April 09, 2024 | Matt Kucinski

Jessica Harthorn points at a teleprompter as a student looks on.

On Thursday evenings, Jessica Harthorn is at the anchor desk, delivering the news for west Michigan’s CBS affiliate WWMT-TV in Kalamazoo.

Less than 10 hours after signing off, she heads 50 miles north to Calvin University for her next assignment.

“When I was here, we had an adjunct professor named Lori Cook, who many in west Michigan may know as Maranda from WOOD-TV 8,” said Harthorn, who graduated from Calvin in 2006. “That was my favorite class hands down, because it was real world experience. Everything she taught built upon the theories we were learning in the classroom.”

Master of her craft

Now, with nearly two decades of industry experience from Wyoming to New York, from Tennessee to Michigan, Harthorn’s role at Calvin is that of teacher.

“I’ve always wanted to come back someday and hopefully be a master of my craft and to teach and mentor the next generation,” said Harthorn. “I’ve lived in pretty much every region of the country and have learned so much and I want to help students know that this is a career that’s exciting.”

Harthorn has the credentials, receiving multiple awards for her reporting and anchoring in all five of the markets in which she’s worked. And at Calvin, she also has the tools.

Professor Jessica Harthorn stands in the control room at Calvin University.
Jessica Harthorn '06 stands in the control room on Calvin University's campus.

Impressive facilities and equipment

“When I visited Calvin as a prospective student back in the early 2000s, this building [DeVos Communication Center] was brand new and they had state-of-the-art equipment, and so I was super impressed by that,” said Harthorn.

This year, as Harthorn began teaching her first class at Calvin, she noticed major upgrades to what was “state-of-the-art” when she was a student.

“A lot of the equipment that we see here now at Calvin is what we have at News Channel 3, and some is even newer,” said Harthorn. “You can put together an entire newscast from the basement of DeVos Communication Center. That to me is phenomenal, because in broadcast news you need that hands-on experience.”

So Harthorn is giving her students just that and building the experience to fit what they’ll need in the real world.

Intentionally designed for success

“The way I’ve designed the course is from the very beginning you can’t just turn on a camera and start shooting, even though reality TV makes you think that’s journalism,” said Harthorn. “You have to know how to write for TV news, how to interview, how to gather information, ask the right questions, and you need to understand lighting and audio in building a production that looks professional.”

At the end of the semester, “we’re going to put together an entire newscast,” said Harthorn.


While building a newscast, gaining experience with industry-standard equipment, and making connections in the business are all takeaways from Harthorn’s class, she wants her Calvin students to aim higher.

Going beyond industry standards

“I always tell my students that when it comes to journalism, you’re given this platform where you have a lot of eyes and you have a lot of ears and with that comes a lot of power and you cannot take that lightly,” said Harthorn. “I tell students that when people agree to interview with you, they’re allowing you into their lives and they’re showing you both the worst and the best that has happened to them. And hearing their stories is a privilege.”

Harthorn also knows about the responsibility of working in the field of journalism, and says the values Calvin instills in its students uniquely prepares them to be the best for the business.

“I’m a firm believer in going into the world and being God’s hands and feet, and I think you learn that in so many aspects of journalism because you’re literally having a front row seat to all the evil that people can do, and so that weighs heavy on your soul,” said Harthorn. “So how do you use your faith to try to create a light in a dark place? You can do that through asking questions, digging up answers, holding people accountable. And so, I think Calvin students have an advantage because we’re coming from a faith-based perspective of the big picture. It’s not just thinking about what is happening—the who, what, where, why, and when—we’re asking how do we change it, how do we make the world a better place, how do we bring awareness or advocacy?

“One day I’m interviewing the governor and the next day I’m at a crime scene. Every day you learn something new. Every day is exciting, and you know if you keep your values and your faith in mind in everything that you do, and hold your head high with integrity and make sure everything you say and everything that you write is fair and balanced, then that’s all I think you can ask of yourself.”

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