By Molly Loughman
As a native of the New Jersey suburbs outside New York City, Natalie Benoit ’20 never imagined knowing so much about New Hampshire—its mud seasons, maple sugar tapping, unemployment, health crises, presidential primaries, or the pronunciation of certain towns. But now she’s telling the daily stories of Granite Staters as a producer for the state’s only network-affiliated news station, WMUR TV.
Benoit landed her new job in April, after completing a three-month Fred Young TV Producing Fellowship. In that role, she worked closely with WMUR staff to assist in the production of more than 50 newscasts.
“The producer is the heart of the operation while the director is sort of the brains. The director is there doing technical stuff, communicating things, whereas producers exercise news judgement: what stories go where, what materials, graphics, and visual are there to drive the story into the hearts and minds of viewers so they don’t forget,” explains Benoit, who majored in Journalism and minored in Public Relations and Radio.
Created in honor of news icon Fred Young, who produced impactful and award-winning stories for Hearst Television for 40 years, the fellowship is a paid training opportunity for aspiring journalists who demonstrate interest and ability to produce and write news for TV, radio, or online. Since its creation in 2013, 26 fellowships have been awarded to graduating seniors from colleges and universities nationwide.
A Childhood Dream
Benoit, a Dominican American, first realized her love for news production when she ran her sixth-grade news blog. Later, she was co-editor-in-chief of her high school digital news site. Her idol was entertainment reporter and Emerson alumna Maria Menounos ‘00.
Benoit dove deep into broadcast journalism at Emerson’s student-run multimedia news station, WEBN. “It was a big deal, especially because Emerson allowed underclassmen access to cameras. Getting my hands on the JVC 200 and great camera equipment was something not every school offers,” says the former WEBN Entertainment senior producer. Bilingual, Benoit was also assistant news director and journalist for WEBN’s Spanish-speaking news show, Noticiero and held several executive board positions with Emerson’s chapter of the National Association for Hispanic Journalists. “Emerson was great. I really think I made the best decision by going there.”
Benoit graduated from Emerson in 3.5 years, finishing her studies last December at Emerson Los Angeles, interning at Menounos’s company After Buzz TV and the Better Together podcast, where she conducted research and managed social media. During her subsequent search for a news station internship, Benoit’s faculty mentor, Associate Professor of Journalism Marsha Della Giustina, handed her the Hearst Fellowship application after two of her previous students were chosen over the last decade. “So I am very aware of the required very high bar of excellence, and Natalie truly met it and Natalie truly met it,” said Della Giustina.
“Even thinking about it now makes me really emotional, because it’s a big deal for me,” says Benoit. “Immediately after I found out, I called my mom and she was sobbing, saying ‘See what happens when you work hard?’”
On the Job
Benoit begins her day in WMUR’s second-floor conference room, logging into a computer in front of two large monitors displaying multiple channels used for newscasts. If “boothing” in the later morning, she moves upstairs into the control room to help orchestrate the noon newscast . By 12:30 pm, she returns to the conference room to sift through emails and attend the producer’s meeting for the 5:00 pm and 6:00 pm newscasts.
“They basically go through what each reporter is going to cover for the show, and how the order stacks up… There’s always fun banter and conversation and ideas that’ll come up from there,” said Benoit, who also attends and contributes to morning and afternoon editorial meetings, where writers and producers exchange ideas and discuss what’s on the assignment desk. “Producers suggest stories and recommend a lot of the questions for the reporter to ask. [WMUR] news directors want to hear stories from everybody anytime there’s a meeting.”
In March, WMUR celebrated Women’s History Month highlighting women statewide, with Benoit contributing to the station’s website and Instagram content. She also has access to NH cold cases, which she uses to update WMUR webseries for NH unsolved case files.
One week, Benoit trained with a video editor, learning how to cut newscasts with Premiere Pro. During her fellowship, she built and produced her own news shows as practice. She could be often found in the shadows of her mentor, Susan White, a tenacious producer who runs the 6:00 pm news. “She’s incredible. She writes. She coordinates with everyone on every side — reporters, assignment desk, crew — and makes everything work,” says Benoit. “I truly think news producers bring everyone together to tell stories that are true and make people feel invested. It’s a skill I hope to develop.”
During her Fellowship, Benoit set a personal goal to produce WMUR News 9 at Noon, and that’s exactly what she was doing by April.
“It’s so gratifying to see a story you wrote or something you built in a few hours go up — and it’s daily — So that’s so cool to know I’m helping to inform thousands to millions of people.”
Della Giustina said she was “so very proud” of her former student. “[Natalie] is an extremely hard worker who is highly responsible, meets deadlines, and understands the community media needs. She has an incredibly exciting career ahead of her.”
At the end of April, Benoit was offered a two-year contract to continue with WMUR, working on its noon and 5:00 p.m. shows.