Dateline Orange County

Michelle started at NBC News as a production associate with The Today Show in New York in 2003.  She ran scripts to the anchors, assisted with the rundown of the show, and learned from the show’s talented producing team – surviving the round-the-clock hours with lots of coffee. After a year with The Today Show, she moved over to Dateline NBC, the network’s primetime newsmagazine, as an assistant producer. 

For the last 12 years, she has covered breaking news, murder trials, hurricanes, a presidential inauguration, and a royal wedding.  After five years in Manhattan, she transferred to NBC’s Los Angeles Bureau, returning to her California roots and staying with Dateline NBC.  She was promoted to producer in 2014.Michelle graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and Masters of Science in Journalism.  She minored in Sociology and completed journalism residency programs in Spokane, Washington, Washington, DC, and Dublin, Ireland.  Michelle lives in Orange County, California with her husband, two kids, and jindo/lab mix.  She enjoys travelling, discovering new restaurants and wines, entertaining, yoga, purple, and cheering for the Wildcats.

Editor’s note:  I’ve known Michelle since she was a teenager and have watched her grow into a professional in this business that only tolerates the most competent people to serve as a producer for this hard hitting form of journalism.   I also had the pleasure of working with her husband Andy, a talented graphic artist, for a number of years.  This article appears simultaneously in SOCALshowbiz.com

SOCAL:  When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in Journalism?
Michelle:  As a sophomore at El Toro High School, I had an available period and discovered that Journalism would fit in my class schedule. The teacher, Mr. Mike Gallups, had a saying: “Do what you gotta do.”  He taught us the basics of writing a newspaper story and then let us go for it. His style of teaching and my natural curiosity worked well together and I realized I landed in the right place.  Journalism was just a natural fit for me and became something I wanted to pursue.

SOCAL: Did you ever consider working in print media for a newspaper or magazine?  What drew you to broadcast journalism?
Michelle:  My only experience in high school was with print media and that was what I planned to do. When I attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, we were introduced to all formats.  I connected with the broadcast classes because I’ve always been more visual.  I liked the idea of being able to show an audience a story through words, pictures, and sounds.  Shooting and editing definitely add another level to story telling.

SOCAL: As you were working your way up from production assistant, did you always have in mind that you would one day be a producer, totally in charge of complete stories?
Michelle:  It was always my ultimate goal to be a producer.  I was lucky to work with many people who became mentors and wonderful examples for me.  Building trust with not only colleagues, but sources was something I enjoyed and excelled at so it was natural to gain more responsibility as I grew in my career.

SOCAL: Dateline NBC is one of a premier group of investigative journalism programs.  How did you wind up joining them?  
A  My first job at NBC News was with The Today Show, but it was only a one year contract. When the contract was ending, I started networking and job hunting.  Luckily, Dateline NBC was hiring assistant producers at the time.  This business can be all about timing and I’m thankful it worked out for me.

SOCAL: Please describe the varieties of things you are responsible for to develop and complete a segment for Dateline NBC.
Michelle:  From the initial story pitch to getting the story on the air, as a producer I am involved in the entire process.  Once we decide to pursue a story, I’ll do the background research and start reaching out to those involved.  Determining the right people to be part of the story and booking those key interviews is a very important step as Dateline NBC is an interview-driven show.   I’ll work with the top notch camera crews to find locations for the interviews, prepare the correspondent with notes and questions, then oversee the interviews to make sure we’re getting all the information we need.  Once the interviews are complete, I like to make an outline of the report.   Whether it’s a one-hour or a two-hour report, I plan out how I’m going to structure the story.  Then I’ll write a script based on the outline.  My senior producer and correspondent will weigh in on the script and soon we get into edit with our talented team of editors.  We have multiple screenings with our executive producers, senior producers, legal, standards, and more.  As you can see, it is a very collaborative process, but ultimately it is my responsibility that we get the facts right.

SOCAL: Over the years, do you have a favorite project or two you could tell us about?
Michelle:  It is hard to pick a favorite because I really do find the good in each story I do – even those that are very tragic. The very first murder trial I ever covered was in Benzie County, Michigan.  Over the course of three months, I learned what “voir dire” meant, watched a murder trial play out first hand, and was part of a talented team that produced a fascinating report.  I even ended up in the ER needing stitches after an unfortunate incident cutting tomatoes in my hotel room!  The things we do to get an interview.  Every story I cover has it’s own learning curve as you get to know the people involved.  I always find it very rewarding when I produce a story and even those with very opposing views feel I did a fair job of presenting the facts.

SOCAL: What advice would you give someone just starting out on the road you’ve traveled?  What are the most valuable traits they can develop?  Most important experiences they should seek?
Michelle:  Internships were the key to my early success in this business. Each new opportunity built upon the skills I was learning.  It is so important to be willing to jump in at any time and not feel like you are under qualified – or overqualified.  Ask the questions to figure out how to get the job done and be willing to do what it takes. Yes, you may be getting coffee for the team at first, but get the order right!  It is also so important to be able to find common ground with people. It is the key to building trust with not only sources, but also the people you work with on a daily basis.  Stay true to who you are. This is key for me because my integrity is so important.

SOCAL: What do you see in your future?
Michelle:  I feel very fortunate to have the job I do and I want to continue to produce stories that people want to watch.  Dateline NBC has a very loyal audience and I enjoy taking them through the twists and turns of a good mystery.  So, as long as there are good stories to tell, I want to be the person to produce them.

Special Media WorkFlow Workshop on March 2, 2016
Perspectives On CES 2016

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