Thomas Catenacci is a Communication Studies student who has held positions at CNBC (Production Intern and Digital Video Intern), Office of the Massachusetts Governor (Press Office Intern), NBC News (News Special Intern), and currently, WCVB-TV (Newsroom Intern).
He recently wrapped up his position at NBC News in December, and we had the opportunity to sit down with him and learn about this incredible experience in New York City. Read the Q+A below for more!
TELL US ABOUT YOUR Day-to-day responsibilities at nbc news! what is a typical day like as a news special intern?
At NBC News Specials, I found photos to be aired during special reports, did research on upcoming special reports, made research packets to assist producers, logged past special reports, and logged past interviews that were relevant to upcoming special reports or potential special reports. I also attended the team’s daily meeting where future and potential special reports were discussed. Additionally, I helped the Senior Production Manager with arranging travel for crews who were producing special reports outside New York. I booked hotels, catering services, created maps to help crews on location and filed expense reports for these trips. Overall, I helped with the production of special reports and with the important logistical side of special reports. It gave me a great perspective of what it takes to put a show on-air.
When there was critical breaking news that required a special report, my responsibilities drastically shifted. We would run to the control room where I would answer phones and redirect the caller to the right person, time the special report, and do whatever was needed of me in these high stress moments. During presidential news conferences, I tracked who asked the questions and what they asked. When there was an event that the President might tweet about, I monitored his twitter. If an anchor wanted a physical copy of their script, I would print it out and give it to them. When we were in the control room, I simply had to be ready to do any task that producer gave me.
There were really two types of days at News Specials: the days when we prepared for special reports and the days when those special reports occurred. The days when special reports occurred were naturally very exciting because of how quick everything seemed to move. These days didn’t have a typical schedule. The days spent preparing were also exciting, though. I was asked to do research on many topics, from the history of the Supreme Court to the progress of Robert Mueller’s investigation, and learned quite a bit during this time. The only consistency to these days was attending the morning meeting. From there, I planned my day according to what I was tasked to do. For example, if I had to book rooms at a hotel in Houston and log interviews of a politician’s past interviews on NBC, I would plan my day based on the specific requirements of both these tasks prioritize the most urgent tasks.
what were a few of the highlights from your co-op at nbc news?
To name just a few, here are some of the events that stood out from my time at NBC News: Hurricane Florence and Michael, the Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford testimonies on Capitol Hill, the 2018 Midterm Election, the mailing of explosive packages to prominent public figures, the firing of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, President George H.W. Bush’s funeral ceremonies, and the sentencing of the President’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen. The range of topics that NBC special reports encompasses is incredible. It allows for somebody who is new to the industry like myself to see how the coverage and production changes from event to event. For example, the operation of covering the election was vastly different than the production of the Bush funeral ceremonies. Election coverage involved counting live results from localities around the election, reporting them accurately and interpreting those results. Meanwhile, covering the Bush funeral involved looking back on his life and presidency.
It’s tough to choose just a few highlights because there were so many unforgettable moments from my time at NBC Specials. One such highlight of the co-op was the Midterm Election. A month before the election, I was asked to be a stand in for the talent. The producers needed me to be a stand in because they needed to test out the new graphics that would be used for NBC’s election coverage. Being a stand in for an anchor meant learning about the election extensively. I memorized all the important Governor, Senate, and House races and learned the different storylines to watch. I was particularly proud of a spreadsheet that I created with all 435 House races recorded with relevant information. Then, for two weeks, I sat on NBC’s set and would “be Lester Holt” during rehearsals. The producers in the control room simulated live election results, called up graphics as if the election was occurring at that moment, and I reacted to those results. The entire experience was quite surreal to say the least.
Another highlight of the co-op was being given the opportunity to do an anchor read-in on the NBC Nightly News set. A senior director was gracious enough to walk me through the process of writing a short “news update” script and reading that script via teleprompter on set while being recorded. The experience put me in the shoes of an anchor, showing me how it feels to be on TV. It is a valuable experience, even for someone like me who plans to work “behind the camera” in broadcast journalism, because of the perspective it afforded me. In the short span of my read-in, I learned that it is a true skill to be able to make reading teleprompter look natural. Skilled anchors make this look easy.
