“Wofford taught me how to learn, to find answers for myself, and it serves me well every day,” says Barber, an English major originally from Cumming, Ga. “I didn’t study or major in broadcast journalism. When I realized I wanted to try to make it a career, I went online and ordered textbooks I found on j-school syllabi. I studied them every day. I asked friends in broadcast news to send me copies of scripts reporters wrote so I could teach myself the format for writing a news package. I recorded nightly news and watched it every morning to try to figure out how reporters used their words, video and sound to tell such dynamic stories.
“Wofford made me a lifelong learner,” adds Barber, who is covering international and domestic breaking news for NBC and MSNBC after working as a general assignment reporter for Fox News Channel.
While at Fox News, she reported in the U.S. and in international hotspots, including a trip to Colombia in May 2019 to report on the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. She reported from the Simón Bolívar International Bridge as gunfire erupted, as contraband groups sought control of illegal routes that Venezuelan refugees use to cross into Colombia. Barber spent days reporting from those routes and was one of the first American journalists to report from the UNHCR refugee center in Maicao, Colombia. She returned to the region in August of last year as an embedded journalist on the USNS Comfort, where Venezuelan refugees were treated.
Barber, who has been based in Washington, D.C., will move to New York City when it is safe to do so. For now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she is living in her parents’ basement and driving 2.5 hours each way to Tennessee to report remotely. “It’s safer than staying in a hotel right now. We’re doing everything we can to stay safe and keep those around us safe. It’s different, logistically, but it’s important for us to be on the ground, talking to people and getting viewers as much information as we can,” she says.
Barber says she didn’t decide to pursue journalism until she was an adult, but she thinks “10-year-old Ellison knew something grown-up Ellison forgot. Growing up, I made my sisters film pretend newscasts with me from our backyard,” she explains.
It wasn’t until she was a senior at Wofford, taking a literature and human rights course, that she made the career decision. “One day we watched a documentary called ‘War Photographer.’ That film changed everything for me. I remember watching it, seeing James Nachtwey and Christiane Amanpour reporting in Kosovo, and thinking, ‘That’s everything I want to do in a career.’ I still keep a copy of the DVD on my bookshelf.”
Barber says her two sisters — Lindel Barber Waclawski ’14 and Stewart Barber Young ’09 — have been a great influence on her. “We travel as a pack,” she explains.
Craig Melvin ’01, news anchor for NBC’s “Today” show, co-host of the 3rd Hour of Today and anchor for MSNBC Live, inspired Barber. “When I was at Wofford, we didn’t have a journalism or communications major. I wasn’t sure if it was possible to be a broadcast journalist without a specific undergrad degree. I remember seeing Craig report and thinking, ‘Wait, if he went to Wofford he probably majored in something else, so maybe there’s still a way to do this.’”
Barber met Melvin a few years ago. “He already was a big deal at NBC, but he took time out of his day to come and meet me because he heard a Wofford grad was in the building. He was kind and smart and gave me some advice.”
Dr. Carey Voeller, associate professor of English, and Dr. John Ware, associate professor and chair of the Department of English, also influenced her, she says. “I fell in love with learning in their classes. They taught me how to learn, how to ask questions and how to think for myself. We were studying literature, but they taught me so much more.”
by Laura H. Corbin