When Jessica Imbimbo arrives at the parking lot at WLTX-TV in Columbia, South Carolina, she never knows what the day may bring. From writing for an evening newscast to updating the station’s social media platforms, Imbimbo knows delivering information to people in the South Carolina Midlands is her main goal. She doesn’t take her role as a multi-platform producer lightly. Imbimbo knows it’s her responsibility to keep viewers informed while uncovering new information her viewers can use.
“Curiosity killed the cat” is a metaphor warning against unnecessary investigation. In journalism, though, curiosity is the key to survival. Imbimbo said she always knew she wanted to work in journalism. News stoked her curiosity throughout high school. Only a few years out of college, her passion for providing news to consumers is paying off.
Imbimbo, a native of Tampa, Florida, moved to Florence, South Carolina, to attend Francis Marion University after graduating high school. She said she became enthralled in journalism through the Department of Mass Communication. To gain experience, she began writing for The Patriot, the campus newspaper, and would eventually earn the title of “Editor-in-Chief.” Although Imbimbo was in the broadcast-track for her mass communication program, she said she knew any experience in the field would provide opportunities in the days and years to come.
Through connections in Florence, Imbimbo began working for the Florence Morning News a few months after graduation in 2015. She said her curiosity continued while on the “Crime and Courts” beat and later on the “Business” beat at the paper. For nearly two years, she covered stories across the Pee Dee region of South Carolina.
But, Imbimbo said she knew she wanted to return to her love of broadcast.
“I knew that is what I wanted to do. That was my original dream and passion was to go into broadcast, but I knew I needed the experience,” she said. It is critical for young journalists to recognize the necessity to learn as much as they can as they can in gathering and reporting news through a multi-skilled mindset, said Imbimbo.
You could say she is a “one-man band.” She can write, shoot video, report, and post stories.
She was hired at WLTX-TV, the CBS affiliate in Columbia, South Carolina, last December as a multi-platform producer. You could say she is a “one-man band.” She can write, shoot video, report, and post stories. That versatility makes her invaluable to her managers at her TEGNA– owned news station.
“I produce content for both on-air and online, whatever that might entail.” She also goes out in the field to gather interviews. Recently, Imbimbo began on-air reporting.
Admittedly, the broadcast position is very different than the print positions she once held: “The deadlines are much tighter. You have to turn stories around much quicker. And there’s a lot more elements to it.” In the fast-paced environment, budgeting time is a major consideration. Knowing how to do it all inside a newsroom gives Imbimbo job stability, and it also helps during breaking news events inside the newsroom.
Covering the deadly train collision
In the early morning hours of February 4, 2018, an Amtrak train collided with a CSX freight train just west of Columbia, South Carolina. The deadly collision involving a passenger train required immediate coverage from the local news outlets in the city. It was a Sunday morning; extra station personnel were called in to help cover the tragedy and deliver information to concerned family members and residents.
Imbimbo was part of the news team that gathered urgent information from multiple sources, wrote scripts, updated the website and social media, and provided information to news anchors during hours-long breaking news coverage of the tragedy.
“I was helping to gather the content as far as the train derailment was concerned. I’m looking at Twitter, looking for information, looking at Emails, writing scripts with new information coming in.”
The entire staff was concerned with getting out information as quickly as possible while ensuring the information was verified before putting it online and on-air. – Jessica Imbimbo
As the adrenaline rush from covering the story spread across the newsroom, attention immediately turned to those impacted in the community and those whose loved ones were on the trains. Imbimbo said the entire staff was concerned with getting out information as quickly as possible while ensuring the information was verified before putting it online and on-air.
“It was a team effort, through and through. Everybody was covering this. It’s our big story of the day. The hard part is gathering information and making sure it is correct before putting it out there.”
Imbimbo’s experience on the college newspaper and the reporting beats at the Morning News helps during breaking news events in a number of ways, she said. Both positions helped improve her writing skills for broadcast and print. Imbimbo said she believes her experience led her to know which questions to ask in high-pressure situations.
“If you’re asking the right questions, you’re asking the questions your readers or your viewers you want to know, and no one is in the dark,” she said. “I think The Patriot definitely helped me know that and the Morning News helped me further that into a professional level.”
Building trust in journalism
Imbimbo said she acknowledges the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. She holds the tenets of seeking the truth, acting independently, and being accountable and transparent in high regard. Those guiding principles push authenticity, Imbimbo says.
Trust in journalism continues to be at an all-time low. Despite efforts by news organizations across the country to incorporate more transparency into their reporting, news outlets are still trying to understand consumers.
Imbimbo notes personal responsibility by each member of a news team as a necessary component when rebuilding trust in journalism.
“Being an ethical and fair journalist. I feel like it’s the big names that may ruin it for the little guys because we’re out here doing the ground work. I can’t control CNN or NBC or whatever they put out. But, I have to maintain my ethics, my morals, and my values as a person and a journalist.”
If journalists consistently uphold the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics – through unbiased, objective, solid, credible reporting – news organizations would increase their trustworthiness, says Imbimbo.
“My job is to educate the public and make sense of society as a whole. People watch the news to become informed. And, when they get misinformation that’s when we are not trusted.”
Imbimbo said she also finds one of the biggest issues with “fake” news is the fascination of some news outlets to be “first” instead of “accurate.” Of course, social media has become a major player in the way people receive news and verification remains extremely important in building trust, she adds.
“What I do matters”
Those working in journalism have perhaps experienced complacency at some point in their career due to working overnights, holidays and long hours. Journalists must learn to cope with the negatives of the business.
Challenges for journalists are overshadowed by the desire to do a good job and the self-satisfaction of helping people understand the world around them, Imbimbo says.
“I just try to remind myself every day why I get into this in the first place… and why my job matters.”
According to Imbimbo, it’s important for those in the news business to understand the extraordinary responsibility they have in journalism.
It could be thousands of people who rely on the information that you’re putting out, or it could be just one. I’m impacting someone. What I do matters to someone.” – Jessica Imbimbo
“Multiple times a day, people rely on the information” her station is producing. She said she recognizes that her work is impactful to her community. “It could be thousands of people who rely on the information that you’re putting out, or it could be just one. I’m impacting someone. What I do matters to someone.”
Advice for journalism students
Imbimbo credits her time working for her college newspaper and the years she spent at the Florence Morning News for giving her a grasp of the business, honing her writing skills, and knowing what to do on the job. Imbimbo said she encourages students to learn as much as possible during their college careers to prepare themselves for life in the business.
“Get the most experience possible doing anything that you can. Learn everything. That’s the way news is going. It’s basically a one-man band. You want to be able to do everything,” she said.
Imbimbo encourages students studying journalism to take steps to move forward. Sometimes, that requires failing and making mistakes. But, those mistakes are important, she says.
Growth depends on taking opportunities and learning from our shortcomings.” – Jessica Imbimbo
“If I could give anybody advice: take criticism. I ask every day what I can do to get better. I ask my senior producer or my boss what I can do to get better. I see it more often that more people don’t want to take criticism,” Imbimbo says.
Growth depends on taking opportunities and learning from our shortcomings.
“Now that I’m in the business and I’ve been in it for about four years now, I just want to keep improving and keep moving up.”
Imbimbo said she hopes that message resonates with journalism students.
David Baxley is Assistant Professor of Mass Communications, Francis Marion University, and a SPJ South Carolina member. Baxley worked in broadcast news since 1999. He is also a meteorologist. Before entering academia in 2016, Baxley worked as an investigative producer at WIAT-TV in Birmingham, Alabama, for two years. Baxley is a regular contributor to the SPJ Region 3 website, SizingUpTheSouth.com.