Rowan professor Candace Kelley is a five-time Emmy-nominated multimedia journalist, lawyer, commentator, anchor, writer and reporter. She has appeared on Court TV BBC News, PBS, Extra, BET, Nightly News and WCBS. Kelley has also worked as a reporter and producer for several media outlets, including Comcast/NBC Universal, BET News, PBS and The Huffington Post. She has also won three Telly Awards for her work as an anchor and producer.
Did you always know that you wanted to be involved in the multimedia journalism and reporting industry, and if not, what changed your mind?
I always knew I wanted to be [in the journalism industry] when I got to law school. So I had to either go the full legal route and practice law or mix this idea of television and my legal interest. So I got an internship in TV, believe it or not, while I was in law school. So I registered as a non-matriculating student at Rutgers University to get the internship credits to accept me to the local Cablevision in Newark, New Jersey. I went to Seton Hall Law School, so Cablevision was in Newark, New Jersey. After I went to law school, I went right into television and got my graduate degree in Masters of Science in broadcast journalism. So I did the opposite.
As for your work with Court TV, specifically the George Floyd and Derek Chauvin murder trial, what has that whole process been like?
I was prepping for the day; this was a long-awaited day. I mean, we are talking months and months on end leading up to this — making appearances on Court TV, or writing about it, or studying the timeline of events, and really guessing what the prosecutors and defense attorneys would speak about today during their opening arguments, which ended up being the same. I mean, it was the same across the board; if you’re part of it and understand the case and covering it, you knew exactly what each side was going to say. But today, you got to see all of it come into play and just come into fruition, so it was an interesting build-up and anticipation in that regard.
How do you prepare yourself and get all of the material you might need ready before you make an appearance on Court TV?
I prepare myself by reading and watching everything. It really is all about perspective because you read one paper that will be very pro-George [Floyd]. You read one paper that will be very pro-police, or you hear different opinions, or sitting down and just listening to everything because everything is there for you to watch and push play.
Every single witness they interviewed is on Youtube, so you can look at them and study just the voice since you can’t see them, get your own idea, and make your own interpretations about what you would do if you were that person actually asking the questions. So the preparation comes with a lot of watching, a lot of listening and a lot of writing.
There was a brief discussion about Kelley’s forum that she is hosting called “We The People”:
There is a forum that I’m hosting called “We The People” on Wednesday, and I do my first one. It’s discussion in and around the Derek Chauvin trial for people who really want a primer, because it can be complicated if you’re not really close to the pulse of it every day, especially when you have a video where so many people think that ‘well doesn’t the video speak for itself?’ but as we know there are so many other elements to it. So “We The People” [is] a free event online, on Zoom, and I will be taking questions and just allowing people to let their voices be heard because that’s really what they want. When we see protesters, when we hear people giving editorials and opinions, people want their voices to be heard, so that’s what this is about.
As a woman, specifically a woman of color, what kind of obstacles have you faced in the industry, and how did you overcome them?
I have learned over my career that in terms of being a Black woman — I’ve learned this from my parents, who came up here from the south, and they came up during the 60s — you really can’t study things that are going to be inconsequential to your day-to-day. You have to be selective about the things you address; otherwise, you would address them all the time. I mean all the time. I can remember going to a party, at a very big media conglomerate for work, they did not know that I would be there, and two people were performing in blackface. So they were at the piano, I didn’t see them perform because I was one of two Black people there who came, and they obviously did not expect us, and we left within 10 minutes. And then I had to address it at work the following Monday. So there’s always been various levels of insensitivity around and about my career, and I’ve just had to ignore or make my own way. Let’s put it that way.
Why did you become a professor, and how much of an impact do you think you can have on your students?
