Is it a Golden Globe? A Grammy? A Tony?
When Justin Carter (A&S ’12) recently took his Mid-America Emmy back to Philadelphia, those were the TSA agents’ guesses as they scanned the statuette in his carry-on bag.
“It’s not something they see every day,” Carter said, adding that the statuette eventually ended up on his parents’ mantle next to his grandmother’s ashes.
When he started his journey to become a TV journalist, he promised his parents his first Emmy. It’s a thank you to them for his education and for supporting his dream.
Carter, former morning news anchor at WICS-TV in Springfield, Illinois, was the producer on the award-winning Project Illinois: Justice for Ta’naja, a yearlong investigative news piece that delved into the failings of the state’s foster care system. Focused on a two-year-old who died of neglect, the piece evolved when he and his team discovered that Ta’naja’s fate was similar to hundreds of other children in the system.
For Carter, the story shows the power of journalism beyond basic storytelling: Journalism sparks change, starts conversations and saves lives, he said. As a result of the investigation, state policy changed, and the foster program received more funding for additional resources and new staff. Although the news team could not bring the children back to life, they could use their platform to ensure the children’s deaths made a difference for others in the system.
“It’s a dream come true and has led to so much,” he said about the story, which also won an Associated Press award and an Edward R. Murrow award.
But, this dream almost did not come true. Carter’s original intent was to study science at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and become a pharmacist.
“I wanted to be a pharmacist for all the wrong reasons. It wasn’t my passion,” he said.
By the end of his first year, Carter knew he was on the wrong path. Passionate about the news and media, he began taking communication courses. He credits Pitt-Greensburg as being the springboard for his career.
“It instilled in me the confidence to succeed. I learned about myself as a student and as a person,” he said, adding that the campus offered exactly what he needed as he transitioned from high school to college. He valued the intimacy and one-on-one attention, which he said helped him thrive.
Pursuing a variety of activities, Carter lived in the Academic Village, was a resident assistant, participated in chorale and was a member of the Diversity Student Coalition. He fondly recalls making videos to Beyoncé music with his best friend and good times at the Coffeehouse. He is also quick to point out the impact faculty had on him.
Retired professor Lilian Beeson, was one of his first communication teachers. “She set the tone for me—how rigorous classes can be. I didn’t appreciate it then, but I appreciate it now,” he said.
Mathematics instructor Gary Hart, who is also Pitt-Greensburg’s Student Diversity Coalition advisor, encouraged Carter to ask questions. Former assistant communication professor Gretchen Underwood, gave him the confidence to continue in the field, writing him letters of recommendation.
After two years, Carter wanted to experience a larger campus and transferred to Pittsburgh, where he graduated from the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences with a BA in communication rhetoric and English writing. His said his experiences at two Pitt campus gave him the best of both worlds—large and small.
After graduation, he pursued an internship with creative services at WPVI-TV in Philadelphia. His role transitioned from intern to tour coordinator.
In July 2012, Carter returned to Pittsburgh as a news producer and writer for KDKA. For a recent graduate, it was a fantastic opportunity to work for a legendary station in a top 25 market. At KDKA, he produced his first newscast and learned how to write a script, among other broadcasting basics.
Following his job at KDKA, Carter was a news reporter for WICU 12NEWS in Erie, Pennsylvania, and then a general assignment reporter for 13WHAM-TV in Rochester, New York, before moving to his most recent role in Springfield.
Whether he’s covering Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia or knocking on a suspected murderer’s door, Carter loves what he’s doing.
“Every day, there is something new to learn. It’s exciting. I always want to be passionate,” he said.
Moving forward, Carter plans to keep telling stories and evoking change through journalism.
“Now, I have to get another award,” he joked. “I have to work harder.”
This story was written by Alumni Engagement Officer Julia Sefcheck (UPG ’99).