Everyone can agree that TikTok is the biggest social media platform at this moment and time. So many people have found homes there to post their content as well as make it a full-time job. Others have found it on the other hand to further give themselves exposure in their current job. Meet Penny Kmitt, a young journalist from Ohio, who is now currently a reporter with WTKR in Hampton Roads, Virginia since September of 2021. Penny has been on TikTok since April of 2020, at the peak of the Coronavirus pandemic. She graduated from American University with honors that spring with a double major in Journalism and American History. Penny’s first job out of college was a breaking news reporter and anchor fill in at KFDA in Amarillo, Texas. Penny has over 161,000 followers and has received over six million likes from all of her posts. Her most popular videos include What I Eat In a Day videos, as well as vlogs of getting ready with her in the morning for work at 3 a.m. during the week. Despite her busy schedule, Penny was more than happy to chat with me about her experience as a journalist as well as her hopes for her TikTok account as it continues to grow.
Vanessa: What made you want to get into journalism?
Penny: When I was in 8th grade I volunteered to do my school’s morning announcements … and I just fell in love with it. Me and my best friend at the time Jennifer, and we’re still friends to this day…we just did a good job and we were entertaining…we had a segment called the ‘Penny and Jenny’ show…I really liked being somebody that got people’s day started.
Penny and I then chatted about how I had a similar experience with doing the morning announcements in middle school, and how much fun it was.
Vanessa: So I read your biography on the WTKR website and I saw that you had done an internship with Bravo and had studied in Denmark, can you tell me a little bit about that? That’s so cool.
Penny: Yeah definitely. I mean I definitely am a believer in making the most out of life, like juicing life, literally getting everything I can get out of wherever I’m at and that’s kind of what I did in college. I would recommend anyone that is starting off in college to really take advantage of internship opportunities, because it will allow you to work in some spaces you wouldn’t be able to work in otherwise, and honestly that probably aren’t meant for you. It was not meant for me to work in the reality tv sector, however it was a really unique experience… opening yourself up to a diverse array of experiences is so important, it totally changed my mind set on life and it makes me a better journalist because I understand different peoples perspectives and different industries…When it comes to studying abroad…what I learned about exposure and just cultural competence and an understanding of people who had totally different ideologies than what I have, that was more learning than what I learned in school.
Vanessa: What’s the craziest story you’ve covered?
Penny: I would say something crazy that I have been following really closely and continue to follow because it’s not over is I have been following the case of this missing four-year-old boy…It is just one thing after another…this little boy went missing, the father reported him missing, then it turns out when the father was in questioning by the police that he had left this kid at home with his other siblings for hours on end and was charged with thirty counts of child abuse and child neglect but not for killing the kid…who knows if he killed the kid. Nobody knows what happened to this kid. The body has not been found, and then it came out that while he (the father) was confessing to child neglect and abuse that the police department had denied him his right to a lawyer, and then it became a constitutional issue…the trial starts next week.
Vanessa: What is one thing that you love about your job and one thing that you find challenging?
Penny: …as a reporter you have to vaguely understand a lot of things in order to cover them. One day I’ll be at an Amazon robotics lab, the next day I’ll be talking about the local tourism economy. One day I went and toured this massive linen laundry facility, like when you go to a restaurant and there’s like white table cloths and nice napkins, obviously you never think who’s cleaning those…its given me such knowledge on so many different topics…honestly I’m a hit at parties because I always have something to talk about…you really just become a well rounded person. Something I hate about my job…the industry is very demanding. I work a lot, and I work a lot of overtime, what’s great is I do get paid for that overtime…this industry is not for you if your heart’s not in it. Your first year in the industry is horrible and you’re going to make below the poverty line…and when they say you have to go and do your time for a year, they really mean it. I was overworked, underpaid and unhappy.
Vanessa: What do you look for when covering a story?
Penny: When I do put together my own stories, I like to choose something that I really care about… I look for topics that I’m passionate about and want to learn more about. When reporters get stuck on stories that their heart’s not in, it’s just not going to turn out as good. Also topics that just have a lot of impact and like push society forward. I also like to look for stories that are impacting people nationally and how they affect people here.
Vanessa: What is something you feel the least confident about with your job?
Penny: I’m horrible at shooting and editing and recording. My role now I never have to do it, but every so often they’ll ask me to MMJ (multi-media journalist) and that is my worst nightmare. At my first market I did it for every single story and I figured it out and I pushed through it, and now I’m almost never expected to do it. There’s so many roles you take on as a novice reporter, and as you move up and up, you’ll be able to tailor those skills more specifically to your individual talents.
Vanessa: Have you had any hopes or outcomes that you specifically want to see by posting on TikTok?
Penny: Oh totally. First of all branding, people know me because I make silly videos on TikTok. It just gets my name out there, and it’s really more about exposure. A lot of people don’t know this, but per my contract with my station and most reporter, journalist, anchor, etc. contracts, you are very restricted from making a profit off of any other platform… I cannot do any sponsorships or brand deals… TikTok does pay you through the creator fund just per your views, so I make the tiniest bit of money on that. Money has come from TikTok, but very little. Depending on if I have a video go viral or not that month, maybe an extra $100-$300 a month, which is helpful, but I could not live off of that. Recently, my corporate company Scripps, who owns several local news stations across the company, reached out to me a couple months ago and was like “Hey, we love what you’re doing online. It’s really pushing news forward because news is dying, but people are on their phones everyday, so we need to get into this new space.” They’ve kind of selected me to spearhead this social media experiment…it’s very much in the infant stage as of now. I have seen exposure come my way, I have seen opportunities come my way, and even though I can’t make a lot of money off of it, that will make me money in the future.
Vanessa Rodriguez-Mclean is a fourth-year media and culture major with a minor in journalism. VR925245@wcupa.edu.