“I loved it, I loved every part of USF,” said Fred Blankenship, who graduated from the University in 1997. At the time, Blankenship was heavily involved at USF, holding down a couple of jobs as a Resident Assistant (RA) in Phelan Residence Hall, and as a supervisor at Koret Health and Recreation Center. He also began to practice journalism through frequently contributing to The Foghorn while interning for the athletic department. Almost 20 years later, he starts every day with the people of Atlanta as an anchor on ABC affiliate WSB – TV Channel 2 Action News.
Before joining one of the most highly rated network news programs in the country, he ran through a roulette of newsrooms in Wichita, Kan., San Diego, Calif., and Omaha, Neb., before landing in Atlanta. Blankenship crafted his skill here on campus while earning his Bachelor’s degree in mass communication with a journalism minor. But even before all of that, Blankenship knew he wanted to tell the news from the early age of 12. “I was in my room watching the news, and there was a man who came on TV with a story,” said Blankenship who remembered the moment he started thinking about a career in journalism. “I wanted to tell stories.”
Blankenship singled out Prof. J Michael Robertson for helping him develop the skills needed to become a good reporter. He credits Robertson, who teaches in the media studies department and directs the journalism minor, for the inspiration that Blankenship used to pursue those early journalistic endeavors. “He is actually my favorite professor of all time. He is the reason why I thought I could do that job, he just gave me so much confidence,” said Blankenship. The alumnus rekindled that admiration a few weeks back when Robertson reached out to Blankenship on Twitter to wish him a recent birthday. “Robertson was somebody who had been through the [journalism] business who explained to me how to go about doing it. H was my number one influence to pursuing my dreams,” said Blankenship.
His first two gigs came in the form of radio station internships: the first in his native Los Angeles on K-EARTH Radio, and his second at the now defunct San Francisco radio station KSOL. Those two experiences made him realize that he did not want to pursue a career in radio so he applied for an opening in the sports department at KRON television station here in San Francisco. Blankenship would cover the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49er games for the television station, relaying statistics at the end of the game for KRON’s postgame coverage.
“Back in the day KRON was the number one station,” said Blankenship, who by the end of his senior year at USF, was faced with the decision of staying on with the sports department at KRON or departing from the station. Feeling as if he no longer wanted to do sports anymore, Blankenship took option number three; see if another department at KRON would take him.
He found his feet with the early morning news crew, where he got to cover a wide range of stories and people such as well-known former Mayor of San Francisco, Willie Brown. Through his work on KRON, Blankenship became a candidate for the station’s Minority Trainee position, which included guaranteed working experience at affiliate stations in Wichita, Kan. and Omaha, Neb. After gaining some experience at those stations, Blankenship returned close to home to work in San Diego’s KGTV where he was a reporter and a weekend news anchor. It was while he was in San Diego that he was able to cover stories that grabbed the attention of the entire country.
Blankenship won awards for stories on community outreach and drug prevention. His other work covers the rise of gangs, the biggest forest fires in Southern California and the 2004 Democratic Convention. During the election year, he was frequently confused for a young Chicago Senator known as Barack Obama. This propelled him into the limelight, garnering him more than couple of job offers throughout the United States. Although this included an invitation from a San Francisco based network, he decided that an offer from New York City would take priority over others.
“I didn’t necessarily even want to go to New York, but it’s New York, so you look at it, and ten years ago obviously I was looking to go bigger and better,” he said. Blankenship remembers thinking, “So it’s all done. I am going to New York, I’m going to leave my station, and my wife and I are settled on it,” he said. Unbeknownst to him, this opportunity in the Big Apple would come with a pretty huge caveat. “When they call me back, they say ‘We’re excited to have you. but there’s one thing. You have to change your name, Blankenship just won’t work’,” he said.
At first, Blankenship said that he was open to the idea of changing his name, but after mulling it over some more, he reconsidered the repercussions. “My father was Fred, my grandfather was Fred Blankenship, and they were gone and so I said ‘my name is important to me’,” he said. After unsuccessfully trying to convince the station of hiring him along with his name, walked away from the negotiating table. “My dream job to work in the number one market in the country was gone because of the fact that I wouldn’t change my name,” said Blankenship.
With no regrets in the rear view mirror, Blankenship continued at his television station in San Diego until another offer was received. “Less than six months later, I get a call from the number one rated station in the country, in a top television market, who say they want me to come, and with my name,” said Blankenship.
“I tell that story not to brag. I tell that story because I want people to know that it is possible, you can do it. And I feel like I got a lot of that from USF. They let me be me,” he said.
To any aspiring young journalists at USF, Blankenship said, “Start believing in yourself, that you are good enough right now, you just haven’t been there yet.”
HEADLINE PHOTO COURTESY OF YOUTUBE
EMBEDDED PHOTO COURTESY OF TWITTER