It’s the middle of the day and I’m standing at my desk crying my eyes out.
I can’t help it though. I’ve just finished watching CBS’s latest “On The Road” feature and am blubbering like a little baby!
It’s about the star of the University of Georgia’s football team who, despite his incredible feats on the field, is most proud of the fact that he’s read the entire Hunger Games series.
Be still my heart.
Now, you might be asking yourself, “Is that really newsworthy?”
In an industry filled with negatives and the naturally dramatic disasters that plague us, these feel-good moments can often be overlooked and taken for granted. But they should be noticed and considered worthy of our time.
That’s what “On The Road” is all about: helping us see those moments when people are innately good and reminding us that there is hope no matter what is happening in the world.
I had the pleasure of talking to Megan Kelty, Associate Producer of CBS’s “On The Road” about where this segment came from, how she got started, and what it’s like to do her job.
What is “On The Road”?
“On The Road” has actually been a part of CBS since 1967. Charles Kuralt wanted to travel the back roads of America to find real people and tell their stories. He pitched the idea to the network and they agreed to try it out. It was supposed to only be a three-month project but was so popular that it continued on for 25 years before they retired it.
Then, when Scott Pelley took over the newscast, they decided to bring it back. The spot was given to Steve Hartman, who is probably best known for a similar segment titled “Everybody Has a Story” during which someone would throw a dart at a map and Steve would travel to the location hit, place a finger randomly in a phone book, call the number, and ask to hear that person’s “story.”
Both “Everybody Has a Story” and “On The Road” have a similar ethos—we are more alike than we are different. In an industry that can often show our differences and how divided we are, it’s important to be reminded that most people are good and will do the right thing.
That’s why it comes at the end of the news program; “On The Road” is a positive note to leave viewers feeling uplifted.
And it works. Viewers are always communicating how enjoyable the program is and how it reminds them of the good that is in the world.
“And they only get it for three minutes a week whereas I’m immersed in it 24/7,” Megan laughs, “it certainly shapes my perspective on life. I don’t mean in any way that I didn’t enjoy what I was doing as a digital journalist—traveling the country and covering natural disasters, shootings, and stuff like that. It’s important work and I can certainly see myself getting back into it at some point, but that being said, when you’re immersed in that, you can start to think the world is as bad as the stuff you’re covering. It can be difficult to get out of those headlines. This was a welcome respite for me.”
Making the switch from digital journalism to producing “On The Road” (and what a lost dog had to do with it):
Before becoming the Associate Producer of “On The Road,” Megan was working as a digital journalist with CBS’s San Francisco bureau. She was basically a “one-woman band” reporting and field producing. She covered breaking news across the country—natural disasters, mass shootings, the BP oil spill, Democratic and Republican National Conventions, as well as daily stories in business, health, and general topics.
It was during this time that a tornado struck Oklahoma. Megan’s team was the only network crew in the destruction area that night. The safety of the team is just as much a part of a producer’s job as getting something on the air. As the team weighed their options of whether to get closer, run in the other direction, or seek cover one photographer weighed in with his opinion.
Megan recalls, “He said, ‘I don’t run away from the news.’ That’s a moment I think of often in making tough calls.”
So, her crew was interviewing a woman whose house had been demolished. The woman was talking about her dog who had gotten lost during the tornado. As she murmured despairing words about her lost pup, something wriggled in the broken pieces of the house.
“The dog! The dog!” Megan cried while they filmed.
After helping the woman and her dog get to safety. Megan rushed the tape back to the satellite truck to feed it to New York and share the moment with the world.
So, what did this have to do with her transition to “On The Road”?
“I think it reminded people back in New York who I was and what I was doing,” Megan says.
“I’ve worked on a lot of different stories, a lot of important stories, but that was the first time my work had ever had such a large audience; I think it was something like 2.5 million hits. That was the first time my work had that kind of audience and in addition to that audience, it was the first time I’d seen my work get results! You know, you do these stories on corruption and that sort of thing and it takes years and years to see any sort of movement, political change, or for the underdog or whoever to be righted. But in this instance, I think the woman raised $100,000 within a week and she had pledges that her house would be rebuilt. So to see my work have such a positive impact… that was when I realized that this was something.”
So, what did this have to do with her transition to “On The Road”?
“I think it reminded people at CBS who I was and what I was doing,” Megan says.
Not only that, but this story helped Megan realize how impactful these feel-good stories could be. She saw how the audience reacted to this kind of moment and it really sparked her interest in features.
What it’s like being the associate producer of “On The Road”?
It’s definitely a unique position. Megan is almost like a brand manager for the segment. She does a lot of work with the promotion of the segment and audience engagement. She is also in charge of protecting its online assets, booking travel, and conducting all of the pre-interviews. She’s the one who goes in and really pieces together the story so that when Steve goes out there everything runs as smoothly as possible.
She’ll also help with certain edits or give suggestions for edits when she sees them.
