Combs ’08 awarded PBS fellowship in New York

Katy Combs

Katie Combs ’08 grew up in a territory celebrated for its jumping frogs — Calaveras County, Calif. — in a house with no TV. In less than a month, she’ll be working for PBS affiliate WNET on the global documentary series, “Wide Angle.”  

Combs ’08, a summa cum laude English major at Whitman, was awarded a summer fellowship by the International Radio & Television Society Foundation in New York. The program, which selects 25 students from upwards of 800 applicants, gives them hands-on experience in broadcast media in New York City.

“I think the critical-thinking skills I’ve gained at Whitman can be applied in many ways to many opportunities.” said Combs. “The benefit of a liberal arts education is that it prepares you for many things by broadening your thinking about everything.”

Combs, who minored in rhetoric and film studies, came late to broadcast media. “I probably approach TV more critically because of my parents’ stance about it,” she said. “We watched films but not television. I didn’t start watching TV until college.”

Her interest in the industry soared during her junior year at Whitman, when she studied abroad in Scotland. International news coverage was Combs’ main tie to home, so she watched news programs “constantly and critically.”

“Coming at it from a critical perspective led to my interest in public broadcasting,” said Combs, adding that she remains wary of some corporate media.

Her professional television experience includes stints as a news intern for the Oakland, Calif.-based station KTVU and for NBC affiliate KNTV in San Jose, Calif., where she worked in commercial production. Both experiences allowed Combs to learn and develop essential production skills, from lighting to camera work.

“I’m a little naïve about the industry compared to others, but I’m a hard worker,” Combs said, noting that many of her fellow interns came from communications departments or schools at universities. “I tried to catch up.”

She succeeded. This spring Combs interned at KNDU in Kennewick, Wash., where she learned how to direct, produce and edit news material. She also expanded her print journalism portfolio, writing for Whitman Magazine, the Pioneer, The Fountain and the college’s Web site. For her efforts with the Pioneer, Combs earned first place in news writing in the annual Hosokawa Journalism Awards.

“What stood out to me about Katie from the start was her curiosity, her inclination to ask good questions,” said Keith Raether, a writer in Whitman College Office of Communications for whom Combs interned in her senior year. Combs credited Raether as a constructive critic of her writing and a helpful source and reference during the extensive application process for the IRTS fellowship.

During her time in New York, Combs will work exclusively for “Wide Angle,” the only documentary series of its kind in American broadcasting. The program, she said, is known for its in-depth coverage of international news from the perspective of the people who live the stories that are being reported.

“‘Wide Angle’ is ideal for me because my dream is to work in public broadcasting with a focus on international news,” said Combs. “The mainstream media’s focus here in the U.S. is often self-centered or superficial celebrity news. I appreciate that ‘Wide Angle’ sheds light on news that is highly compelling but overlooked.”

Although she’s never been to New York, Combs will arrive to the IRTS program fully prepared. At the 10th annual Undergraduate Conference, she presented a lecture on modern media that focused on citizen-produced news as a powerful source of independent global communication.

“‘Wide Angle’ is a model of global journalism,” said Raether. “I expect that Katie will flourish in that environment for the same reasons that she has excelled at Whitman.”

— Melissa Navarro ’10