Student navigates college as an aspiring broadcast journalist

Educators In the News

Be persistent. 

It’s a simple phrase, but one Gretchen Gerlach lives and breaths right now as she’s wrapping up her senior year at UW-Madison. If worrying about the pandemic isn’t exhausting enough, Gerlach has taken on several experiences to prepare her for her future career as a broadcast journalist. She works as the PR director for the Badger Herald, a communications intern for the UW-Madison Global Health Institute, and an associate producer at WMTV-TV. Gerlach said she’s always had a “hunch” that she would like broadcasting. She shares what’s motivating her during these challenging times.

What do you think you are missing most right now as we all have to learn to live in this “new normal” because of COVID?

“I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I am not missing too much. My family is safe and healthy. They also live nearby in Minnesota so I can visit them easily and safely. I haven’t gotten sick. I haven’t lost a job. I still get to go to school and graduate on time. That being said, I do miss seeing my extended family. A number of trips were canceled this summer and into the fall because of COVID-19 and the virus is making the holidays more complicated.”

What advice to you have for other students aspiring for a career in broadcasting? 

Be persistent. When I heard WMTV was still hiring despite COVID-19, I knew this was likely my last chance at a job in broadcast before I graduated. Internships/jobs in college are so valuable, especially in news/broadcast, and I knew I could not waste this opportunity. I followed up [with the news director] frequently throughout the hiring process and made sure to express my genuine interest in the position. When I was hired, I was told my persistence made me stand out.”

What made you decide to take on a part-time position at the local television station as a college student?

“When I was hired, I was beside myself. Not only was I employed during a pandemic, but I was working my dream internship/job as a college student. I knew that there was only so much the J-School could teach me and that to really learn about television news, broadcast, and production I needed to get experience in a newsroom.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given to help you achieve your goals?

“It can be hard not to compare yourself and your experiences to what other people have done, especially when people are posting about their career goals and accomplishments every day. I try to remind myself that everyone moves though their career at their own pace and that someone else’s success does not take away from my own successes.”

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This is clearly not the college experience Gerlach dreamed of. No “Jump Around” on football game days. No soaking up a sunset at the Union Terrace. And she’s already coming to terms that she most likely won’t experience graduation day at Camp Randall in a cap and gown. Even through all the noes, Gerlach is choosing to write her own ending and focus on the positive storyline of 2020.

“Coming out of this I know I will be more resilient, grateful, forgiving with myself and others and even more proud to be in the news industry. I see the work my colleagues do every day to make this crazy time easier for people to understand and it makes me proud to be pursing the same career.”

After graduation, Gerlach said she aspires to be a news reporter and/or producer.

Amy Pflugshaupt, WMTV-TV, Madison
Member of the WBA Education Committee and Co-Chair of the WBA Young Professionals Committee