TheBlackManCan: Ashley, at what point in your life did you realize you wanted to become a journalist?
AMW: If you would have told me as a little girl that I would be a journalist when I grew up, I probably would have laughed in your face. I never thought that I would ever want to be a broadcast journalist…maybe an actress, a singer, and even a softball player, but never a broadcast journalist.
Originally from Michigan, I began my career in broadcast journalism through my school district’s educational access channel. At the beginning of my freshman year of high school, I literally “walked” into broadcast journalism one day after school. I can remember coming across the station’s equipment and studio, and I just thought everything was really cool. I then engaged in a funny conversation with the television production adviser…He liked to crack a lot of jokes.
After talking with the television advisor, he suggested that I interview to be a host for the station. I was cracking a lot of jokes with him, and he really liked my personally. I was really hesitant at first. I didn’t think it was something that I would be good at or that I would like. However, I decided to just give it a try it and I interviewed for a hosting position. My first on-air job was hosing a show called Meet Your Board of Education in which I would interview school board members from the district. I loved hosting so much that I asked one of the television advisors if I could create and hosted my own show, Teen Issues Overrated. I then wrote a proposal to the head of the station and he granted me the opportunity to do my own show.
I was so excited. I was naive, but I would try to learn how to host shows and asks guests questions by watching Oprah in order to learn how to host a show and ask questions. (I’m smiling to myself as I am typing this) I would invite experts and my peers to come on the show to talk about different issues that teenagers often deal with, such as bullying, suicide, and eating disorders. I wanted to use this platform to comfort her peers who were facing challenging situations.
I remember sitting in my chair after the first show and telling the station’s news director that I loved interviewing people, and putting a show together. I told him that it would be so cool to do as a career, and then he looked at me and said, “Ashley! Do you watch the news?” I said yeah, and he smiled at me, and said, “You can do this as a career.” (I’m smiling to myself at this moment). That is when I decided to be a journalist, because I wanted to use my voice and the challenges that I had overcome to help other teens and people who were also facing terrible situations. I am still so grateful for having had the opportunity to do that on the first show I created called, Teen Issues Overrated.
While working for the school district’s educational channel, I also worked behind the scenes as an audio engineer, floor director, teleprompter operator, camera operator, and more. I just fell in love with journalism and I deeply craved and was driven to immerse myself in it.
TheBlackManCan: How can journalism and social media be used to educate and inspire others to initiative positive changes within the world?
AMW: I passionately believe that everyone is called to do something in this world, and that we are all a part of God’s greater plan. I believe that those who are called to be journalists can be the pillars in generating positive ideas and information to the world. Through my voice and my writing, I aspire to discover and generate news stories that will initiate positive changes in the world. I believe that social media a
our news stories and social media that can be used to tell people as much information possible, so they can live their best lives possible. I realize that I can’t always give “positive” news, but I hope to shape the news that I present in a way that inspires and empowers the world.
Therefore, this is how journalists can use all of these to educate and inspire other to initiate positive changes within the world. I believe that we must be careful and strategic about the messages that we are sending out to the world, and we must realize the ripple effect that we can create. I believe that journalists must use their calling for the greater good.
I whole-heartedly believe that my calling is to generate positive messages to world, especially teens and youth, through journalism and social media. The experiences that I went through as a teen have placed a great yearning in my heart to help this group, because I know what it is like to be so unsure of your place in this world. I know what it is like to feel as if life does not matter.
When I look back at my journey in journalism and the careers of others who have made such a greater impact on the world through journalism, I am determined to remain fervent about bringing attention to untold stories, and motivating others to be the change they wish to see in the world.
TheBlackManCan: You thrived at media companies in South Africa. How did you land your position with South African media companies and can you share with a little about your experience?
AMW: One of my mentors who is a professor at USC Annenberg is in charge of the graduate international program in Cape Town and she was telling me about how she was trying to make a program for the undergraduate students. She said that the undergraduate students would be able to work at media entities in the country.
