Liberty Senior Works for Local News Station While She Completes Her Degree

Liberty University senior Ava Braatz took Lynchburg’s local news scene by storm, working as the new co-host and co-producer for ABC13’s Living in the Heart of Virginia.

This summer Braatz, 22, was contacted by Monika Garland who is a personal mentor to her as well as the previous co-host for Living in the Heart of Virginia, about applying to fill her position. 

Living in the Heart of Virginia is a news program for WSET ABC13 which airs Monday-Friday at 12:30 p.m. and focuses on the heart of what makes central Virginia special.

“What we do is find local stories and also greater Virginia area stories that really reflect and highlight the unique place that it is,” Braatz said.

While Braatz was hesitant to apply, assuming her age and current student status could hold her back, Garland assured her that her talent and fresh perspective on the field made her a competitive candidate.

After several weeks of silence, Braatz was contacted by ABC13 and told that despite her slim chances given that she was still in school, they still wanted to have a phone interview with her in light of Garland’s glowing recommendation.

The conversation lasted over an hour and a half and by the end of it, her interviewer was interested in pursuing her further as a serious candidate.

The next few weeks were riddled with phone calls with people further up the line in management, struggling with the idea of having her on the team while she was still a student. While they were blown away by Braatz’s potential, some people at the network feared the time commitment in light of her being a college senior.

After much deliberation, the network pushed past their initial concerns and offered her the job, and Braatz accepted after much prayerful consideration. 

“Taking some time to pray about it and talk about it with my family and mentors and just realizing that you know what, why I am in school is to get an opportunity like this even if it comes with just a little bit more stress,” Braatz said. 

The show falls in line with Braatz’ newfound passion for community-based news and her love for Lynchburg and the many Virginia communities.

“I just really have a passion for researching things going on, you know, locally, nationally, and globally, and I really found a passion for relaying people’s stories also on a local level talking to different mom-and-pop shops and really showing their story on a larger scale,” Braatz said. 

Originally planning on studying fashion and design at Liberty University, the 2016 election pulled Braatz into the world of journalism.

“In 2016 I was really getting into the election. It was the first year I was able to vote, and (I watched) different news casts and (saw) how important it was to be aware of what was going on in the world,” Braatz said. 

As she began her freshman year in the digital media performance program, Braatz realized that it was rewarding but far more technically involved than she originally thought.

Braatz covers a variety of topics for ABC-13.

“Highs and lows for sure coming in freshman year with a lot of people that had done (broadcast) in high school and had different YouTube’s and different editing software and all of that was a different language to me,” Braatz said.

Her professors worked tirelessly to help her become familiar with the programs and lingo she would need to succeed down the line.

One of her professors, Dr. Robert Mott, helped her get a grasp on the often complex material and remembers her as a hard worker. He sees this new opportunity as a natural next step for her.

“She was a diligent student in class. I am not surprised by her success in the field. I think the sky is the limit for Ava. I expect her to have great success in this new role as co-production and co-host,” Mott said

Her eyes began to shift towards broadcast and entertainment work as friends asked for her help in different video and senior projects. As she got in front of the camera more and more as a mock anchor, professors began to ask her peers who their “talent” was and Braatz was it. In that role, she found yet another passion of hers that led her to the position at ABC13.

“In getting behind the desk and having the teleprompter but also having the ability to ad lib, I really found my groove in a sense and realized, wait a minute, this is actually a little different than reporting, and I love it,” Braatz said.

Living in the Heart of Virginia is made up of one show manager, two co-hosts, four videographers, and two editors, making it what is considered by Braatz as a small but mighty news machine.

Within the first week, Braatz was right in the thick of production. The team was moving through operations per usual, taking her through the entire process, including all of the editing that is done in house. 

While a decade or two separate Braatz and most of her new coworkers, she has already felt the family atmosphere the team has cultivated in her two weeks on staff.

Braatz made her on-air debut Sept. 23 and looks forward to seeing where her love for connecting to people through news will take her.

Nadia Vires is a Feature Reporter. Follow her on Twitter at @nadiavires.

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