With 13 years of experience in journalism and broadcast television, Jamarcus Gaston is still on the rise as he continues to seek new ways to share meaningful stories and develop his brand. During his impressive career, he filled the roles of producer and host for the daily lifestyle TV show, Studio 62. Currently, Gaston is the contributing host and producer for Your Carolina with Jack and Megan on WSPA. Gaston proves how bringing your A-game as an intern or whatever level you may be in your career can pay off in the long run. His experiences show that no task or opportunity is too small and is always worth investing in, and it may lead to unforeseen benefits in the future.
In a conversation with QG, Gaston discusses how he got his start in journalism, the challenges he faced along the way, and the differences between working for monetary gain versus following your passion in life. He also gives his perspective on the importance of cultural representation in media and supporting the local community.
How did you get your start in journalism and broadcast television?
I started college at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina for music education with a career plan to become a high school band director. During my sophomore year, I took a trip to Cuba for school, where we really delved into our passions and purpose and how we would merge them into a vocation. I had an “A-HA” moment where [when] I realized that connecting with people and sharing stories surrounding food and culture was where my “deep gladness” was. I was so astonished and mesmerized by the Cuban people and wondered what it would look like to search for those amazing stories in my own community. I changed my major from Music Education to Communication Studies and signed up for an internship at the local TV station. 13 years later, I am still at that TV station, WSPA.
How did your degree in communication studies from Furman University help to prepare you for future success?
My degree from Furman was vital to my success in the television business. Furman taught me how to be a critical thinker and gave me an early dose of what it is like to be challenged, both with a rigorous course load and a dedication to extracurricular activities, etc. While at Furman, I was able to run around with my camera and shoot stories on campus issues. Run back to the studio and edit that story and then present that story on the campus television station. I would have never guessed that years later, I would be doing that in my professional life. My advisor had a background in television and was the first person that told me if I wanted a career in broadcast journalism, that I could do it.
What advice do you have for young Black professionals who may be seeking a career in journalism?
The best advice anyone ever gave me was to never say no. There is no job too small that you can’t be willing to do it. We’ve all heard the stories of interns relegated to the roles of coffee runners. Yes, that maybe what the job asks from you, but what can you provide to the job? I always said YES! Will you find us carpet for a shoot in a couple of hours where we have to drive a car over it at the local mall? Sure. Will you help that reporter move equipment? Uh-huh! Will you stay late and come in early? Already DONE. I also tell Black professionals to always be authentic and patient. I was so discouraged when I first became interested in television because the amount of diversity and representation didn’t seem to be there. Would I have to change my look to be acceptable to the TV bosses? There shouldn’t be a "look" for the job--but there should be a level of professionalism. Always show up, be seen, and keep it 100 percent professional. Your voice matters, your lived experiences matter.
Why is connecting with local talents and businesses important to you?
[Making a] connection is the hallmark of what I do. I never wanted to be a person that did a job merely for a paycheck. The check keeps us afloat…the connection keeps us going back for more. I had a mentor warn me about TV folks that “fake the funk.” You can’t sell something that you aren’t willing to buy. I love my community, and so getting to know the makers and creators in this area of Upstate South Carolina is something I want to do, and I happened to be blessed to share those stories on my platforms. I think it also boils down to me being an art lover at my core, so there is an effortless groove to it.
In what ways does your profession allow you to impact people’s lives?
I did a TV show a few years ago that I hosted and produced daily, and my tagline was “All Things Local.” Seeing a business that just opened their doors and then have them come back on the show a few years later and hearing how many viewers had come to support them was IT for me. Generating traffic to local businesses and giving our viewers options for how to enjoy our amazing community is a true blessing for me.
What would you consider to be a milestone in your career?
One of my greatest joys and one of the most difficult projects I have ever undertaken was being a producer and a host of a daily lifestyle TV show called Studio 62. I booked all of the guests, pieced together the show, coordinated interns, was the on-air talent, and ran the social media pages for the show. I have never worked so hard in my life, but hearing folks tell me that they could never tell that there wasn’t a huge team of producers working on it, made it worth it. It taught me the lesson of never letting resources stop you from doing high caliber work. Not many people can look back and say for three years, they ran an entire TV show that was about supporting the artists and makers of the area. It was one of the pleasures of my career.
What do you think is the role of Black media? How important is it for Black stories to be told from a local level?
I am not sure I have the perfect answer to what the role of Black media is. I do know, however, that representation matters. Communities need to see our faces and see our work. The narrative of what TV broadcasters “look like” in a certain area (especially in the Southern areas) has to change and has changed in my more than [a] decade-long career. Being in the editorial meetings and in the rooms where it happens is the role of Black media. Raising your hand to say, let’s make sure everyone is represented, is the role of Black media. Sharing stories from a diverse viewpoint is the only way to truly showcase the fabric of a community. TV stations shouldn’t only be willing to show Black men in mug shots on the 6 pm news and not willing to show the Black business owner opening a second location for their artisan baked goods. We are responsible for the subtext of that narrative. Communities are always seeking a point of pride, and Black excellence should always be a part of that conversation.
What can we look forward to from Jamarcus Gaston?
Who knows? I still have projects that I want to work on and stories I want to tell. I do love that with the options available via social media platforms and storytelling can be done in so many different forms. I made a conscious decision years ago to be consistently and whole-heartedly dedicated to my personal brand. TV shows are canceled, on-air hosts get shuffled around, and companies make revenue-based decisions. My advice is [to] make sure that your talents can travel!
Photo Credit: Greenville Online