I thought it was a fantastic opportunity, but I was really hesitant at first. No one in my immediate family had ever gone to Africa, and I just only knew things about it from the information that was shown by different media companies. And trust me; this information was not always positive. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
However, my mentor really told me that I needed to go down there and that the experience would change my life. I was also concerned about the financial part of it, but luckily, I was able to gain some money to go through my school’s scholarship. It was almost like God was telling me that He wanted me to go on this trip, and that I had to go.
My experience down there- COMPLETELY CHANGED MY LIFE. I fell in love with South Africa, and the warmth of the people there. It was completely the opposite of all of the negative stuff that I heard about Africa. I was able to visit different cities there, go on a safari, live in a beautiful country that taught me so much about the love of God and history, and just really embrace every person who I came in contact there. I have never been that at peace.
Certainly, no country is perfect. There were definitely harsh realities and sad situations there. In fact, seeing the mix of classism, racism, and other injustices within the country deeply hurt my heart. It was just so sad to learn more and more about the history of the country and to often become sad.
For example, I was really excited to go to Robben Island, because it was one place that I have always wanted to travel to. However, after having a tour of the prison there by one of the activists of the apartheid, and just seeing the injustice and racism that still exists in the country and in the world, I was really mad and upset. I just couldn’t understand how we as human beings could hate each other so much just from the color of our skin.
I was very grateful and happy to have the opportunity to do journalism there and to have the opportunity to share my experience and the beauty of South Africa with the world. I regularly talk to my colleagues in South Africa who I worked with. They have greatly impacted my life. I am so glad that there is the Internet and Social Media now so I can continue to stay in touch with them.
I also continue to share my experiences in South Africa through journalism. After I went to South Africa, I met with a former journalist who granted me the opportunity to write two columns for Africa.com every month. The columns are based on my experiences there and how it changed life.
TheBlackManCan: You have traveled to many different countries and been exposed to a variety of different cultures. Why is it important to have a global perspective and how has this helped you in your career?
AMW: Paulo Coelho once stated that the two things can reveal the great secrets of life: love and suffering. This is true. I have seen the most severe cases of suffering that I have ever wanted to see and I have also seen the greatest cases of love.
I never imagined that I would love traveling abroad like I do now. I mean there’s the culture shock, sometimes language barriers, and other issues that one can only imagine. However, I feel so blessed and grateful for all the experiences that I have had and the ones that I will have while traveling abroad.
However, I do have to admit to you that at first I was really scared to travel abroad. I mean I had no idea of what to expect and my family has only traveled to different states and Canada J My first experience was when I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain, and it was there that I was bitten by the travel bug. I just wanted to learn and see every type of culture and country. My eyes just craved to see more and to really immerse myself. I just wanted to gain more compassion and understanding of different cultures and people within the world. I was even so bold to take a one-day trip to Portugal and travel there by myself lol. I just loved exploring and learning. Going to Portugal by myself is one of my most memorable trips, because I just learned to trust God and to allow Him to lead my life and the person that He wants me to become.
I think I love it so much, because I am gaining a deeper connection with God and all that He created in the world. It’s like a personal journey that I am having with Him as He protects me and allows me to see things that I never dreamed.
I truly believe that it is very important to be exposed to a variety of different cultures, because it makes you be more open-minded and to see the beauty of life and the world. It is especially important in this day in age to have a global perspective, because the Internet is allowing people from all around the world to connect and impact each other. Traveling makes you realize that no matter where you are in the world, we are all connected. Traveling around the world will help any person of any profession to be more empathetic and to realize their greater purpose in this world.
TheBlackManCan: You have received numerous accolades which include 2011 Student Journalist of the Year Award, Pat Tobin Scholarship from the Black Journalist Association of Southern California. How does it feel to receive such awards in the name of pursuing your passion?
AMW: I cannot tell you how humbled and thankful I am for all that God has allowed me to achieve. It is such an great blessing and indescribable feeling to be able to do something that you truly, truly love and be awarded for it. I just keep thanking God for all that He has done for me, and has allowed me to do. I just hope my career and my life will inspire others to just go after their dreams and to never, never, never let anything or anyone get in their way. I am very thankful for the opportunity to use journalism to positively impact the world, and to inspire youth to go for their passion even when the journey seems so hard and so difficult. If others appreciate it and award me for it, then that is just a HUGE, AND AMAZING BONUS. I just hope to keep placing God first and to go forward in the calling that He has placed over my life.
