The Daily Gamecock

'There's nothing like going home'

MSNBC anchor Craig Melvin returns to Columbia for lecture

Columbia's favorite son Craig Melvin chose a good time to return home — his favorite bar, Jake's in Five Points, recently reopened.

Melvin, an MSNBC daytime anchor and NBC news correspondent who began his career at leading local TV station WIS, will speak on campus Wednesday as part of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies' eighth I-Comm Week.

Melvin currently lives in Connecticut and works in New York City. His fiancée Lindsay Czarniak, an ESPN SportsCenter reporter, will also appear and take questions at his 7 p.m. lecture in Gambrell Auditorium. In a phone interview with The Daily Gamecock Monday, the Wofford College graduate discussed his career and how it feels to come home.

"For me, Columbia is still my favorite place on Earth, and I'm not one for hyperbole, but my family is there, a good chunk of my friends are still there, it's where I was born, it's where I got into the business and I'm very much looking forward to coming back," Melvin said. "Even when you go away, even when you work somewhere else for a while, there's nothing like going home."

Melvin began his journalism career as an "Our Generation" high school reporter for WIS. The program selected about four high school reporters each year and tasked them with producing and reporting one story a week. Randy Covington, a USC journalism professor and former news director at WIS, said he chose Melvin because he was smart and articulate and had good camera skills.

"He quickly established himself as someone with exceptional talent," Covington said. "We had a lot of good "Our Generation" reporters, but Craig, arguably, was the best."

Covington said WIS was selecting stories one year to submit for Associated Press awards, and Melvin's story on his favorite teacher stuck out to him as the best contender for the education reporting category.

"Craig had done some really great work, and we thought it was as good as anything we had done with our full-time professional staff," Covington said. "So we sort of made an unorthodox decision. We entered this high school journalist's work into the state AP competition."

Melvin's win came as a surprise, as he didn't know that his work had been submitted. Covington said it was the first time any high school student had won a state AP award.

Melvin studied government at Wofford College and worked as a part-time summer employee at WIS. When Melvin graduated, Covington hired him and later named him the associate producer for the sunrise newscast, a job that required him to go to work at 3 or 4 a.m.

"Randy rolled the dice on a kid without a journalism degree, whose training at this point was very limited but who was eager and hungry," Melvin said. "I will be forever indebted to him."

After Covington left WIS in 2001 to join the university, Melvin moved up to become an evening news anchor. In that position, he won an Emmy Award and was named "Best Anchor" by the South Carolina Broadcaster's Association. Melvin said Columbia was a great place to start out in journalism because ridiculous state politics often made great stories.

He said WIS's respect in the broadcast journalism community aided his career tremendously.

"WIS is one of the few stations left in this country — and when I say few, I mean less than 10 — that can brag and boast about its dominance for 50 years," Melvin said. "They launched a 4 o'clock newscast at that station. No one does that, but they do it because people watch."

Melvin left WIS to become an anchor at WRC, an NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C.

He joined MSNBC in July. Melvin discussed the differences between the national and local broadcast scenes, saying the massive number of people working on MSNBC stories compared to WIS stories introduced a unique set of benefits and challenges. He also misses the hometown feel of Columbia reporting.

"I'd finish a newscast, and I'd have a voice mail from an old teacher or an old high school buddy who saw something and took issue with it or wanted to correct me on it," Melvin said. "But now it's different, the field is much larger and mistakes are magnified. I could get something small wrong in Columbia and it not be a big deal. I get something small wrong here, it's a big deal, as it should be."

Melvin remembers going down to Five Points with his colleagues as a young reporter and frequenting his favorite bars Jake's and Bar None. He also misses Gamecock football.

"I was telling somebody Saturday, before you guys blew it, that I was down there every year saying, 'Things are going to be great!'" Melvin said. "And then two or three games into the season you realize this is not going to be the year; this is going to be another one of those rebuilding years. This is a time of year in Columbia where you got the State Fair going on, you got your Gamecocks playing every Saturday, it's not 112 degrees every day — this is one of my favorite times of year in the city."

But Melvin said the thing he missed most of was his family. His parents and most of his extended family still live in South Carolina.

Charles Bierbauer, dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies, said he was glad to give Melvin a homecoming.

"Melvin has had a rather rapid career rise, from Columbia to Washington to New York," Bierbauer said. "He was the youngest, rawest kid on the air, but he had personality, smarts and the ability to tell a story, which is what television and journalism is all about. I've been able to watch him grow."

Covington said he was "very proud to have played a small part in [Melvin's] early career."

Melvin stressed at the end of the interview that while technology may be changing the journalism industry both at the local and national levels, the job of the reporter is still to tell stories. He said journalism is undervalued nowadays.

"What worries me sometimes is that young people who are in school look at journalism and say, 'It's all biased, you can't make any money, it's just not worth it, blah, blah, blah,' and as a result we end up getting people graduating at the bottom of their classes who can barely put sentences together," Melvin said. "That's not the case here, but that's the case at some local newsrooms. Hopefully there is a resurgence."