Award Recipient Jan Jeffcoat, '00
in November 2010
Jan Jeffcoat is the 2010 recipient of the University of South Carolina’s Outstanding Young Alumni Award. A 2000 graduate from the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, Jan currently co-anchors FOX Chicago News at Noon and recently won a 2010 Emmy for a 30 minute primetime special documenting a trip to Haiti with some pastors in the Chicago area following the disastrous earthquake earlier this year.
The Young Alumni Award is presented to a graduate who has excelled in his or her chosen field and is under the age of 40. This award-winning journalist and the other 2010 University awards recipients were honored at the Annual Homecoming Gala on Friday, November 5, at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
Jan was quite surprised when she found out about the award.
“I thought, really?” Jan says. “What did I do to garner such an amazing honor? It was very humbling and I feel so many others deserve this more than me.”
Born in Columbia, she moved to Greenville as a child and later worked in Charleston. Regardless of the differences in the various regions of the state, Jan has “lived and loved everything South Carolina.”
So attending the University of South Carolina was a no-brainer.
Broadcasting Talents Discovered Early
Jan majored in broadcasting, and already had a leg-up on many of her fellow classmates even before she set foot on campus. While she claims that she didn’t grow up wanting to be a journalist, she was picked to host a television show in Greenville at the age of 12.
“I literally fell into it,” Jan explains. “I didn't audition. I was asked by producers. It all began when the NBC affiliate in Greenville County decided to profile different middle schools and their rich history. I was chosen to front the story for my school at the time. While I was there, a couple of producers noticed me because I had a different look and voice than most girls my age. That's when they got the idea to cast me as one of the Saturday morning hosts for this kid's show they planned to produce. It was a pivotal day in my life. I always felt very insecure about my background as a kid in the deep South. My mom was Japanese and my dad was part Native American, and I know I didn't look like all the other kids in school. Little did I know, ethnic ambiguity would play a huge role in my career.”
After hosting this kid’s show on Saturday mornings, a producer told her she had found her calling.
“I didn't even know at the time what it meant to be a journalist or the impact it would have on my life,” Jan says. “Now, more than 20 years later, I still think about the defining moment when that producer encouraged me to follow what is now my dream.”
Jan brought her dream and talents to the Columbia campus, and like many students, she was able to dive right in to college life and enjoy all that Carolina had to offer, both socially and academically.
“I have great memories of all the mixers and trips with my sorority sisters in Kappa Delta as well as living in the sorority tower,” Jan recalls. “Tally Ho was something we always looked forward to during the Gamecock tailgates. My senior year, I lived close enough to Five Points to walk to it. That was convenient. I was also part of a Christian ministry my last year in school and that really helped me build long-lasting friendships with people I still talk to today.”
On the academics side, Jan recalls how her classes and professors demonstrated the power of networking and the importance of learning from mistakes.
“Senior Semester in the J-school has to be one of the best tools for anyone majoring in broadcast journalism,” Jan says. “Oftentimes what we learn in college is theory based. I really felt like Senior Semester with Professors Sonya Duhe and Rick Peterson actually taught me what it was like in the real world. You put together an entire 30-minute college broadcast. I learned to be a producer, director, reporter, anchor, sports anchor and weather person all in one semester. We learned the production aspect and all facets of a news operation.”
Jan praised those experiences for helping her break through in her profession.
“My professors told us we should visit every small TV station and ask for a job,” Jan says. “That's exactly what I did... 50 times over. Someone finally let me in.”
Making Her Mark at Every Stop
Prior to joining the FOX station in Chicago in 2007, Jan was an anchor in Houston, TX, and Charlotte, NC, and a reporter in Charleston, SC, as well as Tallahassee, FL. In Charleston, she covered everything from hurricane preparations to political corruption, and she cites her most memorable story there as being the state witness for the execution of a man on death row.
Her best memories of her time in Charlotte are a bit more light-hearted.
“In Charlotte, my most memorable story was racing a stock car at Lowe's Motor Speedway,” Jan says. “My friends often call me Mario 'Jan'dretti because I love to drive fast, but breaking the speed limit by 10 miles is no match to what NASCAR drivers obviously do. I think I got up to 150. Talk about a thrill!”
Living in Houston also created many memories and opportunities.
“From the Enron trial to the Houston Rodeo--the largest in the world--and finally living in a city with an NFL team, NBA team and Major League Baseball team, my lifestyle changed dramatically,” Jan recalls. “I anchored the live non-stop coverage of Hurricane Katrina when it actually came ashore. I became a guest host on Montel Williams for a segment on a show called ‘Newsmakers Changing Lives.’ Ironically when the Houston Astros played the White Sox for the World Series in 2005, I traveled to Chicago and anchored from the field. It was my first trip to Chicago, and I thought would be my last. Little did I know two years later I would get a call to come and be part of the team I'm on now.”
In Chicago, Jan has had the opportunity to interview many celebrities and politicians, and recounts some incredible professional and personal experiences.
“I've experienced what a real winter feels like, and let me tell you, it is a whole different kind of cold,” Jan says. “The kind that makes your bones hurt. I also traveled to Haiti this past year right after the earthquakes and hosted a 30-minute prime-time special about my experience.”
After spending many years anchoring a morning show and waking up for work before 3 a.m, including more than three years anchoring and hosting for Good Day Chicago, Jan is happy to have spent the past few months anchoring the news at noon. An avid sports fan, she can actually watch a Bears game live since bedtime no longer means lights out by 8 p.m.
“The best part of my job is I'm actually living my dream,” Jan says. “If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. This is my passion. I get to do what I love and still get a paycheck. It's a huge blessing and sometimes surreal.”
Jan has garnered many awards and accolades during her career, including a pair of Emmy nominations for Best Anchor while in Houston as well as honors for Best Feature Story. More recently, she was nominated for an Emmy this fall for her 30-minute special while she was in Haiti. She twice earned Texas AP awards for Best Anchor as well as two Star Award nominations by the American Women of Radio and Television for Best On-Air Personality. As for what makes a good journalist, Jan says it’s all about being you.
“Interns ask me this all the time,” Jan says. “I always say to them, ‘Do you!’ Don't try to emulate anyone else. This business is so subjective, and not everyone likes your style. That doesn't matter. Don't compromise your morals or your gut in reporting a story and never give up. The most successful people in my industry are fearless and determined.”
In that regard, Jan encourages today’s journalism students to not only be fearless, but also forgiving.
“You can't worry about what others say and you can't be offended easily,” Jan says. “You will be criticized and you will work awful hours and many holidays. News happens all the time, everywhere without restrictions and with no mercy.”
Despite living in Chicago, Jan gets back to campus as often as she can. She was in Columbia recently to watch her cousin, Bryon Jeffcoat, play in the Carolina baseball alumni game. Jan has been happily married for more than seven years now and loves to spoil her five-year old Pomeranian “Scrappy.”