BUSINESS

CNN video production assistant says strong writing foundation is essential for storytelling

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Russell on her way to work.

Maggie Houin
Oxford Stories
mghouin@go.olemiss.edu

While she hates to hear someone utter the phrase ‘Print is dead,’ Lacey Russell, a CNN video production assistant, predicts newspapers will eventually fade away. Digital is the future.

“I don’t like when people say ‘Print is dead,’ because good writing will never die,” she said. “It will just move to the internet.”

Russell creates news videos for CNN.com. “This includes politics, entertainment videos, and videos about a cute animal at the zoo,” she said. “If it’s in the news, I’m probably making it, or someone on my team is.”

Russell’s team also shoots documentary shorts without an anchor or reporter track, her favorite part of the job. “My typical day, I come in, and I’ll usually have an assignment waiting on me,” she said. “They’re TV packages, but instead of a reporter, it’s text. My job is to write the script for it. I have to do independent reporting. I’ll find elements to put in the video. We’re very visually focused.”

Russell, a recent University of Mississippi graduate, majored in broadcast journalism with a double minor in English and cinema. She was named editor of The Daily Mississippian, the campus newspaper, her junior year of college, and she freelanced for The New York Times.

 

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Lacey Russell accepting her job offer from CNN. Photo by Lacey Russell.

Russell began her professional broadcast journalism career at WTVA in Tupelo, Mississippi as a multimedia journalist. She applied and was accepted for a CNN internship.

“I got the internship, worked, and became official after I was offered a job as production assistant,” she said.

Accuracy is the most challenging thing Russell faces. “You don’t ever want to publish something with your name attached to it if it’s wrong,” she said. “Once you click publish, it’s out to the masses.”

Russell said informing the public is the most important part of her work. “I like telling people things that they may not already know about,” she said.

She also enjoys working on big video projects and monitoring social media to see how well they are received through shares and views.

Debora Wenger, Meek School of Journalism and New Media assistant dean for innovation and partnerships, was Russell’s professor for J102 and J480  classes.

“She was the student who would come up with the story idea I thought no one would be able to pull off,” she said. “There would be story ideas for an event at the (Student) Union or a philanthropic event, and she would want to do stories about Oxford gangs. Lacey was always a very hard worker. She was dedicated to deadlines, and made sure she did her best on any assignment.”

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Ole Miss NewsWatch reporters. Lacey Russell is on the top row, far left. Photo by Lacey Russell.

Wenger said she noticed her potential right away. “After you have been working in journalism a long time, you get pretty good at spotting raw talent in students, and I saw a ton of raw talent in Lacey from the start,” she said. “By the time I was teaching her in J480, she already had been editor of The Daily Mississippian, and she learned so much during that time. She was at the top of her game as a journalism student.

“She was also one of the best video storytellers that came through the program by the end of the class. I was excited about the possibilities for Lacey. I just figured she’d find the perfect spot for herself. I had no concerns she would be successful in her career. She had so many options.”

Wenger said students like Russell are a joy to teach. “The days I’m happiest are when students fulfill their goals or dreams,” she said. “When I saw Lacey end up at a place like CNN, I was on cloud nine.”

Russell encourages future production assistants to be well-rounded and learn how to write a story. “Learn how to tell a story, and then tell it however you want to,” she said. “If you build a strong foundation for your writing, you can have a successful career in journalism.”

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