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Generation Next: Building upon a legacy

A Bismarck State College student follows in her mother’s footsteps by pursuing a career as a broadcast journalist.

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Taylor Aasen works for KX News in Bismarck, North Dakota, while also attending Bismarck State College. She looks forward to a long career in broadcast journalism and said she is most excited about meeting people and reporting local stories.
Image: Courtesy of Taylor Aasen
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While growing up, Taylor Aasen remembers watching her mom, Debbie Aasen, cut VHS tapes as a broadcast reporter.

Times have changed since then, the tape having been replaced by digital technology, but the fundamentals of news gathering and reporting have remained the same.

Now at age 24, Aasen is treading the same path – albeit with newer technology – that her mom, who died in 2015, followed all those years ago.

Aasen is a second-year mass communications student at Bismarck State College and works at the same station, KX News in Bismarck, that her mom worked at for a number of years before Parkinson’s disease shortened her life. In her role at the station, Aasen shares weather updates and reports news, the latter being her favorite.

“I started at KX last year when I moved here (from Mohall, North Dakota),” she said. “I started as a camera operator. When we were losing our weekend meteorologist, I jokingly one day said ‘I'll do it – you know, point at the green screen and say things to clouds and stuff.’”

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It was no joke for those who heard her, though. “They took me seriously and so now I work as a weakened weather anchor, and then I moved my way up to reporting as well,” she said.

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'Oh, you're going to go national one day,' people often tell Taylor Aasen. But she says, 'I like the local field. I think that's what North Dakota really needs, people who care about their local communities, and so I would love to just continue to report local.'
Image: Courtesy of Taylor Aasen

After working as a journalist for a while now, Aasen understands why her mother loved her career so much. It’s mostly about the people, telling their stories on the air.

She definitely keeps busy between school and work, always trying to find a balance.

At Bismarck State, Aasen is the executive producer of the broadcast department of Mystic Media, the school’s multimedia studio.

“I put together the show and write up scripts and make sure students are on top of their game,” she explained. After school, she’s at the news station.

It’s a tough juggle sometimes, with long days and sparse meals, but the reward comes with the people she is able to meet almost daily. She especially enjoys human interest stories – “I think everyday people are interesting,” she said – and recalls one memorable story she reported about a farmer who traveled from Washington State to Minnesota in his John Deere tractor.

She also has covered events about Parkinson’s disease, the illness that altered her mother’s life and impacted their family, and a number of other local stories.

Aasen said she looks forward to establishing a long-term career as a broadcast journalist, and noted that reporting for a national news outlet doesn’t interest her as much as it does staying close to home. She takes to heart the news mantra that local news is paramount.

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People tell her, “‘Oh, you're going to go national one day,’ but I like the local field,” she said. “I think that's what North Dakota really needs, people who care about their local communities, and so I would love to just continue to report local.”

However, she added: “I would love to do personal interest stories. That's my jam. ... I like meeting interesting people. I just want to continue working at KX and continue to bring local news to North Dakota.”

For now, she keeps busy doing the juggling act of work and school, with a graduation date of May 2023. She said she chose Bismarck State because of its hands-on learning opportunities. There are plenty of opportunities to “learn by doing” at the college, she said. Being involved with Mystic Media has allowed her benefits that she otherwise would not have had, better preparing her for her current and future roles in TV news.

Students get to work with studio lighting, set up the camera for the shots they want to capture, and other technical details.

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Taylor Aasen, center, keeps busy doing the juggling act of work and school, but still enjoys moments with friends. She says she chose Bismarck State College because, among other things, there are plenty of opportunities to 'learn by doing' at the college.
Image: Courtesy of Taylor Aasen

“You can be creative and at the same time really learn,” Aasen said. “I think that's important, because I'm just not a book learner. With a lot of your four-year universities, you have to learn about the equipment before you even get to touch it, whereas here you're right in it, right away, and that's really helped me in my career so far and at KX for sure.”

Dustin Anderson, production coordinator in the Mystic Media lab and public affairs officer at BSC, said Aasen caught on quickly when she first started at the college.

“Taylor didn’t have much video experience coming into that first semester and you could tell she was worried she wouldn’t get it figured out right away, but she did,” Anderson said. “She took off and never looked back. I would say that every video that she turned in was better than the last, which as an advisor/instructor is what we can only hope for.

“Taylor has produced a wide variety of video content in her short time at BSC and shows confidence in doing so. She has been a big help getting other students engaged and her confidence has spread to others.”

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Hands-on learning is important to Aasen, but so is continual learning – another reason she enjoys journalism: Every day is different and there is always something new to experience. It does have its challenging moments, however, including the bane of every journalist’s career – deadlines.

“I think the hardest thing for me to adjust to was the deadlines,” Aasen said, noting that in school she can spend time learning programs and being more creative. “Whereas once I got into my career, I was thrown right into it.

“People are there to help, but when you have to do two stories a day, and put care into something that you have to in by 4 p.m., it's definitely tough to send that care along with the rush of a deadline, I think, and so that was a big surprise to me.”

As for being in front of a camera, “The first time we saw Taylor read from a teleprompter, we knew she had chosen the right field,” Anderson said. “It’s not always easy for everyone to do that, and she nailed it. She is a natural on camera and it just seems easy for her.”

“I've been told I'm a natural,” Aasen said. “However, I don't feel like that.” But she likens it to other aspects of life. “When that red light goes on in your life, you can't do anything else, so you just do it, otherwise you're going to look like an idiot. You just have to go with the flow. It is definitely nerve-wracking. My nerves have come down a lot now, since I've been in front of the cameras often, but you definitely get sweaty palms. … But once that light goes on, you just do it. You don't think about it.”

A combination of life experiences, schooling and people have helped Aasen to get where she is today. It is her mom, however, whom she feels closest to when in the studio, whether at school or at work, knowing she is following in her footsteps, building upon that legacy as the family’s next broadcast journalist.

The sky’s the limit for young Aasen, who said she’s always enjoyed writing and telling other people's stories.

“That,” she said, “was a way that I connected with my mom too, and so I finally just decided to follow in her footsteps. And here I am.”

Working at the same station as her mom did years ago is a bit “weird” for her, Aasen said, noting at least two people still work there who once worked with her mom. “It's much different than the newsroom I grew up in. However, it makes me respect her even more that I know the hardships of the job. But I also now know why she enjoyed it so much because you get to meet interesting people who are passionate about their stories being told. I am recognized often as her daughter because the viewers remember and loved her so much, so it makes me feel connected to her in a way I never thought possible.”

She also said, “Reporting is what I’ve always wanted to do and I understand my mom's love for it now. I think it's all about meeting new people. That has been the best experience for me – really, just meeting interesting people who want their story to be told.”

Andrew Weeks is an award-winning journalist who has reported for a number of newspapers and magazines. He currently is the editor of Prairie Business, the premier business magazine of the northern plains. The magazine covers various industries and business topics in the Dakotas and western Minnesota.
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