TheBlackManCan: What are your favorite types of news story to cover?
AMW: I love covering stories on youth and teen issues! Whether be on education, bullying, eating disorders, youth relationships, and more, I love covering stories on these issues.
While in college, I conducted a research study called Connecting Television Network News to the College Aspirations of Minority High School Students through my university’s prestigious program called McNair Scholars. Results from her study demonstrated that minority students often believe network news programming encourages negative stereotypes towards minorities. The study also revealed that network news programming that includes a successful minority on-air talent providing solutions to societal issues increased students’ college aspirations and self-concepts. Her research was so significant that during her senior year she was granted the opportunity to present it to professors and students from across the country at Yale University’s Bouchet Conference on Diversity in Graduate Education.
I just feel that these stories go completed underrated, but yet, youth consume so much more media than companies often want to acknowledge sometimes. They are the ones who are driving advertisers, and who are our future. It is our responsibility to shape them and mold them, and I believe that the media is the perfect avenue to do this.
My passion for investigating teen issues derives from my teenage years. After being deathly sick at the age of twelve and dealing with hardships with my friends, I battled a number of difficulties including two eating disorders, depression, cutting, and more. It was like I was taking part in everything that teenagers deal with. I kept asking God why I was suffering so much. I think I was suffering so much pain, because I was dealing with bullying, catty friendships, and the death of loved ones who were close to me. I was also going through the normal situations that teenagers go through with developing into who I was; loving myself for who I was; and more. The way I would release my pain was through meddling in all of these things. Thankfully, God allowed me to overcome these terrible situations, and so I decided to use journalism to help other youth or adults battling the same situations. I was excited to do a show that could focus on youth issues.
TheBlackManCan: Can you breakdown to us how you create a successful story for print and for broadcast? Is there a difference?
AMW: Sure! There definitely are big differences, but at the end of the day each are based on telling a story—whether it’s a hard news story or a feature story. I first start by finding people, a situation, or an event that is going on and then branch out from there.
I try to find what makes this particular story newsworthy, or how I can make it newsworthy to impact audiences and to connect to what is going on in present time. I then do lots of research on the topic, find experts or those impacted to interview, and then navigate how to tell the story.
Luckily, you can write a print story anywhere. You can really make a print story out of anything as long as you have at least three sources, facts, and a focus. Print stories can be training if they are investigative, because they may be really long and you have to do a lot of writing.
With broadcast it can also be the same thing, but it is even more strenuous, because of the technical factors that go into making a broadcast news package. Broadcast is a lot more technical with editing, lighting, good angles, good shots, sound, and more. There is a lot that goes into it and a lot to remember. It is really fun, because you get to see your piece visually, but it can be draining sometimes.
Depending on the type of story you can begin each print story a different way. If it is hard news you can begin with the most recent, newsworthy item. Then, I research the background of whatever it is I am doing a story on; the people impacted; the different viewpoints involved; experts on the topic; and more. However, it is a feature, you can begin by describing what is going a person or the location that you are focusing on, and then go into more facts, and other details.
I love journalism, because you can learn so much and become an expert on many subjects just from having to investigate many stories. I also love that the stories you do can greatly inspire and inform others. Engaging in writing stories and all of the aspects of journalism makes me come alive and feel so inspired.
TheBlackManCan: How has building a spiritual foundation been important to your growth as a young woman?
AMW: I cannot tell you how much God means to me. I really do not know what I would do within Him… without my faith in Him. He is the one that even guided me into this career. I originally wanted to be an actress, and then He allowed me to come across the television station in high school and it all started from there.
This business is every difficult. I mean not only is it challenging to get to where you want to go, but you have to have a thick skin, because people will be so mean to you. They will literally chew you up and spit you out. My nature is not to be this way, and to be mean to others, so I initially had a hard time trying to just overcome these battles. However, God gave and continues to give me the strength to overcome them. I always keep looking to Him for guidance and drive. I never am going to change who I am and I believe that my spiritual foundation has equipped me with all I need to not only be the best journalist that I can be, but to be the best woman of God that I can be.