Finally, one of my responsibilities was grabbing relevant photos for a Special and uploading them to the rundown, or script, so that those photos can be broadcasted live. I did this multiple times over the course of my co-op, but one particular time stands out. During the pre-show for the Bush funeral ceremony in D.C., one of the anchors began talking about Bob Dole’s relationship with Bush Sr. One of the Production Assistants turned to me and asked me to put photos of Dole and Bush in the rundown. I quickly loaded 10 photos in the rundown and moments later, those photos were on live TV being shown to millions of people watching NBC. This moment stands out because of how quick it happened. This moment, like many times at News Specials, prepared me well for future moments when I had to stay calm and complete a task quickly.
TELL us about your experience working in nyc.
This was the first time I worked in Manhattan. It was a unique experience for me because I found myself taking the same train and recognizing my fellow commuters (I commuted from Connecticut via train every day to my co-op). Here I was, a 21-year-old commuting with the same group of people who have families and are certainly well past school. I was proud to be out of place!
Working in NYC, and at 30 Rock especially, was amazing. Going to work every day was a true honor. I would enter that legendary building with a smile on my face, thinking about the history and great moments that occurred there. I would also have to snake through crowds of tourists to get to work, which also made me appreciate how special it was to be able to walk through those doors every single day. I became determined to never walk through those crowds or those doors causally, but to appreciate every single step.
One highlight of working at 30 Rock was the tree lighting. On the day of the tree lighting, I was lucky enough to be able to stay in the building and watch from a window directly behind the tree. It was not lost on me that there were thousands of people crowded in the cold to watch what I was seeing up close from inside 30 Rock.
how did your role as a digital video intern at cnbc right before this co-op help prepare you for the position at nbc?
Working at CNBC Digital Video was key to preparing me for my role at NBC News and I think for my career. I was given more responsibilities than most people my age get at internships or co-ops at CNBC Digital. I could pitch stories, write scripts, and edit full videos that were posted to CNBC social media and to CNBC.com. CNBC gave me the confidence to be able to enter any workplace and feel prepared to make the most out of any opportunity that comes my way. I also believe that as the summer progressed, I was trusted more. Senior Producers would come to me with ideas which they would let me explore. They would let me write scripts based on that idea and then cut the video. The greater responsibility and trust allowed me to make strides in my editing skills, which I believe greatly improved over the course of this internship. Ultimately, I learned to be open to anything that comes your way and to willingly accept challenges because those challenges and experiences strengthen you.
There are two projects that stand out. The first was a video about Kim Jong Un’s inner circle. I worked on this video in the days before the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un. It was relevant, but was also evergreen because at any given time people can be interested in the inner workings of the North Korean government. The research process for this project took a long time because of how hidden the information is. There were many drafts of the script that simply didn’t work, but the producers at CNBC helped me to make it into a strong piece. It was this script writing process that were important in preparing me for my co-op at NBC News because it taught me perseverance and to know that if you are willing, you can greatly improve something that you work on.
The second project that stands out is a project that I worked on for the FIFA World Cup. The piece looked at the financing of World Cups and how it doesn’t pay to host the tournament. Not only did I write the script and edit the video, but I did the voice over for it as well. When one of the senior producers proposed this idea to me, I was hesitant. However, looking back on it I learned that you must be open to new challenges in a career if you want to grow in that career. It is also my favorite video that I worked on at CNBC Digital.
in both these positions, you’ve worked alongside talented and impressive journalists. What has this learning experience been like?
There is one consistent characteristic of the many talented journalists that I worked alongside: hard work. At CNBC and NBC News I was always impressed at how these journalists never seemed to adhere to the regular work day. They were always working, whether that was early in the morning or late into the evening. They were so dedicated to their craft that they could forget about the normal time constraints of the work day.
At NBC News, I would enjoy observing the investigative unit, which I sat near, during major breaking news stories. This unit seemed to explode with life during these moments, usually when news broke surrounding the Mueller probe. I was amazed to see the process of the investigative journalists taking in the raw breaking information, making sense of it, and then either producing a piece for NBC News’ website or going on TV to discuss the information.
The producers at CNBC are very talented journalists. Because they are digital producers, they have a different objective. Rather than react to news that is breaking or current, the producers that work at CNBC digital come up with ideas that could be turned into videos that are evergreen. This is to say they have the tough job of finding stories that will not expire, but will stay relevant and interesting for a long time. Coming up with stories that don’t just speak to a current story, but a broader idea that people care about is an art form. I learned from these producers that our lives are filled with compelling narratives and if you look hard enough you can find those stories. Then, I watched as they transformed these stories into tightly edited videos that captured the essence and message of those stories. Once again, I noticed the one underlying theme of hard work. The producers at CNBC worked relentlessly researching, writing and editing.