In fourth grade, Molly Smith took a trip to New York City where she watched a taping of the “Today Show.” As she looked on in awe of the spectacle – the cameras, the commotion, Katie Couric delivering the news with her trademark perkiness – she knew that this was what she wanted to do.
At the time, it seemed like a lofty goal – “I wanna be on TV!” – the type of wish that springs forth from a young imagination the same way wanting to be an astronaut or a rock star would. Sitting in Smith’s office in WCAX’s Rutland Bureau, I’m reminded that those goals can be attained.
Perhaps, it’s Smith’s demeanor that should have tipped everyone off early on. She portrays an air of personality and affability that is requisite in broadcasting – bright and outgoing, she wants to hear your story and makes you want to tell it. Yet underneath the surface, you can sense the confidence and assertiveness that can be dialed up at a moment’s notice if need be – she’ll get the story.
While her New York trip may have planted the broadcasting seed, it wasn’t until high school that Smith’s decision to pursue it as a career began to solidify. A student at Rutland High School, she wrote for the “Red and White,” the school newspaper. Her experiences with the paper led to her attending a journalism camp at Indiana University during the summer before her senior year.
“I loved it,” Smith declares brightly, “I began applying to schools with journalism programs as soon as I got back.”
Smith decided on Ohio University where she was accepted into the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. In the program, she had to opportunity to cut her teeth at WOUB, an Ohio public television affiliate associated with the school.
A lifelong sports fan (don’t ask her about the Patriots this season), Smith migrated to sports broadcasting at WOUB. “Sports is happy news,” she explains, “somebody always wins. It also usually has a local, community aspect to it.”
In 2006, Smith took an internship at WABC in Manhattan where she continued her focus on sports. From there, it was down to WRC, an NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C., where she had the opportunity to hone her skills in another major market.
But the fast paced Metropolitan environment wasn’t quite her scene. “I’m not a big city girl,” Smith explains of her decision to work in a smaller market, “I like that small town appeal – people are friendly, they know you.”
When Smith graduated, she headed back to D.C. where her grandparents live, and spent some time waiting tables while she planned her next move.
“I sent applications out all over the country,” she says, “I was open for anything.”
While she was not limiting her possibilities, Smith was hoping to return to New England. More specifically, Vermont. Landing a job at WCAX, however, seemed too good to be true.
Earlier this year, WCAX decided to reopen its Rutland bureau after over a decade of inactivity. They advertised the position, which Smith promptly applied for. There was competition, to be sure, but Smith had the advantage of being a Rutland native.
“I grew up here. I know the community,” she says proudly, “I get Rutland.”
Since the Rutland bureau was closed in the mid-1990s, Rutlanders have taken a cynical view of our local television stations. The perception is that the cameras only show up for the murders and robberies – that southern Vermont is otherwise forgotten and neglected.
Smith hopes to change that. “The benefit of having a reporter dedicated to this part of the state is that you can cover more stories,” Smith explains, noting that sending someone down from Burlington can be prohibitive to getting coverage.
Negative stories are inevitable, of course, but Smith challenges herself to “turn the negatives around” whenever she can. She mentions her coverage the recent closure of the MoviePlex 9 where she used the piece to focus on how The Paramount’s Big Flicks film series dovetailed with the closing.
Three weeks into her gig on the Rutland beat, Smith feels that she has made some progress. “Rutland has really embraced me,” she says, pleased for such a warm reception.
Of course, there is still some settling in required – learning the ropes, making new contacts, and readjusting to life in Rutland.
Her transition was helped in part from her mother, Vermont State Representative Megan Smith (Rutland-Windsor District 1), who played the role of proud parent and networker. “She definitely let people know I was coming back,” Smith says of her mother’s eagerness to share the news.
Indeed, Rep. Smith’s P.R. “blitz” did make it easier for Molly to hit the ground running. “So much of the leg work is done when you know the community, when you have so many personal and family relationships.”
Growing up here may give Smith a leg up on reporting in the community, but she acknowledges that four years away have seen a few changes. While some aspects of Rutland may look worse for the wear – a decline in local industry, the infamous empty storefronts, the final of the RHS-MSJ game (for now) – she notes that the bright spots are outshining the negative ones.
“I see the struggle, but I also see the work being done,” she says noting the work of the Downtown Partnership and the Creative Economy, two organizations she has started familiarizing herself with.
One of Smith’s first pieces was about Rutland’s Winter Farmers’ Market. The market, perhaps Rutland’s best recent success story, caught Smith’s attention. “It was so busy down there I had to hold off taping until the crowds thinned out,” she says, marveling at how much it has grown over the last few years.
But, despite all the progress she sees around town, being a twenty-something back in Rutland is not without its pitfalls – sometimes it can feel a little small. We commiserate briefly about a young professional’s life in the DTR, sharing experiences and exchanging our lists of favorite coffee shops, restaurants and bars.
Smith’s job doesn’t afford her much in the way of free time; however, the recent snowfall has her excited to break out the snowboard. “I have Mondays off,” she says excitedly, hinting at where you’ll likely find her on those mornings.
As she rounds out her first month in Rutland with WCAX, Smith is pleased to be back, and eager to continue covering Rutland with an eye to the positive. Anxious to get back into covering some sports, she remarks that she has playfully lobbied the sports department to let her cover RHS football. So far, it’s been a no go, but given Smith’s determination, they’d best not count her out.