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Natural talent, nurtured well, has landed this SMCS grad making news

Saint Mary’s class of 2015 graduate Ben Walls finished his undergraduate degree at Virginia Tech in May 2023, and since June has been working as an on-air reporter for Eyewitness News WEHT/WTVW (the ABC and CW television network affiliates) in Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. 

He shared some time with the Monarch Messenger recently.

First: please tell me what your life is like now — what’s your week look like on a given week, work wise? I am sure it varies, but tell me/the reader a little bit about what you do from day to day.

I live in Evansville, Indiana and report the news for the ABC and CW affiliates Eyewitness News WEHT/WTVW here. WEHT is ABC, and WTVW is CW. I’m a multimedia journalist there since June 2023. Though the news is always changing and happening quickly, I’m happy there’s some routine for the day on weekdays.

On a workday, I will at least produce a 2-minute story every day that will air on our stations, and I have to publish an online article that goes along with it. Among the best advice I have received in the business is that the best broadcast news stories are the ones that plenty of people are talking about. In the mornings around 9:30 I pitch the stories about what people are talking about and what’s happening in Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky that we can realistically produce in a day. I may give a call to the public information officer at the Evansville Police Department about their investigations or give the University of Evansville or the University of Southern Indiana a call and see what they have going on too. People around the area have given me and the newsroom their concerns, and I may give the mayor’s office a call to take those concerns to city hall and make a news story about that.

My day really gets started around 10:30 when my news director and assignment editor give me an “OK” for a story. Then it’s a matter of gathering interviews from both the officials and sometimes asking people out in the community about their thoughts and opinions. Fortunately for me, the people here are nice and usually have no problem talking with me on camera.

Among my responsibilities, it’s pretty standard in a work day for us reporters to do either a pretend live shot out in the field (better known as a look-live or an as-live), to go live out in the field for a broadcast or to go live in the studio previewing our stories. More often than not, I am asked by management to do a pretend live shot out in the field. I may find what the lead is for my story and stand next to it explaining why it’s so newsworthy. Or I may stand next to it and say why x, y and z is a problem for the city.

I like to get back to the newsroom to edit my stories no later than 2:30, but I try to shoot for 1:30 any time I can. In the afternoons, I edit my sound, video and interviews for a 45-second story for the 4 o’clock newscast, a two-minute story for the 5 o’clock newscast and another 45-second story for the 6 o’clock newscast.

Around 5:00 it’s time to publish my online article and video for our website, so I can be done at 5:30. I do normally come in earlier than 9:30 and stay later than 5:30 though, so I can figure out stories for the upcoming days.

I work on Saturdays and Sundays, and those days are a lot more low-key since there aren’t many people in the newsroom. The routine is about the same on weekends though.

Your bio says you were the news editor for the Virginia Tech campus newspaper. When did you know that you wanted to pursue journalism/communications? What were some of your influences or how did you figure out your direction?

Since I was little, I always loved to write. Back at SMCS, I always looked forward to Mr. Maddock and Mr. Schaefer’s English classes since we had time to write creatively and share our writings with the class. I always have appreciated them for encouraging us to step outside our comfort zone and say out loud what we wrote. Among the highlights of my day would be sharing my writings with the class. I graduated from SMCS in 2015.

Going to Benedictine after graduating from SMCS, I really didn’t write much in my freshman year, but journalism was offered as an elective as a sophomore. I liked the sound of having the opportunity to write again and learn a new skill. Mr. Mike Forster at Benedictine gave me incredibly thorough and enjoyable lessons at BCP. He taught us what questions are important for journalists to answer, how to write in the Inverted Pyramid and how to respectfully approach a newsmaker for interviews — all of which I use daily at Eyewitness News.

