JACKSON, Tenn. – Sept. 3, 2003 – On a wall of monitors flash the images of a fair, a football game, an astronomer, a script and a reporter repositioning her microphone. All these pictures are puzzle pieces about to be assembled into the broadcast of WBBJ's 10 o'clock news, based on the design of Union University senior Elizabeth Shackelford.
Shackelford serves as producer of the show, a role which gives her creative control of the newscast. She chooses what stories will air, writes the scripts the anchors read and makes certain that the live broadcast is timed to the second.
Shackelford began as an intern at the station, a role which is usually limited to observation, according to WBBJ News Director David Christopher.
"We try to keep them from getting in the way of the newscast," he said. Shackelford, however, "wanted nothing to do with observing."
Shackelford's internship began on a Monday. The following Thursday, the producer of Live at 5, Christiana Coleman, was working on a special on the May 5 tornado which hit Jackson. Without being asked, Shackelford decided to help Coleman by writing the script for the five o'clock newscast.
"I knew that even if I made mistakes, it would be easier for [Coleman] to fix them than to start with nothing. Since I had written the show, she let me booth that night," Shackelford said.
During that newscast, Christopher discovered Shackelford was not in the traditional out of the way spot.
"I asked the producer, 'Where is the intern?' She said, 'she's in the [production] booth.' I said, 'Do you mean she's doing the show?' She said, 'Yes.' I was amazed."
A few weeks later, a full-time position became available and Shackelford got the job.
When Shackelford began the broadcasting program at Union, she was planning to become an on-air reporter. Working on Union Broadcasting System productions, she had the opportunity to report, to anchor and to see what each member of a production team does.
"I learned that the production couldn't go on without every person," she said.
Ultimately, she decided that the role of producer was a better fit for her.
"Producing is much more writing. I love to write," said Shackelford.
A graduate of Ridgeway High School in southwestern Shelby County, she had written for and edited a section of her high school newspaper. When choosing a career, however, she felt broadcasting was a better long-term plan.
"I love the pace of television," she said. "People are running in and out of edit bays and grabbing cameras. The police scanner is going all the time. I love the noise."
Shackelford credits Union broadcasting professor Steve Beverly with teaching her to write and edit news for television. Beverly, a 20-year broadcasting veteran, is also responsible for setting up the internship which led to her current position.
"She has a great curiosity about news, and she's a quick study," Beverly said. "A producer has to have an even tempered demeanor. You have to be able to keep your cool when every one else is panicking." Shackelford has that ability, he said.
"There is a drastic shortage of good producers," said Christopher. "You need to have somebody who understands the local community and has the ability to put [the news] together in an interesting format. She brought all that to the table."
Christopher credited Shackelford's success to a combination of natural talent and the preparation she has received at Union. The university's broadcasting program is "doing it right," he said.
WBBJ anchor Brad Douglas agreed. "Her education [at Union] has proved invaluable," he said. "I think it has been an exceptional benefit for her." Douglas has also reaped the benefits of a Union education. He graduated from the university in 1986.
Shackelford took heavy course loads early in her Union career with the intention of having a lighter load as a senior. She had expected to spend the extra time searching for a job. Instead, she will be doing the job she had hoped to find.
"I would not recommend this for every student," said Beverly, regarding Shackelford's decision to work full time while taking a full course load. Based on the discipline she has shown in his classes, however, he believes Shackelford can do both well.
According to Beverly, Shackelford's decision to pursue producing is a wise career move which other broadcasting students should consider.
"It's very hard for a lot of stations to find good producers," he said. "If [students] have the skills and the news curiosity, they will be on a quicker career path."
Christopher said he expects to see Shackelford producing network news someday.
"She will go as far as she wants to go," he said.