An Unlikely Meeting Place
On the western border of Illinois, where Iowa and Missouri meet, a group of five Southeastern University alumni have built a community and created a home away from home at a local television station.
Charity Bell ’19 was the first to relocate to Quincy, Illinois, beginning as a multimedia journalist in February of 2020 at the NBC affiliate, WGEM radio station. In June of 2022, three more alumni joined the station. Victoria Bordenga ’22 and Shaqaille Mccamick ’22 signed on as multimedia journalists, and Jamese Mclendon ’20 was hired as a master control operator. The last to make the move was Isaiah Haywood ’22, who accepted a position as a digital news producer towards the end of the summer.
As a tri-state news station, WGEM reaches 16 counties in the regions of Quincy, Illinois, Hannibal, Missouri, and Keokuk, Iowa. Charity’s journey at WGEM began with a Facebook group. “A couple of weeks before graduation, I found this group for professionals in the news industry from all different positions. At this point, I had already applied to at least eleven other places, but I happened to notice a post advertising an open spot for a multimedia journalist,” she recalled.
A producer from WGEM had advertised the job. After creating her own website and reel to showcase her work, Charity submitted them directly over Facebook Messenger. Within the next few weeks, she was connected with the station’s news director and began the interview process. In the second round of interviews, WGEM flew her out to the station to meet the staff and get a sense of the environment and company culture.
“As soon as I got there, I just had this sense of peace. I knew that it was where I was supposed to be,” Charity recalled. “For so long I knew that I wanted to be a reporter, so those fears of moving away from home and starting from scratch couldn’t stop me.” After accepting the position, Charity graduated in the fall of 2019 and within less than a month, she was already moved into her new place in Illinois and diving in headfirst at WGEM.
Since then, Charity has been promoted to weekend anchor. She hosts WGEM’s 10 p.m. broadcast on Saturday and Sunday with no co-anchor. Charity acts as a content manager, producing the show and overseeing the other reporters’ scripts. “I ensure that every story that we want covered gets covered,” commented Charity. “And if there’s breaking news, I’m usually the one to make the call on if we send a reporter out to the scene.”
Between becoming accustomed to the fast pace of the news industry and navigating the ins and outs of her new leadership role, Charity has had to learn to adjust. “Every single day is different. I’ve definitely had to learn how to roll with the punches and be able to move on from the difficult moments. In this industry, you have to be able to keep the momentum going and work hard — even on the days that are tough,” she expressed.
Charity continued, “What’s really helped me is knowing that my station is based around teamwork. Anytime that I’m struggling, I can seek guidance from the news director, coworkers and other reporters. It’s made me realize that I don’t have to do it all on my own, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help.”
Victoria and Shaqaille
With very similar experiences, Victoria and Shaqaille have also learned the significance of leaning on each other during the adjustment to their new careers and post-grad life.
Victoria and Shaqaille both accepted their positions around the same time, and even started as multimedia journalists on the same day. “It’s really reassuring to have someone else who is in the same exact boat as you,” emphasized Victoria. “It made the transition moving from Florida to Illinois a lot more comfortable.”
Shaqaille added, “We’ve really been able to be a source of support for each other. We’re both in the same stage of life, navigating our first job out of college and learning on the fly.”
Both Shaqaille and Victoria had received encouragement to look into the station from their SEU broadcasting and journalism professor, Dr. Adrienne Garvey.
“The tendency of so many graduates is to shoot for high-ranking positions right out of school. While that sort of ambition is admirable, it robs students of opportunities for growth,” said Garvey. “I started my own television career in a small market. Looking back now, I see the value in the lessons I learned in the small markets.”
At the time, Victoria was looking to relocate to the northeast and Shaqaille was torn between another offer in South Dakota. However, after connecting with the news director and completing their interviews, they were both able to see it was the right fit. Shaqaille accepted the position and signed her contract an hour before she participated in SEU’s commencement ceremony.
“I have wanted to do on-camera work since middle school — that’s where my passion lies. I knew that I had to go and do what I actually wanted to do, even if it meant moving out of my comfort zone,” Shaqaille said.
Victoria, who has loved writing since elementary school and has cultivated an interest in sports broadcasting said, “As soon as I got my offer, I knew it was God opening the door for me.”
As multimedia journalists, Victoria and Shaqaille are each responsible for reporting on three different counties. Their days consist of pitching story ideas from their assigned areas and going out into the community to conduct interviews and shoot footage. Once they have everything they need, Victoria and Shaqaille return to the office to edit their shots and write scripts to go with their stories. They also convert their stories to a short, web-based format for the station’s website. On occasion, they’ll even go live in the newsroom or the studio to report their story directly.
“It’s a very quick turnaround process, but at the end of the day when the story is done, it just makes it worth it,” commented Victoria.
On weekends, Victoria and Shaqaille work with Charity, who oversees their content and approves their scripts. Charity explained, “Having the common ground between us from taking the same classes and sharing similar experiences at Southeastern allows me to know how to best encourage them in the work environment.”
Charity recruited her friend and fellow alumna, Jamese, similarly to how she recruited Shaqaille. Originally, Charity had encouraged Jamese to apply for a multimedia journalist position.
“I had been working in radio at the time, and I was looking for something different,” Jamese remembered. “Charity knew I had experience on-air, so she mentioned her station was hiring. I happened to see that they also had a master control position open, and I figured it could be a foot in the door.”
Now, Jamese works on the production side of news television, monitoring WGEM’s four stations as the master control operator. She oversees and organizes the lists and logs for each network, scheduling shows and commercials throughout the week. “I basically work to keep everything running and ensure the newscast is flowing smoothly as a whole,” Jamese said.
During live shows and sporting events, Jamese has to manually enter commercials during the breaks. She also schedules pre-recorded shows and keeps the most popular, highly-rated productions in rotation.
Jamese commented, “I think I’ve just been in awe of learning what really goes on behind the scenes in what we see every day on television. The journalists, the producers — everyone plays a part.”
The station also functions to create digital content, and Dr. Garvey recommended Isaiah to look into working as a digital news producer. Now, Isaiah is responsible for WGEM’s website and social media content, as well as the digital exclusive content that goes onto the station’s app. He writes web stories and highlights stories that come from Gray Television, WGEM’s parent company. One of his main objectives is to drive traffic to the station’s website and social media.
“So far, I’ve learned that news is quick. You really don’t have a second to waste,” Isaiah emphasized. “I’ve been able to apply a lot of the principles I’ve learned in my classes at Southeastern, and seeing my hard work pay off is the most exciting part.”
Community from Common Ground
Although there is limited crossover and collaboration between all five alumni within the station setting, they make an effort to spend time together outside of work hours. “We hang out all the time,” Charity said. “We’ll throw barbecues, pool parties or just get together for dinner.”
“To see these relationships that were first born at Southeastern, to now see them states away at the same workplace — it’s surreal.” Jamese added.
None of these recent graduates intentionally set out to establish careers in Illinois, yet they’ve been able to come together and create a special bond.
“I am beyond proud of the crew that landed at WGEM. Every one of them proved to be a leader in our program during their time at SEU. They are lifetime learners. This is just the first step of many toward the calling the Lord has placed on their lives,” said Dr. Garvey.
As for the future of the five alumni, they all have aspirations to branch out and further advance their careers in the news industry. Charity’s next step is to move closer to her family by relocating to Georgia or back to Florida. Victoria is striving to enter the world of sports broadcasting and dreams of working on-air for ESPN or the NFL Network. Shaqaille is aiming to shift into entertainment reporting and Jamese’s ultimate goal is to do sports production. Isaiah hopes to work his way up to a leadership position at a television station.