Hometown: Cleveland, OH
First journalism job: WAJR FM in Morgantown, W.Va.
Current job: WABC TV, New York, N.Y.
As a reporter for WABC-TV in New York City, Lisa Colagrossi has covered some of the biggest news stories of the past year—including Hurricane Sandy and the shootings in Newtown, Conn. Read what the SOJ alumna has to say about covering those difficult stories and what it’s like to work in the number-one television market in the country.
SOJ: Why did you choose WVU?
Colagrossi: I came for a visit and fell in love with the campus—it felt comfortable to me. It was close to home and yet it felt really different than where I grew up in Ohio, and I liked that it was different.
Why did you choose Journalism as a career?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I got to WVU. I was a General Studies major, and then I got involved with U92. I knew I didn’t want to be a DJ because I didn’t feel like I had the personality for it, but I started really getting hooked on the newscasts. So that led me to the Journalism School.
How did the SOJ help prepare you for a career in Journalism?
The Journalism School gave me a base. My professors encouraged me to get internships and do whatever it took to get my foot in the door and keep going.
What is it like to work in the number-one television market in the country?
The thing about New York is that there are always huge stories to be covered. And just when you think you’ve seen a big story, another one comes along that’s even bigger! Just think of the political scandals that have occurred in the tri-state area. Whether it’s former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey announcing he’s gay or former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer who was run out of office because he was involved in a prostitution scandal—there’s no shortage of news. And it’s not just New York City, the coverage area is New York, New Jersey and Connecticut—there’s just such a huge area to be covered.
What was it like to cover Hurricane Sandy?
The biggest problem was logistics—just trying to be some place that was safe and that you could still report from. Getting around was really difficult. I mean we were trying to drive a live truck around with downed trees and power lines everywhere—or flooding. And I think just the intensity of the storm. I mean the damage was really, really bad. It was the worst this area has ever seen.
What was it like to cover the Newtown shootings?
As the mother of two boys, that one was difficult. I felt for those parents and thought to myself, my kids go to school everyday and I just assume they’re going to be safe. There have been school shootings before – Columbine, Virginia Tech – but when it happens to children so young ? it was extremely difficult. As a reporter, you keep your emotions in check while you’re covering it, but I think we were all taking five minutes here, five minutes there, just to kind of let ourselves grieve a little bit.
What is the biggest story you’ve ever covered?
Honestly, in recent memory—those two. Hurricane Sandy, the Newtown Shootings—and the crash of flight 587 back in 2001. It happened about a month after 9/11, right after I was hired at WABC-TV.
What does it take to get to the number-one market in the country?
In a lot of ways it takes endurance. When you’re in smaller markets, it’s a coal miners’ strike or a shooting. It’s those kinds of stories that you cover over and over again to the point where you pretty much know what to expect and you know how to report it from different angles. I know local news can be a grind, but it’s good practice.
What advice do you have for journalism students?
Don’t limit yourself to where you’re going to work. Some people will say, ‘my next move is Pittsburgh, or my next move is Dallas.’ You can’t do that. You have to keep yourself open to new opportunities because you don’t know where they might take you. I also think that no job is too small to take and if that’s how you can get you’re foot in the door some place, then you need to do it. Television news is much more competitive now than when I started and much more geared toward social media. But I think a good reporter is a good reporter, and you’ll always be able to find work if you know what you’re doing.