I come from a family of teachers. My parents love education, they believe in education, and it’s just one of those things that I was able to hang my hat on and came naturally to me. Also, I feel like when you’re teaching someone, you get to see some real immediate results that are just satisfying. It’s kind of like the TV profession: you put together a newscast, and you can see it that night, all of your work. It’s not a very long trajectory or outlook in terms of the outcome of the work product. Same with teaching — you can see a student make progress over a short time, and you know that that’s going to contribute to the world eventually, one day, and you’ve had your hand in it. Now speaking of race and race relations, it also gives young people the opportunity to have exposure to someone who is a person of color. Whether you are Black or white, people often do not have people in teaching positions and leadership positions who are people of color in front of them. I remember when I was first at Rowan…on my evaluation, one of the students wrote — now this was my first or second year — ‘She’s nice, even to the white people.’ I guess they thought I was only going to be nice to the Black people. I wasn’t offended because listen — some students have never been to New York City. Some students have never had major interactions with Black people, Native American people; it’s not unusual, I found. Me growing up in North Jersey and near the city and all that, and working in the city, I had to learn that, ‘oh you know what, some of these students do not have exposure,’ and that’s okay. Here I am, to change that course, or to change their viewpoint, so that’s great. I’m glad to be here.
I saw some of your segments on Comcast Newsmakers, and as a host, what is the process of finding someone and preparing questions for someone you want to feature on your segment?
Generally speaking, a team of people sit down in pre-production meetings to develop interesting people, people they think would make a good fit and people they actually think would say yes to the show. I’ve worked for NJN (PBS basically) or Comcast [and] it depends; I’ve interviewed Rev. Jesse Jackson to somebody from The Rolling Stones, but that’s because I worked at outlets that were able to muster up the wherewithal to say ‘hey come up and be a part of this show.’ I was never by myself, which is wonderful, and I’ve worked in some wonderful places that have put together shows that were well known enough to be respected by people who come on the show. But sometimes, that takes a lot of pitching. I’ve pitched some stories that I thought were just great, only to be dismantled because of one thing or the other. You do have to look at your audience. You do have to look at the headlines that people care about, not just necessarily something that’s so personal to you, that you think people will care about. Unless you can make that bigger connection, where an audience would be interested, you will fail. But many times, if you know how to make a good pitch, you will succeed.
Has there been a story or event that you’ve covered that has had the most impact on you, or been your favorite thing to cover?
Early on in my career, I worked for a television show called “Inside the Law.” The American Heart Association sponsored it, and there’s a reason why the story I’m about to tell you has so much impact because it was early on in my career. There is a young girl who was kidnapped, Megan; there’s a bill, there’s a law, that’s named after her. It’s Megan’s Law in New Jersey now, and when she was kidnapped and abducted, she was killed. And so they wanted me to go to the parent’s house and interview them, and I was so new, and I was like ‘why would they want to talk to me?’ They’re mourning, they’re grieving, they just found out that their daughter was murdered and she was like eight or nine. But low and behold, I went to the door, and the mother wanted to talk, which I thought was fascinating. But her daughter had died, and she was on a new mission; she was on a new mission to do what eventually came to fruition, which was to come up with a law that would save people and prevent this from happening again. And she talked, and talked, I went into their home, and at that time I was with a camera person…she actually opened the door, and I thought that was huge, then she let us in…and I thought that was even bigger, to let us into her personal space, and then she talked to us for as long as we wanted. That had a huge impact.
Do you have any advice for aspiring multimedia journalists or reporters?
Number one is if you have good work, please make it available to anybody to access it to get a job. If we’re a potential employer, your resume doesn’t say much; we need to see your portfolio, your shooting, your editing, your writing, anything that can show off who you are, your online media, whether it’s a blog or if you use your Youtube in a way that tells stories. Give me one website or link where I can see it all, judge you, assess you, and look at your work. Otherwise piecemealing it is not going to make sense. In other words, you need a portfolio. You really, really need a portfolio. The other one is that you have to get the experience. You can get some great experience within the four walls at Rowan. There is the radio, and there’s TV, and there are different things that you can do. You can write for The Whit. You can shoot, edit, enterprise stories on your own, pitch stories to The Whit; there are so many things that you can do. All people want to know is that you have experience. And so you create that experience inside of Rowan, or wherever you are, or outside of Rowan, you can create that type of experience inside of your church by writing for the newspaper there or doing some kind of video editing, whatever it is, make a place for yourself and make it happen.
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