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Be the Change.
By Katie O'Dowd ('07)
Viewers of Richmond, Va., CBS affiliate WTVR-6 may know Shelby Brown McDowney ('93), the station's Chesterfield beat reporter. But it's doubtful they know that she's the youngest girl of 13 children. Brown is the first in her family to graduate from a four-year college, and she credits her success to her "biggest cheerleader," her mother, Evelyn. "My mom is so strong," says Brown, who uses her maiden name on air.
Brown's journalistic power stems from a personal drive that appeared in childhood. "I had a weird obsession with watching the news as a child," she laughs. "My brothers and sisters would watch cartoons, and I would watch 60 Minutes with my parents. I used to watch a Norfolk newscaster and think, 'I want her job.'"
Brown was exposed to the limelight at an early age when her mother would make her present the church welcome. "Here I am, in front of a church full of folks, and I had to ad-lib," says Brown, who encourages the same attitude in journalism students. "Get out there and be aggressive – those are the ones who make it."
Brown says her JMU classes prepared her well. "In Dr. Roger Soenksen's mass communication law class, students could opt not to take the final if they were satisfied with their grade," she remembers. "I was one point away from an 'A' in the class, so I decided to take the exam. I was the only student in the room, and I still didn't get an 'A.' I always remember now to go that extra mile –especially for stories."
Each story has a lot of power for Brown. During one sweltering summer, she found out just how much. As part of her piece about the Chesterfield Sheriff Department's program that checks on elderly shut-ins, Brown interviewed an elderly, blind woman who had "formed a great bond with a deputy who checked on her daily." The woman had no air conditioning and no hope of affording it. After the story aired, a local business quickly donated AC units for the woman and others in need. "When you do a story, there's a result – sometimes instant," says Brown.
After graduation, Brown moved to Atlanta, Ga., where she worked as a marketing representative for McCann-Erickson Event Marketing. She later worked as a marketer at Turner Broadcasting and conducted studio tours at CNN. She began her career in broadcasting as a news reporter at WBHF-PrestigeVision Channel 4 in Cartersville, Ga. She also worked for WRBL in Columbus, Ga., and the NBC affiliate in Mobile, Ala. Starting out, Brown worked every holiday, even Christmas. "The news never stops," she says.
Brown joined WTVR in 2001. "Shelby is very involved in her community, which is a key element in making a passionate reporter," says Rick Howard, WTVR news director.
Learn more about Shelby Brown at JMU's "Be the Change" Web site: www.jmu.edu/bethechange.