The CN: What made you decide to apply for the “Meet the Press” Fellowship?
Kristen Jantonio: There was something that I just knew that I wanted it. I thought, “I want to do everything I possibly can to try and get this opportunity with ‘Meet the Press’ because it has such a lasting legacy.”
The CN: What were you involved with during your time at John Carroll?
Jantonio: I was an RA for 2 years, I worked at WJCU and I went on an immersion trip to El Salvador. Back in the day, they had the concert committee and Jack’s Mannequin came and Sean Kingston so I worked on that. I also did two internships with NBC’s affiliate, WKYC in Cleveland, and also the ABC affiliate, WEWS, and NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.
The CN: How did you prepare yourself for the fellowship interview and what was it like?
Jantonio: In terms of preparing for the interview, I thought about all of my experience, all my internships, all of my classes that I had at John Carroll. Just being up to date with everything in the news that’s happening. I really studied the show as well, even though I watched it on a weekly basis, I paid attention to things that a normal viewer wouldn’t look at, such as what questions were asked during interviews, different things that were online, the weekly web show and other blog posts that they had as well.
The interview itself, when we all went down to D.C., it was me and two other guys. I was the last one to go in the interview process, and in my head I was nervous and I thought, “Oh he probably already has it in the bag, they’ve already left their impression and I’m the last one and they’re like ‘get this girl out of here.’” No, just kidding. But I sat down with Betsy [Fisher, executive producer at the time] and when I sat down with her, it was just like talking with a friend — someone who understood what the business was like. She just works so hard and I just respected her so much that the interview and talking with her put me at such ease.
The CN: Do you still work for NBC?
Jantonio: Yes, I work for the Today Show so I moved to New York from D.C. two weeks after the fellowship, I was offered a job as an assistant and I worked for three of the senior producers there and then I got bumped up to staff. I am now the researcher for the 9 o’clock hour of Today, with Natalie Morales, Willie Geist and Al Roker. When I was a junior in high school, it was always my dream to work there. To say that at 24 years old, I am there, it still kind of like a pinch me every time. I knew I wouldn’t have gotten there without having the Fellowship, there’s just no way in my wildest dreams that I’d ever thought I’d make it there—having that opportunity.
The CN: What was your first reaction on your first day at “Meet the Press”?
Jantonio: I remember I actually moved to D.C. during Hurricane Irene, so that was a treat in itself. By the time the first day came around, I felt like I could just about handle anything. I remember walking to the building and, 2010 fellow Joe Toohey was there, and I thought, “A John Carroll person is here. Everything will be fine. Just let your nerves go away.” I remember him taking me around the building and thinking, “ I am never going to remember where everything is here!” But after a while, of course, I did. I had my own desk, I met David Gregory that first day, and I remember just being nervous. He’s so tall and I’m so short. So I just remember introducing myself to him and he said, “John Carroll Fellows have a great legacy here,” and I thought, “Well, I can’t mess up now, I have big shoes to fill!” It was really nerve-racking, but so exciting at the same time. After all of those years of working just to be there, it was a moment in itself that I will never forget.
The CN: Do you feel like there was any certain aspect of the field that you could have known more about going in?
Jantonio: When you’re doing internships and various classes and stuff, you never fully get to embrace everything until you are in the actual position that you want to be in. It was a little trial by fire I would say. I would say for people at John Carroll, if you are interning at the affiliates there, ask them if you can write an article for the web. I had the amateur status with writing for the web, constructing for the web, editing various things. Back when I was at ‘Meet the Press’, I was really able to expand upon it more and become more proficient in it, and I use it every single day when I am at the Today Show. When you are out at classes or at an internship, take the initiative and try to learn something new every single time — that’s what would help the most. Don’t sit on the sideline. If you really want it, you will find a way to learn editing, or write, or go and do a stand up with a reporter.
The CN: What were you doing when you got the call that you were the Meet the Press Fellow?
Jantonio: I remember it was senior week and it was actually my birthday. I was with my friends and we were just getting ready to go to lunch, and I received a call on my phone, and I recognized the area code as Washington D.C. I turned to my friend and I said, “Okay, this is going to be really,really good or really, really bad, so I need you to prepare for me how my reaction is going to be.” It was Betsy on the phone, and she told me I got the fellowship, and I know it’s a little dorky, but I cried a little bit, I could not believe it. I told them that it was my birthday and that it was the best one ever—I think it was the best birthday to date.
The CN: What advice do you have to give to future applicants and fellows?
Jantonio: Future applicants, be ready to work hard and work a lot of hours. TV is not for the faint of heart. You have to be ready to give 100 percent and give your all, all of the time. Be ready to take initiative, to always be confident in yourself and be true to yourself, because if you exude that confidence, then other people are going to believe in you too.