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Meet: Katie O'Toole

Writer and On-Air Host for "What's In The News"


photo of katie o'toole

Who I am

I'm the writer and one of the on-air hosts for "What's In The News," a children's current events television program. I do all the research and conduct the interviews for each of our weekly broadcasts. I also write a weekly newspaper column, and I tape a radio commentary that deals with one of the topics on the weekly program.

Career Path

I had wanted to be a journalist since I was in third grade and started reading the serialized comic strip, "Brenda Starr: Starr Reporter." From the comics, I was just a page turn away from news stories. I learned early on that the daily news is like a comic strip, only better because it's real life. If I hadn't followed the news and didn't know the background to a story, it was meaningless and boring. But once I knew the plot, I couldn't wait to open the morning paper to get the next installment of these true stories.

Likes/Dislikes about Career

The most exciting parts of my job are the interesting people I get to know and the wide variety of stories I get to research and write about. My job has taken me to the U.S. Space Camp in Huntingdon, Alabama, to a Sioux Indian Reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, on a dinosaur dig in Bozeman, Montana, and to many other exciting places. One of the positive things about writing for television is that you don't need to know how to spell (I'm a terrible speller)! The only negative thing about my job is that because I try to stay informed on such a wide variety of issues and events, I often find myself up at two or three in the morning, either catching up on reading or surfing the Net. When I have to get up four hours later, I'm sometimes sort of grumpy.

Preparation for Career

My favorite book when I was a kid was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster. It made me realize how much fun it could be to play with words. I also read a lot of historical fiction which helped to spark my later love of history and of current events which is really just history-in-the-making. When I got to high school, I became a reporter on my school newspaper. I loved seeing my name on the byline!

Advice

I would tell a young person who wanted to be a broadcast journalist to not watch so much television. (Don't tell my boss I said that!) Read a lot of different kinds of books. (I once got stuck in a three-year rut where I read nothing but Gothic Romances.) Read history, biographies, fiction, science fiction, science, humor, sports, poetry. There's something out there just waiting to grab, inspire, or motivate everyone, but sometimes, you've got to look for it.

I would also encourage young people who like to write to share their work with others who may be willing to offer advice. But be prepared to accept criticism! The first assignment I did in my first college journalism class was returned to me with a note from my professor that said in big red letters, "Who ever told you you could write? YOUR MOTHER???!!!" While it wasn't exactly the most constructive criticism I ever received, it helped to toughen my skin, and I ultimately got an "A" in the class.

Influences

My parents, especially my Dad, were avid newspaper readers and loved to discuss the day's events over dinner. Since I loved to talk, I soon learned that I had better have something worthwhile to say. I started reading newspapers also. Today, I subscribe to six dailies, two weeklies, and too many monthly magazines to count. My parents obviously created a monster!

Personal Information

My husband and I have six children, three boys and three girls, ranging in ages from 5 to 14. Since 1991, I've had at least one child who is in the target age group for "What's In The News," so I always have one of my kids review my scripts to see if he or she understands/likes the material. Also, my kids and their friends often appear on segments of the program that call for young people.

My whole family loves to play basketball, and on weekends we often play heated games that pit me and my three sons against my husband and my three daughters. In addition, I usually coach two community girls' basketball teams. We have three cats and two horses---Cocoa and Sonny---which we like to ride on Mt. Nittany. That's the mountain range that runs past our small village of Lemont, Pennsylvania.

Mt. Nittany is also one of the take-off points for another one of my hobbies---hang gliding. Actually, I enjoy any sport that gets me airbourne. I'm also a private pilot and I have logged 139 skydives. My dream of a lifetime is to go into space. I applied to NASA to be Teacher in Space, but was turned down, at least in part, for an obvious reason---I'm not a teacher. I next applied to be Journalist in Space, but that program was put on hold when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986. I haven't given up hope. Maybe someday NASA will have a Grandmotherin Space. In the meantime, I'm thrilled to be contributing in some small way to the Neurolab mission!

 
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