Savannah Sellers, journalist and MSNBC correspondent, graduated in 2013 from the University of Colorado with a degree in Broadcast News Journalism with a certificate in International Affairs. Based out of New York City, Sellers works primarily as a reporter and host for The Today Show and is also responsible for NBC’s Snapchat story, “Stay Tuned”, and NBC News for Universal Kids. Sellers has achieved great success from a young age and has already received praise for her work including an Emmy for a series on the heroin epidemic in America. Sellers was offered an opportunity to serve as the 2019 Spring Graduation Commencement Speaker here at CU and will be giving her address Thursday, May 9th beginning at 8 am MST. I was given the honor to interview Sellers and discussed her experiences here at CU, the ins and outs of her career and her upcoming commencement address this Spring; the transcript of the interview is provided below and has been edited for user readability.
HCCU: Could you tell me a little bit about your educational background?
SS: Sure, I mean, I graduated from high school in San Diego and then I came to the University of Colorado Boulder on the Presidential Scholarship, which was one of the reasons that I chose Boulder being out of state since it can be pricey. And then I graduated from CU in 2013 with a degree in Broadcast News and a certificate in International Affairs. And then as far as real-world educational experience, I interned at NBC three times throughout my four years in college, twice at NBC San Diego, and once at MSNBC here in New York City.
HCCU: So at which point in your life did you actually know what career you wanted to pursue?
SS: So growing up my whole family and I would always watch The Today Show, and my grandma would always say things about Katie Couric and while watching The Today Show would always say ‘you can be on TV, you should be on TV one day’. And so she had put in my head the idea of TV and then in middle school, I started having an interest in news and journalism. And then in the eighth grade, my school took a trip to the East Coast and it was my first time in New York City; so we came to New York and visited the Today Show Plaza here at Rockefeller Center, and I just knew I needed to work here or I would die, basically.
HCCU: So you’re a relatively recent graduate but thus far in your career, what project or piece would you say you’re most proud of?
SS: So I haven’t always been in front of the camera, and so back when I first came to New York six years ago, right after graduation, my first few jobs were in behind-the-scenes roles, and I primarily worked as an assistant to people. But while I was an assistant, I worked for a correspondent named Kate Snow, who is this wonderful human who is still a mentor and friend of mine. And she anchors nightly news on Sunday nights. But Kate allowed me to work as a booker on a series that she was working on about heroin addiction. And the series actually went on to win an Emmy; so I won an Emmy as a producer for this series called ‘Hooked, America’s Heroin Epidemic’. And obviously the Emmy is something that I am proud of, but also looking back, it was one of the first times I felt taken seriously in my career. It just so happened that it was on a piece that was about something that just was tearing apart our country and tearing apart families and just really seemed so meaningful and impactful at the time.
HCCU: How would you describe your current role and career at NBC?
SS: It’s an absolute dream job for me, I don’t really like when women say ‘lucky’ because I think that it’s not a thing that you hear men say very often, I will point out. However, I really do just feel just lucky that I love what I do and that I worked hard for it. My job day by day is as a reporter or correspondent for The Today’s Show on MSNBC. And then I’ve also worked on the production of my pieces, I work on writing them, I’m heavily involved in the editing process, so it’s sort of all-encompassing. I think the coolest thing about my job actually is that I have these various platforms, and I get to touch on issues that matter to all generations in all places.
HCCU: So what does a typical day for you look like?
SS: They are all very different, which I love. But generally starting the day, we have our producers finding story ideas, figuring out what we’re going to cover and we start scripting and just really make sure it has the right voice and it’s written how we might have originally imagined it. Then if it’s a Snapchat day, I go to hair and makeup and then go to shoot the show. In between, it’s just a lot of running around and doing all kinds of things. So every day is a little bit different; a lot of days are travel days. It’s really a mixed bag, but, for the most part, it’s oscillating between taping our Snapchat show, which is obviously a huge priority of mine and then traveling, scripting, and recording things for other pieces that are going to air on other platforms at NBC News. I also do a show on Universal Kids called NBC News for Universal Kids; so if it’s a Universal Kids day, I’ll go tape with them for like two or three hours because we pre-tape those shows. That’s also really cool because it’s another generation, another shift of tone and topic, and certain things have to be handled with care depending on the age group. So every day is really just so different, and it’s amazing.
HCCU: How has your academic career opened any doors for you or helped you establish yourself in the industry?
SS: I think that my professors at the School of Journalism, which is now part of CMCI, totally prepared me for what I do now, and I think a lot of them are still there now. My very first day in a journalism class, the professor, Kelsey Logan, had mentioned that she had worked in New York and had done campaigns with brands that had ended up on Good Morning America and The Today Show, and I was like, ‘oh my God, I need to talk to this woman’. We immediately went and got coffee that first week of school, and she could not have been kinder to me, could not have made me feel more capable of getting here to New York and doing these types of things. I think even conversations like that makes such a difference in your confidence. But I think back to it all the time [about] if I was at a different school, if I would have not had access to these specified classes, I wouldn’t know a lot of things I knew when coming here. I think that it makes me confident that I’m doing something well and that I’m providing information that I care deeply about. But I could go on with examples, like Kathleen Ryan, who was another professor of mine and oversaw my thesis. My thesis was about women in network news and looking at the number of women in network, the ratings when they’re on, and now here I am a woman in network news. And then I will just also say that since then, now that I am in a position to, I have tried to establish a great relationship with more Boulder students.
HCCU: What advice would you have for aspiring journalists?
SS: First just some really practical advice, internships were everything for me— from just actually learning the craft of journalism but also for getting your foot in the door. And a huge piece of advice for everyone, not just in journalism, is that getting your foot in the door is really a huge part of the equation. And what I think is so cool, especially in the field of journalism, is that the landscape is always changing so leaning into journalism at this time just means that you have so many more ways to look at how to do exactly what it is that you want to do within this field. It’s really just saying yes to every opportunity that you have and, I mean, that’s kind of how I got here today.
HCCU: You’re actually going to be serving as the commencement speaker for the University of Colorado’s graduation ceremony for the Spring class of 2019, so how are you feeling about this opportunity and coming back to Colorado as a whole?
SS: I am flipping out. Honored doesn’t feel like a sufficient word for my emotions, but I love Colorado. It’s really a second home for me. When I imagined coming back to give the commencement address, it feels like I graduated 5 minutes ago so when I was asked about it, my first thoughts were ‘are you sure?’, and my second thoughts were that I hope nobody’s upset that it’s me. But it’s obviously a gigantic role to fill, and I hope I do it justice. I’m working hard now to really just hone in on what messages I think are particular to me since I was the one that was asked but will also provide inspiration, hope, and just bring a realness to it. I want to just be myself and give everybody a little peace of mind that it’s okay if you don’t have it all figured out. Eventually you will.
Special thanks to Savannah Sellers and her publicist, Emily Passer, for this interview, and I wish Savannah continued success throughout her career.