Life Without a Script
This is an article from the spring 2016 issue of LSA Magazine. Read more stories from the magazine.
Camille Edwards (A.B. ’88) remembers exactly what got her hooked on the news as a kid. Growing up, her family would eat dinner together each night, sitting around the table and discussing her dad’s business, the day’s events, and what was going on in the world. It thrilled her. By the time she was a teenager, she knew that she’d be a reporter one day.
She was right. Today, she is the vice president and news director for WABC-TV—ABC’s flagship station—leading a team of more than 100 people to become the top-rated news operation in the New York tri-state region.
Edwards was born in Delaware but moved around a lot, first to Detroit, then St. Louis, then back to Rochester, Michigan. Her father ran a Chrysler manufacturing plant, passing on to his daughter a practical business sense and a drive to succeed. In high school, she was already hard at work realizing her dream, becoming the student newspaper’s features editor, and even snagging an interview with a local television anchor during her tenure there.
She applied to Michigan—her dream school—and got in, where she pursued a degree in communication studies.
“Michigan prepared me for the career I’m in now,” she says. “It helped me figure out how to be aggressive, and how to ask for what I needed out of professors and classes.”
Let's Go to the Tape
As a student at U-M, she interned at several Detroit-area television stations, learning the basics of the business. After graduation, she was hired at WDIV in Detroit.
“I was a desk assistant,” she says. “I helped with scripts, answered phone calls, got coffee ... I just absorbed everything I could.”
Edwards worked at the station from 4:00 a.m. to noon. After that, she’d drive to her father’s auto plant, where she did a shift that ended at 9:00 p.m. In her few moments of spare time, she received advice and mentorship from Emery King, one of the station’s anchors, who also helped her put together a sample tape of her reporting.
Finally, her résumé was ready, and she mailed her first tape out. And was rejected. “Back then, you’d get a letter of rejection instead of an email,” says Edwards. Edwards submitted dozens more tapes, receiving rejection after rejection. But Edwards was undeterred; she pressed on, convinced that she would eventually find the right fit.
“In the end, I had 300 rejection letters,” she says. “I kept all of them until about 15 years ago, just to remind me of how many tries it took.”
At last, her persistence paid off. WNWO in Toledo hired her as an assignment editor and reporter. She was happy to have achieved her goal—but after a few months, there was a small problem: “I realized that I didn’t actually like being on television,” she laughs.
Instead, she decided to turn her focus to news production, where she could continue to write, interview, and bring the news to the community from behind the scenes. Once she discovered her niche, she rose meteorically through the ranks. In July 2012, she landed at her current position at WABC-TV, where she is responsible for producing the news for the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area—a diverse region with a population of over 20 million people.
A Whirlwind Job
Edwards is responsible for the morning, afternoon, evening, and weekend news broadcasts, and her work encompasses everything from selecting stories to doling out assignments, reviewing coverage, and coordinating news teams.
“We produce over 40 hours of news per week,” she says. “My days and nights bleed together. Thankfully, I have managers who work with me who are very talented and who I completely trust and rely on for help.” In fact, Edwards says she and her team were put to the test in the very first weeks of her new job. Only a few months after she started, Hurricane Sandy hit, and she needed to get news to the community—fast.
“I was still trying to figure out how to find the bathroom while trying to lead us through one of the largest stories I’ve ever had to cover,” she says. “I had to make sure that the public got the important information it needed and that my team was safe at the same time. Everything worked out well, because I have a great team.”
Under Edwards’s leadership, a long-time No. 1–rated news operation in New York has started the process of transforming and refitting for a future where digital and social media are increasingly vital. She credits the success to her team and colleagues, and to the diversity of viewpoints at the station.
“I try to make sure our news reflects what is going on in our community,” says Edwards. “I want to get a balance of positive and uplifting things in addition to the more serious stories. It’s also important to have diversity. The news you put on TV must reflect the people you serve.”
Edwards still makes time to mentor budding young journalists—and she has some good advice for the rest of us, too.
“Push through your fears and make sure that your life and your career is the way you intend it to be,” she says. “You don’t want to have regrets.”