In March 2020, Morgan Parrish ’16 began arriving at work at 3 a.m. to cover the coronavirus pandemic for WBRE-TV/WYOU-TV in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. As part of the station’s emergency response to the pandemic, her schedule had shifted from her regular hours of 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., and she began producing six live shots a day instead of two.
Passionate about her work and dedicated to having a positive impact in the community, Parrish said, “I always want to make a difference by telling positive stories. I hope that people will watch my stories and feel a bit inspired and realize this isn’t going to last forever. Through my work, my writing, and the stories that I share, I always try to connect with the viewers and say ‘I know what you are going through, I know it’s tough times, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Things are going to get better.’”
It’s now July, and Parrish will begin a new career adventure on July 13: she is moving to Cincinnati, Ohio, to work at Fox 19 as a day-time reporter. “I will be a general assignment reporter, covering anything that’s going on. Whatever the news of the day is, I will run after it,” Parrish said.
Parrish will also receive her first award this year. It is a Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters Award for a piece she did that was part of a documentary series at WBRE in 2019 called “Hidden History: Honoring Black History Month.” The award ceremony was supposed to be in April 2020, but it is being rescheduled due to COVID-19.
Parrish majored in Journalism and Media Studies and following her graduation from SC&I in 2016, she spent a year in Fargo, North Dakota working as a Multimedia Journalist/Reporter at KVRR-FOX.
Parrish said SC&I provided her with an ideal environment in which to learn, practice and prepare for a challenging career as a journalist. As a Rutgers undergraduate, Parrish held four internships between 2014 and 2016. Four were in New York City, where she interned as a Digital Media Intern for NBC Universal Media, LLC, “The Today Show”; a Production Intern for NBC Universal Inc., on “The Meredith Vieira Show”; and as a Production Intern at NBC Universal, Inc. on “The Today Show (Weekend Edition).” She also interned in Philadelphia at ABC Television (Walt Disney Television) as a Programming/Production Intern.
“SC&I taught me how to hustle,” Parrish said. “Whether it was working at RUTV, and doing my internships, and talking all of my journalism classes all in one semester, SC&I taught me how to manage my time. It was not easy doing all of that in college.”
While Parrish has had extensive training, she said working during this extraordinarily challenging time has still been an adjustment. She said having to report so early for the morning show and managing the increase in workload since March has really been different. But it has been good practice, Parrish said. “The more live shots I do the better I get at it. I’ve gotten to the point that I can go to a scene, write something fast, and knock out a live shot pretty quickly.”
Covering the pandemic has also meant she needed to adjust from doing in-person interviews to zoom and skype interviews because schools and businesses were closed. “That was new for me, Parrish said. “I am so used to going out and conducting interviews, and then I was just doing video interviews, not meeting anyone in person.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, Parrish said her aim was to provide the most important and current information possible about COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. She said many of her stories covered the locations of the testing sites, the number of people in the local county or nearby counties who had tested positive, what was happening at local hospitals, Pennsylvania Governor Wolf’s announcements about safety guidelines, and recommendations from the CDC.
While she said making sure her audiences were informed as possible was her reporting strategy at first, Parrish she said she soon began to shift her reporting a bit. “I began to think it would be best to start focusing on some of the positive things that were going on. I started asking people how they were coping, and reporting stories such as how the schools were providing free lunches for children even though school was out. I shared what businesses had begun to do to help the community, and forums that were being held. One story I did that I really loved covered the ways alcoholics are coping with the pandemic, because churches are closed and that’s where AA meetings are held. I kept the names of the people I spoke with anonymous. One person I spoke with talked about keeping his faith and finding groups online and on Facebook and connecting with people all around the world who are in the same situation. So I shifted to finding the positives because I thought, people can turn on the TV and watch national news and it’s so depressing -- I wanted local people here to not feel that everything is so bad, I wanted to try to find the light.”
Recently, Parrish said, her reporting strategy has shifted again. “Counties are now opening back up and now we are reporting on racial injustice. So that’s another layer. A few weeks ago, I covered two protests, which was actually really good.
Asked if she feels safe reporting the news right now, Parrish said, “I feel I do have an extra layer of fear that I’ve never had before. There are two reasons I feel this way. The first is that there is so much anger and hatred toward journalists right now. People are blaming the media for the coverage when we are really just reporting the facts. The second reason is I am a young African American woman out by myself reporting. I don’t have a photographer with me all the time. That is scary, especially with everything going on right now, during this time where there is so much racial injustice, and such a divide. Combining those two creates an extra level of fear that wasn’t there before.”
