MSNBC's David Ingram: Auburn prepped me for Emmy-winning career

Published: March 12, 2015
Updated: April 08, 2015
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It was the middle of the afternoon on April 15, 2013. Two bombs exploded 12 seconds apart near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others. It would easily be the nation's biggest news story of the year. Down the coast in New York, David Ingram, who would later win an Emmy for his role in NBC News' coverage of the bombing's aftermath, was asleep during the tragic event.

Such is the life of an overnight network producer.

"I remember waking up that afternoon just to check email as I normally did," Ingram said. "Then I got on Twitter and saw some of the first pictures of what had happened. I went to work that night knowing that the next morning's show was going to be all about the incident."

Six years after graduating from Auburn University's College of Liberal Arts with a degree in journalism, his covering of national news is now a daily routine, although Ingram says no day is like the one before it, or any other, for that matter. His day begins around 5 a.m. when he walks into 30 Rockefeller Center to produce MSNBC's The Rundown with Jose Diaz-Balart. Each two-hour program is a fast-paced ride through topics of the day. Politics, immigration, health care, the latest on Capitol Hill. Preparing for such a wide range of material can be challenging, but it's exactly what attracted Ingram to that world.

"Waking up in the morning knowing I am going to have a different conversation, with different types of people, is very exciting," he said. "I leave this building every day learning something I did not know when I came in. It makes you a better person for that."

A Nose for News at an Early Age

Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, Ingram had an interest in world events that set him apart from most kids his age, particularly during his teenage years. He spent hours watching news channels and reading newspapers, but he never gave much thought to how he might make a career out of it. It wasn't until his sophomore year at Auburn when an English professor pulled him aside to discuss a paper he had written. She liked Ingram's writing style and suggested that he volunteer for The Plainsman, Auburn's student newspaper. In the short time it took to write two or three contributed articles, Ingram had developed a love for the news-gathering process. More importantly, he had found a job loaded with the sense of accomplishment that comes from taking a story idea full circle—from conception and development to seeing it in print and the reaction it generates among readers.

Ingram eventually worked his way onto The Plainsman's staff and was ultimately selected editor-in-chief his senior year. "That was quite an honor. I still list that job on my resume," Ingram said.

An Auburn Connection Pays Off

Auburn, Alabama, and New York City are separated by 974 miles, but the divide is even more pronounced in terms of culture and diversity. Emboldened by his successful leadership of The Plainsman and armed with a desire to tell stories on a national stage, the soon-to-be college graduate who had spent his entire life in the South set his sights on the Big Apple. On the advice of an Auburn alumnus already working at NBC's The Today Show, Ingram applied for an internship with the program.

He was offered the position after a phone interview and spent six months learning about network news from top to bottom. "I never thought in a million years I would get it or even be considered for it," he said. "It was a life changing experience to say the least, but Auburn had prepared me for it."

Ingram was thrown in with both feet into a rapid-fire, sink-or-swim environment. Interns at NBC don't have the luxury of learning from a distance; instead, they work alongside veteran producers, often carrying out the same tasks as those mentoring them. "Auburn's journalism faculty gave me the knowledge and foresight I needed to do the job. (NBC) is not the place to go make mistakes, but that's why I chose to attend Auburn, because I knew they would give me the best education for making a career out of something," he said.

Rewards of Hard Work

Shortly after midnight, four days after the bombings in Boston, the continuing news coverage was about to reach its pinnacle. A shootout with police was taking place in Watertown, Massachusetts, but information connecting it to the bombing suspects was scarce. David Ingram and others on the NBC News team were already in the newsroom preparing for the network's morning shows. The next six hours were an intense exercise in gathering and breaking the news to the American people.

On a night where wild speculation mixed with inaccurate and conflicting reports both in social media and on many major networks, NBC chose to report on events in a restrained, cautionary way. Ingram and other producers meticulously checked facts with law enforcement, and correspondents refused to report on unconfirmed information. Around 2 a.m., the team had the information it needed to go live.

"We not only broke into MSNBC programming but also the NBC network, which is a big deal because you are interrupting virtually the entire nation," Ingram said. "We had to be sure and we had to have a lot of information. We thought we would be on five minutes, but we ended up staying on for five hours right up until The Today Show."

The next summer, the 28-year-old Ingram and his colleagues were rewarded by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with an Emmy Award for Outstanding Live Coverage of a Current News Story. It was an unexpected honor and certainly the last thing the team was thinking about during their marathon night of coverage.

Working in network news does not provide many opportunities for reflection, and the 24/7 nature of the business leaves little time to dwell on past success. The bad days often outnumber the good ones. Even so, that shiny gold trophy sitting in David Ingram's apartment provides plenty of motivation to look forward to tomorrow.

"When I come home after a rough day, it's the first thing I see," he said. "And it reminds me of the reason I chose to be in journalism in the first place."

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