But her main duty is finding the stories to report on. This can be really tricky. Every newspaper has a business section or a health column, but not many have a “feel-good story with a twist” section.
Another challenge to finding stories is the fact that people often don’t recognize them and so they don’t submit them.
“It’s not that they don’t exist. It’s that people don’t normally think the kinds of moments we look for are news. They [the stories] are normal so people don’t write about them or post them on Facebook. They don’t think that a 7-year-old who finds a 20 dollar bill and gives it away is newsworthy, but those moments really are special. We just kind of take them for granted, take goodness for granted, because we’re mostly surrounded by it.”
How she finds the stories:
Megan reads a lot of newspapers.
She is also constantly searching blogs, Facebook, and reading submissions that are sent in. It’s just a lot of reading and looking. There are times when she spends 40 hours a week just looking for a story.
Just FYI if you have a story to submit, you can watch Megan’s instructional video here.
What are the best parts about doing this job?
Megan loves the fact that she gets to give viewers a positive perspective on life.
There’s also the perk of being able to get to know the people who are interviewed. She can be nosy, ask them questions, and learn from them and their experiences.
“You are meeting people who are at their best in that moment. So, yeah. That’s probably my favorite part.”
How can you get started in this industry?
Megan completed most of her undergraduate education at Louisiana State University. Though it did allow her to major in Mass Communication / Media Studies, she was far away from the national broadcasts she wanted to work on.
Knowing she wanted to move to New York to be closer to the actual networks, Megan discovered something called the National Student Exchange program. Through this program she was able to study at Hunter College in New York City for her junior year of college.
This move was an essential part of her career journey. To get the necessary internships, she had to be in the same location as the networks. A large part of breaking into the industry is meeting the people who work in it.
The summer before her junior year at Hunter College, Megan moved to Connecticut and immediately began applying for internships. She spent some time working for a local news affiliate in Connecticut and when the summer was over, moved on to networks in the city.
Megan was not afraid to reach out to hiring managers when applying to internships. She understood the importance of informational interviews, talking to professionals about their jobs, asking questions, and showing a genuine and enthusiastic interest in the industry.
And she’s not the only one. Eric Shapiro, CBS’s Director of 51 years, recently shared his story with her about how he ended up working for the station.
When he first applied, he just handed in a résumé and never heard back. Then he discovered that he had a small connection (something like a cousin’s friend) who worked at CBS. Resubmitting his résumé, he included that connection’s name on his application, and ended up getting a call back.
Megan also recalls interning with a girl who met a photographer at a hospital. They were both in the lobby, got to talking, and after she expressed her interest in interning at the station he worked with, he gave her some advice and told her she could use his name on her résumé.
“It’s always good to reach out to people. It doesn’t matter whether you meet them in a professional capacity or not. Sometimes it’s to your benefit not to meet them in that capacity. When people see that you’re ambitious and curious, they usually respond well.”
Other advice for students interested in this field:
Megan’s main piece of advice is to hone your writing skills.
“Especially when I was younger, I was always annoyed with teachers who told me ‘Writing is the most important thing. Learn to write. Be a good writer.’ It was annoying because I wanted to be on TV, so I was, like, not me!” She admits.
But, now that she’s out of school and in the real world, Megan realizes that they were right all along. Being able to write well will help you stand out and be successful.
She also mentions something she learned in journalism school and how she learned to tweak it in the “real world.”
“Journalism schools teach you how to craft and tell a person’s story really well. What I’ve learned through Steve is how to tell the story of all of us through a single person. That is something I’ll be able to take into any sort of reporting. When you’re out on a story, you want to figure out what makes you feel something because if you feel it, other people will feel it. If you want to make an impact, you have to not only report the fact, but also convey the feeling of the story. You can feel the difference between an interesting story and an impactful story.”
Megan always knew she wanted to work in broadcast journalism and took the necessary steps to get there. She moved herself to the right place and was not afraid to interact with the right people. Still, even she couldn’t have predicted how she would move around in the news world.
She started with dreams of being a morning news anchor, then began interning with multiple networks, became a desk assistant at CBS Newspath and an associate producer with the medical unit there, went on to become a digital journalist with CBS’s San Francisco bureau, and then transitioned to the associate producer for “On The Road.”
“You just kind of take what’s offered to you,” she explains, “Somebody offers to hire you and you’re like, ‘Yes!’ So that has been kind of what has shaped my interests. If someone had said ‘I have a job for you in D.C.’ I would probably still be working in politics.”
No matter where she ends up in the news world, Megan is always ready to take on every challenge presented to her.
Homework time! Interested in working in this industry? Take Megan’s advice. Work on your writing skills. Even if your interests lie more in video editing or being on the screen, take a composition class and refine your writing. Also, get yourself to a place where you can actually be in the middle of the industry. New York City is probably your safest bet. Check out programs like the National Student Exchange. Reach out to people in the industry. Don’t be afraid to contact hiring managers directly for internship positions.