Few people have had a faster start in TV journalism than Royce Jones, who started working on the air long before graduating from college. He joined KDKA as a freelance anchor and reporter in January 2020 when he was a senior at Point Park University, after working at WTRF in Wheeling, West Virginia, as a junior.
What’s his secret? Work hard, take every opportunity, and, oh yeah, be nice.
Q: When did you first know that you wanted to be on television and why?
A: When I was in kindergarten, on my half days, I would stay with my Gug (Grandma) after school until my mom could pick me up after work. We would sit at her kitchen table for hours watching the soaps, the talk shows and the evening news. I was mesmerized at the ability of the actors and personalities to capture people’s attention through the screen.
I remember my Gug flipping through the news channels and seeing people like Vince Sims and Darieth Chisolm. … It was inspiring to see people who looked like me, talking to me. Those were some of the first moments that I knew in my gut I wanted to tell stories, just like they did.
Q: You got a fast start in college by landing an internship from the Emma Bowen Foundation (EBF), a nonprofit for communication students of color. How did you get that opportunity and why was that so important?
A: I was attending an Easter celebration at my cousin Katie’s house. One of her friends happened to work in media, and knew somebody similar to me in age who was an EBF Fellow. She decided to connect us. Soon after, I was put into contact with Sandra Rice, senior vice president of recruitment. After a somewhat rigorous interview and application process, the rest was history and KDKA would become my summer home for two years.
The Emma Bowen Foundation is such an important tool for communications students of color because it puts you in rooms with people who you would otherwise have no access to. It allows you to learn from the very best in the industry and gives you an immediate foot in the door and all of the tools you need to tear the door down and break into the business.
Q: Before you graduated from college, you started working part-time at WTRF in Wheeling – and then you turned that into a job at KDKA. What was the secret to your early successes?
A: There is no secret to my success, just hard work and determination. As an Emma Bowen Fellow, I was able to work alongside some of the most talented people journalism has to offer. I showed up. I showed up early. I helped out. I took notes. I wrote script copy for anchors and reporters. I did interviews. I went to breaking news. And all of this allowed me to craft a pretty impressive demo reel for a kid my age. So, I sent that reel to Brenda Danehart, news director at WTRF.
Brenda gave me my first shot in the business. I never took that for granted. In fact, that made me want to work even harder to prove myself and become more competitive. My goal was to return home to Pittsburgh before graduation so I could care for my mother. And because of the hard work I previously put in at KDKA as an EBF Fellow and my proven growth, I was able to do that, with a special thanks to Kathy Hostetter, news director at KDKA, who also took a chance on me.
Bottom line, it’s all about setting goals, both immediate and long-term, as well as discipline. Tell yourself what you want to do. Map out a timeline. And spend every possible moment doing something that’s going to help you get there.
All of this came with sacrifices too. There were many parties, events and quality time with friends and family that I was forced to turn down because of my busy schedule, but through those sacrifices, I was able to accomplish a dream and that’s much more important.
Q: What have you learned from working full time that you did not realize when you were still in school?
A: Time management. When you’re in college, you hear from working professionals all the time about the frighteningly tight deadlines of the TV news industry. The deadlines are real. They are no joke. And they sneak up on you.
Q: What’s your best advice for a young person who wants to get into TV reporting?
A: Be willing to learn. Be willing to grow. Be open to critique. Make sure your heart is in it for the right reasons. Always be curious. And most importantly, be kind to people. A good heart goes a long way.
Q: What are some key strategies you are developing to keep growing in your career?
A: I just hope to be the best journalist I can be for the communities I serve and represent. Career growth will come by trusting the process. And I have a few guardian angels who will guide my path.
Royce Jones will appear with his mentor, Olga George, at the Center for Media Innovation for a lunchtime event on Thursday, Sept. 30, to talk about mentorship. The event, which also features Tony Norman and Sara Bauknecht of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, marks the culmination of a series of columns about local journalists who have found success: Paul Martino, Kelly Sasso and Sue McFarland.
Registration is free; RSVP is required.
The founding director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, Andrew Conte writes the On Media column at NEXTpittsburgh with support from The Heinz Endowments. You can find all of his columns here, and you can email him.