Gail E. Ballantyne '00 often found herself watching the clock during her last class of the day on Thursday. As the class ran late, she became agitated and restless. This is not that unusual for a college student who has just sat through a three-hour lecture, but Ballantyne was not concerned about getting to athletic practice, making a late lab, or getting back to her dorm to catch some TV before dinner. In fact, if she hadn't left class at 4 pm on the dot, those who watch the local 5 pm news on Channel 40 would have been disappointed. Because when Ballantyne was not hitting the books at Mount Holyoke, she was working as an on-air reporter and assignment editor at Springfield's [Massachusetts] News40.
While she tried not to let her restlessness attract attention in class, Ballantyne couldn't help but stand out. Jeans and sneakers were out. In order to make it to the TV station in time to report live on the news at five, she arrived at class sporting what she describes as "poufy hair," which was secured with a heavy dose of hair spray. Makeup hid her naturally pale complexion (she applied even more when she arrived at the station), and she was dressed in a tailored suit and heels.
Gail Ballantyne's bifurcated life as a professional reporter/student began in December of 1999, when she saw an ad on the Web for a part-time reporting job at News40. A veteran of four internships in broadcast journalism, including one at ABC News in Washington, and two stints as an anchor at college television stations, Ballantyne decided to apply. She sent out a tape of her on-air reporting at American University, where she studied journalism in the spring of 1999, and to her surprise she got the job.
During her last semester at Mount Holyoke, Ballantyne worked thirty hours a week as a reporter and assignment editor while juggling three classes and an independent study. Since she was the new person on the block, her assignments were not always the most glamorous ones, but Ballantyne seemed to thrive on "finding an angle" to make even the most mundane story interesting. During a story on flooding in a Springfield parking garage, she donned a wet suit, borrowed from a local firefighter, to report from the scene. Her report on the effects of rampant crow waste in Springfield during the unusually warm weather last winter found her interviewing employees at a car wash where she had taken her own vehicle to be cleansed of the waste days before she got the assignment.
Dave Madsen, anchor and managing editor at News40, has high praise for Ballantyne. "Gail is a remarkable young lady. In the thirty years I've been in broadcasting, I have never seen someone of her age demonstrate such a high level of maturity and talent and such a breadth of experience," he says. "She has a very bright future in this business."
Ballantyne credits Mount Holyoke for "teaching [her] how to think. You can learn a job by getting experience," she says. Ballantyne worked with Kent Polk, acting director of the College's Speaking Center (part of the Harriet L. and Paul M. Weissman Center for Leadership) to hone her on-air skills and to build confidence, and she found a community development class taught by Preston Smith, associate professor of politics, "invaluable in understanding Holyoke," the focus of several of her stories. History professor Dan Czitrom, who is often tapped for commentary by the media, worked with Ballantyne to design a special broadcast journalism major, augmenting her other major in American studies.
Says Czitrom, "Gail has impressed me greatly with her drive, ambition, and eagerness to learn all she can about the journalism profession and its history. I saw real evidence of this in her work in my seminar last fall on Reading the New York Times. Gail's work in and outside of class reflects her strong desire to connect learning the craft of journalism with a deeper understanding of the recent American past."
Not surprisingly, now that she has graduated, Ballantyne will be pursuing a full-time career in broadcast journalism. After receiving job offers from stations in Mississippi, Nebraska, and New York State, she took a position as a general assignment reporter at WICY, the NBC affiliate in Erie, Pennsylvania.