When one thinks of traffic, they tend to only listen to the busy highways that are near them. For her, she knew what was going on in Interstate 270 since that is what is closest to her, but she also knows what is going on in Route 66, I-95, and other roads that aren’t nearby.
She wakes up at 3:05 a.m. She gets dressed, does her hair and leaves her home in Maryland and drives to work. At 4 a.m. she already went through security, parked her mini cooper, and quickly said hello to the receptionist and hurried to her office to finish getting ready for her workday to begin.
As she puts on makeup, she talks to her assistant about what has been going. They look at all of the monitors that are showing the current status of highways in the District of Columbia area and are listening to the traffic chopper that’s flying over different roads. Her assistant sits in her office and tweets constantly on her twitter account @First4Traffic, aiming to tweet around 80 tweets every morning. Melissa Mollet smiles, as she prepares herself to get ready to do her favorite thing in the world, report the morning traffic on NBC.
As a 2001 graduate of James Madison University with a Bachelor of Arts, Mollet has always had a passion for the wonderful world of communications. She says she always wanted to do something on television and was really involved in clubs while at JMU. She helped with the school newspaper but spent a lot of her free time with JMU’s broadcast club, JMTV.
Mollet has worked for many new stations, such as Cable News 21 in Rockville, Maryland; WHAG in Hagerstown, Maryland; Channel 7; KDVR in Denver, Colorado; WJLA, and now NBC. She says she gained most of her skills from Cable News 21 since it was her first job after college. “I had no idea what I was doing, and I was thrown into it. I had to learn how to write, to make beat calls—calling different police departments,” she said.
She also had to learn to make sure the teleprompter doesn’t go down in the middle of the show, and especially how to deal with people. “When my boss wasn’t there I was kind of in charge of the newsroom,” Mollet said.
How Mollet got to where she is today is actually very interesting. She had an internship at Channel 4 in 1999 and kept in touch with people. “I was kind of harassing the assistant news director Frank Caskin, and he finally said, ‘you know what why don’t you send me your stuff since your back in the area, maybe we’ll need you,’” she said.
Mollet ended up freelancing at NBC for about 3½ years, working just a couple days a week on general assignment news. “Last May they came to me and said, ‘we have an idea, how would you like to do traffic? You’re from here, you’re a reporter and we want a reporter that’s able to do traffic,’” Mollet said. She has been doing traffic for NBC for 10 months and enjoys every day at the “office”.
In her office, Mollet describes what’s around her. She calls her office a “closet” because it is secluded from everyone else. Her office has two rolling chairs, three “desks”, lots of monitors and screens, papers and notes on the walls, pictures of her son and of her winning an Emmy for “Best News Report” in 2013, and a clock. She says that all four stations in Washington DC share the same traffic chopper, and each station has one month every few months where they can control and talk to it. “It is our month this month, so we control the chopper and we have a chat that goes over here,” said Mollet who gestured to her right where a laptop is on a table. “We’re typing, ‘Chopper’s going to 66 right now there’s a crash blah, blah, blah’ to all of the other stations, so we’re always on that chat in the morning.”
Looking back, Mollet recalls why she decided broadcast journalism and working for NBCUniversal was what she wanted to do as a career. “I watched Channel 4 growing up and I remember seeing the news and being very intrigued by the news, and thinking I think I can do that. I want to tell people stories,” Mollet said.
Walking through NBC is quite an experience; there are friendly faces everywhere. There are areas where writers are looking online for news stories, and anchors and reporter’s cubicles that are arranged by the time they go on air. Going behind the scenes, you see staff testing audio and reviewing news packages. Through every room, everyone can hear the director’s voice talking about what he thinks about certain things.
While getting a tour of the newsroom, Mollet’s boss, Brian Callahan introduced himself and reflected on how he sees her. “Melissa is a joy to work with every day. I wouldn’t even describe it as work when talking about Melissa because she makes it all so easy. Melissa is real. She isn’t fake at all. She is very grounded. What you see is what you get. This helps her connect to the viewers. What the viewers see is someone who is smart, professional, strategic and fun. Melissa really cares about the stories she tells. She isn’t on TV to just be on TV. Melissa does what she does to make people’s lives better through her story telling. Thanks to Melissa, our viewers become smarter, learn about people in their community, get to work on time and avoid potentially dangerous situations on the road,” Callahan said.
In one room, you see morning meteorologist Tom Kieran talking to staff about what he will say when he goes live, and in the studio, you see different things going on. The studio includes the anchor’s desk, a table where interviews are done, and two singular areas where TV screens and places for reporters to stand.
In the studio, morning news anchors Aaron Gilchrist and Barbara Harrison goes through a rehearsal for their intro and outros for the stories that they will discuss later at 11 a.m. Across from them are a green screen area and a man sitting behind a lot of equipment, working the teleprompter and makes sure that all of the cameras are facing the correct way, and monitors how everything will look on television.
After finishing rehearsal, Aaron Gilchrist was able to talk about Mollet for a little bit before going to his office and doing some work. In the green room, where special guests usually sit before they are needed on set, Gilchrist sits down and starts to think about Mollet. “I’m a big fan of Melissa. I mean it seriously. I think there are people in this business who become characters you know, on screen. But Melissa is one of those real people who don’t change on the screen. She knows how to keep it real and comfortable on and off the air,” he said. Gilchrist describes Mollet as smart, funny, intelligent, disarming, comfortable, and has all the qualities in a good broadcast journalist.
When asked what her best interview was, Mollet had to really think about which one that would be. “A kid that I interviewed in Denver. I did a five-part series on him in the end. Initially, the story was high school kids in a car crash. One high school car hit another high school car, and one girl died. It ended up where the girl who died was the passenger in this boy’s car, and when this boy got out of the hospital he was really messed up. When he got out of the hospital I got an interview with him and we just sort of struck out this friendship/he trusted me. We did a lot of stories about his rehab and the other girl being charged in the case. We sort of took it to a different level; it wasn’t just this crash anymore, it was more intimate. In the end, I actually ended up being able to help him, which is what I always hope to do in a story. His insurance wouldn’t pay for a wheelchair, so I got a company to donate a wheelchair to him. He also had severe scarring on his face, so I got a dermatologist to free laser on his face. It’s nothing that we air; it’s just through me knowing his needs. Contacting people who would be interested because I was in the media,” she said.
Every reporter has had experiences on the job that did not go as planned, and Mollet definitely has had plenty of those occurrences. “I was live once and an intoxicated man came up behind me and started dancing and was trying to push me over and out of the way. So it was interesting—I had to say, ‘We’ll be back in a minute’ and my photographer had to sort of intervene and push him out of there,” said Mollet, and laughs.
Mollet says that she looks up to her parents because of how committed, driven, hard working, and is as supportive as one could be. She is most proud of her transition from news to traffic because she had to learn where to walk, what to point at, and adjust from what she was doing previous to traffic. Her greatest accomplishment is her five-year-old son named Brennan, who she says she is prouder of than she is of herself.
When asked if she had any advice for people just entering broadcast journalism, she said, “I would say, read as much as you can, write as much as you can, be interested in news. Have your five or six sites, it can be Radar Online or the Washington Post. It doesn’t have to be the New York Times. Be interested in something and look at it daily and find people you like to read. Know what you’re getting into. Get as much experience as you can with internships. Know that it may not be easy hours; it may not be high paying. Know that you may have to move. If your hearts in it, at the end of the day you’ll be happy with your career choice. There’s always going to be a need for information, it’s just how well it will be disseminated.”
Mollet lives in Rockville, Maryland with her husband, son, and dog, Norm.