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An Eye into Broadcast Journalism with Taj Hall

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Tajma Hall, former Miss Teen Illinois and current student at Columbia College in Chicago where she studies broadcast journalism. In addition to being a student, Tajma is currently an intern at NBC News for the Midwestern Bureau. Between her time at NBC and pageant history, Tajma had a lot to share about being confident in front of the camera and doing news the right way.

What does a typical day at NBC look like for you?

The difference between network news and local news is that network has a broader audience. As far as journalism and the everyday emergency, that would be something that the channel 5 news would cover, whereas network covers things on a broader scale. I am really fortunate to be interning with the network news team this time of year because there is so much going on in current affairs and Chicago has been in the national spotlight every day. When there is a big story going on, a correspondent will go out to cover it, and I get to go along. I help produce the story, and they also let me shoot my own stand-up which I can use for my own demo reel. It’s really great to have the resources of the bureau at my fingertips.

I also do a lot of research for stories. That entails answering the phone for news tips and using social media to keep track of what is going on. Nowadays, when things happen, people post about it, so [NBC] relies on me to navigate through all of those websites to find news that is worthy to cover on a national level. There’s never one day that’s the same.

How do you vet your sources to find the truth?

That’s actually a really huge step in the world of reporting because anyone can post something online. You have to look for signs of authenticity in user-generated content. You have to know the signs to tell whether something is legitimate. To do this, you need to go to more than one source. When multiple people are talking about something, that is when you want to check it out.

For example, if I see something online, I won’t just give that information to my team. I will flag the tip, and then I will call the police and speak to the news affairs personnel in the office to validate the source. That is something that students don’t always know to do, but that is the protocol. You should always attribute your news to what officials have said.

What’s your favorite type of story to cover?

What hits home the most are Chicago violence stories. I am a Chicago native, so I see it from a different viewpoint than someone watching across the country. They just see that Chicago is dangerous, and I think it paints a picture of the city that is not always completely accurate. I enjoy going out on those stories and talking to people and letting them have their voices heard. When you go into these small communities you see that these issues are much deeper than many people think.

What advice do you have for other individuals interested in broadcast journalism?

First of all, make sure that it’s what you want to do. It’s not as glamorous as it seems until you get to a certain level. In the beginning, you’re going to be working in a small town, not one of the top three industries (like Chicago). Your role will be camera man and reporter. You’ll be sweaty but expected to look good on camera. It’s a lot of work, and it’s not easy. It is definitely not a job that you should get a degree in and pursue unless you’re really passionate about it.

Once you push past that, I would say that you need to perfect your craft as much as possible. You cannot be in broadcast journalism if you do not watch the news. I think people get caught up in the academia and assignments but should look at it as training for a job. I personally look at school as training for that dream job, and this is me learning the skills that I need to be the best at the job. When you think of it that way, your work comes out better, you enjoy it more, and you learn more.

What tips do you have on remaining confident in front of the camera?

One tip that a correspondent at NBC told me is to never try to memorize anything. If you write a few lines and expect yourself to recite them perfectly, you likely will not be able to do that. In the real world and doing live shots, you aren’t going to remember those lines. So, you have to do your research, talk to people, and really know what your story is about. Then jot down 2 to 3 bullet points about what you want to say rather than trying to memorize a script verbatim.

The second tip I always use is to pretend that the camera is your grandma. If you are speaking to your grandma, you are going to be polite and respectful, but you also won’t be too stiff. I also recommend practicing in the mirror.

Another tip is to talk about what you see while you are walking or riding in the car. Talk about it as though you are on TV and are reporting. Those simple drills will help with your on-camera presence if you do them consistently.

Last words of wisdom?

Persistence is key. When you have dreams, there will be road blocks along the way, and there will be people who discourage you, especially in such a competitive field. You have to go after what you want. If you fail, then you fail, but if you give up, that’s really failing. Stay confident. Get a good group around you with the same beliefs and values, and just don’t stop.

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