As part of the Communication Week string of seminars, Tim Saunders, a veteran television journalist and Radford University alumnus, gave a speech on his experience in the field with an emphasis on how developing both professional and domestic relationships fuels the success of a journalist.
Communication Week celebrates the field of communication and allows students and faculty the opportunity to hear professionals from the wide array of communication-oriented careers speak about the skills, knowledge and experiences vital to that field.
Saunders graduated from RU in 2002 with a degree in media studies. He worked as a journalist for a television station in Roanoke for several years until moving to Lynchburg to work for the CBS affiliate, WDBJ 7.
In attendance to Saunder’s seminar was an eclectic mix of students. Some were interested in pursuing journalism and public relations careers and some were there as a requirement for a communications class. There were also several faculty members from the communications department among the crowd.
His job requires him to seek out stories in the greater Lynchburg area and have them ready for the evening programming. He emphasized the pressure journalists have of coming up with a news story, and based his presentation on the importance of cultivating relationships with the members of the community in order to have access to a flow of information that might easily be overlooked.
Saunders spends time getting to know members of the community from numerous facets of society, such as local business owners, community activists, retired journalists and even the town gossip are part of his retinue of contacts. He also gave advice on frequenting local gas stations and other gathering places to discover potential new stories.
“You can’t do what I do without relationships,” Saunders said to the audience. Many may not know the pressures on a journalist to uncover stories that have a direct link to the community. Local news stations are meant to serve a local population, so their stories are generally procured from those who live there. “You want to tell stories. Put some context around the places you live in,” he said.
Among his many examples of how his relationships with people have directly correlated to his success as a journalist was an anecdote about a young boy with cancer. Where one reporter might conduct an interview, cut it, air it and move on to the next story, he developed a continuing relationship with the family with whom he still communicates regularly.
This also corresponds with Saunders’ position of remembering one’s role as a person as well as a reporter. Some journalists never allow “that human element to take over,” and tend to remove themselves from any personal investment with their story subjects, especially if it is one of a more serious nature. He admits to behaving this way in the past, but told the group that he later realized the importance of not forgetting to be a person and not being afraid to be yourself.
Saunders’ presentation was not limited to the field of journalism, however. He told the group of the importance of relationships in any profession. He advised them to maintain relationships with their classmates and coworkers while still at RU. “People you know and work with could go on to do big things. So many people could work to your advantage,” he said.
Saunders closed the session by adding a segment on the importance of internships in achieving professional success.
“You’ve got to get your foot in the door of the organization,” he said. He spoke of how participating in an internship can allow a company to get used to working with their intern, therefore making it more likely that that person will be offered a job if they perform well and prove to be an asset.
After Saunders’ presentation, he opened the floor to the audience and answered their questions about how to facilitate the relationship-making process.
Most students seemed to walk away with a better understanding of how relationship-building can benefit their professional lives. “Even though it’s not my major, it helped me realize how important making good relationships is,” said Emily Morgan, a sophomore and public relations management major. She also said after the presentation she woke up to how important the internship is.
Junior Nicole Davis said, “I thought that Mr. Saunders was one of the more interesting speakers from Communications Week, and he really encouraged me to go after creating relationships before and after graduating.”