An eager, bright-eyed reporter walks up to a stranger’s front porch. Noticing the “Beware of Dog” sign on the door, she approaches with caution, slowly breathing in the damp Tennessee air. Her goal is to interview the owners of the house about the flooding problem that has plagued the neighborhood. When she finally makes it to the front door, she knocks with confidence and composure.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a dog runs up to her and bites her on the arm. She manages to shake the dog free and get away, but the creature gets her one more time on her leg before finally opening its jaws and letting her go.
When it comes to her job as a reporter for WATE Knoxville, Alexis Zotos said, “The best part of my job is that there is no typical day.” Of course, getting attacked by Tennessee’s real life Cujo may not be exactly what she had in mind when she came to Knoxville in February 2012, but luckily, Zotos was not injured. Today, she laughs about how the incident perfectly sums up the “humorous danger” of her job.
There are only a few things in Zotos’ life that can be considered routine. One of them is getting up to walk her poodle named Ellie. The other is having the first of three cups of coffee she has per day. Those are the only activities that she predicably does each day, because once she gets to the newsroom, all bets are off. There is simply no way for her to know where she will go that day or what story she will get to tell.
“I live for breaking news,” said Zotos. “There’s nothing like the rush of a call coming in over the scanner and having to run out to cover something that is unfolding and happening before your eyes.” As an active, go-getter type, Zotos has never been attracted to desk jobs. She prefers being out in the field, meeting new people and sharing their stories.
And that is exactly what she has done. Since starting her job at WATE last February, she has covered some of the major stories of the past year like President Obama’s election night party in Chicago and Hurricane Isaac in Louisiana.
But before she was tackling hurricanes and crazy dogs, Zotos lived a more conventional lifestyle. Growing up in St. Louis with her two sisters, Alexis was lucky to have a supporting family that consistently pushed her to achieve her goals and be ambitious about her dreams.
When it came time for Zotos to go to college, she was unique from other high school students because she was confident in where she wanted to go.
“I always knew I wanted to go to college in California, despite it being thousands of miles away from my family. It was something I needed to do,” she said.
With that spirit, Zotos had little trouble diving in to the college experience offered at the University of Southern California. She involved herself in various activities and groups such as the Gamma Phi Beta sorority and internships. But the college activity that affected her future the most was Annenberg Television News (ATVN), a television news station under USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism where students learn how to become reporters, producers, anchors and more.
“I would not be who I am or where I am today without ATVN,” she said. In many ways, ATVN is really where Zotos’ career began. She started by working at the assignment desk and immediately fell in love with the organized chaos of the newsroom, causing her to change her major from communications to broadcast journalism.
As she continued her college career, her involvement with ATVN grew. The ATVN advisors helped Zotos develop her craft from the moment she started working at the assignment desk up until she became the executive producer during her last semester.
“ATVN introduced me to the world of journalism and shaped who I am as a journalist,” she said. Even after she graduated, they helped her through the grueling process of finding the reporting job she wanted. And Zotos’ hunt for a job was no cakewalk.
“They say applying for a job is a full-time job in itself, and that couldn’t be more true,” said Zotos.
It took 75 cover letters, more than 100 emails and hundreds of phone calls. She was up every day at 9 a.m. calling people, researching and writing emails to potential employers and connections. In the end, her hard work paid off. After a little more than a month of digging, she finally struck gold when she got her job with WATE Knoxville.
She didn’t have much time to ease into her new environment, though. Just two weeks into the job, Zotos had to cover a deadly tornado that swept through Cumberland County, Tenn.
“There were national reporters from CNN, ABC all over, and here I was – not two months out of college,” she described.
Zotos is a great example of how a recent college graduate can get the job they want.
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself that I am actually living my dream,” she said.