worth it to do something you love.
Know your strengths and weaknesses, and always work to improve – watch people who are better than you and find mentors who can help you grow. Be kind – it goes a long way, whether you’re in the newsroom or out on the scene of a crime. Be confident in who you are and what you bring to the table – but always remain humble. Never forget it is a privilege to be trusted to tell other people’s stories, and don’t abuse the power that can come with that.
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