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A&S Magazine Spring 2019

College People: Jenna Dagenhart

Media Studies Alumna Sticks to the Facts

By: Molly Minturn

College People: Jenna Dagenhart

Media Studies Alumna Sticks to the Facts

When she was a second-year student at UVA, Jenna Dagenhart (Media Studies ’13) attended a career panel through the College where Wyatt Andrews (Government and Foreign Affairs ’74), then a national correspondent for CBS News, spoke about his career as a reporter. 

“He started talking about his experiences, and I realized that it was perfect in terms of what I hoped to do—to communicate and tell stories,” said Dagenhart. “That panel drove me toward media studies, and then once I was in media studies, I knew that that’s what I would do the rest of my life.”

Andrews suggested Dagenhart work at WUVA News to get some experience, and within weeks she was reporting live for WUVA's FM radio station. “I would get up at the crack of dawn every Tuesday and do radio broadcasts out of Alumni Hall. Since then I haven’t looked back.” she said. 

Today Dagenhart is a global TV producer who delivers on-air First Word news headlines and does charting segments. She got her first network experience with an internship at CBS Evening News with Andrews in Washington, D.C., the summer between her third and fourth years. There she helped produce at the White House, research stories and deliver Supreme Court rulings.

At the same time, Dagenhart was immersed in the media studies major, doing hands-on editing, reporting, researching, and writing. “UVA media studies helps you to put all your fears aside and just do it,” she said. “I learned the foundation for being a general news reporter, where you’re an expert on a different topic every day and you have to get it right.”

Andrews joined the UVA media studies faculty as a professor of practice in 2016. “My students are not allowed to research information with a source by text or email. They have to speak to them directly, either in person or over the phone,” he said. “What I’ve tried to convince our students of is that the average news story is a mini research paper... If an employer hires a UVA-trained journalist, they’re going to get high quality, top flight journalism.”

After UVA, Dagenhart received an M.S. degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and then returned to Charlottesville in 2014 for a job as a television news reporter and anchor at NBC 29 News on WVIR-TV. 

Within a few months on the job, she was covering the now-discredited Rolling Stone story about sexual assault at a UVA fraternity. “The day after the story came out, before we knew it was false, I tried to go straight to the source,” she said. She interviewed two UVA sexual assault survivors who noticed discrepancies in the article. Dagenhart’s reporting on the Rolling Stone piece won her an Associated Press Broadcaster Award that year.

“Jenna was the ideal media studies student. She speaks multiple languages, is intensely curious about how the world works, and presents her thoughts in a disciplined, structured manner regardless of whether she is writing, speaking, or producing video,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, Robertson Professor of Media Studies. 

Vaidhyanathan helped grow media studies from a program to a major in 2007 and leads an annual January Term media studies course, “Journalism in NYC,” where students meet journalists, including Dagenhart, at Bloomberg, the New Yorker, CNN, NBC, Fox News, Late Night with Stephen Colbert, and elsewhere. “Jenna always gives our students her time and advice and speaks in glowing terms about her time at UVA,” he said.

Dagenhart’s job at Bloomberg entails a lot of financial reporting, which she says she learned on her feet. “Bloomberg and UVA both teach you that the more you know, the more you don’t know. I think it’s always important to remember that,” she said. “In the end, it’s all a story you’re telling. The minute you can remove yourself from the story, that’s when you’re really telling it.”

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