GMA producer Mellen O'Keefe examines modern media by reliving her life in the world of broadcast journalism
October 18th, 2011 | SMWC
Imagine savoring Maya Angelou’s homemade pineapple upside-down cake or filming Russell Simmons perfecting his warrior pose during a yoga class. Imagine dragging cameras after a headstrong female doctor, who flies solo to deliver medical supplies deep into the African bush. Envision venturing into the dense Australian forest for a misplaced camera battery (that costs about a much as a car) and, against the odds, miraculously finding it like a needle in a haystack.
While we jump into these adventures with our imaginations, broadcast journalist Mellen O’Keefe jumps into them with both feet–and always lands on solid ground. From Good Morning America to CBS News to The Travel Channel, O’Keefe has supervised the production of hundreds of news and entertainment shows. Her cultural palate has sampled a world of experiences as a writer, editor and producer for segments with Oxygen Media, Barbara Walters, ABC News and Maria Shriver.
“You have to seize the moment,” O’Keefe said. “Like everyone, I work hard– television requires long, stressful hours, but it was, and is, endlessly interesting.”
Now, almost 30 years since she first entered the gates of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, O’Keefe’s adventures, from dealing with the shaky moods of media to her experiences around the world, will come alive. O’Keefe will share her perspectives and experiences in a one-on-one interview session, “An Evening with Mellen O’Keefe,” on Nov. 1, 2011, at 7 p.m. The following day, she will discuss the media’s effect on the education industry during the R.S.V.P. Speaker Series on Nov. 2, 2011, at noon.
“She has achieved incredible success,” said Lori Henson, M.A., doctoral candidate and assistant professor of journalism at The Woods. “Our students can get a lot from her stories and really look up to her.” Henson hopes the interview session will give O’Keefe an opportunity to “reflect on her journey and share the experiences that shaped her.”
And, oh, does O’Keefe have some experiences to share.
After attending The Woods for a year, O’Keefe transferred back to the northeast, to Boston College, where she earned a dual bachelor’s in history and philosophy. One of the most unusual things to hear a world-traveled broadcast journalist say is, “I've never taken a journalism class in my life.” But for O’Keefe, life is all about moving forward and, when necessary, reinventing yourself along the way.
“My liberal arts education has paid off everyday,” she said. “Job skills are all about thinking. Liberal arts is so important because it teaches you how to think.”
After being wait-listed for law school, O’Keefe was unsure where her path led. She eventually left New York for California and became a secretary for the executive producer of PM/Evening Magazine, a news and entertainment show syndicated across the nation. It didn't take long before O’Keefe shifted from secretary to producer. “I just sort of fell into the job,” she said.
O’Keefe couldn’t have picked a more exciting job to fall into. The PM/Evening Magazine, a pioneer in modern day broadcast journalism, was the first show to use videotape, instead of film, so cameras could actually be used in the field. Well-known television personalities such as Matt Lauer and Leeza Gibbons clocked some time at the PM/Evening Magazine. “Being there with that cool, young staff, that’s when it all clicked,” O’Keefe said.
After about four years she left San Francisco and moved back to New York, landing a job as an associate producer at Good Morning America, where she has been in and out of ever since. From the arctic tundra to the Italian countryside, O’Keefe has traversed the globe, telling fascinating stories about our extraordinary world. “I want to leave people with something to chew on,” O’Keefe said. “A news story, high profile or travel story, whatever it is, it needs to resonate.”
Lately, O’Keefe’s videos don’t just resonate; they innovate. By producing instructional videos for Insideschools.org, an organization that provides information, support and instruction to students and their families about New York City schools, O’Keefe has been fearlessly exploring the effect of media on education. “We have serious–dire–education challenges in this country,” O’Keefe said. “We all have to wrap our heads around how we can help.” O’Keefe also supports Parents for Inclusive Education, an advocacy group that pushes for full-on inclusion of special needs students into the NYC public schools. “I need to use my voice to help students with special needs,” said O’Keefe, whose daughter deals with a learning disability. “It works best if kids of all capabilities are together. They shouldn't be isolated.”
Students and members of the community alike will be entertained and enlightened by O’Keefe’s unique experiences and contemporary outlook on media. By examining the role of media in modern society, she will explore what it means to be responsible consumer of the news. “Consumers need to be wary and skeptical and get information from a variety of sources to hear many voices,” she said.
O’Keefe has been broadcasting voices from all over the world, and now will express it all in her own voice at The Woods. Going wherever the adventure takes her, she has adapted to different cultures and climates, improvising when necessary. Her education in the liberal arts prepared her to excel in uncertain territory, both when she navigated the world as a recent college graduate and now, as a seasoned broadcast veteran.
“With liberal arts, you are able to understand the way the world works,” she said. Understanding the world, which may seem so big to many of us, is just another day on the job for O’Keefe.
“An Evening with Mellen O’Keefe,” held in the Woods Student Center in SMWC’s Rooney Library on Nov. 1, 2011 at 7 p.m. is free and open to the public.
The R.S.V.P. Speaker Series, featuring O’Keefe on Nov. 2, 2011, is open to the public for $15, which includes lunch. To register please contact the Career Development Center at (812) 535-5188 or email career@SMWC.edu. Seating is limited. Reservations are required.