Spotlight: Katie O’Donnell

By the time Katie O’Donnell graduates from City College this fall, she’ll have completed four different internships in media, gotten her writing published on four different websites, and be well on her way to an international career in television.

That would be an impressive record of accomplishments for someone who had long dreamed of a career in media. What makes it really improbable though, is that when she left small-town Pennsylvania to move for college in New York City four years ago, her goal was a career in architecture.

Katie O’Donnell on a trip to Istanbul.

While that started out well enough, she soon realized she was in the studio all the time, not out in the city where she wanted to be. She did some hard thinking over the winter break, and by the time she returned to City College she was officially “undecided.” Then she started taking communication courses, which soon led to journalism.

By the end of her sophomore year she had lined up two internships, one at a film industry trade magazine called Film Journal International and one at a start-up travel website called FATHOM. She occasionally wrote articles that were published on these sites, and she thought the writing practice was one useful experience the two jobs gave her.

“I think it’s important if I’m going to be in media to have that good solid foundation [in writing],” said O’Donnell. Her work at Film Journal International also let her learn more about the behind-the-scenes aspects of film.

In October 2011, O’Donnell saw a notice in Macaulay Monday looking for people interested in filmmaking to work for a month with WNET/Thirteen, New York’s PBS affiliate, producing a news clip about New York’s Comic Con. She applied and was accepted.

Working with the producers, she learned the basics of things like setting up shots, capturing sound, and working in a documentary style, to prepare for the climax of the experience – four days at Comic Con.

“I’d never been to Comic Con before…and I loved it, it was so full of life and fun,” O’Donnell said.

After her four “fast-paced, crazy” days doing mostly personal assistant work to help her team get the footage, the clips they produced ended up being the most viewed on the national PBS website.

Her month at Thirteen was illuminating: “Definitely that experience was like — all right, television, this is what I want.”

O’Donnell next set her sights on BBC America. She applied for an internship in December 2011 and got an interview within the week. She’d hardly gotten back from that meeting at the BBC offices when she got the call saying she’d been selected to be a digital media intern. “I was so excited – really, really ecstatic — I couldn’t even believe it, it was the best day.”

She started in January, during the end of winter break. In Fall 2011, BBC America had just started trying to produce original shows, instead of only rerunning content produced by BBC Worldwide.

“It was the very best possible time for me to be there,” she said. One of the two new shows the office was working on at the time was called “No Kitchen Required,” an adventure cooking show filmed around the world. The chefs were given personal video cameras to record their preparations for the show.

“My very first assignment – I’ll never forget it, it was so great – was to go through all of their footage,” said O’Donnell. She watched all of the behind-the-scenes clips looking for ideas for promotional videos, some of which were made and put on the BBC America website.

Another highlight of her time at BBC happened around Valentine’s Day, when the producers asked for ideas for holiday-related website content. The next day O’Donnell showed up with an idea.

They agreed that her idea — a slideshow showing couples matched up from characters on different shows — was a good one, and it ended up on the website, with O’Donnell taking the lead.

“I did it — I got help from the others, but I edited the photos, I wrote the blurbs, I did all of the tagging — it was so great! I was like ‘Ahhh! My piece is published!’”

After eight months, O’Donnell’s BBC internship ended in August 2012, and now she’s looking ahead to graduation.  O’Donnell says her eventual goal is to work as a documentary producer, perhaps incorporating her love of performing arts. “Art has such a power to inspire people and make things happen and a lot of times that’s not showcased enough,” she said. “I want to show people how important it is.”

More broadly, she loved the collaborative environment and educational focus of the public television stations she worked with, and wants to be a part of that.

“People there were working for a purpose,” O’Donnell said. “That’s what I want to do in my future — keep making television better.”

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