Childress comes full circle
Autumn Childress, a 2018 graduate of Longwood University, quite literally grew up in the TV news business. That’s because as a child, she would often go to work with her mother, who was a longtime morning news anchor at the local ABC affiliate in Richmond.
Fast forward two decades, and now Childress is back home in the Richmond media market working as a multimedia journalist at WRIC 8News — the same station where she watched her mother anchor the news as a child.
In the following Q&A, a Longwood representative recently caught up with the communication studies major to find out about her latest career move and what it has been like to return to her hometown journalism roots.
Q: What is your current job at WRIC 8News, and what were you doing previously?
A: I am a multimedia journalist for 8News. I work the morning shift, so I am live from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. for Good Morning Richmond, and then again from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. I’ve been in this job since the spring. Previously I was a multimedia journalist and fill-in anchor at WHSV in Harrisonburg. It was an awesome first job out of college. I learned so much about the industry, and I improved my storytelling and camera presence significantly in just under two years. I was also able to fill in as a producer and anchor the 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to return to the Richmond market, and what is the favorite part of the job you have now?
A: Yes, I’ve always wanted to work in my home market. From my time at Longwood to my time in Harrisonburg, it’s always been a goal to get back home. I’m grateful for the way the cards fell, and I’m so happy to be at the station where my mom was an anchor for 17 years.
My favorite part is that I simply love being home. It’s an unexplainable feeling to report in the same town where I was raised. I love that my family can turn on the TV every morning and watch. It’s so fulfilling getting messages from old teachers, classmates, teammates, coaches and acquaintances saying they saw me on air. I also really enjoy not having to use a GPS for directions every day.
Q: How has your job been affected by the current COVID-19 pandemic?
A: The pandemic impacted local news significantly from the beginning. All reporters were assigned equipment to be able to work from home, and most of our interviews were done through Zoom. Now reporters are slowly trickling back into the newsroom, when needed, but things look a lot different. We have Plexiglass barriers, masks are required, we interview people with mic stands six feet apart, and photographers and reporters cannot ride in the same car when we go out to cover stories together. The pandemic has also, of course, impacted the stories that we tell. I’d say about 80% of my news stories deal with COVID in some way.
Q: Is there one story that you’ve covered so far that really sticks out to you as being impactful or important?
A: History happened right before my eyes all summer long. Growing up in Richmond, I was accustomed to seeing the massive Confederate monuments that lined Monument Avenue. Within weeks of starting this job, each of those monuments — except for the one of Gen. Robert E. Lee, which is still tied up in litigation — was taken down. Several other Confederate markers around the city were also removed. I was on scene of the majority of these, reporting as crews removed these statues from their pedestals. It was an unbelievable experience.
Q: How did Longwood help prepare you for your current job?
A: I could brag on the training I got at Longwood all day long. I entered this industry confident and prepared, and I owe it all to the incredible people in the communication studies department. The professors are all awesome and know this industry so well. Also, Longwood’s broadcast studio is top-notch. The equipment mirrored what I’ve used at my past two stations. I’d put Longwood’s digital media program up against any other university in Virginia. It’s a privilege to wake up every day and truly enjoy what you do. I am thankful for all of the guidance and support I’ve received from Longwood over the years.
Q: What is one piece of advice that you would give to current Longwood seniors who are preparing to graduate and enter the working world? Also, what advice do you have for freshmen who are interested in communication studies and might want to pursue a career in multimedia journalism?
A: Find your passion and go at it full force. Set short-term and long-term goals, and work at them every single day. Also mentors and internships are so important. I had two internships in college, and I met some amazing people who I still connect with on a regular basis. For freshmen, I’d tell them they are in the right place. I’d encourage them to take advantage of all of the resources available on campus and to get involved.