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Alumni profile: Jacquelynne Causey, from Robertson to Al Jazeera

Apr 14, 2017

Posted in: News

By William Lineberry

In celebration of VCU Alumni Month, we here at the Robertson School will be publishing a series of profiles on a select number of our alumni. One profile will be published for each remaining week in April.

Some stories can’t be told in a 30-second news broadcast. Some require a deeper look, a longer, more focused eye—a certain journalistic finesse that is often lost in the whirlwind of a 24-hour news cycle. And sometimes failure can be a precursor to success.

These were the lessons Jacquelynne Causey (B.S. Robertson School, '16) learned when she was studying journalism in the VCU Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. But that was well before she would go on to intern at the international news outlet, Al Jazeera. And it was before she would be awarded a fellowship, after the internship, to help create long-form documentary news pieces for Al Jazeera. And it was also before she would track down the story of a family that was undergoing one of the worst tragedies imaginable and tell their story in a documentary.

The lessons that Jacquelynne learned did not come easy. As a freshman, she knew what she wanted—at least she thought she knew what she wanted. Her dream was to be a news anchor on a major network, in front of the camera, in front of the lights. She also knew, as a freshman, that she wanted to intern at a major network. (She had decided between CNN, Al Jazeera or VICE.)  But when the time came to take VCUInsight, the senior capstone course for broadcast majors in the School where students produce a weekly news show and often the first stepping stone into working at a television news station, she did not excel. In fact, she failed the course.

Jacquelynne (center) with the producer of
Jacquelynne (center) with the producer of "The Ban," Laila Al-Arian (right).

“Not passing Insight was devastating at the time, but it also pumped the brakes in me and made me look at what I really wanted to do,” Jacquelynne said. “I asked myself: Is this something I want to do for the rest of my life? And the answer was no.”

With this sobering moment, Jacquelynne had to deal with some harsh truths, but she knew that she still wanted to do journalism, just not in the way she had originally planned. After some guidance from Robertson School broadcast professors Gary Gillam and Sean Collins-Smith, Jacquelynne realized that her career goal—to be an anchor—was not what she wanted.

“It was hard not passing InSight but at the same time not passing it but having teachers that said, ‘hey, you didn’t pass this class but rather than taking it again, why don’t you try Documentary. I think that would be something you’d be really good at.’ So with that advice, I took Documentary and fell in love with it.”

Enrolled in her new capstone, Jacquelynne’s desire to tell stories in a more robust and fuller manner was met. She began producing news documentaries that went beyond the 30-seconds of the archetypal broadcast and she was enamored by the process.

“What long-form pieces do that short-form pieces don’t, is that they allow you to get to know someone and tell their story in a way that 30 seconds can’t do,” Jacquelynne said. “You’re also able to get both sides of a story in a way that is more accurate. And in an age where people don’t know whether their news is fake or not, having 25 minutes lets us explore issues more thoroughly and really show each side. And then people can make up their own mind on where they stand.”

“The Ban”

Jacquelynne’s tenure at Al Jazeera began with an internship for their show, “Fault Lines.” The show was exactly where she wanted to be. They explored complicated subjects and poured as much time as necessary into their subjects-- sometimes weeks, other times months to complete a project. During her time as an intern, Jacquelynne helped the show research stories and publicize their work through social media.

“I had a professor (Sean Collins-Smith) that said a lot of news networks were getting it wrong, so I asked him who was doing it right, and he said ‘Al Jazeera,’” Jacquelynne said. “From that moment, I decided that Al Jazeera was who I wanted to work for.”

Once her internship was completed, Jacquelynne interviewed for and was eventually offered a six-month fellowship position for the same show she previously worked on, “Fault Lines.” Under her new role as a fellow for the show, she worked on many new projects, while also having the chance to refine the skills she had developed in School and during her internship.

One of Jacquelynne’s main projects during her time as a fellow went into a documentary called, “The Ban.” The film, which Jacquelynne would end up receiving associate producer credit for, explored the effects of the Trump administration’s recent travel ban and told the story of one specific family who was directly impacted. It would also serve as one of the largest projects she was able to contribute to since graduating from the Robertson School in 2016. 

During production, Jacquelynne was responsible for background research and casting. As she was in the middle of her research, she discovered what would turn out to be a linchpin of the story, illustrating the personal and human element of the documentary.

“A lot of people didn’t know what the travel ban meant because it was rolled out in a way that sort of confused a lot of people,” Jacquelynne said. “My job was to first, find people that were affected by the travel ban and willing to go on record and share their story with us. The second part of my job was to find accountability, making sure we represent the story as fairly as we could.”

It wasn’t easy at first. A lot of people, due to the ban being so new, did not want to talk on the record. Eventually though--after a lot of social media searching and accountability measures-- Jacquelynne found a family with a story who were willing to go on record.

It was the story of a separated child and a family--a world apart from one another and trying desperately to be reunited. The two-year-old child was in Michigan and had been separated from his parents in Iraq. He had been burned at a fire in a refugee camp and flown to the U.S. for treatment. His parents, who required visas to enter the U.S., were set to come to be with the child in Michigan. But when the time came to get the visas in January, they were turned away because of the travel ban.

Jacquelynne also helped the film crew track down members of Congress that were willing to go on record about the ban. She found her main source in Pennsylvania politician Lou Barletta (R.). The documentary aired in the third week of March. Aside from her work on “The Ban” during her fellowship at Al Jazeera, Jacquelynne also worked on eight additional films, receiving production assistant credit on each of them (listed below).

With the recent work on “The Ban” behind her, Jacquelynne credited the Robertson School and VCU with helping her develop a creative sense in how she looks at making news documentaries.

“One of my favorite things about my time at VCU was that it was an art school,” she said. “We are able to be creative where, perhaps, other schools aren't. Being creative was one thing that my journalism professors allowed us to do. I was able to be creative about news and how I looked at things. And that helped inform my opinion on news. From the beginning, I took classes that mattered.”

 Jacquelynne’s full List of films worked on and credits:

The Ban - Associate Producer

Haiti By Force - Associate Producer

Anacortes Disaster - Associate Producer

The Dark Prison - Production Assistant

Left Behind -Production Assistant

The Contract - Production Assistant/Social Media Producer

Guatemala's Disappeared - Production Assistant

The Rise of Trump - Production Assistant

Standing Rock and the Battle Beyond -Social Media Producer