Jordan Jackson can’t remember a time when she didn’t entertain thoughts of working in the television news field.
“I love the news and I love TV,” Jackson said of a keen interest that dates to her childhood days growing up in Mount Airy, which has led to a career with the National Broadcasting Company.
She is a journalist specializing in politics, recently coupled with COVID-19 coverage, who regularly can be spotted on screen reporting about such subjects through outlets including MSNBC, part of the NBC network family.
“I was one of the lucky ones,” said Jackson, 25, who graduated from Mount Airy High School in 2013. “A lot of people don’t know what they want to do in their careers.”
But that wasn’t the case for Jackson, who became determined early on to eventually land a job in the top echelons of TV news.
Growing up in the small-town atmosphere of “Mayberry” actually helped prepare her for that role.
“The people here are just so friendly,” explained the NBC journalist who is the daughter of Dr. David and Michelle Jackson.
Being around local folks who were approachable — and often open about their views — laid a foundation for her present role that has involved traveling around the country and soliciting a variety of opinions from different people during interviews.
“It certainly prepared me to go into this business,” she said of her experiences in Mount Airy.
Experiences near and far
After graduating from high school, Jackson enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she majored in broadcast journalism and political science and graduated in 2017.
While in school, Jackson’s career aspirations were aided by embarking on a series of internships that put her in the thick of things with multiple top-shelf broadcasting entities, including:
• Serving as an intern for the Cable News Network show “Erin Burnett OutFront” in New York City;
• Interning for the “Late Show with David Letterman” on CBS, also in New York;
• Getting a taste of life with her present employer through additional internships in the Big Apple with NBC News and the “Today” show;
• Living in London for six months as an intern with the CBS News Bureau there;
• Traveling to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics while working for the “Today” show.
“Coming out of college, I had my sights set on the job I have right now,” Jackson recalled.
“Even in school, it was so hard to get in with NBC,” she said of intern opportunities.
“There are so many people who want to work with this company and it is so competitive to get into,” Jackson added, disclosing that she was rejected multiple times.
“One of the daunting things about starting this was there was no clear path,” she said of achieving her career goal in the network news industry, unlike other fields.
“When you’re starting out, it can look like a huge uphill path to climb.”
After college, Jackson’s aspirations were aided by being selected from a nationwide pool of hopefuls as NBC’s 2017 Tim Russert Fellow.
Only one recipient is annually selected for the one-year rotational program in NBC News’ Washington Bureau named after Russert, the longest-serving moderator of “Meet the Press,” which first hit the airwaves in 1947.
This involved Jackson working with the D.C. bureau’s political unit on Capitol Hill and for “Meet the Press.”
After that fellowship ended, she moved to New York to work as a “Today” show producer, which required enduring an overnight shift from 2 to 11 a.m.
The woman from Mount Airy counts that assignment among the biggest challenges she’s faced so far, which required heading to work in the wee hours each day and not getting to sleep until around 4 or 5 p.m.
“It was hard to do that job in New York City, which is very loud,” Jackson said of the rest aspect.
“I think those hard things make you very grateful for where you are,” she said of her present position that is officially part of NBC’s campaign “embed” program. “I feel like I’ve put in a lot of work in different places in getting here.”
Through the embed program, the network assembles a team of young journalists every four years to essentially capture whatever candidates say and do while on the campaign trail.
More than 300 applicants vied for the 2020 embed class, with only 10 reporters being chosen, including Jackson. This required a multi-round interview process.
The election aspect of the job mirrors another major interest of Jackson’s besides journalism, given that she also majored in political science at UNC.
Jackson pointed out that in general, news reporting involves covering events that have already happened, whereas politics lends itself to analysis and future implications as to how various issues might affect people with stakes being high.
“In a sense, I do like the fact that covering politics is a lot of critical thinking, looking ahead,” she said in discussing her role as an election reporter.
COVID-19 rears head
Early on in the campaign cycle and primary season, the embed team’s duties were clear-cut, with the members assigned to various Democratic candidates among the party’s large field of presidential hopefuls and tracking their activities around the country.
“I was on the road as an embed,” Jackson said of responsibilities that involved meeting and/or interviewing the candidates at various venues. “We (didn’t) have a home base — we were constantly on the road.”
The team’s travels mirrored the debates and primary elections held along the way. “As each state voted, they would reassign us,” Jackson said.
The work did allow her to come close to home, including covering the South Carolina primary in late February en route to the Super Tuesday primaries held in a number of states on March 3, including Jackson’s home of North Carolina.
Yet around that same time, the coronavirus began to take hold and disrupt nearly every aspect of American life, including campaign news coverage.
“Politics has been sort of on the sideline,” Jackson observed regarding how COVID-19 affected the embed team’s activities.
“Most of us went back to our home states,” she said of a revised game plan that has included doing what political coverage they can under the circumstances while also reporting on coronavirus-related issues. “I came here (North Carolina) when all this happened — I don’t think anybody knew how big this story (COVID-19) was going to be, especially in an election year.”
The upcoming nominating conventions of Democrats and Republicans are a question mark as far as coverage by Jackson and other embeds, with the Dems’ event to be almost entirely virtual and the GOP’s scaled down because of the pandemic.
Yet there is a silver lining to COVID-19 in her view.
“The embeds have been given opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise,” Jackson said of shifting gears to focus on a crisis of historic proportions which will be remembered for generations to come. “There are definitely pros and cons.”
In Jackson’s case, this has meant “a lot of opportunities to chase down stories here.”
Among the COVID-related coverage she has handled recently is a report focusing on her alma mater, Mount Airy High, and its plans for resuming classes against a backdrop of nationwide concerns over school reopenings.
Such assignments, along with informing the public, have allowed Jackson to broaden her skills beyond just straight reporting, to also include production, writing, camera work and others, which she thinks will pay dividends in the future.
However, the young journalist seems perfectly content with her existing status covering political candidates and issues (when COVID-19 isn’t in the way).
“I’d like to stay with NBC,” Jackson said, mentioning that her co-workers have become like a second family and how much she appreciates the chance to report on the inner workings of politics and various office-seekers.
“It was hard to get into and it was everything I’d hoped for,” she said of such activities.
“This is far and away the most exciting experience I’ve had.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.