I spent my sophomore year writing short updates on the Cadets teams for BCP “This Week in Sports,” and I enjoyed taking what I learned from classes and putting them into action. My sophomore year was the first time I had to ask people I didn’t necessarily know well if they would offer a comment about the past or upcoming games. Talking to unfamiliar people and asking if they would be willing to talk to us for a newscast are responsibilities I have every day. I am thankful for my sophomore year for giving me that first taste into news reporting.

Though being a junior at Benedictine and writing for The New Chevron newspaper, I didn’t realize I could make a career in the news until one day our newspaper class met with Mr. and Mrs. Forster, and they made us a cake after meeting a newspaper deadline. Mrs. Forster asked “is anyone interested in majoring in journalism,” and it helped me realize that making a career in news was more doable than I thought if I could get a journalism degree! I already enjoyed my sophomore year writing, and was currently enjoying my junior year writing for the newspaper. Why not make a career in news reporting? It’s something I thought about more and more as a junior. Beginning in my senior year, I was set on applying to colleges and declaring my major as journalism. Mr. Forster and I talked about it more too, and I appreciate him taking the time to talk me through what a day-to-day looks like for a professional journalist. As I was saying earlier, though, I felt I had a head on my shoulders and understanding what it takes to be a journalist because of Mr. Forster’s journalism classes and the journalism projects he would assign.

As a senior and editor-in-chief of The New Chevron, my love for writing, helping create a layout for the newspaper and helping to declare what was newsworthy only made my decision to major in journalism in college easier. I would have a much different thought process — and I may have entered a different career — if Mr. Forster wasn’t there to guide me and offer the best possible advice on news reporting. I am forever grateful for that.

I enjoyed my professors at Virginia Tech, but Mr. Forster’s teachings and advice on the news business were incomparable. Though I am thankful for my Virginia Tech journalism professors, I felt like Mr. Forster shaped me as a journalist more so than my journalism professors.

What are some of the things you’ve most liked about your job and/or about journalism?

There is always something new to learn, and I enjoy that. One day I’m expected to report on wastewater issues in Sturgis, Kentucky and the next day I’m expected to report on a shooting in Evansville the next — all true stories from me. It’s not always sad news though. One day I’m reporting about what people are doing on a warm Christmas Eve, and the next day I’m reporting on someone earning a new A/C and furnace for the holiday season — all true stories again.

I also like how journalism offers the opportunity for me to learn about what issues are important to Illinoiseans, Hoosiers and Kentuckians. Everyone has a story. It’s just a matter of asking from there. I have the privilege to learn about some people’s aspirations for Congress and to meet a couple Evansville Plato’s Closet workers gaining massive attention on Instagram.

Switching gears to education, what are some of your best memories of your days at Saint Mary’s?

Our 8th grade IB projects come to mind first, and I appreciate how Mrs. Clopton motivated us to build and present the best projects possible. I had lots of creative freedom there, and I am thankful for that. With plenty of help from school staff and my mom, we aired a movie night in the lower commons and raised a couple hundred dollars for Sportable.

We still had time for fun too! I had plenty of days at After School Care where my friends and I would play basketball, football, wall ball and frisbee after school, and I really enjoyed that! Fall and spring afternoons on Saint Mary’s playground and blacktop are among my best memories that still make me smile as I grow older.

I remember school dances as fun times too! I also played SMCS basketball in 5th grade, and I eventually picked it up again in 8th grade. I’m happy my classmates were welcoming when I came back to play basketball.

I enjoyed Mrs. Trout’s science classes in 4th grade. We did plenty of creative projects that made the class a lot more fun than just doing exercises out of a book.

Math was never my strongest subject, but I will always remember Mr. Twilley and Mrs. Koehler working with me multiple times a week to help me understand math. My grades were a little better thanks to them!

How do you think getting your educational and spiritual foundation at Saint Mary’s impacted your successes since?

Meeting tight deadlines are among the toughest parts of my job, and I have to remind myself that God is in control. No matter what happens, God is with me and guiding me to do the best I can. Saint Mary’s helped me remember that.

How did Saint Mary’s prepare you to be someone who’s achieved what you have achieved so far?

