This Just In: Mason Students Start News Program
By Buzz McClain
When Mason student Jake McLernon puts an idea into action, he does it with admirable confidence. This semester, the first-year graduate student is producing two live television shows on George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus, in addition to working on his master of arts in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in film and video studies.
A live TV show? How fun, right? But this is broadcast television, and it’s never as easy as it sounds.
It’s 9:53 on a Tuesday morning, and McLernon, the general manager of Mason Cable Network, is hustling around the student media suite in the Hub (SUB II), frantic in an admirably controlled way. He’s making sure all the plugs of all the wires of the makeshift studio in the small conference room are connected to the right cameras, monitors, and microphones in anticipation of his latest student broadcast project, Mason Cable News.
Seven minutes until show time.
Of course, something’s not right—that’s the way it is in the broadcast industry, a business where Murphy’s Law is the expectation, not the exception. There’s a disturbing echo coming from somewhere in the sound system, and with mere minutes left until airtime for the new live news program, you would think there would be rising panic.
Instead, the room is oddly calm. News anchors Lauren Waldron and Joanne Smathers laugh nervously in anticipation of airtime and re-read their scripts at the desk where cameras are pointing; the small team of unruffled production assistants (PAs) is tracing each electronic connection, trying to find the offending component. Three minutes to air.
Then a PA notices a cable in a Mac on the monitor table has an open telephone microphone. “That’s it, has to be,” McLernon agrees, and the wire is swiftly replaced with seconds to spare. He gets his anchors’ attention and counts down from five seconds before giving Waldron her cue to start another broadcast of Mason Cable News.
The program’s format features two sets of two anchors—either Waldron and Taylor Davis or Smathers and Tyler Byrum—presenting topical information before “throwing” the show to Katherine Morgenegg’s interview segment. Morgenegg, a reporter for Connect2Mason, is a natural interviewer and her piece on Greek life on this debut day goes smoothly despite her admitted nervousness.
Reporter Megan Hughes and videographer Emileigh Radcliff produce specialized stories from the field, covering all aspects of campus activities.
With the help of the three PAs—usually Stephanie Cassidy, Jack Reilly, and Rob Horan—McLernon has been providing the George Mason community with news briefs, calendar updates, and topical interviews (including those Skyped in from the Arlington Campus) since early February.
All cast and crew members are Mason students and volunteers. Many of them hustle out the door once the cameras are off to make it to class on time, but they’re each motivated to put on a good show.
“I want to be a news reporter,” says Smathers of her career aspirations, “an anchor, and possibly, hopefully, one day have my own talk show. I think I can really do it.”
Smathers is a senior communication major with a concentration in public relations, but she says, “I’m really interested in journalism. And with this show I love having the on-camera, scriptwriting, and reporting experience.”
Last fall, she had an internship at WTTG-Fox 5 in Washington, D.C. “I wasn’t sure if that’s what I really wanted to do, but once I did the internship, I knew I really wanted to do news.”
She never expected to anchor a news show as a student, she says, “but now I have this opportunity and it’s amazing.”
Waldron, a freshman, echoes the sentiment. The communication major with a double minor (political philosophy and electronic journalism, with a concentration in persuasive and political communication) finds that anchoring the show on Tuesdays “is great practice.”
During her last year in high school, she interned with a talk show in Roanoke, Virginia. “I got a little bit of producing experience,” she says, “but I wanted more on-camera experience and scriptwriting.” A former opinion writer for Connect2Mason, which shares space with Mason Cable Network, she learned about the Mason Cable News after meeting McLernon. “Jake explained to me the future opportunities that would be involved in broadcasting as a part of the Office of Student Media.”
And those opportunities would seem to be as boundless as McLernon’s energy and enthusiasm for expanding Mason Cable Network. McLernon is known as “Jolly” Jake, a moniker popularized by his photography Facebook page.
Originally a marketing major, McLernon took the advice of a mentor who suggested he look into public relations. After an internship with Northrup Grumman “which I loved, and learned a lot,” he says, he fell into journalism after taking classes with Mason communication professor Steve Klein. “I realized that’s what I want to do with my life.”
The idea behind Mason Cable News, he says, “is to inform the Mason nation of news that relates directly to them and influences their day.” And for his volunteers, “The benefits of being [on the crew or cast] is, you are gaining experience at a school that doesn’t necessarily have these opportunities readily available. You’re gaining experience at a student media organization that is constantly growing, that is looking to improve as it goes, and that will bring the volunteer students with them.”
And as for Jolly Jake?
“I want to become a video journalist or go into the television news industry,” he says. “I realized coming back to Mason was a necessary step to doing that.”
Mason Cable News airs live at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays on the Mason Cable Network channel 231; recorded episodes are available at the Mason Cable News website.
To read more stories about Mason, check out the university’s News site.