By Bailey Hurley
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
If you would have told Nicole Johnson 10 years ago that one day she would be a successful crime and safety reporter investigating new stories every day, she wouldn’t have believed you.
“Reporting isn’t something I planned for my life, it’s more something I fell into,” the 26-year-old said in a phone interview.
Johnson spent part of high school at the FAIR School, a fine arts high school in Minnesota. From there she moved to Fargo, North Dakota, starting her studies in health communication at North Dakota State University. And after being exposed to the campus TV station, Bison Information Network, she added a major in broadcast journalism.
While anchoring, producing and reporting for the campus TV station, Johnson also worked part time at one of the Fargo TV stations, WDAY-TV, as a news room assistant. There she edited and published online content and did odd jobs for reporters and producers.
After a year with WDAY and having just graduated, Johnson said she felt like she was ready to be in front of a camera. She pitched her ideas to one TV station news director in Fargo, but he didn't hire her.
“So I called the news director at the competing station across town and said I wanted a job,” Johnson said, referring to Valley News Live, where she now works. “He loved my go-getter attitude, called me back a little bit later and asked when I could come in and sign the papers.”
Johnson graduated in May 2013 and shortly after started her reporting career at Valley News Live, a Fargo news source that includes TV stations.
Johnson said she made it a goal to have a story lead one of the newscasts each night. Her videography and reporting helped earn her a promotion to the crime and safety beat less than a year later.
“Everybody has a story and I think it’s really important to give people that platform,” she said.
She has made it a point to cover Fargo's opioid drug problem.
“It’s important to me to give everyone a voice,” she said. “Even those who are no longer with us. I need to dig and find a way to tell it because their story matters and it could help someone else.”
Fargo is also a close-knit community, so all news is big news, she said. In March 2016, Johnson covered the fatal shooting of a Fargo police officer, which still affects the community.
“It’s hard when something like that happens and everyone is counting on you to tell them what’s going on,” she said. “I was hurting, too. Those officers are my friends. But you have to put on a brave face.”
Johnson said having to tell those hard stories are what make the job difficult. She also said not being able to tell a story is tough.
“If I’m not passionate about a story I was assigned or people won’t talk with me or time just isn’t on my side, that's when being a reporter is less enjoyable,” she said.
Although her title is the crime and safety reporter, Johnson is technically a multimedia journalist. She said she wears many hats because she does more than just interviews and live shots.
“I edit my own videos, voice overs and VOSOTS,” she said. “And I edit my script and other reporters’ scripts because that becomes the closed captioning and I edit a lot of the content that goes online and onto our app.”
She said editing is important even in television because even when their viewers can’t watch, they still expect to read what’s going on and for it to be accurate and make sense.
Johnson is hunting for a new job in market bigger than Fargo. Johnson is looking for a station in warmer climate that offers more investigative reporting opportunities. Over the years, she said she has found a passion in in-depth reporting and more long-form stories.
“I’ve grown and learned a lot here in my four years, but I’m ready for more,” she said.
Johnson’s advice to all journalists is to work hard and stay humble.
“Never stop learning,” she said. “Learn from your coworkers, your friends and the people you interview. Always strive to be better than yesterday.”
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