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UW COM students go on a tour of Q13 FOX News Studio with alumna Kaci Aitchison

June 2, 2014

Kaci Aitchison, David Domke, and students behind the anchors' desk at Q13 FOX studio.

Kaci Aitchison, David Domke, and students behind the anchors’ desk at Q13 FOX studio. [Photo courtesy of UW Department of Communications]

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at your favorite news station? I sure did and I got the opportunity thanks to the Department of Communication’s (UW COM) Career Exploration Tour program.

On May 12, I was one of seven students who toured Q13 FOX News studio in Seattle. We were greeted by UW COM alumna Kaci Aitchison, former anchor and current features reporter on Q13 FOX. Aitchison started out at 106.1 KISS FM and moved to the TV realm in August 2009 when she joined the Q13 FOX News team. Since then, she’s served as the backstage host for The International, an annual Dota 2 championship (a multiplayer online battle arena hosted in Seattle), and was voted 2013 Best Local TV Personality in Western Washington in a KING 5 contest. It’s safe to say that for soon-to-be-graduates, Aitchison was a very exciting person to meet.

First we strolled through the newsroom. It’s not unlike any other newsroom, stuffed with computer stations and journalists busily writing or researching their stories, except for TV screens hanging around the room helping to monitor local and worldwide news.

Then we visited the studio upstairs that consists of three rooms: the master control room, the control room, and the set where the anchors report the news.  In the master control room,  a wall of flat screen TVs is filled with different shows, news channels, etc, which helps to monitor the news and ensure that shows and commercials are running smoothly and the live connection of in-the-field reporters with the studio is secure.

Master Control Room of Q13 FOX News [Photo by Valeria Koulikova]

Master Control Room of Q13 FOX News [Photo by Valeria Koulikova]

 The control room is where everything you see on the screen is controlled. The director chooses which camera to cue in next, the producer communicates with everybody on the air and reporters in the field, and coders make sure that the text and visuals are correctly coded and in the right order.

“Sometimes things don’t go as planned and you have to improvise,” said Aitchison. “Whether it’s a broken connection with the studio or a delay with getting some new information, a reporter has to be quickly on top of that. Sometimes I’d stand there in front of the camera repeating my story over and over again before I get the go ahead from the producer that they are ready for me to stop talking already!”

On the set, we got to sit behind the anchors’ desk while Aitchison told us fun and inspiring stories about things that have happened to her on the air. Aitchison used to be an anchor but made a decision to go back to being a reporter because she loves to be out in the field with the community and the anchor’s desk doesn’t allow for that kind of freedom. I can relate since reporting is probably my favorite part of journalism. Getting to personally meet new people, getting to know their life stories and share them with the audiences, is something special.

I was sorry to learn on the tour that Q13 FOX no longer accepts interns, which makes it one less broadcast station where beginners can get experience in Seattle. I also learned how this industry continues to take a financial and technological hit. It was sad to find out that now cameras on the set are operated from within the control room by the director. On the one hand, it’s great that technology allows for this kind of convenience but, on the other, it takes away jobs from camera operators and makes it somewhat impersonal. Some stations still have the privilege of a professional behind the camera, but more and more are losing them to a cheaper labor of technology.

Kaci Aitchison of Q13 FOX News [Photo courtesy of UW Communications Department]

Kaci Aitchison of Q13 FOX News [Photo courtesy of UW Communications Department]

Some broadcast professionals that presented at previous UW COM career events were a bit pessimistic about where one is to get their start in the industry. Aitchison, on the other hand, based on her experience was more positive about opportunities in broadcast.

“I’m one of those people who don’t think that you need to move to Yakima to start in or get a degree in broadcast,” she said. “You can record a tape and send it out to as many stations as you want. You need to grab attention. You can reach out to the hiring department about your application. Communication skills are your best friend in this case.”

This made me feel a bit better about the possibility of going into broadcast. I’ve already interned in broadcast at RT.com and loved every minute of it. However, I did struggle with the camera. When I was being recorded, my eyes looked anywhere but straight at the camera. I forgot my English and was just really nervous. I asked Aitchison for her tricks to be friends with the camera.

“I pretend to talk someone who’s really close to me,” she said. “I pretend that my grandma is sitting right by the camera and that I’m just talking to her and telling her the story. Also, I’d suggest taking improvisation classes. You can’t even imagine how much of a help it is when you are left on your own with the camera.”

Q13 FOX names all of their satellite trucks after the Simpson characters. Behold Marge! [Photo by Valeria Koulikova]

Q13 FOX names all of their satellite trucks after the Simpson characters. Behold – Marge! [Photo by Valeria Koulikova]

Overall, the tour of Q13 FOX was a great experience and a great behind-the-scenes look at what broadcast journalism on the local level is all about. And I love the UW Communication Department for providing such opportunities through its Career Exploration Tour program. In addition to this tour, students this year went to LA and NYC (for just $100, thanks to generous donors!!) and visited headquarters of Teen Vogue, Facebook, and ESPN, among others.

“I hope students are able to see what different career options they have as Comm majors,” said Arianna Aldebot, Head of Student Programs at UW COM. “The communications major is so broad and these trips highlight the successful careers and career paths our alumni have. Students can not only get fabulous career advice but can also get a bird’s eye view of what it is like to work for these different organizations.”

I can’t argue with that! Right before my graduation I got a reassurance that this is something I definitely want to do if I get the chance and after I weigh in my determination with getting to the studio at 2 a.m. for a morning show.

Fellow communication majors, take advantage of this program! It’s something I’m glad I got the chance to do.

Students behind the anchors' desk at Q13 FOX News [Photo courtesy of UW Communications Department]

Students behind the anchors’ desk at Q13 FOX News [Photo courtesy of UW Communications Department]

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