Saint Mary’s taught me how to stay disciplined and taught me how to advocate for myself. I think about Mr. Maddock and Mr.Schaefer again for always encouraging us to speak up in class, and it’s something I’ll always be grateful for.

My time at Saint Mary’s has helped me realize too that I need help sometimes in order to reach a goal. To have better grades in math, I needed help from Mr. Twilley and Mrs. Koehler. To make my 8th grade IB project the best possible, I needed help from Mrs. Clopton. To become a better public speaker and writer, I needed help from Mr. Maddock and Mr. Schaefer. I’m so happy to call them my teachers growing up.

In news, I bounce ideas off my co-workers every day, so we can air the best product every day. I am thankful for Saint Mary’s for helping me realize I can reach out for help sometimes.

Tell me about some of the most interesting people or stories you’ve reported on.

I love this question! Just a couple weeks ago, it was a treat and a privilege to interview Aiden Fullenwider — a 13-year-old fighting a brain tumor from Daviess County, Kentucky. For his 13th birthday, Make-A-Wish granted him a trip to Super Bowl 58, and it was awesome to hear about his family’s trip to the NFL Honors, meeting some NFL greats like Barry Sanders and eventually making it to the big game…where his favorite team — the Chiefs — won in overtime!

Over the summer, I interviewed Linda Yearby — a professional basketball player and coach from Indiana who was reunited with a time capsule 70 years after it was buried. I felt like I was around a living legend! Listening to Linda’s stories about being among the first women to play professional basketball was a true honor.

How has the faith-life part of your schooling at SMCS and BCP affected how you live/work and how you encounter people and stories?

From lessons at SMCS and BCP and as Catholics, we’re supposed to live for others and serve others beyond ourselves. I like to think I’m placing myself in new, unfamiliar situations every day, so the community is informed. I have a great privilege to be among the voices sharing the message of what’s happening in Evansville, Indiana every day. I give others a voice through our news channel, and sometimes these stories are good news — like Linda Yearby’s story and Marty Stocker receiving a new A/C and furnace. 

What about your job keeps it exciting?

There’s never any down time at work, and there’s never a time where I am bored at work. It’s both a blessing and a curse because I like to stay busy and report the best stories, but I’m in the newsroom most days from 8:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m.

Every day there’s a new opportunity to learn more and more about local government, economy, public safety, infrastructure and the issues that are important to Illinoiseans, Hoosiers and Kentuckians.

What do you like to do in your free time? How do you like Indiana/Kentucky/Illinois so far?

I love going on walks and hikes in my free time. I like playing the guitar too when I can.

The tri-state is much different than Richmond! It’s weirdly flat here. It’s really weird and different to look out and see grain and farms as far as the eye can see. It’s not uncommon to see tractors and other farming vehicles on the road at any time too.

I like living here though. My neighborhood reminds me of The Fan, but Evansville is just much smaller. We have the same big-name stores and restaurants like Target, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, etc., but driving 10 minutes in any direction and seeing huge farms and silos as far as the eye can see is really strange.

Though I like living here, I want to place my roots somewhere back in Virginia. 

Finally: what advice would you give Saint Mary’s middle schoolers about life, school after Saint Mary’s, and work in the world?

Don’t ever, ever sell yourself short. It’s something I continue to struggle with today, but my advice to Saint Mary’s students is to realize that you are important, you have talents and you can use your talents to make the world better. Figure out what you love and find a way to use it every day.

Don’t ever forget to have fun and don’t be afraid to try new things. Some day, you might turn 23 and wish you had done x, y and z while at SMCS, in high school and in college. These days are limited. Use them. You’ll never know if you do or don’t like something if you don’t try. In high school, I decided to play tennis for the first time as a senior, and I loved it. I hope SMCS students will find something in high school and in college that they haven’t tried before and just go out and see if they like it.

Story submitted by Jennifer Janus for SMCS, Photo source