With some people you can just tell. At a time which was more years ago than I want to talk about, I worked as a reporter at WCYB-TV5 and was sent on assignment on the fourth of July. That particular night one of our interns went with me to cover the fireworks display on South Holston Lake. A very generous local gentleman allowed us on his house boat and she shot some spectacular footage of the fireworks reflecting off the water which she then used edit a great story together. But more importantly, she was the light of the room while we interacted with the crowd of folks gathered on the boat. Her name is Olivia Bailey and she has risen from intern to anchor in the years since, which is not surprising to anyone who has ever known her. If you don’t know her, you need to. Here is your chance.
BRIAN: Olivia, I know you are super busy so thank you for your time first of all. I am going to jump right in at the beginning with you. You grew up in this region and some people might not have heard your story. What was growing up like? Don’t forget to mention dip dogs.
OLIVIA: I loved growing up here, and I’ve continued to learn that more as I’ve gotten older. I had a great childhood. I grew up in Smyth County. I was the first rebel in the family to break the cycle and go to Chilhowie High School, instead of Marion (although I did attend Marion schools in my younger years). We lived for most of my childhood in a neighborhood that my grandfather and his brothers built, so it wasn’t ever uncommon to see my brother and I walking across everyone’s yards to get to someone else’s house. That wasn’t too far from the Dip Dog. My grandfather bought that and passed it down to my aunt and uncle. I can remember sticking Dip Dogs from the time I was five. (I always have to remind people the sticks don’t get in there by a machine – they’re all stuck by hand!) I worked there through much of high school, so I missed several high school football games growing up, but that’s absolutely where I got my discipline and work ethic.
That first job gave me a lot of opportunities. I ended up working with Ken Heath in community and economic development from the Town of Marion. Ken always made sure I was always front-and-center when we had a visit to any media outlet. Those are connections from seven years ago that I still carry with me today. I left a couple of times for larger media outlets, spending some time in Atlanta for CNN and New York City for CBS Evening News. It was during those times I realized I wanted to come back home.
BRIAN: Obviously growing up in the region holds fond memories for you. But, as a professional journalist, you could be a bunch of different places at this point if you chose. What is it about this place and the people who live here that makes you still call it home?
OLIVIA: Sometimes all people need is a voice to have their stories told. I thought early in my career I wanted to be in the top markets and network positions; however, I quickly realized how much I love local news. I’ve had quite the cyclical journey. I spent the summer of my junior year in college at CNN Newsource, which distributes to stations all across the country. As a journalist, you grow to love the pace and chaos of the 24-hour news cycle. I kept realizing all of the stories we were capturing at the national level had such an important role to the citizens of their individual communities.
After CNN, I moved to Ireland as part of a program for Emory & Henry where I spent time outside of news working with the long-term unemployed and immigrants looking for work in Dublin. I missed working in the newsroom at that point, but that started to be my turning point where I realized how vital it is to sit down and talk to people face-to-face to learn their stories.
I came back to WCYB for a few months before I moved to New York City for CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley. I was an intern on Anthony Mason’s team, whose team produced stories for the evening news. Anthony is a super busy guy, so he was traveling quite a bit for CBS Sunday Morning and back to anchor CBS This Morning Saturday. Anthony didn’t have an assistant, so I often stepped in and ran social media pages while he was on the air. Each show in TV has a different atmosphere. I wanted all the experience that I could have in the business, especially around the best and brightest. New York really opened my eyes to how much I loved local news. I loved the work I did while I was there, but I really began to yearn to tell the stories of people who couldn’t tell those stories themselves. Those people are not incapable of talking, but they often don’t have access to the right outlet to do so.
That’s why I came back to WCYB, and that’s largely why I report in southwest Virginia. This is a region where everyone has left. Businesses have left, people have left, resources have left, money has left. It has a long history of when things get hard, people leave. While some of those exits were not voluntary, I realized I had the ability to change that narrative. The people of southwest Virginia need a voice. So many times, I hear that people in the region don’t think their story is important or it’s not ‘newsworthy,’ but I’ve always believed that everyone has a story to tell. The people here care deeply about this region, and they’re often willing to go above and beyond to help. It has honestly been an honor to tell the stories of northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia. These regions can sometimes be forgotten by state capitals that are half of a day’s drive away, so I feel like it’s my responsibility to keep this area and its people on the minds of those who are making decisions.
There’s also rarely a story where I’m out and can’t strike up a conversation with someone. Whether they know my family or we graduated from the same college or I’ve covered a story in their hometown, people here are connected. I have a hard time thinking I could leave the people who have built me into the person I am today.
Part 2 of the interview continues next week.