Parrish said in the past when she wanted to include a reaction from a member of the local community in a story, she would go into neighborhoods and knock on doors, and interview random residents. “Now I feel a little bit nervous going out,” Parrish said. “For example, today I had to do a live shot kind of out in the middle of nowhere and I didn’t feel comfortable knocking on doors. So, I waited until I saw someone walking a dog and luckily it worked out. But especially in today’s climate, it makes things a little bit more difficult than it was just six months ago.”
On the other hand, Parrish said, there are some positive aspects to working as a journalist during this time when reporters are being accused of reporting “fake news” and “misinformation” and even being harassed. She said, “I think it’s a motivator for journalists to get out the facts and report the news right now. I say, don’t hold back. Right now, I’ve been watching reporters all across the world enhancing their storytelling and being active and really clear about what’s going on. Some people think we are reporting fake news and that we as journalists are blowing everything out of proportion, but the stories we are telling right now are catching the eyes of some big people and that’s how changes will be made.
“If we weren’t here to cover the protests and riots would these officers be charged? The past couple of weeks we’ve seen more bills being passed, and other changes being made, and laws being addressed at a level that we haven’t seen in decades, and it’s because journalists are getting the story out and reporting the facts about the injustice and racism. While it is a scary time to be a journalist in some ways, it is also a great time to be a journalist! It’s a really interesting time. In these past three months I’ve probably told more compelling stories than I have in the past couple of years.”
Looking back on her Rutgers education, Parrish said in addition to learning how to move fast at SC&I in order to manage her incredibly busy schedule, she also traces her current success to what she learned in her SC&I classes. “One class I really loved was Media Ethics and Law,” Parrish said. “As a journalist, you are constantly trying to tell the story and be unbiased. This is really hard.” Asked for how she advises novice reporters to avoid including bias in their stories, Parrish said “I get around this by letting the people I interview tell the story. I take some of their most compelling sound bites and let them tell it, and I just write the facts.”
In terms of advice for ways current JMS students can best manage their time, Parrish said what works for her is to “write things out and make a schedule. I used to be disorganized and work on the fly, now I realize I have to schedule things out. I use the notes in my phone. I always have my phone in my hand, so it’s easy for me to hit the notes and see what I jotted down. Another piece of advice? Get your rest. I used to stay up late for no reason at all, I was just up, watching TV, and now I know the more rest I get the more ready I am to conquer the day.”
Another great piece of advice she learned at SC&I, she said is, “Don’t be afraid to go to the crazy markets to get your start. This is something I learned at SC&I. Steve Miller always told us, ‘your first job will not be in New York City. It’s not going to be in Philadelphia. You are going to have to go the distance.’ At first, I didn’t believe him, I thought I would be in a top city, and then I ended up getting a job in Fargo, North Dakota. And it was the best decision ever. It was a good starting point because to make your mistakes at a smaller market is not as awful. Make your inevitable mistakes in a small market, and get them out of your system there, as opposed to starting in a bigger market where if you make a mistake it’s going to be a much bigger deal. Starting out in a smaller market is also really hands on. I learned everything out there during that year in Fargo. How to shoot, how to write, how to edit, and you really learn how to hustle because you don’t have a photographer with you.
“Also, it sounds cliché, but I also advise students: don’t give up on your dreams. There have been so many times that I’ve wanted to quit, and I’ve second guessed myself about whether this is really what I want to do. But in just three years I went from started out in Fargo which I think is market 115, to jumping to Cincinnati, market 36. Keep pushing forward, and make sure you have mentors. I have a lot of mentors and I feel like without them I would definitely be struggling.”
Older people in the business and people she keeps up with from her internships are her primary mentors, Parrish said. She is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and she networks with members of the National Association of Journalists, so she has a lot of mentors from both organizations. “People who are in the field can offer great advice, Parrish said. “There are days when you are going to want to vent and days that you are not sure what your next step is going to be. You might not get the best advice by talking to friends who are not in the industry. After I was offered the Cincinnati job, I talked with my mentors all week and we had really great conversations thinking out the pros and cons and they were really beneficial.”
One of her mentors she met in high school, Parrish said. “When I was in high school a journalist named Meg Baker who works for CBS New York came in and spoke to us. I remember admiring her, and every time she needed to interview students in new Jersey or at Rutgers, she would call me. She really inspired me, so I love talking to younger people about the industry and helping them out any way I can.”
Looking forward to the future, Parrish said, “I am going to get out to Cincinnati in July, and then we will have a couple of months of “regular” reporting, which will be crazy enough, and then we will jump into election season from September to November. It’s going to be nonstop. I am preparing myself, but for me this is a thrill. I look at it as a challenge, and I am ready to tackle this. I am definitely excited.”