Capturing the Moment: 15 Years of Insight with Monique Blyther
By: Jesse Zong
"As long as you’re present, and you allow the situation, the environment to be, and you are an observer capturing it, your job is to let the story tell itself.” - Monique Blyther
Standing on the steps of the Lincoln memorial amongst Black Lives Matter protesters, Monique turns on her camera and begins recording. At this time, a man, Roger Campbell II, stepped up and began to give a speech (link: “The timing just couldn’t have been better, because I had just started recording, and here he was speaking. It was such a profound speech, and I was so happy to be able to capture it,” Monique says. “That’s the process [of storytelling] that I absolutely love: when you’re really in tune with what you're doing, there’s magic that takes place. As long as you’re present, and you allow the situation, the environment to be, and you are an observer capturing it, your job is to let the story tell itself.”
Monique Blyther is a Traffic Reporter for WTOP News 103.5FM, with over 15 years of experience in digital news production. Monique’s interest in journalism began “around the age of 9 or 10 when I received my first camcorder. My father bought me a Sony Hi8 camcorder, and that was the beginning of everything. From then on, I was interested in reporting and capturing every moment and sharing those memories with family and friends. That continued through high school, and I participated in many activities that reinforced my love for writing and capturing photos and videos.”
After graduating, she pursued her career in journalism, studying at George Mason University. Originally, she wanted to write for newspapers, but seeing that the newspaper industry was dying, she began to take some classes in videography, which suited her well. Her first job was at FPA (Fairfax Public Access) Channel 10 (link: www.fcac.org) where she was “able to practice and get a good feel for both radio and television.” She then hosted her first radio show, Real Talk, (https://www.blogtalkradio.com/mz-monique) and tv show, Smart Mom(link: getting experience in the field. After graduating, she decided to focus on the digital side of multimedia, to “really hone the craft of storytelling.”
Monique got a job at USA Today, working as an assistant producer, which she considers her first real, stable, gig. Continuing in her career, she worked for Time Warner Cable (twcc.com) and studied Digital Marketing at Georgetown University, earning a CCPE certification. She then stepped into her role as Traffic Reporter for WTOP and as a communications specialist for the Virginia State Department of Transportation.
When asked about the state of the industry during the Covid-19 Outbreak, Monique finds that it has changed the way that people work. She states that “a lot of what we do is interactive. It’s about getting out there, talking to people, connecting with them. Having to keep your distance, and still accomplishing that, has been a bit of a challenge.” In radio, producers are now taking advantage of digital tools that allow them to get things done from the safety and comfort of their home.” Regardless, Monique feels that her role as a journalist is to “get accurate information, to vet it, and do it in a timely fashion. [She wants to make sure that [she is] delivering timely information because it could really save someone’s life.”
When asked to describe what it’s like inside the WTOP Traffic Center, Monique says: “there are so many different resources that we are using to access and report on traffic incidents. For starters, there are cameras along the interstates that we’re using to monitor the roads and report on traffic incidents. Often, our information comes from callers who are on the road [who] see things and call in. Additionally, people contact us via Twitter, (link: Inside the studio, we have police scanners for Maryland, DC, and Virginia that are continuously running nonstop. We’re taking all of these bits and pieces of information, and putting them together in a consolidated report that we’re giving every 8 minutes. I think the most challenging piece that most people might not understand is that you have to condition yourself - it’s multitasking at its finest, and you really have to be tuned in and present to take in all in and deliver a clear and timely report.”
One of Monique’s favorite video projects was creating a time-lapse video of the Wilson Blvd. over Route 50 bridge replacement in Fairfax, Virginia. “To see that impressive feat unfold was absolutely amazing.” It’s an example of how video can tell a story that an article cannot. The video itself was captured over the 54-hour period but was cut down to 90 seconds. For viewers, it was an entertaining watch, and for the construction men and women out there who made it happen, it’s a timeless keepsake.
When it comes to recommendations and insights for students and young people interested in the field, Monique has many. She says, “Be open and willing to try new things. Journalism is such a broad field, and there areso many things you can do. College students often say that they can’t find a job because they don’t have the experience, but you have to create your own experience. Do what you can with what you have, and look for those opportunities.” Look into your local public access stations and consider joining groups of like-minded people, and find a mentor. A social media presence is also beneficial - in particular, she recommends using LinkedIn to network and meet others in the industry.
Finally, Monique says, never stop learning. As a student and teacher of digital production, Monique has met countless young, talented journalists, and found that she always learned something new. Aligning yourself with talented and inspiring people will keep you motivated and progressively move you toward your goal of being a great journalist.