Alumni Spotlight: Jessica Ma

JOURNALISM/NEWS SERIES – This month’s spotlight series features T. Howard Foundation (THF) alumni who are not only in the business of reporting the facts and interpreting events, they’re also charged with presenting information and stories for the public to enjoy. We’re profiling alumni working in Journalism and/or News media.

Jessica Ma (THF ‘15)

Please describe your role.

I have recently been promoted to Associate Producer working for the CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell. Typically (outside of quarantine), I am responsible for producing the headlines for each night’s broadcast. This requires collaborating with our team of producers and senior writers to distill the most important facts of the night into an attention-grabbing minute and a half.


What do you enjoy most about your company?

What I love most about CBS is the internal support! There is a lot of opportunity to work with members of different teams such as the National and Foreign Desks or other shows and many senior team members are more than happy to give advice on packages or how to further one’s career.

In what way did this type of work interest you and how did you get started?

I’ve known that I wanted to be involved in the journalism industry since I was quite young, beginning with writing for school papers in middle school and all through studying journalism in college at Hofstra University. So in that regard, I’ve been lucky to have been exposed to journalism from a young age. In college, I was able to gain the most experience through joining my campus radio station and television news broadcast program, which sparked my interest in broadcast journalism.

How has your affiliation with the T. Howard Foundation influenced your career?

I firmly believe that a successful career depends equally on hard work and good timing. At my first serious internship placement at Regional News Network (aka FiOS1 News) in Rye, NY, through the T. Howard Foundation, I was able to gain critical skills for working in a contemporary newsroom; it was an experience that I had not had prior, even through my college classes. Thanks to that experience, I was able to intern with CBS News Radio and from there transferred to working with the Evening News, where I have remained.

What personal attributes have been essential to your career success?

In my experience, being kind to others and having an open mind can open just as many doors as churning out packages and winning awards. I have been able to work on exciting projects just by building a rapport with members of my own team and other teams. You never know what other people are working on and who might provide the helping hand you need, so never be afraid to say hi and give a smile!

If you were entering this career today, how would you prepare to facilitate entry?

The exciting — but also slightly daunting — thing about the journalism industry is that it’s always changing. Social media has affected both how we gather and how we present news, so there is always room for new ideas. If I were entering this career today, I would seek to not only embrace these changes, but lead the charge in building a voice on these platforms to build a wider audience than has traditionally been targeted by newspapers and evening broadcasts.

Do you perform your work in a cubicle, office or open workspace? Please describe what’s on your desk at this moment.

The CBS Newsroom is an open office space to facilitate easier communication between the different shows and teams. It can definitely get a little noisy at times, which is why my noise-canceling headphones are the most important thing on my desk! I also work long hours (roughly 10-hour days) and in breaking news situations, I occasionally stay the night with a relative in the city (as I live in New Jersey) so I keep a “go bag” in my drawer with toiletries and a change of clothes. I am big into color-coding; I have a cup of various colored markers, pens, and pencils to keep all my notes straight. And, of course, a giant bottle of hand sanitizer.

How do you re-charge at work?

As many people in the industry may know, it can feel difficult to step away from work — even just to grab lunch! — when breaking news could happen at any time. However, I find that taking a quick 10-minute walk around the office to feel the sun and maybe grab a coffee definitely helps me re-center especially if I’m facing a difficult project.