My relationship with God empowers me, because He helps me in all of my weaknesses, and guides me to do what HE WANTS ME TO DO. See, I had to learn that the plans that God has for me and all of us are far greater than any plans that we have for ourselves. I mean we can plan, because I do believe that God gives us dreams to fulfill, but sometimes He will allow things to happen as he is looking out for us, and is trying to help us live the best lives that we can. I have realized that without God, I am nothing. It is very humbling and great to know that I don’t have to try to map out my life, or to figure things out, because that is God’s job. He loves me, you, and everyone. I have realized through my relationship with God that He is always going to have our backs and to give us the inner peace we need to keep going to fulfill the purpose He has for our lives even when the road gets hard.
TheBlackManCan: Where do you see yourself in the next seven years?
AMW: WOW! This kind of scares me like oh my goodness, time is going to fly by! J
But God willing, I hope to have had a great reporting career that has earned me acclaim and a good standing in the media industry, so that I can bring more people to God through journalism and my life. Honestly, I just pray that my reporting career is successful, so that after I can continue to successfully reach audiences in America and also internationally.
I hope to complete business school at Harvard or Stanford. After business school, I plan to have my own media production company and a platform in which I can daily inspire youth, investigate teen issues, and deliver positive messages to the world. I also want to in the midst of starting my own network that focuses on uplifting youth and allowing young people pursuing journalism to do this.
Personally, I hope to get married and start a family. I also hope to continue to be involved in many different efforts and charities like my sister’s non-profit organization, United Christian Women, the Coalition for Slavery and Trafficking, and more.
TheBlackManCan: Why is it important for Black Men and Black Women of all ages to see positive images of themselves?
AMW: This is something that I am so passionate about. I really hope that I can help the media industry and all industries highlight and generate positive impacts of blacks. I think it is so critical for black men and women to see positive role models and to have people to look up to.
In fact, I was so passionate about this topic that I actually did a research study on how network news impacts the college aspirations of minority high school students. From my research, I have realized that the demonstrations and situations presented by the media significantly impact the perceptions and beliefs held by society, especially minorities since we tend to engage with the media more. As a result, these portrayals impact everyone’s—not just minorities– perceptions and beliefs due to the structure and presentation of each news story, which appears to present reality.
My research has made me realize that there is definitely a connection between how news can impact the aspirations of minorities as well as their self-esteem and self-concepts. Although news programs may not be entirely persuading adolescents to not fulfill their dreams, I have found that they do impact their own self-images and the perceptions that society has of them. I strongly believe that showing more positive images of black and all minorities through the media encourage more blacks to eel inspired to accomplish their dreams and to make something of their lives. In fact, my research found that if blacks were to constantly see more positive images of minorities, then they would be even more inspired and confident they could attend college and help solve problems within the world today.
I think that schools, parents, and the media should make more initiative to encourage adolescents—especially blacks– to be more analytical and critical of what they view on television. For example, schools with African American majorities among students can begin to teach their students more about their ancestry, culture, and philosophy of education. If students receive more encouragement to receive an education, then maybe they will change their views on engaging in mainstream society. Positive changes can happen in news, but we as journalists and individuals must persuade others to make the initiative to highlight these positive images.
TheBlackManCan: What words of advice do you have for young black girls?
AMW: Believe in yourself and in the great gifts that they can offer to the world. I know our journey is sometimes hard and it seems like it won’t get better, but you have to keep believing and keeping that God has a great purpose and calling on your life. Realize that you have to believe in yourself in order to allow others to also believe in you and what you can accomplish. Do not focus on all the things that you can’t control like relationships, people who hurt you, and more. Focus on the things in your life that are positive and make your life feel like it’s worth living.
I would also say to never, ever let someone tell you what you cannot do. Please never allow setbacks, the color of your skin, or anything make you feel less than what you are. You are beautiful and perfect just the way God made you, and you have a mission and purpose in this world. If fact, see rejection as Tyler Perry sees it: Every miracle in your life derives from when someone told you what you could not do.
Also, discover and choose a career that truly makes you happy and that you would even do for free J Then, when you do get paid for doing what you love, it will be like such a bonus.
And finally, really deeply take in and remember this quote by Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
BE DRIVEN AND BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!
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