I meet people all the time who ask for advice about transitioning to a new field. In this occasional series, I’ll ask friends with cool jobs five questions about how they got to where they are today. This post features Melissa Ross, host of WJCT’s First Coast Connect.
1. Did you always know you wanted to work in your field? Was yours a straight course, or did you back into / fall into a job that led you to the career?
Yes- I anchored a closed-circuit TV newscast at my high school and I studied journalism and communications in college. I actually left broadcast journalism for several years before going back into it. I worked in public relations for a while and learned an incredible amount.
2. What skill is the most valuable one you developed for your success? Was it a skill you learned in school / college, or one you learned on the job?
If you had asked me this 10 or 20 years ago I would have probably said my writing ability was most important. But as I have gotten older I have learned (often the hard way) that people skills are even more important. Being able to really hear what the other person is saying, where they’re coming from. Seeking first to understand, before being understood. This is a skill set that is vital in any profession.
Note: People often think that broadcasting is mostly about talking. My experience with reporters is that the best ones know how to listen as well as they speak.
3. What do you wish you knew then (early in your career) that you know now?
When you’re young you have so much to prove. You are eager to show everyone how good you are. I would tell my younger self to be more self-effacing and seek the counsel of the older, wiser people around me. The older I get, the smarter they get! You also learn that life isn’t fair. The best person doesn’t always get the job. As you get older, you become much more philosophical about that.
4. What is the biggest misperception about your career or industry?
That it’s high-paying!
Note: It’s a painful truth about many glamorous jobs: competition is fierce, and talented people move around from city to city for years to find a market that pays well or get their chance at a national slot.
5. What advice would you give someone considering going into this field?
Read everything. Study. Be intellectually curious about the world. Treat life like a big school.
Melissa says: “I think people assume my job is easy, glamorous and fun. While it IS fun, it’s sort of like the duck smoothly swimming along a lake with seemingly no effort but his webbed feet are furiously padding below. I spend a lot of time researching, reading, doing “show prep” for my guests. Also, you have to be very disciplined about time. You have to hit certain deadlines and “marks” every day to produce an hour-long program. You also have to be flexible and nimble when things fall apart or fall through.
I gained that discipline over 20 years of meeting daily deadlines in TV news. So ultimately I am a ‘content provider,’ and it’s challenging but rewarding to produce compelling content- a high volume- under tight deadlines.”
Summary: Hitting your marks every day – and making it look effortless to the casual audience member – is a challenging way to make a living. It takes hours of preparation and hard work to produce every few minutes of live broadcast media. If you think you’re a “natural,” congratulations. Only 10,000 hours of practice to go.
First Coast Connect host/producer Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.
As executive producer of The 904: Shadow on the Sunshine State, Melissa and WJCT received an Emmy in the “Documentary” category at the 2011 Suncoast Emmy Awards. The 904 examined Jacksonville’s status as Florida’s murder capital.
In June 2011, WJCT’s First Coast Connect received a national award from Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). The program captured First Place in the “Call-In Program” category.
First Coast Connect was recognized this year as Best Local Radio Show by Folio Weekly’s “Best Of Jax” Readers Poll and for the second consecutive year Melissa Ross has been recognized as Folio Weekly’s Best Local Radio Personality.
Prior to joining WJCT, Melissa spent three years in the corporate communications field at Jacksonville’s Dalton Agency. During her stint at Dalton, she was cast in the HBO film Recount, playing- what else- a reporter!
Melissa is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism/Communications. She is a featured blogger on the Huffington Post website and a fill-in columnist at Jacksonville’s flagship newspaper, the Florida Times-Union.